GTi MacMini - Upgrade!

From March 3, 2009. As some of you may know, I installed a MacMini in my 2001 Volkswagen GTI a little less than three years ago, and received an enormous amount of press, praise and support of the project over the years since then. The car ended up being featured in a number of print and online publications, my blog was Slashdotted (requiring purchasing a lot more hosting) and - most importantly - the buzz around the project way back when gave myself and my business partner the necessary push to quit our jobs and go full-time with 2point5, not to mention booth space at Macworld 2006 to premier spec.dock - our company’s iPod/iPhone integration product - alongside the GTI in San Francisco. It’s been a little like a strange dream come true to have the MacMini installed in the car since then, making it simple to access my entire music collection, surf the internet, check mail, etc…However, I recently realized that I have ended up mostly using the MacMini only for music and some video, but not much more. Further, it has become a bit of a chore to keep my primary computer and the car’s computer in sync and up to date with each other via file transfers. Also, my iPhone 3G has taken over a lot of this functionality, allowing me to continue listening to music via the MacMini, while keeping up with emails and the occasional website (when I’m at a red light, of course)!

So, I decided it was time to switch it up a little and update the GTI with some new Apple componentry that would solve the issues mentioned above which presented themselves over the past few years as our company and Apple’s product lineup has grown…What device could I replace the MacMini with that was solely dedicated to audio and video, but that would also be easy to control in an automotive environment and simple to update whenever I made change to the iTunes library on my primary computer? You likely already have a good idea that I’m referring to an Apple TV.

In this post, I’m going to detail briefly the process of integrating the Apple Remote into my GTI’s shift knob - a device that I’m becoming increasingly familiar with through mods such as the NES Controller and Atari Cartridge projects. Since there’s no longer anything in my dash besides the climate controls and a 7″ LCD monitor, I figured that the shift knob was the most ideal place for the remote, since my hand’s on it 75% of the time I’m driving around town anyway!

I began by completely gutting one remote and cutting down the portion of the circuit board dedicated to the five primary control buttons - left, right, up, down and play/pause - into a circular shape that would fit inside the top of my pre-existing Momo shift knob after removing the aluminum insert in the top of the knob and using a Forstner bit to remove as much material as I could while still retaining the strength, shape and functionality of the top portion of the knob itself. I then carefully soldered five wires onto the back of the board where the contacts for these five buttons trace back to the output of the remote, adding in a sixth wire for ground, which all the buttons short to when they are pressed.

The wiring I used is a 12″ section of Alpine Ai-Net cable, which just happens to have six wires inside of an outer shield that turned out to be perfect for protecting the small-gauge wires as they run from the shift knob down the shift lever and into the center console - but more on that later. Once the functionality of these five buttons was confirmed and reconfirmed with a multimeter, I insulated the back of the board with 400-degree hot-melt adhesive we use in the assembly of the spec.dock product.

The next step was absolutely the most tedious and frightening, as it involved a lot of cutting oil and milling out the original aluminum trim from the top of the shift knob to accommodate the Apple Remote’s buttons, but I am pretty familiar at this point with aluminum fabrication, so it went pretty much according to plan - luckily, since I only had one shot at it! I used our endmill to drill the appropriate-sized hole through the middle of the aluminum disc, and then switched the bit out for a 45-degree chamfer bit to remove the remaining material required to countersink the buttons into the trim piece. This not only looks pretty nice and matches the dash bezel I made, but ensures that the buttons aren’t ever accidentally pressed while I’m shifting. I then assembled the aluminum ring, buttons and circuit board temporarily with more hot-melt adhesive.

Then, it was back to the endmill one more time to create a channel inside the steel and hardwood shift knob itself for the Alpine Ai-Net cable to run through.

Before assembling the knob and remote into a single piece that could go back into the GTI, I split the knob into its bottom and top halves and stripped the original perforated leather off, as it was looking pretty worn after eight years of use! I recovered this portion of the knob with black suede to match some other accents I have added to the car over the years. All four pieces were then permanently reassembled with cyanoacrylate adhesive and the hot-melt adhesive I mentioned earlier. This not only insulates all the contacts, but essentially molds to the inside of the knob, creating both structure and adhesion to keep everything tight and functional.

The Alpine cable was simply wire-tied to the shift lever and substructure (making sure there was enough slack for the lever to operate properly) after remounting the shift knob with the three original allen-head set screws that held it in place all these years. This cable is routed to a second Apple remote hidden in the console which actually performs the transmitting functions to the Apple TV (more on this in a later post).

So how about the menu button? I already had an empty switch blank on the dash where the MacMini’s power button and status LED used to reside, so I simply took the remaining piece of the circuit board from the original Apple remote, soldered two wires to it to make the connection points, mounted it in a new switch blank and routed these wires as well to the transmitting remote in the center console.

I’ll be making a few more posts over the next week or so with the other details of this new project such as mounting the Apple TV itself, power supply and image conversion (composite to VGA), but I can tell you thus far it has been a real pleasure to simply click through songs, videos and photos without having to operate a touchscreen, trackpad, PowerMate control knob and the like! The interface looks amazing on the screen as well, since my MacMini was the first model released and did not have the infrared eye or FrontRow installed, so I’m used to browsing a huge iTunes library on a 7″ screen! The best part so far, however, has been that I simply drive up to work and leave the car turned on for ten minutes or so inside the bay while the Apple TV and my office computer sync automatically and wirelessly - a far cry from the process I had to go through before…So, enjoy, and thank you for reading - I wouldn’t be able to do any of this fun stuff if it wasn’t for you guys (and gals), so believe that I appreciate all of your support! More to come…


M5 Project

From February 19, 2008. We got the opportunity to do a little upgrade to one of our long-time customer’s cars last week and are definitely pleased with the results! The customer wanted to change up the system he previously had installed in his E39 M5, which consisted of two AudioBahn 10″ woofers in a sealed enclosure and an Elemental Designs monoblock for power. The main goal was to dress up the trunk and to greatly increase the emphasis and definition of the bass response while eliminating the rattles the previous setup was creating.

