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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hey guys, I just thought I'd post this up to get some input before I share my opinions. . .

I bought my '05 Malibu without thinking about upgrading the audio system, because let's face it, this isn't my "fun car", it's my "get to work and back as efficiently as possible" car. I have a '93 Pontiac Formula V8 and a '70 Monte Carlo for when I want to have "fun".

Well, the story goes like this: I bought my '05 Malibu over the '06 Impala I was looking at for a number of reasons, including lower mileage, better price, and more options. I don't regret buying the Malibu at all, I've had it for just over a week, and it's been great so far.

One thing you need to know about me, however, is that I MUST have my music going on the trips to/from work, or else I will just go crazy. My last vehicle had a double-DIN Pioneer touchscreen DVD player with USB and aux inputs, no bluetooth. I decided that this time around, I wanted to give Bluetooth a shot, both for hands-free calling AND for audio streaming to the stereo. This leaves me with relatively few options, considering this is the first vehicle I was not willing to replace the factory stereo in.

In my car, like many other Malibu's (and a select few other vehicles), the stereo serves multiple purposes. Sure, it plays CD's and radio broadcasts on AM and FM bands, but it also controls the vehicles' chimes and warnings, and contains the "Driver Information Center". I wasn't willing to give that functionality up. There had to be a way to add Bluetooth functionality to the factory stereo in this car.


And there is. I am going to review not one, but TWO aftermarket accessories that will add this functionality to your factory stereo.

Continued in next post. . .
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 · (Edited)
The first of these devices is the Motorola T505. This device can be used as a standalone Bluetooth hands-free device, as it has a rechargeable battery and a built-in speaker. It is much more than that though, as it allows Bluetooth connectivity in both hands-free calling AND streaming audio over bluetooth. Don't misunderstand, however, you aren't limited to listening to your extensive music collection through a tinny-sounding Motorola speaker clipped to your sunvisor. This device also contains an FM transmitter, so you can enjoy all of this through your factory stereo.


My concerns with the Motorola T505: It is a truly standalone unit, and it will need to be charged at some point. It's meant to be clipped to the sunvisor, which would make plugging it in to the 12V power supply nearly impossible, and if nothing else, very inconvenient, and an eyesore. I'm going to explore other mounting locations with this device, and hopefully I can find something that allows charging without wires running from the dash to the ceiling, without hindering the performance of the device.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
The second device I'm going to test is the Alpine EX-10. This seems like a solid device, although it isn't as self-contained as the T505. This device has a charger that attaches to the "brain" of the unit, and wires that run from this "brain" to the display, an optional iPod cable, a microphone (for hands-free calling), and an antenna (for wireless FM transmitting). This will require a bit more creativity and effort during installation, because I can't stand a mass of wires running through my car, it has to look clean.

This unit differs from the Motorola in a couple ways. First, it is not wireless. This unit will not function without a 12V power supply. This solves the charging issue, but poses the problem of hiding wires on a more permanent basis. Another difference is the FM Transmitter. Instead of transmitting exclusively through the airwaves, the Alpine can be hooked up directly in line between the factory stereo and the vehicle's stereo antenna. This is a great idea in theory, but I can't really assess it until I get a chance to play with it a bit. In theory, this will cut out the antenna, replacing the signal from the antenna with the signal from the Alpine unit. This functionality requires the purchase of an add-on unit, which I have purchased.

My concerns with the Alpine EX-10: Hiding wires is difficult, and making the small add-on display look good wherever I mount it is going to require some effort in making the wires as unnoticeable as possible. Also, this device requires the use of the included remote for any operation at all. The screen is not a touch screen, and the only button anywhere on the device is the "Power" button on top of the screen. Without the remote, the device is useless.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Just to let everyone know, the devices have been ordered, and I'm expecting the Motorola in the mail on Monday, and the Alpine should come soon after. I'm about $190 into these already, I was stuck between the two of these based on a number of reviews and recommendations online, they both seem to be high-quality devices, the reviews of both are overwhelmingly positive, and they both claim to do what I want them to do, and do it well. I'm going to give them both a shot, decide which I like better, and either sell the other, or give it to a friend of mine to use in his car.


I can save some of you the trouble right now though, if you are looking for iPod connectivity, you won't find it with the Motorola, aside from simple hands-free calling functionality. My iPod and iPhone do not support bluetooth music streaming, so if I were to use either of them in the Malibu, it would have made the choice simple, as the Alpine EX-10 is the only device I've found that functions with the iPod/iPhone and adds bluetooth functions.

I'm going to be using a Motorola android-powered phone for the testing of both devices, but if anyone would like to see results with other phones, I may be able to accommodate.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I just about wrote a novel here, and not a single comment? Wow. Haha I guess I'll have to throw up some pictures and write the rest of it in Crayon. . .
 

