My car radio broke. I turned it on and all I got was static.

Now my friend Jeff says it’s because I started my car with the a/c on, but I’d never had a problem previously. And then I realized I could get FM, but the tuner skipped over Sirius, and on XM I got the aforementioned static. Yes, I have both in my car, it’s a legacy from when the outlets were different. And to tell you the truth, I still used both, each tuner had pluses and minuses. So I could still listen to FM, but…

I haven’t had that spirit in my car since 2003, when I first got XM.

Oh, I tried. It was execrable. Unlistenable. Jive with too many commercials, and the inability to click to scores of music stations if I didn’t like what was playing.

And this was bad timing. I was involved in a major project, not work, but personal, and I had no time. And I start calculating when I can get the radio fixed…two weeks?

But then I decided to drive to the car stereo place anyway, just for a reading, because the fact that the tuner just skipped over Sirius was so strange.

Now you’ve got to know, car stereo places are going out of business in droves. You see cars come with much better stereos, and with most brands you can pay for an upgrade, Felice’s Lexus even has a Nakamichi system…but it’s nothing to write home about. But I figured if I purchased a new car, which’ll have to happen someday, although my goal was to keep driving this one until we got to driverless automobiles, I’d stick with the upgraded factory radio.

Now, no way.

So the place I go to, on Wilshire in Santa Monica, is now called Al & Ed’s. But the truth is Al & Ed’s is a centralized buying service, the shop is totally independent, but would my installer still be there? I’d driven by hundreds of times, the shop was still open.

And when I got into the driveway, I called out for Robert, and he was still there!

I mean it was a major installation. Took days back in 2005. And then the Audison amp blew up and had to be replaced by a JL, which costs a grand itself, but I had no choice.

But that was about five years ago.

So I explain the problem to Robert, and he says he’ll have to troubleshoot. Now it’s a game of money, do you pay to find out or just start over, with a new unit. And I’ve been down this route before, my previous Alpine head units lasted four or five years max. And if I got them fixed I was absent sound for a couple of weeks and then they broke again soon thereafter. And this Alpine had lasted 14 years. So I asked Robert, “What about a new radio?”

And he started to smile. He started talking about Alpine’s new flat screens.

But I didn’t want no stinking flat screen, I figured that was an advertisement for theft, and in one car I lost five radios and in another one one and the issue isn’t so much the radio itself, but the destruction to the dash. So, I wanted a radio with a removable faceplate. To tell you the truth, I’d done research the night before, but it was hard to figure out. The digital screen seemed to come with an amplifier, which I didn’t need. And I couldn’t figure out what the best of the traditional units was.

But Robert told me I could get a traditional one DIN radio for $249, plus $150 installation.

But the iLX-W650, the flat screen digital item, sans amp, was only $300.

And I’m still talking about theft when Robert quiets me down and says NO ONE STEALS CAR RADIOS ANYMORE, THEY’RE TOO CHEAP!

Yup, there used to be $1000 head units. You couldn’t buy anything worth owning for under $500.

And I’m questioning Robert, I mean really, no one’s gonna steal it?

And he told me it was BOLTED IN!

But if they didn’t steal radios, did they still steal airbags?

No, Robert told me it was down to catalytic converters now.

So I said yes, but they didn’t have one in stock and I had no time to get it installed that day anyway and he took down my number, and…

I didn’t hear from him.

I mean I told him Friday was good, I was gonna be in the neighborhood, I mean I was slammed every day before, but I got worried when the phone didn’t ring so I stopped by late Thursday afternoon and Richard, the proprietor, told me they were having one Ubered over from the warehouse, and it would be here soon, and Robert could install it today if he had the time.

But he didn’t. You see he was working on this Porsche.

I mean they work on high end/exotic cars there. One guy has 80k into a classic Z28 Camaro. The trunk has giant amps and two batteries, one solely for the stereo if the car is not in motion.

But Thursday was gonna be tight anyway, because I was going to Pasadena to see the Stones.

Now earlier in the week, dying without Howard and music, I streamed SiriusXM from my phone. Which really wasn’t quite loud enough. Then again, my timing was good, Howard was on vacation.

But then I rode in silence. Which is weird, but you’re not so concerned with what you’re missing. It’s an alternative universe, just you and your machine. The only audio I had was listening to WAZE.

