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Review: Scosche enters car radio fray with iOS connected controlFREQ

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
After decades in the car audio industry, and many years spent as a consumer device and accessory maker, Scosche recently debuted its first Bluetooth car stereo receiver in the controlFREQ, a single DIN head unit that can be controlled with smartphone app.

Scosche


The most important thing about car audio in this day of heavily integrated, manufacturer provided entertainment systems is paying attention to how integrated they are, and what you give up when you change to an aftermarket system.

Hardware



The first thing I noticed when using the controlFREQ was the immediately apparent lack of niceties from my old Cadillac receiver, which handled low fuel consumption, boasted steering wheel controls, integrated seat and mirror memory settings tied to the unlock key fob remotes, a trip computer, oil life and a number of other features I can't even recall.

I admit, these features are not crucial for driving, but having had them, it's as if I've given my car a lobotomy with the new unit, crippling its convenience.

Scosche


The controlFREQ has its benefits, but there are a few things that Scosche didn't get right. The receiver doesn't have a dedicated Siri button (or for Android, one that prompts the voice dial feature), lacks an external microphone and has no remote connector to translate commands from the car's steering wheel-mounted controls.

Why are these a big deal? Driving with Siri (or to a lesser extent, the automation found in Android or Windows Phone) is a great experience. Pressing a button to gain access to a phone's handsfree features is a perfect way to interact while on the road. It's not hard to do technically, and Scosche missed out on this feature.

Microphones need to be near the face to pick up voice well. In a car, this usually usually means installation around the rear view mirror, on the front pillar, or near the gauge binnacle. Anywhere that is close to, or in line with the driver's head. Locating the only microphone on the center stack means it isn't going to work as well as it could.

A component that would allow support for existing steering wheel control is an odd thing to exclude. This is especially confusing when Scosche already sells PAC-Audio devices which adapt car manufacturer's steering wheel controls to the remote interfaces on popular radios from Sony, Pioneer and JVC. The company also makes a wiring adapter with logic that allows from-the-factory parts, such as Bose Amps and GM's OnStar, to continue to work when an aftermarket stereo is installed.

Given this engineering capability and knowledge, why couldn't Scosche have included a remote interface in its first car stereo? If it had replicated any one of the remote signals already sold in one of the firm's other products, my steering wheel controls would still function.

Scosche


The controls that the receiver does have are well-executed. For example, the volume knob has a subtle click detent feel to it and turns with ease. It's large, knurled and easy to grab hold of. The screen is easy to read despite being segmented like old car stereos or alarm clocks, most likely a move to keep manufacturing prices down.

Installation



For the review, Scosche provided the following:
  • Scosche controlFREQ car stereo
  • Scosche GM1586B fascia (dual and single DIN) for my car, a 2005 Cadillac CTS
  • Scosche GM20SR Stereo Replacement Interface for 2003-2006 Cadillac SRX and CTS (retains Bose and OnStar)

The installation was relatively straight-forward, but there were some minor difficulties regarding compatibility.

Scosche


For example, the controlFREQ comes with a large sticker labeled "Warranty Void if Sticker Damaged or Removed."

Unfortunately, the act of inserting the Scosche radio in the provided fascia, using the company's ISO mounting tabs, will shred the sticker. You read correctly - installing the radio using parts from the same manufacturer causes damage that supposedly voids the warranty.

When made aware of the issue, Scosche noted that damage to the sticker during installation is usually not a problem, and the company would honor the warranty as long as the customer retains a copy of the purchase receipt.

Scosche


The Scosche GM1586B installation kit came with a single DIN surround and a dual DIN surround to make the gap around the radio follow the surface profile of the larger fascia - essentially a more "factory" look. The piece that comes stock on the controlFREQ doesn't.

When I switched the controlFREQ's fascia with that of the GM-specific part, a few of the very tiny snap fingers that hold it on (2 on each side) broke in the process. Using the nice one that comes with GM1586B prevents the radio faceplate from folding down or being easily removed - essentially blocking easy access to the reset button, SD Card slot and CD slot.

Scosche assures me that it's looking at redesigning this surround so that it can accommodate the the faceplate folding down.


The App



The App was designed prior to iPhone 5 and has yet to be updated to take advantage of its 4-inch display. Even leaving that out, it uses a non-standard volume slider that is hard to get used to ? it take up less than the full width of the display, so it's a smaller target for my finger. Also, the volume control doesn't feel immediately responsive.

Scosche App


The EQ and other functions (switching inputs) work well. I imagine they're most useful for a backseat passenger. It is easier to adjust EQ on the app, easier to adjust volume with the knob on the radio.

One nice benefit of having iOS support? Pairing with the phone causes the radio's clock to be set correctly. Thank you, Scosche, for getting this right.

Performance



So, how does it work? Actually, reasonably well.

