JVC KD-R810 single-din head unit
JVC KD-R810 single-din head unit. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Paul Williams

It’s now illegal to use a cell phone while driving in Ontario; a result of new laws that are being established all over North America to eliminate texting and/or talking while behind the wheel. Consequently, we’re seeing more new cars with Bluetooth hands-free systems as either an option or standard equipment.

If you’re driving an older car, chances are that you don’t have Bluetooth, and if you want to use your phone, you may have purchased an aftermarket device that clips on your sunvisor to stay legal. The problem is, that devices like the BlueAnt, for example, don’t work with your audio system, so if you’re listening to music you may miss a call. If you do hear your phone, your audio system’s volume doesn’t lower automatically (as it would in a factory system).

Adding to the inconvenience, an external Bluetooth device is just one more gadget to clutter up your car, along with the satellite radio unit plugged into the 12V power point, the iPod dangling from an auxiliary jack or USB port, and the portable GPS stuck on the windshield. Would that you could bundle everything into one unit!

Well, you can. Simply purchase a “double-din” all-in-one “head unit” that combines these functionalities, and have it professionally installed at most audio retailers. That was my initial intention when “retrofitting” my 2008 Honda Element. The problem was that such units start (conservatively) at around $600, plus special harnesses and adapters to fit one to your vehicle. Custom installation and sundry charges easily bring the total well over $1,000 for my vehicle. It seemed a bit much.

JVC KD-R810 single-din head unit
JVC KD-R810 single-din head unit. Click image to enlarge

So I compromised by purchasing a JVC KD-R810 single-din head unit that plays CDs (some other models don’t), has a USB port at the front and at the back (the latter for a connector that can be routed into your glovebox for your iPod), is Bluetooth-ready, is Satellite-ready, and costs $239.

No GPS, you’ll notice, which was the main compromise, and no DVD playback, which I don’t require.

But the appealing $239 price for the JVC KD-R810 was soon ratcheted up by several unexpected items that included a special wiring harness, an install kit (fortunately not special order, which would have cost more), advanced deck installation and custom labour from Future Shop, a Sirius connect interface (the KS-SRA100), a Sirius tuner module ((SCC1C), and taxes. Total cost for the head unit, extra parts, installation and taxes: $657.07.

That doesn’t include the subscription cost for Sirius satellite radio, which varies depending on promotions offered by Sirius. The standard no-contract rate is $14.99 per month, but at the time of this writing, for instance, it’s $7.49 a month for six months.

But back to the hardware…

Hands-free microphone, clipped to the vehicle's headliner
Hands-free microphone, clipped to the vehicle’s headliner. Click image to enlarge

The installation is not something I would want to tackle myself, although the folks at Future Shop made fairly short work of it (90 minutes), encountering no problems. The satellite radio antenna is magnetically attached to the roof of the vehicle and discreetly connected to the radio by running a wire through the interior. The installer hides this wire; you’d never know it was there.

Just so you know, you can choose to install an antenna inside the vehicle, but the installer recommended against this, suggesting that signal reception is better with the antenna outside.

The microphone for hands-free phone operation is likewise connected to the head unit by wire which is hidden behind interior trim. The microphone clips to the headliner, beside the rear view mirror.

As mentioned above, a connector for your iPod is attached behind the JVC KD-R810, emerging in the glove compartment. This way, you can connect your iPod and operate it from the head unit, or via the head unit’s remote control.

When all is said and done, what you have is a replacement unit that offers much more functionality than the original equipment AM/FM/CD player. Bluetooth automatically connects my phone whenever I enter the vehicle, and when a call is received, I can answer it by pressing a button on the JVC. The unit has downloaded my address book, so all my contact information is available if I want to make a call.

However, although I am receiving calls with no problem I have not been able to use voice command to dial out. This is not for lack of trying, as I have tried saying numbers and names, and the unit refuses to accurately dial the requested number. This is a major annoyance.

The JVC can pair with two phones, and the video colour is selectable, which enables you to match it with the colour of your car’s instrument illumination.

The Sirius satellite radio works without fuss, offering a wide range of music and specialty genres thankfully without commercials, from classical to blues, jazz and rock to news: very nice.

For the GPS, I’m trying an inexpensive Magellan unit that sticks to my windshield. Unlike a factory or retrofitted unit, it has the benefit of being portable.

Overall the Bluetooth/Sirius retrofit is not an inexpensive solution, but now I can receive calls and enjoy satellite radio. And I’m legal, too.

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