Don’t let the radio kill your vibe

The new tech-savvy generation of drivers are facing issues with cars that do not support the auxiliary port

BY OLIVIA MORRIS

While waiting for the lengthy road trip from Toronto to Ottawa to end, Nicolas Tatone began flipping through the radio stations in the U-Haul truck his father rented to help a friend move. Having to endure the five-hour trip in silence with his dad was unbearable for Tatone. After several minutes of aimlessly turning the radio dial, he finally landed on a song from his dad’s childhood that immediately changed the truck’s somber atmosphere.

Although the song only lasted three minutes, it was as if the long road trip had finally come to an end. Music has a way of uplifting a person’s spirits in any given situation and for Tatone, those three minutes of singing along to one of his dad’s favourite songs was all it took to get to make time fly, but then the commercials started playing and he realised it was hours until Ottawa.

A replica of a 1930 Motorola ST71 Control Panel, that was the original car radio. Photo Credit: Ryann Kahler

Listening to the non-stop commercials and brief discussions held by radio hosts during a car ride is an annoyance faced by one of the most tech-savvy generations. While this is viewed as a first world problem for some, driving a vehicle without an auxiliary port can impact one’s in-car listening experience. Millennials have considered paying the price to have it installed because of this.

Child and Youth Worker for the Toronto School Board, Jessika Hopkins, recently purchased a 2008 Santa Fe Hyundai GLS in January 2017. At home, Hopkins embarrassingly describes purchasing the Hyundai on the lot without noticing that it didn’t have an auxiliary port.

“I thought it did because we looked at another Hyundai on the lot, but it turned out it didn’t, and I didn’t find that out until I brought the car home,” Hopkins says.

“It’s not the dealerships fault though, I just thought I was buying a car with an auxiliary port.”

Fitted to most modern cars, an auxiliary port (AUX) is an input socket that allows audio signals from most portable music players to be played through the car’s stereo system. Typically located in or around the car stereo, an auxiliary cable allows drivers to connect their smartphones or iPods to their vehicle. Despite our desires, not all newer car models have upgraded their car decks to support the rapidly progressing way that we listen to music. This has led consumers to resort to alternative audio devices to improve their in-car listening experience.

Photo By Olivia Morris

“I would rather just put my music on, the stuff that I like, and not have to flip through the channels. I’ve tried three different FM transmitters, all terrible. One of them was $39, another one was $89, and the last one was $69,” Hopkins says

Wireless devices like FM transmitters are convenient for motorists who weren’t lucky enough to snag a car with an auxiliary port or Bluetooth connectivity. This in-car solution doesn’t require any wiring to the vehicle, which is great for those who would prefer not to bring their vehicle to an auto shop.

Instead, drivers can plug the FM transmitter into a portable audio source which then broadcasts music through the car’s speakers. Although a noteworthy invention, FM transmitters can be tricky to work and can hinder the audio quality of music.

Hopkins says it would’ve been nice to purchase a car with the auxiliary port feature, and she is open minded to someday installing the input into her car

“Depending on how much money it is, I would definitely put an auxiliary port in my car,” Hopkins says. “I’d probably even spend up to $500.”

This audio accessory, desired by millennials who own vehicles manufactured before 2005, can cost as much as $200 to install, says Auto Accessory World Installation Technician Rob Coulef-Verhoezen.

“To install a separate auxiliary into the vehicle, you’re going to be looking at around $149 to $159,” he says.

“If you’re looking to change out the radio and install a deck that already has an auxiliary built into it, parts, labour and the cost of the radio you’re going to be looking at around the $200 mark.”

In fact, Coulef-Verhoezen says you’d be surprised to see how many people make the long trip to Auto Accessory World in Oshawa, Ontario to upgrade their current set-up.

“After a consultation, nine out of 10 people end up going with installing the new radio deck in their cars,” he says.

“The difference is only about $50 to $70 and you get a new radio with everything built into it, like a USB and everything else.”

The fact that everyone, with the exception of post-war baby boomers, is transitioning to using smartphones is the reason why audio technology will continue to expand smartphone functionality in vehicles.

Valeria Aguirre, Sales and Marketing Consultant at Leggatt Chevrolet, says it is common for millennials that visit the dealership to have a salesperson show them specific models of cars that have certain audio enhancements.

“Sometimes you get young customers looking where to place a USB inside the vehicle,” Aguirre says.

“They are really in tune with the new technology. They ask you to show them how Apple Car or Android Auto works, or they already know when they come in to test drive a car, because they have done their research about it online.”

As a sales consultant at Leggatt Chevrolet, Aguirre noticed that other automotive features sway purchase decisions more than audio technology.

“Only for navigation system in a low trim level, not the premiums,” says Aguirre.

“Other than that, vehicles today like Chevrolet come with Apple Car or Android Auto. Bluetooth streaming and the USB port is absolutely standard, which means you don’t have to pay an extra package to have it in your vehicle.”

As for the future of audio enhancements, Aguirre says one manufacturer in particular has done a great job of coming up with innovative ways of pleasing their customers with updated automotive features in newer car models.

“General Motors is always improving technology features inside their vehicles,” Aguirre says.

Most millennials use an aux cord to connect their phone to their car’s stereo. Photo Credit: Olivia Morris

“Noise cancellation, enhancements in radios, audio streaming, voice recognitions, internet hotspot. All of them have been amazing for customers.”

A 2017 article called The Best High-Tech Cars of 2017 by Doug Newcomb of PC Magazine featured vehicles with the best technology enhancements to satisfy our tech-savvy needs. It described how far music technology has expanded in order to adapt to the rapid advance of new technology.

“Music was the original consumer electronics technology to enter the car,” Newcomb says.

“And today there’s more ways than ever to get great road tunes in your ride. AM and FM, satellite radio, CD and DVD, in-dash hard drives, portable device integration via USB and auxiliary inputs, SD cards, and streaming music apps,” he says.

Eliot Britton, assistant professor of Composition and Music Technology & Digital Media at the University of Toronto, has seen how a strong incentive for streaming services and Bluetooth connectivity is reflected in the choices automakers fashion when it comes to manufacturing vehicles.

“If you’re thinking from a capital, financial or investment perspective, it is in the best interest of car manufacturers to design cars that are appealing to the demographics that they’re targeting,” Britton says.

“Who knows? maybe in the future it’ll move backwards and all of a sudden CD players will become popular again and that will reflect the demographic that is being targeted.”

For Britton, imagining a car where he couldn’t play his own music is an unwelcome thought.

“I personally value the experience of listening to music in an automobile tremendously and I would make my purchasing decision based on whether or not I can listen to my music in the car,” he says.

Millennials today want cars that are compatible with their smartphones. Being the tech-savvy generation that they are, automotive manufacturers will continue to improve audio technology in vehicles to meet their music streaming needs, on and off the road.

“The over saturation of generic radio stations plays a huge role in why millennials value audio privileges so much,” Tatone says.

“Currently there are just too many radio stations that play the same top 40 hits, leaving listeners with very little variety,” he said. “By having an alternative to the radio, it makes driving much more enjoyable.”

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