As I mentioned in an earlier post, for the Acura RSX Type-S, there is no real good integration of an iPod into the sound system. I had been using a cassette adapter, but the sound quality of those is so-so, and you need a separate cigarette-lighter cord to provide charging. The presence of a built-in CD exchanger prevents a simple aftermarket add-on.

After deciding to do some real upgrades, I’ve got a solution I’m happy with, it turned out to be a bit easier than I thought, and it sounds great.

First I got replacement speakers. I’ve always been a Crutchfield fan (because of their service and knowledge, not their prices), and ordered a set of 4 Polk Audio db 651s 6-1/2″ for the door and rear panels. At the time Crutchfield had the first set of 2 for $100, and the 2nd set of 2 discounted to $50. So $150 for 4 new speakers plus all the hardware and car-specific installation instructions. Wow, even with the original Acura head unit still there, the sound difference was quite large. Upon taking the original speakers out, I see that they are just cheap paper cone speakers. High end Acura Bose system? Not! If you care about sound quality at all, new speakers is the biggest bang-for-the-buck that you can do.

The speakers in the rear went in pretty easy. Just pop out the grill, unscrew, disconnect, and do the reverse with the new stuff. For the front doors, you need to remove the entire interior door panel and replace them from the inside, it’s not simple like the rear. This was probably that hardest part of the whole job. But still possible with a panel tool and some care.

The small speakers in the top of the dash really aren’t feasible to replace without taking the dash or the windshield out – I just left them there, and I get plenty of highs from the door speakers.

And I left the factory subwoofer as-is. More about that in a moment.

Lastly was a new head unit. I chose a JVC KW-KR810 for $300. Getting it installed (again, with the help of the car-specific instructions and hardware from Crutchfield) wasn’t bad. I had a hard time getting the old unit out because Acura was apparently a bit too liberal with the glue at the assembly factory. I ended up breaking the faceplace of the factory unit, after being as careful as possible. But the glue made me force it. But once that out was, the rest was straight forward.

I chose to go with the double-DIN format instead of the single-DIN. Visually, I find this fits better with the original styling of the Type-S. And since there is plenty of room to work with, might as well. In retrospect, I should have done the same with the new head unit in my wife’s Odyssey. I don’t need a little storage slot underneath the single-DIN head unit.

Frankly, one of the main reasons I chose this unit (besides the iPod integration) is because it offers custom colors in the lighting. So I’m able to maintain that even red lighting on the dash at night – it’s a total match. It allows for another color set when the headlights are off, so I can pick a nice visible white for that. My wife shakes her head at me for this, but I like maintaining the design integrity.

There is a cheaper version of this JVC unit without Bluetooth phone integration, but I chose to get this feature included. It comes with a wired microphone that I can install near the windshield visor. When a call comes in, the iPod pauses, I get the caller ID on the head unit, I push a button to answer, and the audio plays on the speakers. I find it great to not have to juggle my phone out of my pocket when getting a call. I underestimated how much I would like this. I can also make calls from the head unit with a few button pushes (it relies on remembered phone numbers, it’s not voice activated).

The other thing I really like about this unit is that the iPod controls are still active when it is docked and playing though the head unit. That means if I want to jump to another playlist or whatever, I can do that using my iPod itself, and not some menu mish-mash on the head unit.

One thing to realize about the original Acura stereo is that there is an external amp. So when connecting an aftermarket unit in to the wiring harness, the output lines to don’t go directly to the speakers, they go to an amp. So along with the head unit Crutchfield had me buy a PAC SOEM-4 interface to turn down the speaker outputs into what is suitable as inputs to the Acura amp. The external amp feeds the subwoofer, (so there are 4 inputs and 5 outputs), which may be why new head unit’s RCA outputs can’t be used.

Once the new head unit was hooked up and playing, I was surprised to hear another jump in audio quality (even from CDs). This time, I could actually hear the factory subwoofer. With the old head unit, I wondered if the subwoofer was actually hooked up. With the new head unit, no question. Boom! Hearing some real bass makes for a different listening experience. Yeah, the RSX has a lot of road noise, so it does get a bit drowned out, but that can be overcome by cranking up the volume ;-)

Another simple but nice item about the JVC head unit is two USB jacks it has. I connected the Bluetooth stub to the front USB jack, and connected my iPod to the rear USB jack. The rear USB jack isn’t reachable once the unit is installed, so I got an iPod-USB cable that I connected at install time, and snaked out the back and down the center console. This gets rid of an ugly cable hanging out the front of the stereo. And I got a black cable instead of the Apple white one, so it isn’t so obvious I have an iPod in the car. I can put my iPod in the cup holder in the center console and close the sliding cover such that only a subtle black cable is showing for just a few inches. I was able to get a black cable by buying a wall charger kit and discarding the wall charger.

There are a couple wishes I have that weren’t included in the head unit. First, when you turn the unit off, it is completely off. Not even the clock shows. I can push a button that will show the clock for 5 seconds when the unit is powered off (this is active only when the ignition is on), it would have been trivial for JVC to make this a configurable setting. It’s the only clock in the car (unlike some other cars). Second, the Bluetooth phone operation does not give you the ability to mute the microphone. You can mute the speaker output during a phone call, but not the input. That’s backwards. So, when I want to mute my phone (for example, when doing a teleconference during a traffic jam) I have to hit my phone’s mute button, which means I can’t keep it in my pocket – it has to be out and open.

It’s been about 10 months with this new system, and I still am very pleased with it. Should have done it way sooner.