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I just about wrote a novel here, and not a single comment? Wow. Haha I guess I'll have to throw up some pictures and write the rest of it in Crayon. . .
Nah, man, don't. :(

I read each word of your posts. I was reading the second one while you were posting the third. I found them to be well-written and informative. I'm waiting for the next installment!

But don't use crayons! ;)
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Nah, man, don't. :(

I read each word of your posts. I was reading the second one while you were posting the third. I found them to be well-written and informative. I'm waiting for the next installment!

But don't use crayons! ;)
Haha I only said that to elicit some sort of response. I know I'm not the only one who wants to have an auxiliary input without having to replace the stereo. I've done a lot of research on these, and thought I would do a service for everyone else in my shoes and write something up to help them decide.

I'll be posting the first full review sometime next week, after I have some time to get acquainted with the devices and try them out for a while.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Well, the Mailman brought some boxes for me today, and I will briefly run down the "first impressions".

Alpine EX-10: Very well packaged, everything had a place, and seeing the way it was all packaged left me confident that nothing broke in transit. I paid a little extra and bought this item along with the KWE-155B FM Antenna Splitter, which is essentially a box that disables the factory antenna and replaces that signal with the signal from the EX-10 while it is streaming audio from a bluetooth device or an iPod connected through the included cable to the EX-10.

Motorola T505: Packaging was alright, I ordered online, so it may not have been original packaging. The "brain", that is, the device that contains the speaker, transmitter, BT Receiver, and all the other important stuff, was wrapped in sealed bubble wrap. The 12V car charger and the instructions were in separate plastic zippered bags. Again, I'm confident nothing was damaged in transit, but the packaging wasn't quite as spectacular as that of the Alpine. This device came only with the charger, T505 device, and an instruction manual. Installation of this one is going to be a snap, and since I'm leaving for my hour commute to work in a little while, I'm going to try this one out today. I'll report back later.

The Alpine will be installed this afternoon when I return from work, since it requires substantially more effort to run and hide the wires, position the microphone, remove the stock stereo to install the FM Antenna Splitter, then put it all back together.

I will post up some pictures when I get home.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 · (Edited)
Having spent a bit of time with the Motorola T505, I honestly cannot recommend it to anyone who cares about audio quality. The audio quality is not as good as I expected, probably due to the location of the factory antenna on the car. Another problem I noticed was poor low-end response, it seems like the bass would "hit", then fade in and out throughout the songs. Overall, if you're an audiophile, I would highly suggest biting the bullet and replacing the stock stereo with something more potent.

I will also touch on the positives of this unit though, in case someone is still interested in it. Operation is very simple, once you start up the device, it will play voice instructions for pairing to a bluetooth phone or other device through it's built-in speaker. Once connected, you can use the buttons on the device itself, or control playback from the paired device. The front of the T505 has a Start/End call button and a Play/Pause button, as well as the status indicator light. The left side has a "-" button and the right has a "+" button, which are supposed to control volume, but with my phone, at least, skip forward and backward through the playlist I was playing. The back panel has a Power button and an FM button, which turn the unit on/off and control the functions of the internal FM transmitter, respectively.

Setup was very simple, most of the work was finding the Bluetooth Menu on my phone and "pairing" my phone to the T505 for the first time. After the first time pairing, they automatically linked up when I turned on the BT on my phone.

The T505 automatically selects a station to broadcast on when you turn the power on, and it will "speak" the station number twice through it's internal speaker. Turn the radio to that station, and voila! Music and phone calls stream from your phone through the T505 to your car's stereo.

When the phone rings, the music is muted, and the T505 will "speak" to you again, telling you the phone number that is calling you. You can press the "Phone" button on the front of the device to pick up the call. When you are done, simply press the "Phone" button again, the call will end, and your music will pick up where it left off.

The poor audio quality is limited to the link between the T505 and the FM receiver in your car's stereo, as during a number of test calls, I was told by the person on the other end that it didn't sound like I was on a bluetooth device or speakerphone at all, but that it sounded just like it would had I actually been holding the phone to my head. No echoing, no poor signal, the T505 did a great job in that regard. Disable the FM transmitter and use the T505 as a standalone bluetooth hands-free speakerphone, and it really shines. No spotty reception, no interference, just clear audio through the small built-in speaker. It may serve it's user better in that capacity than as a bluetooth FM-transmitter.

