Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Music: Are you ready for that? Driving your car down a desert highway listening to the seventies and eighties rise like zombies from the rippling sand? I hope so.

Miracle and Wonder: The Pioneer 3200/3300BT

Jerry Stratton, May 15, 2011

KISS on the Radio

Rock and roll all night. On the rare moments I still listen to the radio in the car, it’s nice to have the current artist and song listed on the screen. If I hear a song I want to remember, I can hit the “tag” button in the lower right.

I’m driving from San Diego to Anaheim. The radio is blasting out KISS; Goin’ Blind fades out and C’est la mort takes over. After Stereo Total, it switches to Arlo Guthrie and then Allan Sherman. No radio station has this playlist. I’ve got 50 hours of the best of my record collection on a wafer the size of a nickel. Suddenly, the music stops. There’s a telephone call. It’s a friend; will I be back in time for the game tonight? I speak without taking my hands off the wheel or my eyes off the road. Sure, and I’ll bring some Zankou chicken.

The phone call is done, and the music starts back up automatically, continuing where it left off.

We really do get jaded by modern technology sometimes. The title of this review isn’t so much about this particular Pioneer stereo as about everything we have going for us nowadays. I just threw out my Thomas Guide this morning—I’ve got navigation on my iPad, so why waste space with a big book like that in the car?

It took me so long to get to writing about this amazing car stereo that there’s a new model out; the new model accepts music streaming from the Internet via your phone—that is, Pandora. The one I’m reviewing is the Pioneer 3200BT, which does not do Pandora. You can still get it if you look, but I don’t see any reason to unless you get a good price compared to the Pioneer AVH-P3300BT (and, like me, you don’t care about streaming music from your phone).

It supports the iPod Touch/iPhone/iPad, and you can control those devices1 directly from the receiver’s touch screen. It has a USB input on the front for plugging in thumb drives, and it has a standard audio jack for plugging in any other music player, such as an iPod Shuffle. And if you just want to leave the music in your car unobtrusively, it accepts an SDHC card. I keep a 4 GB card left over from a camera in the unit, and I’ve tested it with a 32 GB SDHC card2.

It takes CDs and DVDs, and the various -R/RW versions of those. On a trip to Yuma, I listened to the audio commentary on the Dirty Harry DVD.3

And of course it plays radio stations. Some radio stations support tagging songs, and if you hear one you want to remember for later, press a button on the touch screen and the next time you sync your iPod it will create a fake playlist with your tagged songs, that will show up in iTunes. As I’m writing this, I have some Santana and Fleetwood Mac tagged I might want to pick up the albums for.

Pop Goes the World on an SD card

In SD card mode, it reads the information from the music file and displays it on screen. I’m not sure what the “i” button is for—as far as I can tell it doesn’t give any more information.

There are some things I’d like it to do better. It does not sort the music on the SD card before displaying it. It just displays the music in the order of the files on the card. iTuneMyWalkman doesn’t support writing out in a specific order4. This means that, when using an SD card over a gigabyte, it’s difficult—and by difficult I mean practically impossible—to switch to a specific artist or album. It’s not that big of a deal, because I rarely want to do that. But there have been times when I’ve been disappointed by the inability to do this. If I’m going to be choosing a specific artist or album (or playlist), I just have to remember to use the iPod instead of the card.

And, it can take a while starting up from the card when it reads in the data. I suspect this is because the card is slow. I’m using a 4GB SDHC speed class 2 card that I originally bought for my camera, and it takes about 52 seconds to read the data off of the card. This is less annoying when starting the car, because I often don’t want to be listening to music as I’m navigating surface streets. But it’s really annoying after getting a phone call: after every call, it has to re-read the card.

The manual doesn’t say what speeds it supports, but I also tested it with a 32 GB speed class 10 SDHC card. It read that, when nearly full, in about three and a half minutes. Which isn’t bad for fifteen non-stop twenty-four-hour days worth of music. If my calculations are correct, this means that the 3200 reads at a maximum of speed class 4. 5

But it works great with the iPod Touch and my ancient refurbished Blackberry 8830, which are the two things I bought it for, and it works great with the car’s built-in steering controls, which was another criteria.

