Just before Christmas 2007 my friend Kate asked me about what would be required to connect her boyfriend Ben's iPod to the head unit in his 2004 Honda Accord. I suggested that she purchase the USA Spec branded iPod Interface designed for these Honda vehicles, the PA11-HON2y. I had come across this adapter as pat of the work I did with the Honda Music Link and HMLiberator and figured that it would be a good match for his Accord. Kate then ordered it from Crutchfield (item #581PA11H2Y) and on the afternoon of December 28th, 2007 I installed it.
With the problems I've had in the past with the Honda Music Link I was anxious to try another off the shelf iPod adapter for Honda vehicles. Since I had plenty of time to do the installation and poke around with the device, I decided to write up this review. Hopefully others will find this useful as well.
If there are any questions or comments about this review, please feel free to email me.
USA Spec iPod interfaces generally have two modes, selectable via DIP switches, for communicating with iPods:
- Direct Mode: As a simple auxiliary input device, where the iPod's controls are used to select music.
- Playlist Mode: Using five playlists on the iPod to emulate a six disc changer. The first five playlists are discs one through five, and the sixth is all tracks on the iPod. This locks out the iPod's interface, causing it to display an "OK To Disconnect" message.
The Direct mode works great, passing Next, Previous, Fast Forward, and Rewind commands from the head unit to the iPod. To start playing, the user simply presses the CD button to select the CD changer (CDC, which is what the PA11-HON2y appears as) and uses the iPod as normal. The iPod is paused whenever the head unit is switched to another mode (FM, CD, AUX, etc). If the vehicle is powered off while the iPod is playing, the iPod is paused, and upon starting the vehicle the iPod starts playing again. In short, it works just like the built-in CD player, but with direct control of the iPod.
With the PA11-HON2y version, USA Spec has introduced a new Hybrid mode. This new mode replaces Playlist mode and allows all the functionality of Playlist mode, but without locking out the interface. In USA Spec's words (complete with typos) from the documentation shipped with the PA11-HON2y:
In Hybrid Mode, the songs on iPod are accessed exactly in the same way as in the Playlist Mode been explained in the owner's manual. But, iPod screen is NOT locked to "ok to disconnect" and iPod control keys are also fully functional. Therefore, while playing your iPod at any DISC location of radio, you can manually change song, change artist, change album, fast forward, fast reverse, etc. through the keys on iPod.
If the playback of a Playlist is manually "interrupted" through iPod's key pad and a song or music in a "new category" is played, the interface module memorizes the last played track number of the "new category". "New category" means folders, or Playlsit, or artist, etc. which is different from the Playlist being played. When you return to the same DISC on radio later, the interface module will use the "memorized" track number (note: just the track number, not the last played song in the new category) to playback the Playlist related to this DISC.
When iPod is connected to interface module, the iPod will take approximately 30 seconds to complete its external control mode configuration. During this period of time, the iPod screen's display will continue change until the configuration is completed.
After playing with the Hybrid mode for a few minutes on a Honda stereo test rig, my friend Ben decided that while it works well, he prefers the Direct mode, so we configured the PA11-HON2y for this mode by putting DIP switch 2 in the Off position.
Oddly, when playing with Hybrid mode, I noticed that a small bitmap graphic reading "Toyota" briefly flashed on screen while the PA11-HON2y was in the middle of the hybrid mode initialization. I suspect that USA Spec shares much of their firmware across iPod interface modules and this is left over from some code reuse. It didn't seem to affect the function of the device in any way, and it was only displayed for two or three seconds, so it didn't really worry me.
After reading through the instructions Crutchfield provided for removing the head unit from a 2004 Honda Accord, I tore into the center console of Ben's vehicle. To expose the bottom of the head unit where the auxiliary input connector is, I only had to remove the gear selector trim ring, change holder, cigarette lighter assembly, and center storage unit.
The connector was easily plugged into the bottom of the head unit, so I then wrapped the PA11-HON2y interface box in some heavy self-adhesive felt (to keep it from rattling) and cable tied it to some exposed support pieces in the center console, a few inches away from the airbag sensor, on the driver's side of the vehicle. Next I drilled a 1/2" hole in the back of the center storage unit, fed the iPod cable through there, and fit a grommet into the hole to keep the cable from becoming nicked.
After ensuring that all plug-in connectors were seated, everything was put back together and the iPod cable gently coiled in the center storage unit. All that is visible after installation is the black iPod cable, emanating from the depths of the center storage unit. It looks nice and discreet, and works great.
Since I hadn't worked directly with a USA Spec iPod interface, I wanted to open it up to see what is inside. One of the first things I noticed was that the PA11-HON2y uses the same NEC μPD72042B IEbus controller that is found in the Honda / Acura Music Link.
Second, it has two identical Samsung S3P9228 microcontrollers (3P9228AZZ-QZ8, specifically). While I didn't test the device nor trace the layout to confirm this, I suspect that one microcontroller handles the vehicle half of the interface and the other handles communication with the iPod, with the two communicating via some standard (internal to USA Spec or otherwise). Done this way, USA Spec would then be able to develop vehicle interface modules separately from device control modules, and then just use the two halves together as needed (eg: an iPod module + Honda interface, or Zune module + GM interface, etc).
The board layout looks nice to me, and everything appears to be put together nicely, with nice looking solder joints. Hex-head screws are used for closing the box, which makes disassembly easy. There was even a small piece of protective plastic film over the plastic label / logo on the top of the interface box.
All the photos I took for this write-up can be found here: USA Spec PA11-HON2y Gallery
Here are what I find to be the more notable photos, from a disassembly perspective:
Unable to find the manual for the USA Spec PA11-HON2y online, I scanned the manual and the other documentation included with it, and have generated a PDF from them: usa_spec_pa11-hon2y_documents_28dec2007.pdf. These show many more details of the installation and use than the documentation on USA Spec's site.
USA Spec reserves the right not to provide warranty or technical support on purchases made through eBay sellers or any unauthorized Internet seller ( Despite what they might tell you)
After installing and playing with the USA Spec PA11-HON2y, I found it to be a very nice, simple, straightforward iPod interface which does exactly what it claims to. The aluminum case used to house the interface circuitry is well built, lightweight, small, and easy to mount. While USA Spec did provide self-tapping screws, it would have been nice if the interface unit was bundled with a heavy foam or felt sleeve. I prefer to wrap such devices in padding if they are to be strapped directly to other metal support pieces, just to ensure that no irritating rattles develop.
I expect that the other USA Spec interfaces function very similarly to the PA11-HON2y, so at this point I would have no difficulty suggesting that individuals with non-Honda vehicles investigate USA Spec's iPod interface devices, just as I have no difficulties recommending the PA11-HON2y.