***Pics of the T505 will be posted here***
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Now, I know I said I wasn't going to install the Alpine EX-10 today, but the audio quality of the T505 left a bad taste in my mouth, so I simply couldn't resist. I used my lunch break to tear apart my dashboard, remove the factory stereo, and hard-wire the KWE-155B FM Antenna Splitter in. Come to find out, it's made with connections for the usual aftermarket antenna connections, not GM factory. So, I had to run to the local stereo/electronics shop to see if I could find the proper adaptor to plug the factory antenna lead into the devices' antenna input. I was in luck. $4 later, I'm on my way back to work to finish my initial install in the parking lot. I got it wired up, hid the wires (details below on how I accomplished that for a temporary fix), turned it on, and messed around with it for a little while before I went back to work.

To hide the wires, I routed the Monitor lead from the backside of the monitor lead through the small plate at top center of the dash (the one that says "Malibu" on it, it just popped right out), around the vent duct, down and under the center console, and through the side of the center console lid. The "Brain" of the unit was attached to it's 12V power adaptor, and plugged in to the outlet inside the center console. Out of sight, out of mind. I routed the FM Antenna Splitter wire from the back of the stock stereo along the same route, ending at the "Brain" of the EX-10. Just for temporary testing purposes, I hooked the microphone over the edge of the center console and shut the door on it, holding it in place. That will be re-routed to somewhere more "hidden" in the future, if I decide to keep this device in my vehicle. I don't have an iPod, I was simply using this for bluetooth audio streaming for now, but I will be bringing my old iPhone out for some testing when I get home.

Without the KWE-155B FM Antenna Splitter installed, just using the "over the air" FM transmitter, the audio quality was only slightly better than the T505. WITH the antenna splitter installed, however, the audio quality was slightly better than a regular FM radio station with clear reception. Sure, there's occasional interference, but so far, the audio quality is a night-and-day difference when compared to the T505. I have the EX-10 monitor mounted atop the dash, right in front of the hole left behind by the now-removed Malibu nameplate, double-side taped to the dashboard surface (tape isn't sticking, I'm going to start looking at other alternatives. . . Velcro?), and all the rest of the guts of the device are hidden (or partially hidden) in the center console. The remote is easy to use, the on-screen menus are easy to navigate.

Initial setup is a little more complex than the T505, you must navigate through the menus to put the device in "Bluetooth Pairing" mode, then pair and connect to the EX-10 from your phone, but after that, you are ready to go. If you are running an iPod connected directly to the EX-10, I'm confident there will be no setup required, since it's a hard-wired connection. Plug and play.

The manufacturer claims that everything you can do from your iPod, you can do with the EX-10's remote, and you can leave the iPod in the glove box, center console, or wherever you decide to hide it. I'm going to test those claims, and I'll report back later.

The beauty of the EX-10's iPod compatibility is that it not only plays music from the iPod through your FM radio, but that it allows you to see the song title, artist, and album artwork on it's display, which can be mounted right on the dash. This has a color display that allows for easy navigation through device menus.

The interface is relatively unimpressive when streaming audio via a bluetooth connection, as the display simply says "Streaming" and some stars appear on-screen. Really no need for the display to even be visible in that case, aside from the fact that the remote is infrared, and requires a clear line of sight between it and the display in order to change settings or use any features of the device. I would have liked a touchscreen interface, but I'm not unwilling to try out the device in it's current configuration.

Besides, where else are you going to find an in-line FM modulator to stream your music without upgrading to an aftermarket stereo?

More opinions to come.

***Pictures of EX-10 will be posted here***
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Spent a bit more time playing with the two devices on my way home from work, it seems as though even hardwired through the antenna input, the EX-10 still suffers from interference when used on a station with a strong signal. Overall, I'm not terribly impressed with either device.

I didn't get a chance earlier to attempt to make or receive calls on the EX-10, so I made a point to do so on the way home. The EX-10 seemed to stumble all over itself when in a call. Sound quality took a turn for the worst, it was hard to understand the person I was calling. They heard my voice fine, but I couldn't understand any of the things they were saying.

Dialing with the EX-10 is also more complicated than it has to be. You press the phone button on the remote, and a menu appears on screen. This is similar to the menus you would go through in your phone, with options like "missed calls," "received" and "Sent" calls. Select the one you want, and it pulls up your call logs. I prefer the Motorola's dialing features. You press the "Phone" button once, and it turns on voice commands on the phone, you say "Call" and the name of the person you wish to dial, and it makes the call. Much faster, not to mention more intuitive.

More details to come, I'll post a direct comparison between the two shortly, along with pictures taken prior to installation.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Well, I have to say, neither of these devices lived up to my high expectations. They don't even come close to CD-quality audio output, and the interfaces leave something to be desired.