Pairing with Bluetooth was quick and about as easy as it is for any other Bluetooth device.
Call audio quality wasn't all bad, although I had to remember to turn down the A/C in order for people on the other end of the call to hear me with any clarity.

Streaming music from the iPhone worked as expected, although controlFREQ is not using profiles and codecs that would make the Bluetooth audio and calling sound better.

Going forward, I expect AAC as the codec for Bluetooth audio and Wideband Speech Profile to be included in any Bluetooth handsfree product that's made - the high quality voice services that are coming about with iPhone 5 and carrier adoption mean now's the time for manufacturers to start including them in products, especially semi-permanent ones like a car receiver.

Admittedly, this may be too high an expectation for car audio ? the car is very much an imperfect listening environment. When designing car audio, it's possible to tune all the car audio components to perfection when the car is off, but the moment the car is on you have electrical interference (alternator whine!), road noise, noise from the climate control, all of which ruin the expense spent on tuning the audio properly. It's possible to overcome much of this through expensive DSPs that use microphones and noise-cancellation, but that's very much out of budget for an affordable product today, like the controlFREQ.

Scosche


The good news is that this product is affordable at $120, so for all these features, it's not a huge investment to replace. I acknowledge that the cost of the GM20SR installation kit is not small, but this would be required for any clean installation.

Think of it like this: If I had a nice used car that didn't have handsfree, for about $130-140 (depending on the cost of the dashboard fascia) I could replace the stereo and add handsfree calling to the car. Playing music from my iPhone and having app control are bonuses.

What I observe other than my desire for a Siri button is that this product probably works best in a car with less integration and features, one without steering wheel controls and an integrated car system that does more than audio. Cars like this are getting older and even then they have these features. I owned a 2002 Ford Focus SVT which had audio controls on a stalk on the steering column, for example.

The phone button on the radio faceplate would have been perfect for prompting Siri (or voice input on Android or Windows Phone for that matter) but it doesn't. Instead, it redials the last number called and answers or rejects incoming calls.

I do wish that when streaming audio from Bluetooth to the controlFREQ that the track names appeared on the segmented display. They do not. This would have been a nice touch.

Conclusions



Car audio is hard to solve elegantly. As the integration between the entertainment system and rest of the car gets tighter, it gets harder to convince people to give up the stock system and spend the time and money to install an aftermarket product.

The other problem with car bound accessories is that many of them have their own application on the App Store. This is great until you have more than one. That is, if I'm using a navigation app, running an app-enabled radar detector, and using a streaming music service for my music source, but need to switch to the car radio app to control the EQ, I'm now out of navigation context when I really ought to be driving. Switching apps requires reaching for the phone unless you can prompt Siri. This is why I like driving with Siri, which isn't available in this head unit.


This is a good radio for a car whose other services aren't tightly integrated into the stock entertainment system. It's affordable, does what it sets out to do, and does it well ? I just wish it did a little more.

The Scosche controlFREQ is available now for $119.99 directly from the company's website.

Score: 3.5 out of 5



ratings_hl_35.png

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Handsfree calling
  • Advanced app conrols

Cons
  • No dedicated Siri button
  • No steering wheel control
  • No external mic option
post #2 of 16
Would love to put this in my 2003 Subaru WRX, but the double-DIN stock unit includes a 6-disk CD changer that I'd have to give up. I'd be willing to sacrifice that for a single disk slot, but the review doesn't mention it including one. Maybe the next rev?
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post #3 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Robin Huber View Post

Would love to put this in my 2003 Subaru WRX, but the double-DIN stock unit includes a 6-disk CD changer that I'd have to give up. I'd be willing to sacrifice that for a single disk slot, but the review doesn't mention it including one. Maybe the next rev?

Why wouldn't you just load up a USB device with music, or stream via Bluetooth? CD's are just not worth the effort anymore.

Also, there are so many better head units available. The only 'good' thing about this one is the app. Which would be completely useless to me as I'd prefer to change tracks and volume on the head unit or with the steering wheel controls. An Alpine or Pioneer unit is much better for integration, even at this price.

I'm surprised something as boring as this is even on AI. Its one of the most basic head units I've ever seen.
post #4 of 16
Wishing more headunits had REAR USB and AUX ports.

I hate having cords sticking out all the time...
post #5 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Scrip View Post

Wishing more headunits had REAR USB and AUX ports.

I hate having cords sticking out all the time...

My stock radio inside my 2011 F-150 has both, though they aren't attached by default. I ran a USB and mini-plug extension cable to my glove box where it connects to and old iPod classic. Out of sight, out of mind, but all of my music is a available at the touch of a button or simple voice command.

