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Update: iPhone owners may want to check out iPhone your Subaru Outback

Welcome CNET readers. You can purchase the MediaGate i-Kit FM Transmitter here. Or, read on for more information about how I modified my car.

Recently, I bought a 2006 Subaru Outback 2.5i knowing full well a modification would be required to support an iPod. Subaru, like many manufacturers, ships without a tape deck, but unlike many, they ship with a completely custom deck built seamlessly into the dash with other controls for heating, flashers, etc. There is no kit yet available for replacing the stereo.

The problem is, the iPod has been a phenomenon for 2-3 years now and apparently Subaru thinks its fine to continue shipping custom, closed units without an aux patch capability or line in. Even their high end car only supports an mp3 cd player – but no line in or aux.

Ultimately, I chose to install an FM Modulator with a toggle switch to solve my iPod troubles. The FM Modulator is essentially a hard-wired version of Griffin’s iTrip. While many iPod-attached FM transmitters perform poorly in city environments, hard wiring the FM modulator to your stereo deck/antenna makes the performance quite good. I first read about this here while searching the net.

Real men mod their own cars. Really smart men know when it’s worth the money to hire professionals to mod their cars. For $189.99 plus tax, Magnolia HiFi in Seattle installed an AUDAC FM Modulator ($59.98 on its own for you real men). The resulting quality is excellent.

Pictures and operational characteristics are below:

There is a small toggle switch, easily in drivers-reach behind the ignition, but out of view (the steering wheel hides it). Whenever I want to use the iPod, I flip the switch and use a preset to 88.7 FM – and flip it back if I want the radio. However, other FM stations come in OK even with the switch in iPod mode, AM do not. In the past I wouldn’t care about AM, but Air America Progressive Talk 1090 in Seattle has changed all that – I’m a regular AM listener now.

Subaru iPod FM Transmitter Switch

Subaru iPod FM Transmitter Switch

Here’s what the inside of the center box looks like with a 1/8″ male stereo cable coming out next to the secondary death-stick lighter:

Subaru Glovebox with FM Transmitter Cable

Subaru Glovebox with FM Transmitter Cable

I use a Belkin Auto Kit adapter which has a 1/8″ stereo input and its own volume adjuster and charger. It’s a nice solution that keeps the majority of cords in the glove box:

And finally, this is what it looks like on the outside. Only one cable. Subaru even has a notch in the center box for a cable coming out – they just weren’t thinking about audio line-in:

It sort of blows me away how stupid it is that Subaru doesn’t offer line-in on their stereos in this day and age. They could even make money for dealers as a factory option.

Subaru with iPod attached

Subaru with iPod attached

Now I just have to mod an iPod holder or get a Belkin cup holder adapter like the one pictured on the left. The male stereo cable is also nice in case I want to plug in to my iPod Shuffle, Palm TX or someone else’s non-Ipod player.

p.s. I did consider waiting for the new Griffin iTrip $49.95 which has some enhanced features that make tuning via FM in the city more reliable, I ultimately decided for a built-in unit. The nice thing about my new set up is that the Belkin charges  the iPod and only requires one connector. The new Griffin iTrip would only allow me to charge if I bought its Powerjolt charger, pictured right, and used a USB to USB mini cable. The new Griffin iTrip supports a USB mini cable for charging. Although the Powerjolt would be nice for iPod Shuffle users who can dock directly to USB.

If you live in Seattle, I went to the Magnolia Hi Fi on Roosevelt 206-525-1961. Paix and Woody did the sale. They said the install was pretty difficult given the way Subaru manufactured the car. So, good luck to you real men out there.

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I hope this helps you enjoy your new Subaru. And if anyone from Subaru is listening, shame…shame…shame for shipping such a closed system in this day of open systems. This writer actually chose not to buy a Subaru because of your closed stereo.

UPDATE: Griffin just announced another version of their FM transmitter with integrated cradle. It’s called the RoadTrip and is pictured at right.

Posted by Jeff Reifman

Jeff is a technology consultant based in the Pacific Northwest.


  1. Really smart men do not install FM modulators as a means to enable auxiliary input.


    1. What do they do? 🙂

      Actually, I paid men to provide me the best solution to this problem — they seemed smart, but it’s been a while so I’m not sure.


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