In Gear: Harman/Kardon Drive+Play iPod Interface

Frank Bacon

Thank you, Harman/Kardon. Before leaving on a recent road trip from my home in Ann Arbor, Michigan to both Houston, Texas and Las Vegas, Nevada, I was faced with a problem. The 2006 Volkswagen Passat I'd be piloting for the 4800 mile venture lacked both satellite radio and an auxiliary audio input--limiting me to CDs and the same old FM radio that got ma and pop doing the twist oh so long ago. Sure, I could buy one of those cheap wireless modulors, but the sound is so fuzzy and they drain iPod batteries like frat boys racing to the bottoms of beer cans. Thankfully, Harman/Kardon had just sent us one of their new Drive and Play units. I grabbed the box and ran out the door before anyone could argue.

On the box, Harman/Kardon recommends having the Drive and Play professionally installed, but I was leaving the next evening, and there was no time for that. The installation was surprisingly easy, with the only hang-up being that I lacked the proper adapter to connect H/K's FM modulator to a Volkswagen head unit--an issue quickly resolved with a trip to my local stereo shop. You're offered the choice hard-wiring power to the unit or using a cigarette lighter, and because this was not my car, I chose the latter. Each part of the full unit--audio input, controller input, display output, and power supply--plug conveniently into one small box that can be tucked inside the dashboard behind your stock head unit. I slapped a few trim pieces back into place, plugged in my iPod, and was ready to rock.

Heading to work on a frigid fall morning, the LCD display was slow to respond to inputs from the dial-my only real complaint after sixty-plus hours of use. With the display mounted on the dashboard and a controller dial that is intuitive for anyone who has used an iPod more than once, the Drive and Play is easier and safer to use than an iPod itself. Yes, because it uses an FM modulator, there is periodic static interference. But the simple dial allows for a quick adjustment to a new channel.

The Harman/Kardon Drive and Play is sold at Best Buy, Circuit City, Crutchfield, and most other car audio dealers. It will set you back $150 at most online retailers, but you might be able to find a deal out there somewhere. At $100, this thing would be perfect--at $150, it's still a great deal.

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