The trouble third party manufacturers are running into now, which is mentioned in this article, is just how integrated and feature packed the stock units on most modern vehicles are. I love Alpine amps and speakers, but there was no way I was going to give up the hands free control that Ford's Sync system gives me. Instead, I did what most people are doing these days, and ran a speaker level feed to an audio processor which kicks up sound quality to respectable levels, before passing it off to a solid amp and some decent speakers. The end result is superior sound, without sacrificing built in functionality or making my truck a target for thieves.

Until third party manufacturers like Alpine, Pioneer, Kenwood or Sony can roll out units that offer more features than the stock models instead of less, their market share will continue to decline. Gimmicky app-driven solutions like this are definitely not the answer.
post #6 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Robin Huber View Post

Would love to put this in my 2003 Subaru WRX, but the double-DIN stock unit includes a 6-disk CD changer that I'd have to give up. I'd be willing to sacrifice that for a single disk slot, but the review doesn't mention it including one. Maybe the next rev?

CD? That is sooo 1985.
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post #7 of 16
I think I'll stick to my Sony S300BTX head unit with it's internal usb port iPod draw where the cd slot would normally be so my 80Gb classic can live quite happily tucked away inside it. Full Bluetooth support and an external USB let me charge or play music from my iPhone should I need to which make it near perfect for my needs...
Edited by DaveMcM76 - 5/27/13 at 12:15am
post #8 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Robin Huber View Post

Would love to put this in my 2003 Subaru WRX, but the double-DIN stock unit includes a 6-disk CD changer that I'd have to give up. I'd be willing to sacrifice that for a single disk slot, but the review doesn't mention it including one. Maybe the next rev?

If this will work for you, go get one. Even though CD isn't clearly mentioned, the one picture above clearly shows it, and this little sentence references it: "essentially blocking easy access to the reset button, SD Card slot and CD slot."

 

As for the 6-disc changer, I've quickly gotten over having one once I loaded up my iPhone with music. I quickly learned it was so much more convenient, not to mention easier while driving, to have thousands of songs available at my fingertips. I can't remember the last time I played a CD in my car since I've gone to Bluetooth streaming with my iPhone. 

 

For now, it looks like I'm sticking with my JVC KW-AVX740. I'm still waiting for someone to make a decent Bluetooth audio/video head unit with iPhone 5 integration, with Lightening connector support and all. 

post #9 of 16
This headunit has a single CD and SD slot behind the faceplate. The USB, 3.5mm AUX and handsfree microphone are front mounted. The USB port is lightning compatible for iPhone 5.

Why did we go to the trouble of reviewing this product? 3rd party Car audio for iPod / iOS is hard. Manufacturers had great success with FM transmitters, but they've had a hard time coming up with any solutions at all since that time.

This is probably a fine upgrade for Robin Huber's Subaru, especially if the factory Subaru system isn't deeply integrated.
post #10 of 16
Wouldn't AirPlay offer higher quality sound wirelessly than Bluetooth? I'm surprised it hasn't been offered in car units.

As for comments about my retro CD tastes, it's only for audiobooks from the library (free) that often are only available on CDs. Otherwise, I agree, I am happy to leave CDs behind.
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post #11 of 16
Originally Posted by Robin Huber View Post
Wouldn't AirPlay offer higher quality sound wirelessly than Bluetooth? I'm surprised it hasn't been offered in car units.

 

Power draw has to be what stands in the way of that. AirPlay is over straight-up Wi-Fi, of course.

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post #12 of 16
It's not power draw- the car has power in spades. It has a USB port to charge the phone if power draw is too much on the phone battery.

The problems are startup time- it takes a minute to boot a wifi router and have it ready- and fooling the phone into using wifi for the audio but cellular data for the Internet. This second part isn't technically hard but getting such a unit approved by Apple may be.

The startup at power on is hard to deal with. Who wants to wait a minute to have audio ready?
post #13 of 16
Note: I have the old 802.11n airport express in my car. I removed the ac power supply board from it and added a voltage regulator to run it off 5vdc. It plugs into USB for power now.

I changed settings so that I can send audio to it for airplay but still use cellular for data.

It takes 1 minute to boot. The same 1 minute that in-home airplay speakers take to boot.
post #14 of 16
Just wait for Alpine to copy this tech and make it better. Pioneers iPod control doesn't hold a candle to Alpine. I just wish their head units had faster cores.
post #15 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by vmarks View Post

It takes 1 minute to boot. The same 1 minute that in-home airplay speakers take to boot.
Wow, I'm impressed! Maybe Alpine can figure a way to start up audio in Bluetooth, then seamlessly hand it off to AirPlay when router has booted.
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post #16 of 16
The handoff would still be at the iPhone - which means manipulating the iPhone when driving.

The iPhone is pretty good at playing music over airplay, handing the call off to Bluetooth and then returning audio to airplay.

Scosche did a good job of playing audio via aux, handing it off to Bluetooth for a call and then returning audio to aux.
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