My old car stereo is not very good. It can only play cassettes, the display is broken and sometimes it dies when you adjust the volume. I’ve been using a cassette adapter together with my mp3 player when I’ve wanted to listen to my own music.

My dad gave me a 2GB USB stick for my birthday and I’ve been using it to bring mp3s to work. Yesterday it hit me that there just have to be car stereos with a USB port that can play mp3s off a USB stick. I did some googling and found a bunch of different brands that make such car stereos. I found some customer reviews for a few of them and some had the same problem with random playback as my mp3 player.

Whenever I select random playback on my mp3 player it creates a randomized list of songs, but if I switch it off and then on again it starts over from the start of the very same list! I even reported this as a bug to Creative (it’s a Creative MuVo TX) and I got a reply that said: “This is not really a bug, it’s how the random feature works”. I was tempted to reply that “so if my VCR ejects the tape whenever I press play it’s ‘how the play feature works’?” or something.

Anyway, one model of car stereo I looked at had some wacky restrictions on how many files you could have on your USB stick and only allowed very short file names. So, I checked the site of the big electronics chain that has recently opened a store in the town where I live and checked what models they had. There I found the JVC KD-G721. It had basically all the features I wanted and was reasonably priced, so today I went there after work and bought one.

JVC KD-G721

Now, my car is pretty old (’92 Toyota Camry), so I had to do some “studio engineering” (to quote Jack Black) to make the non-standard connectors in my car fit to the standard connectors on the car stereo. After connecting everything I installed it in my car and tried it out. It works like a charm! Great sound (good enough for me at least)! Of course, the first thing I tested was the random function and it works just how it’s supposed to work. I’m very satisfied. I paid a little extra because I bought it at my local store instead of online, but I think it was worth it because I could go out to my car parked outside the store and rip out my old stereo and get all the cables and stuff I needed to get it connected.

The negatives with this car stereo are:

  • Only supports a limited amount of characters. No unicode support (though the display wouldn’t be able to display them anyway).
  • No playlist support (that I know of). It would be nice to be able to play m3u files or other types of playlists, but it is more of a “nice to have” feature and I will have no problem living without it :)
  • Only supports 2500 songs. This can be a problem for people who plan on connecting USB harddrives, but for me it’s a non-issue since I only plan on using a USB stick (I think it supports up to 4GB single partition).
  • The “random song in folder” play mode (which is great by the way) is switched off if you skip to another folder (though not when you skip songs), but I’m not sure that’s really a bad thing, because…
  • … the buttons are kind of small and to start random playback you have to press “mode” and then “6″, so there’s a bit of a learning curve if you don’t want to look down while driving. Also since the buttons are so small and densely placed you can’t operate anything except the source, volume and previous/next while wearing gloves.

Positives (these are the features I was looking for):

  • Good price
  • USB stick connection
  • Removable front
  • iPod ready (if I ever get one, but you need an extra gadget to connect it)
  • Good random function
  • Plays MP3 and WMA (both off USB stick and CD)
  • There’s a plastic lid covering the USB port that you can slide open instead of one of those flimsy rubber things.
  • You can have just about any characters in the file names. I have many mp3s that have Chinese characters in the names and they work just fine.

It also comes with a little remote control. And I mean it when I say “little”. Let’s just say that the scale is correct in the picture above.

I’ve been driving around for an hour or so to try the car stereo in action and I’m very satisfied with it so far. It’s great!