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21 June 2008

ProClip and Interface Cable

I've always kept my phone in the armrest console, so I ran a power cable into it. The iPod lives in the glovebox, connected to the DICE interface. I like having things neatly out-of-the-way, but planning for a 3rd-generation iPhone, I'm going to want things set up a bit differently.

There are two parts to the ProClip system - the base that attaches to the car, and the holder for your specific device. In the case of the A3 there are three different base mounts. One attaches beside the head unit, and mimics the European Audi phone mount. One attaches to an air vent, and blocks airflow. The third type is the only one that I actually like for the A3: it attaches to the bar on the right side of the console. I got mine from a former A3 owner who traded up to a Subaru. The device holder he had was useless to me, so I ordered a new one (more on that below).

Here is the base mount:

This particular type of clip comes with double-sided tape to help hold it in place. The pre-owned clip that I got had the gummy residue still in it, and I didn't want to use adhesive anyway, so I set about modding it, starting by cleaning the old sticky stuff off with Goo-Gone.

I wanted it to stay in place, not scuff/damage the console where it was attached, and be easy to put on/take off. I had a piece of suede-finish leather that I had gotten from a craft store for another project...

...so I trimmed a piece to fit exactly in the U-shaped portion of the clip with no gaps:

I then glued it into the clip using 1-minute epoxy. (That stuff is amazing, but I really recommend doing this with the 3-minute epoxy instead so it doesn't set up so insanely fast.) I don't have a picture of it after I glued the leather in; it looks like this, only adhered tightly into the corners and all the way around.

I ordered a new device holder from ProClip. The Adjustable Holder with Tilt Swivel - Item 875214 which will hold the iPhone with or without a 'skin' or case. It will also hold my old iPod with it's heavy-duty rubber skin.

That takes care of the mount, but my DICE connector is still in the glovebox...

A 6-foot Dock Extender Cable from CableJive will take care of that. It's the only male-female iPod Dock Connector cable extension that I have found, and it is a very high-quality product.

I wanted to run the extension from glovebox to the console, so I could either keep the iPod in the glovebox, or use the extension for the iPod (or whatever) in the ProClip. It turned out to be easier than I expected.

I pulled the cubby out of the glovebox:

Some mods need to be done here. I decided to re-think how I routed the dock cable, and relocate it to the left cubby so it would be near the new extension cable. On the back of the cubby there's this clip that needs to be opened up:

Here you can see the opening that I cut using a hacksaw blade.

I drilled the remaining portion of the tab so I could use zip-ties if necessary for strain relief, but that turned out to not be necessary for me.

I also had to drill another 5/8" hole for the DICE cable, and used another rubber grommet to protect that cable from chafing. The female (jack) end of the extension cable went through the rectangular opening.

I fed the cable male (plug) end first through the opening and down towards the console:

...where you can slip your fingers under the edge and feel for it, then pull it out:

Loosening this 8mm bolt on the underside of the glovebox makes that part easier:

Next, pull up on the trim ring around the shift boot. It is held down by a spring clip at each corner.

Tuck the cable up under the side of the console, poke the plug up by the shifter, and pull it through as shown here:

Now remove the two Torx T-30 screws holding down the front of the ashtray assembly. These also hold two of the spring clips, so don't drop anything. Carefully lift so you can unplug the light connector, then slide the ashtray assembly completely out.

With the ashtray out of the way, I repositioned the cable so it comes up through the opening shown here (this is what it looks like with the ashtray assembly removed):

(If you still have the little insert in the ashtray, go ahead and remove it now.)

A hole has to be cut in the bottom of the ashtray for the dock connector plug to fit through. I somehow neglected to get good pictures of the process... I cut the rectangle out using a Dremel on slow speed with a cut-off wheel, then dressed the edges of the opening with a file to remove any sharpness that could chafe the wire. The rectangle is cut as far right as possible in the bottom.

So much for getting the cable into the ashtray from the bottom, now we have to get it out the top. Looking at the edge of the ashtray you can see there's a gap under the lid when it's closed, but you can't just run the cable there since the lid needs that much space for the 'push-to-open' function. So, we'll have to do some cutting.

You can't run the cable to the front because it would interfere with the trim around the shift boot, so we'll have to go to the side.

Remove this piece of rubber:

I used a flat file to cut this notch and 'soften' the edges, then wet-sanded the cut edges with 600-grit sandpaper.

A corresponding notch was made in the lid, but only in the plastic. It would work better if aluminium trim were notched also, but leaving the aluminium undisturbed is a compromise in favour of aesthetics.

The rubber piece that was removed earlier was re-installed, completing the ashtray modification.

The cable can be fed up through the rectangle in the bottom of the ashtray, and the assembly can be reinstalled and bolted down. Don't forget to plug the light in:

There is plenty of space under the console for the cable to drop into when not in use. Due to the natural alignment of the structure underneath, the plug cannot fall through the rectangle you cut in the ashtray.

On the glovebox end, the cubby can now be snapped back into place. You can either plug the iPod into the DICE connector and keep it in the cubby in the glovebox, or you can plug the connector into the extension cable as shown here:

The next piece of the puzzle is a CableJive Charge Converter. The older iPods and 1st-generation iPhone use one set of pins in the dock connector to charge via 12volts, and another set of pins to charge via 5volts. For various reasons (heat, component size, etc.) Apple has eliminated the 12volt charging circuit from newer iPod and iPhone models. Since my DICE interface provides the high-current charging circuit, it will not power or charge newer devices. The simple solution to that is the Charge Converter from CableJive. I can plug it in-line between the DICE plug and the extension cable, so any iPod/iPhone plugged into the extension will be perfectly happy:

The Charge Converter also has a mini-USB output on the side, so it can charge or power another USB device as well. Just an added bonus feature.

Here's the finished product. I have a little piece of leather that I cut to fit the ashtray to keep coins from rattling - that's what you see under where the plug is laying. I can feed the cable down into the console, close the ashtray, and it's completely invisible:

...or I can position the cable through the notches and close the lid:

It all comes together - cable, clip and iPod:

And since sexy things always look better naked, here's the iPod without the Speck case. The 5th-gen 30Gig iPod doesn't fit very tightly since the adjustable holder was designed for an iPhone with a case/skin, but it works.

(In case anyone is wondering, the song playing on the iPod is the version of "Modern Love" by The Last Town Chorus.)

Expect an update to this article mid-2009.

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