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11 May 2006

iPod Integration with DICE

Note: I originally did the iPod integration with a Dension ice>Link:Plus, but it developed problems and I returned it to the vendor (Enfig) for warranty replacement. Instead of just getting another ice>Link:Plus, I switched to the Digital In-Car Entertainment (DICE) interface instead. This article is mostly based on the original ice>Link:Plus writeup, which I've left up in case anyone's interested or has it bookmarked/linked.


I never have been into portable music. All the cool kids had Walkmans, Discmans, whatever, but the whole concept did nothing for me. It's just something else to lug around, worry about damaging/losing, and really - I've never had the need to listen to (whatever) right now while walking down a street. Little earphones, especially the in-ear 'buds', are nothing but annoying for me - what with getting ripped out of your ears everytime you turn your head or snag them on something, and I don't like the way they sound, either.

So, when the iPod first came along in 2001, my reaction was "meh...." As it improved through later revisions I was mildly interested, but never saw myself getting one. The 5th generation video iPod, though, was the first one that kind of grabbed me. Hmmm - rip some DVDs to have movies for airline flights.... but the real hook for me was the introduction of car integration. Now that's a good use for an iPod!

Most people think of the iPod as just an MP3 player. I generally hate the sound of compressed music, even 192kbps MP3, or AAC. The iPod, though, will also happily play AIFF (audio interchange file format), the non-proprietary standard for raw audio. iTunes will rip CDs to AIFF if you choose, so you can have raw, uncompressed, unmolested, pure CD-quality audio, which is of course a LOT larger in filesize than MP3s would be. It's a matter of quantity vs. quality, but an iPod could be a decently large repository of full CD-quality audio for the car.

Friday, 17 February, was my last day at my job. My friend (who worked for me and who took over my job) took up a collection for an 'unofficial' going-away gift, and when I came in for my exit interview he intercepted me and presented me with... a 30gig black Video iPod! Way cool.

Of course, the first thing that I did later that day was get a Toughskin shock-absorbing/protective case. The second thing I did was order an interface for the A3 from Enfig.

I wrote an article about that interface, but it developed problems and I replaced it under warranty with a DICE (Digital In-Car Entertainment) interface. Dension is actually marketing the DICE now instead of their older products.


Here is a summary of the important points for this model:


  • It connects to the CD changer connector in the glovebox. You can have either the glovebox CD changer, or this, but not both.

  • If you have the in-dash CD changer, you can still use this. It connects specifically to the glovebox connector.

  • If you have both a factory glovebox changer and a satellite receiver hooked up to the head unit, you're out of luck.

  • Note: 2007 model A3s apparently no longer come with the glovebox CD changer cable. You will need to remove the radio (requires radio removal keys) and connect directly to the back of the radio.

  • In addition to the iPod dock connector, there is a mini-stereo 'AUX IN' that could be used for any other portable or installed device you choose.

  • You should have playlists set up on the iPod, but there is no mention in the documentation of a limit on either the number of playlists or the number of tracks in each playlist.

  • You select the DICE using the CD button on the head unit. If you have a disc in the head unit, press CD twice. The Display will indicate 'CDC' (CD Changer). If there is no disc in the head unit, pressing CD goes straight to CDC.

  • Selecting 'Disc 1', 'Disc 2', 'Disc 3', 'Disc 4', or 'Disc 5' on the head unit changes functions, not playlists (this is different from the ice>Link behaviour).

  • Disc 1 == 'Track' (Next/Previous or the left steering-wheel roller changes the song)

  • Disc 2 == 'Playlist' (Next/Previous or the left steering-wheel roller changes the playlist)

  • Disc 3 == 'Album' (Next/Previous or the left steering-wheel roller changes the album)

  • Disc 4 == 'Chapter' (Next/Previous or the left steering-wheel roller changes the chapter for audiobooks)

  • Disc 5 == 'Source' (Next/Previous or the left steering-wheel roller changes the source - iPod or AUX IN)

  • With Disc 1 selected, you can fast-scan through the current track by pressing on the left steering wheel roller.

  • It will pick up where it left off if you switch to FM and back, or if you leave the car and return.

  • Current track name is displayed on the iPod display with the usual iPod interface.

  • The iPod clickwheel interface is fully functional.

