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Sunday, May 26, 2013, 04:10 pm PT (07:10 pm ET)

Review: Scosche enters car radio fray with iOS connected controlFREQ

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.