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Man, But I Miss Knobs

avh-x2500bt_hero_large.jpgThe six-disc changer in my 4Runner’s console stereo dropped dead late last summer, after serving me well for eleven years. Considering the mechanical nightmare the damned thing was internally, I’m a little surprised it lasted as long as it did. So for about ten months now, I’ve been reduced to listening to the radio, in a town where radio is not a priority. (Irony, however, is a Colorado Springs delicacy: With just about every other town and county but Denver voting to ban legal marijuana, the home of Focus on the Family looks like it will soon be the highest city in the state.)

I haven’t listened to pop radio in the car for maybe 25 years, since I started recording mix tapes off vinyl. I expected to develop (however unintentionally) an appetite for recent pop music. Hey, it worked with Madonna in 1986. Not this time. I found one band worth investigating further (Owl City) and bought four, count em, four MP3s. A couple of Owl City tracks, Kelly Clarkson’s “Catch My Breath,” and Two Door Cinema Club’s moody song “Sun,” which I bought because it contains the word “drumlins.” Just that, based on ten months of mostly cringing and reaching for the volume knob.

Now I can’t even do that.

After punting for far too long, I went down to Car Toys earlier today and had them install one of these. It had a Bluetooth phone feature I wanted, since I don’t like manhandling a phone in the car. It plays MP3s from a thumb drive, and every MP3 I have that’s worth hearing will fit on a thumb drive. (Not a big one, either.) It looks for all the world like a smartphone held sideways, complete with the little four-square menu button. All it lacks is a volume control knob. It has a mute button, which will come in handy, just like it does when The Weather Channel plays that excruciating commercial about the poor woman who’s been falling on her kitchen floor and failing to get up since before they tore down the Berlin Wall. It has firmware to update, God help us, and…cripes, I wasn’t ready for this…a remote.

At the risk of sounding like an MP3 on autorepeat, well, all it lacks is a volume control knob.

I’ll get used to it. (I got used to Madonna in 1986, after all.) Mostly what I want out of it is hands-free phone calls and MP3 playback. I know why it doesn’t have a knob: Knobs take room on the panel that you could otherwise fill with icons. And a knob would add another 85.67 cents to the UMC. Besides, knobs are just so 1952.

Just like me.


  1. Erbo says:

    This is why I like Sirius XM. It no longer matters to me what “local radio” is like, because I can push one button and be listening to the satellite, to virtually any genre or timeframe of music.

    I had an add-on XM radio in the Saturn before it wrecked. When I got the Taurus, it had Sirius built into the stock stereo system. However, despite the fact that Sirius XM has (mostly) merged its programming on both systems, it has not merged its subscriber accounting system; you can’t have XM and Sirius radios on the same account, the account is tied to the radio type. I had to close my XM account and open a new Sirius account.

  2. Tom R. says:

    Touch screen controls seem to have gone overboard in the car commercial for one brand that brags that it is modern and has touch screen controls just like your tablet computer.

    Uh, am I missing something, or are some lawyers are going to make a lot of money when the wrecks start happening while the driver has his or her head down trying to see the touch screen icons to adjust the car AC or heat.

    More decades ago than I care to remember, when I was taking a human factors design class as an “easy” elective toward my engineering degree the idea was that important controls should be identified by touch not by having to squint at them. Of course that was before the days of the glass cockpit.

    1. Lotta truth in that. I think the Menu button has some texture on it, but it’s also illuminated. With some practice I think I’ll also be able to work the volume by touch, and probably the skip track icon. That’s 99% of what I did with the old unit.

      The scary thing is this: The sales rep didn’t mention it, but the manual implies that you can actually run DVD movies on it. Egad.

  3. […] My new knobless car stereo worked beautifully…except that it couldn’t keep time. The LCD clock display was erratic from the beginning. For the first day or two it was gaining five minutes per day. Then the whole thing reset to January 1 at midnight. I set it again to the current date and time. It ran fast for a couple more days. Then it reset itself again. Nothing was done to the car in that time frame, so it wasn’t that the battery was disconnected from the stereo. […]

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