The phone part is easy to use, too. It synchronizes with the phonebook in my Blackberry, and I can set up shortcuts in the 3200. When a call comes in, it pops up two relatively large buttons, a red one for no, and green one for yes. Or, you can tell it to automatically answer incoming calls.6

Big Ten Inch on the iPod

Some people prefer rear-facing iPod and USB connectors, I prefer front-facing. It’s easier to install and to use. If I always kept the same thing plugged in, I’d probably feel differently: the cables are not unobtrusive.

It rarely has trouble connecting to my phone automatically; it’s easy to see whether the phone has connected or not by looking for the signal strength icon on the touchscreen. Every once in a while, it will fail to connect immediately; when that happens, I’ve never had a problem with just clicking on the bluetooth icon, the connect/pair icon, and choosing the phone’s name from the list (in my case, a list of one).

The person on the other end comes in loud and clear, and from what my friends have said, the stock microphone that comes with the unit works great. The microphone comes with a clip that can be attached to the visor or the steering wheel or any other appropriate thing. I just wrap mine around the column shifter.

Installation was easy enough. I bought mine from Crutchfield, and it came with a harness specifically for connecting it to my car. The harness does require you connecting wires from the stereo to the harness, but they’re clearly coded. I think it helps that it’s double DIN—there’s more room to work.7 Installing the steering wheel controls adapter was trickier, but I’ve already ranted about that. The iPod connector and the steering wheel adapter are extra.

The iPod connector plugs into the bottom of the iPod Touch (or iPhone or iPad), and then breaks into two cables: one for the USB connection and one for the eighth-inch auxiliary input. My understanding is that the USB cable is used to control the iPod, and the auxiliary is used to carry the audio and video.

Speaking of video, I haven’t done much with video, other than to verify that it works. I never just sit in the car, I don’t have any desire to watch video on a 6-inch screen, and I didn’t feel like installing video head units in the back seat. So, like I said, I have played DVDs, but only to listen to them while driving. In fact, I think I’ve had more DVDs in the player than CDs—when I want music I use the SDHC card or the iPod Touch. And I haven’t gone to the trouble to load videos onto the Touch or the card. The unit supports only one format for video on the card, DIVX. It should support any video that the iPod/iPad can play, since it lets the device play the video.

I’ve been using the 3200BT for a year now. It’s a great stereo and a great bluetooth unit. I’m glad I bought it.

“These are the days of miracle and wonder. This is a long-distance call.”

  1. The Pioneer does not supply the higher-power necessary to charge the iPad.

  2. iTuneMyWalkman works pretty well for the 4 GB card. For the 32 GB card, it took over two hours collecting data from iTunes—not even getting to the copy phase—before I canceled it and just wrote a script to copy the iTunes library straight to the card. That took 3 hours and 20 minutes, to copy 29 GB. I wanted to try the 32 GB card specifically for this review, to test whether (a) it would even work with the unit, and (b) how quickly a speed class 10 card would start up compared to the speed class 2 I normally use.

  3. Listening to movie DVDs while driving is not something Pioneer enables by default; I wired a bypass to the back of the stereo to allow it. It’s not the best solution, but the alternative—and recommended—solution is to cut into the brake light wiring inside the steering column. I was terrified enough of just having to crack open the dashboard. Messing with my brakes was Not Gonna Happen.

  4. Nor, really, should it. Sorting is a function of the display software, not the storage software. Otherwise, you have to rewrite the card every time you want a different sort order.

  5. Calculations based on: if 748 songs (on the 4 GB card) take 52 seconds, 5,684 songs (on the 32 GB card) should take 395 seconds. Instead, it took only about 195 seconds. That means it’s reading only twice as fast as the speed class 2 card. Twice the speed of class 2 is class 4.

    I’m assuming here, of course, that it’s only reading directory information—that is, file names—into memory. If it’s doing something else, then the estimate may be off.

  6. The manual kinda sucks on this point. The quick instructions on page 24 just say “Turning automatic answering on or off. Refer to Setting automatic answering on page 48.”

    Page 48 says “Turn automatic answering on or off. Refer to Introduction of Bluetooth telephone operations on page 24.”

    Fortunately, it’s just a button press.

  7. The fact that the model car I bought uses a standard head unit size is one of the reasons I ended up choosing it over the other models I was looking at, that came with built-in, not easily switched-out stereos. Since I was looking at used vehicles from the 2004-2005 era, I’d be stuck with five-year-old stereos, and no bluetooth. One of the cars I was looking at actually had a cellphone, rather than bluetooth, as an option!

  1. <- Beat Farmers reunion
  2. iPad music apps ->