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Car Audio 2.0: Listen to Pandora, MP3s and iPods in Your Car

For the past few years, car companies have jumped on the digital media bandwagon, offering USB ports to load music from your iPod Touch and Bluetooth streaming audio to play tracks right from your iPhone. Now, new music technology is emerging that goes a step further — letting you play music from Pandora Radio or over a very high-speed wireless network.

Acura Song by Voice

Giving Ford Sync a run for its money, the Song by Voice feature in the latest Acura MDX and ZDX models lets you choose songs by speaking. You press the Talk button and say “iPod Search” or “HDD Search” and then name the artist, album, track, genre, or composer. The system uses a phonetic library with as many as 2000 entries, so you can say “Springsteen” and it will know you mean The Boss.

LTE Connected Car

A proof-of-concept announced last year, the LTE Connected Car shows how the future of music tech in cars will work. The car uses the LTE (Long Term Evolution) wireless broadband network to stream audio at up to 300MBps in high-fidelity directly to the car. This “cloud-based radio” means access to every artist and album with no need for local storage. Verizon will be making LTE available in about 30 cities this November and plans to cover all major cities by 2013.


Ford Sync AppLink

One of the most remarkable new music technologies across any car brand, the AppLink service for the new Ford Fiesta, which will roll out to other Ford and Lincoln cars soon, plays a music stream off your smartphone. This means you can play Pandora radio stations or a stream from any radio station that also broadcasts over the Web. To use AppLink, you connect over Bluetooth, then run an app designed for Ford Sync. The car LCD shows you the options available for selecting the music. You can even use the radio presets on the Fiesta as a button you press to access that Web station.

Also check out our in-depth coverage of the MyFord Touch in-dash technology.

Alpine iDA-X305S Digital Media Receiver

This highly advanced car stereo, which uses the 1-DIN size, connects to your iPhone in some amazing ways. Once you make the Bluetooth connection, you can search for artists and album names, navigate through playlists, and control other peripherals such as the CD and terrestrial radio. The most impressive feature, though, is the connection to Pandora Radio. Using the touch controls on the receiver, you can choose a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to select your music preferences. You can also bookmark albums, which makes them easy to buy later from Pandora.com.


Pioneer AVIC-X920BT

The powerful AVIC-X920BT car stereo has a massive 6.1-inch LCD screen for selecting artists and albums. Like the Alpine, you can also connect to your iPhone and play Pandora Radio stations. The app shows up as a colorful and easy-to-navigate app on the Pioneer LCD screen. You can bookmark tracks, control play and pause, and choose to thumbs-up or thumbs-down any track. The in-dash receiver also has a unique eco-driving mode that shows fuel consumption habits. And, the fully certified iPod and iPhone receiver shows album art, exact artist name, and other details directly from your portable device.

Audi Q5 MMI

In the recent Audi Q5 coupe, the new MMI interface is a step beyond what most cars offer in terms of audio storage and music control. The bright and clear touch-screen display, which is used for GPS navigation as well, lets you control all audio from SD cards (from one of the two slots available), an internal hard disk on the car, and your iPhone or other smartphone (connected over Bluetooth). The touch controls are more responsive than those in older LCD-nav systems.


Smart Fortwo MusicID Stream

Lucky owners of the gas-powered (but very small) Smart vehicles, which are a precursor to urban cars like the GM ENV, will appreciate a new Gracenote technology called MusicID Stream that helps power the smart drive app. The app runs on your iPhone and can listen to any available audio in the car, identify it, and then allow you to purchase and download the song and play it on the vehicle’s car stereo. The app uses what’s called “waveform fingerprinting” to tap into the Gracenote database in the cloud and find the exact artist and song.