  • The head unit will show tracks 1-99. You can actually advance past track 99 if you have more tracks in the playlist than that, but the head unit won't display the track number properly.

  • The head unit does not show artist/track name.




Random Play Mode:


'Random' mode can be accomplished two ways. Of course you could set the iPod to shuffle and let it handle everything. This means that you do not turn on 'random' on the head unit. When you advance to 'next' on the head unit/steering wheel, the iPod will then take that 'next' request and return some random song. This works the best, since the head unit seems to have a fixed algorithm for 'random' and you'll hear the same songs in the same 'random' sequence pretty frequently.

Or, if you don't want to use the iPod controls at all, you can just use the head unit: On the head unit, with the CDC (iPod) selected, press the 'Menu' button on the head unit and there will be a choice of Off, Random (Disc) or Random (Changer). Since the head unit thinks it's a changer attached, AND since the DICE uses the virtual 'Discs' for different features, this can give some freaky results if you don't understand what's going on.

First, don't use Random (Changer), since the virtual discs are just feature sets. You would have to use Random (Disc) on the head unit but again, this is not advised - use 'shuffle songs' on the iPod instead.

Second, how it randomises is based on which 'disc' you have selected.... if you're on Disc 1 (feature == songs), then it will randomly play among the songs in the currently-selected playlists. Advancing to the next song will make it randomly grab something else from that playlist. If you're on Disc 2 (feature == playlists), then a random 'next' will make it randomly switch to some other playlist (and start playing the first song in that playlist). Hearing only the first songs in your playlists gets old really quick. If you're on Disc 3 (feature == album), then a random 'next' will make it randomly switch to some other album in the currently-selected playlist. Again, hearing the first song of each of your albums in one playlist isn't what you want.


If You Want To Use Random On The Head Unit Anyway, This Is The General Use Concept:



  • Random mode Off

  • Select 'Disc 2' (playlists)

  • Next/Previous or the left steering-wheel roller to get to the playlist you want

  • Select 'Disc 1' (tracks)

  • Random mode On

  • Enjoy





Installation:





The DICE unit came as 3 pieces:

  • The interface box (model I-AUDI-T2 - the model number printed on the box in the photos is incorrect!)

  • The interface-to-iPod-Dock-Connector cable

  • The interface-to-specific-car cable










Remove the glovebox cubby. You have to get your hands in it as shown, and pull out firmly against the little lip on the bottom edge. One hand is shown in the photo (the other one was busy with the camera), but it took both hands for me to pop it out.







Disconnect the CD changer cable from the dummy plug on the back of the cubby. You have to release a catch on each side of the cable end of the plug.






I wanted to use the smaller, non-removable cubby on the right of the glovebox for the iPod. I got a small pack of rubber grommets from Home Depot. These grommets have a 1/2-inch inside diameter, and fit into a 5/8-inch hole. I used a 5/8-inch wood bit to drill the hole, then dressed it with the little ~ 5/8-inch drum-sander attachment on a Dremel. The results are exactly what I wanted, but the process wasn't pretty, so I'm just posting a picture of the resulting hole!






I took the iPod-to-DICE cable and fed it through a rubber grommet...






...then I fed the cable through the hole and got the grommet seated in the hole. Doing so required a little patience and a flat-head screwdriver to tuck the grommet in properly. The end result is a nice looking opening for the cable and no abrasion or chafing of the cable at all.






Here is the hookup. The CD changer plug from the car goes to one end of the DICE cable (large rectangular plug), the other end of that cable goes to the DICE interface box (small rectangular plug), then the iPod dock connector cable goes into the DICE box (round plug).






One more feature: The DICE box actually has two inputs - the iPod dock connector and a basic stereo miniplug AUX IN connector. I got a mini-stereo extension cable (1/8" mini-stereo plug to 1/8" mini-stereo jack) and passed it through the grommet alongside the iPod dock cable. This now gives me easy access to plug in any device I want and have the sound routed through the head unit via the DICE box.






I didn't want to just lay the pieces loose in the dash. The iPod cable I zip-tied to some other wiring harness stuff in the opening (to provide strain relief). The interface box and the other cables/plug were zip-tied to each other and to other wiring harness & supports. No stress, no rattles, no interference.








Because I keep getting asked.... No, the iPod is NOT mounted there. I just placed it there for the photo. It lives in the glovebox.


Done!

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