But early Friday morning I dropped my car off, well, early by my standards, 10 AM, and then I went about my business.

I got a call from Robert that the radio was done at 12:30, but I was hung up until 3, when I finally Ubered over.

Now the iLX-W650 fits perfectly. You see, my car originally came with a double DIN radio, the factory model which I canned immediately, and the iLX-W650 is double DIN, so it looked like it was a factory installation, but in 2005 no Saab/Subarus came with screens.

And Robert’s showing me how to use it. And it’s both complicated and simple. I mean you can go down through the menus to acute audio control, multiple bands of EQ, and there are a ton of apps.

Oh, I forgot to tell you, the iLX-W650 comes with CARPLAY! (And Android Auto too, if you’re of that persuasion.) So you see your iPhone screen on the screen. Hell, Toyota just went CarPlay THIS YEAR! I’ve got all the features of a brand new car in my old one, thanks to this cheap unit (although by time I paid for installation and the SiriusXM brick and tax, it was over $600).

So I text Richie at Sirius to turn on my radio, but he says to wait 45 minutes, which is cool, because it’s already after closing time on the east coast, where he’s based.

And I pull out on to Wilshire and…

Now you’ve got to know, my car stereo is top shelf. It’s got the best Focal speakers. Two ways in the front doors and full range in the back. And in the trunk I’ve got a giant AVI subwoofer. Actually, it takes up more than a third of the trunk, or the area behind the back seat in my mini-station wagon. Now I tried to go without the subwoofer, but there was just no bottom, I popped for it, and it was another grand with installation back when.

So, Robert put a USB cable in my glovebox. So I could plug my iPhone in and get full service CarPlay. And he demonstrated it at the shop, but I didn’t have a USB to Lightning cable, so I had to stream via Bluetooth.

Oh, also Robert put in a switch, so I can address all the apps while driving, which is normally taboo, they don’t want you watching video.

So I’m stuck in traffic, barely moving, and I Bluetooth my library to the iLX-W650. WHEW!

Now you lose something streaming via Bluetooth, a direct connection is better, it certainly gives you more bottom, but I was ASTOUNDED at the sound, absolutely FLOORED!

Then I switched to Amazon Music, so I could call out tracks while driving, I tried out “Ten Years Gone” and it was…AS GOOD AS THE RECORD!

Of course the iLX-W650 has Siri too, for Apple Music, but I’ve got to read the manual to figure that out.

And all the old tracks I’m playing are new again. I just can’t believe how incredible it sounds!

Now I hear from Richie on the 405, he sends a text, which if I click will give me Sirius, and I do, and it happens instantly, much faster than on my old radios, and suddenly I’m back in action, I’ve got all my stations, my tunes, I’m ECSTATIC!

I remember when I put an aftermarket stereo in my second BMW, back in ’85. My shrink said $2600 was a luxury for most, but one of the things I lived for was driving around in my car listening to music and for me it was a NECESSITY!

And I’m in my automobile, a/c cranking, and I’m in my own private reverie, my own private Idaho, and that’s what I want to do, immediately go on a long road trip, just to listen to my stereo.

I mean I was in traffic for an hour, but I still couldn’t get out of the car when I got home! I was shuffling through songs, listening to how they sounded, you know, like when you buy a brand new home stereo.

But no one buys a brand new home stereo anymore. Tweaks gobble up hundred thousand dollar units, but they’re more into the gear than the music, and for most people a portable Sonos unit will suffice. But if you remember the days of the big rigs…

And I’m driving in my car, inside my own cocoon, it’s like wearing headphones without the earcups, and I realize the music in my car sounds better than the music in almost everybody’s listening environment. I’m hearing things I’ve never heard before.

And when I got home I insisted Felice sit inside and take a listen. She doesn’t care, but she got it.

And Richard told me they’re still upgrading cars, mostly high end models for high end people. They keep the head unit, and they change everything else, except some cars have a built-in amplifier, which you wish you didn’t have.

So I realized, if I ever get a new car, I’m gonna have to pony up again, I just can’t live with even the factory upgrade, you see the manufacturers don’t believe anybody will pay so much extra for the top shelf gear.

But I will!


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