To accomplish this, we began by removing the old enclosure and trim panel and designed a bandpass enclosure to replace the existing setup that houses one AlumaPro 12″ woofer and ports through the OEM armrest location. The advantage of a bandpass enclosure in this particular application is that all the energy output from the enclosure is directed through the port and into the cabin of the vehicle, virtually eliminating any possibility of rattles in the trunk or rear deck area, while providing dramatic sub-bass output.

Once completed, this enclosure was firmly mounted to the rear firewall of the M5 and the process of trimming it out began. The amplifier was sanded down, primed and painted silver (it was originally black) to match the theme of the installation, while the manufacturer’s badge was ground, sanded, primed and painted a metallic grey to allow an OEM “M” badge to be mounted in place of the manufacturer’s name and to match the accent paint color found on the outside of the vehicle. A simple trim panel was created to blend the enclosure into the rear wall of the trunk with brushed aluminum and painted acrylic inserts to accent the amplifier.

The OEM carpeted floor panel was completely recreated from scratch using MDF, brushed aluminum, painted aluminum and stainless steel hardware of the customer’s own design to tie into the interior and exterior modifications already in place. The rear portion of the floor still hinges upward to allow access to the M5’s battery, which is located in the trunk floor.

Next, the OEM rear seat armrest was replaced with a one-off port grille constructed from MDF, Rage Gold body filler, black Ultrasuede, painted acrylic and heavy-gauge metal mesh. This allows all the bass energy to enter the car while protecting the enclosure and port from debris, and adds a nice custom touch to the rear seat area without being overwhelming.

As a final touch, the OEM ashtray was replaced with a spec.dock to allow the owner access to all the music on his iPod Nano in the most integrated manner possible. All in all, the job took about a week to complete, and the customer is getting a lot of praise, while really enjoying the new enclosure - which is able to completely eclipse the sub-bass response (using one 12″ woofer) that the customer was getting before from two 10″ woofers. Thanks for checking it out, and please come back for more, as always…

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2point5 - A Quickie.

From March 20, 2007. 2point5 was recently contacted by a repeat customer to add a little sound and function to her new Nissan 350z, and we didn’t want to pass on the opportunity to lavish some brief attention on this vehicle, so we took on the job and got it done in about three days. The system consists of two JL Audio 10w0s, one JL 300/4, Focal 165 K2P components and a Kenwood DDX-8017 double DIN head unit with navigation and Sirius tuner. We paid attention as always to trying to utilize as little functional space as possible to make the audio system an enhancement to the vehicle without going overboard and eliminating the usefulness of cargo or storage areas. To this point, the subs were located in the empty space between the strut tower brace and trunk area and covered with a hand-fabricated fiberglass trim panel wrapped in matching vinyl to help them blend in with the vehicle’s interior. The acrylic JL grilles certainly call a little attention to the subs’ presence, but the customer definitely wanted at least a little show for her money…In that vein, we also removed the shifter trim and strut tower trim, which were painted body color along with the new trim bezel for the Kenwood unit to tie everything together. The end result - as usual - is a simple and functional system that doesn’t absolutley scream custom unless you know what to look for. Please enjoy the photos, and as always, please keep those visits coming!

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Project 300M - Car Audio & Electronics Magazine

From January 30, 2007. I haven’t picked up a copy yet, but the March issue of Car Audio & Electronics has started arriving to subscribers and at retail locations (I’ll never quite understand why magazines put issues out one month ahead of the published month, but I digress). Featured inside is an in-depth article on the Car Audio Trifecta winning 300m project and the installers who created and supported it throughout the show season this year - Matt Turner (yours truly), Randy Lively, Chris McEntyre and Billy Brown. I’m not 100% sure what the text content is, as I haven’t read the copy yet, but my good friend and super ultra mega talented photographer Ryan Flynn is responsible for somehow making myself, Randy and Chris look like something other than a group of dirty trunk monkies with his lighting and post-production skills - thanks, dude! Also inside the magazine next month is a piece by Mr. Me Too detailing how to disassemble an Escort Pasport SR-7 control head for remote location and custom integration in vehicle interiors. Not necessarily the kind of arts and crafts project that will get you anywhere on Valentine’s Day, but hopefully useful information nonetheless for creative installers around the country who are looking to expand the possibilities with this unit. So, check it out if you’re interested, and as always, check back periodically for new developments as they arise…



Halloween Was a Month Ago...

From November 30, 2006. Ran into my friend Phil at J.E. Volkswagen today, and he seemed just a little hurt that the install I did a few months ago in his 2002 Volkswagen New Beetle Turbo hadn’t made it on the site yet. I think I may have even seen a little tear fall (haha). So…here she is, dude. Phil seems to have a bit of an affinity for a certain color, so when it came time to trim out the trunk and change out some equipment, I really had no choice but to go for it. I really ended up liking the contrast between the bright VW OE color and the brushed aluminum finsh on the JL 500/5 we were adding, so I chose JL 10w1v2s in silver and added a few silver accents to tie it all together. This being one of my jobs, of course there’s an iPod dock in the top of the dash as well…The 500/5 powers the factory components front and rear as well as the 2 10s. Overall, it’s pretty amazing what the “pumpkin” ended up sounding like. By the way, the car also sports Turbo S exterior trim, colormatched 17s and interior along with a few APR and Neuspeed goodies. Thanks, Phil for your help with the new venture thus far. I’m coming to get that new ride soon - a new project awaits…

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