That said, I've resigned myself to my fate, I will be placing the order for the stereo install kit (Metra 99-3303) that retains the DIC functions and display. I haven't quite decided on a stereo yet, but it will be iPod compatible, A2DP compatible (bluetooth audio streaming), handsfree telephone compatible through BT, and if I can afford it, it will have navigation. I don't think I can afford all that though. . . lol

I've been looking at the Parrot Asteroid, but I'm not hearing as much good as I'd like to for a stereo that expensive. I may go with another Pioneer, or I'll get the Metra kit, mount the DIC in the glove compartment or center console somewhere, and just install a new Double-DIN in-dash with all the goodies.


Final word on the Alpine EX-10 and Motorola T505: If you are an audiophile, spend the money, and get an aftermarket stereo that is compatible with A2DP Bluetooth operation. If you just want to play music from a phone or other bluetooth device through your factory stereo, either of these will accomplish the task just fine, but you won't get CD-quality audio through an FM transmitter.

If anyone is interested in trying out either of these devices, I'll sell them for what I paid for them. $100 shipped for the Alpine EX-10 w/ KWE-155B Antenna Splitter, and $50 shipped for the Motorola T505. Both will be packaged in the original packaging, the same way they were received by me yesterday. I will post an ad in the classified section. The audio quality is MUCH better than any FM transmitter I've used in the past, but it still doesn't quite meet CD audio quality.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Alright, I'm about to do something very rare for someone my age to do. . . Admit that I was wrong.

I am an idiot, and I was wrong.


That said, I don't know what possessed me to do it, but I decided to play around a bit with the Alpine EX-10 on my way home from work. When I initially went through all the menus, I saw one title "General." I clicked it, and "Language" popped up, with 4 options below it. I dismissed that entire menu, not realizing that there was more to the "General" category than I thought. Today, I found the rest of it. . . Apparently, you can't just plug the add-on antenna splitter in and it just works. No, you have to cycle through these menus to "enable" it, and switch it from "Antenna" mode into "EX-10" mode. *facepalm*

Well, when I discovered this, I was in the middle of enjoying a favorite Country song that was playing from my phone through the bluetooth connection. I enabled the antenna splitter, switched it into "EX-10" mode, and instantly, as if someone flipped a switch, all of the static interference disappeared. I turned the radio station on my stereo to confirm. . . NO RADIO RECEPTION AT ALL!

So, I continued listening to it the whole way home, and realized that although the audio quality STILL wasn't PERFECT, it was a far cry better than what I experienced before. This sudden revelation about the menus put the Alpine leaps and bounds ahead of the Motorola in this comparison. There simply is no comparison.

Speaking of comparisons:

iPod Compatible:
Alpine: Yes, with included cable. It will play music from an iPhone as well, but the iPhone will not charge while connected, which poses problems for road trips and those with longer commutes.

Motorola: Only if the iPod or iPhone is equipped with Bluetooth.


Ease of Installation:
Alpine: Requires extensive disassembly to hide wires, has multiple components that must be connected to each other for operation. Professional Installation Recommended.

Motorola: Very easy to install. Clip on visor, press and hold "power" button for a few seconds. Done. Requires charging occasionally, but no wires to hide, and can be moved between vehicles very easily.


Hands-Free Phone Operation:
Alpine: Dialing is accomplished by pressing a button on the remote, selecting the option you want (calls made, calls received, missed calls, phonebook, and SIM phonebook), selecting the person you wish to call, pressing "select" on the remote, then "Select" again when that person's name appears on-screen. To end a call, simply press the "back" button, and the call will end. Not the easiest operation, but similar to selecting from a list on the phone itself, and much less error-prone than voice-dialing in a car hurtling down the highway at 80mph.

Motorola: Because there are only a few buttons and no display, dialing is voice-activated. To call the last number dialed, simply press and hold the "phone" button. Otherwise, you must use voice dialing, which is mediocre at best. I attempted to call my best friend a number of times this way, and each time, it attempted to call a different person. If I weren't paying attention to what my phone was doing, I could have become involved in a not-so-pleasant phone call with an ex-girlfriend or previous employer.


Audio Quality:
Alpine: There really is no contest here, the Alpine (with the antenna splitter add-on installed AND enabled in the menu) has much better sound quality than the Motorola, although the high end seems to crackle and distort a bit. I'm still trying to find out a good way to remedy that problem, but for now, it's really not that bothersome.

Motorola: Sound quality is decent, but interference is annoying, and if you travel long distances, having to change transmit frequencies numerous times can become frustrating.

In-Call Audio Quality:
Alpine: The EX-10 is ahead in this category as well, even if just by a nose. The audio quality is better than the Motorola, simply because the Alpine has better transmit capabilities with the antenna splitter. Without the antenna splitter add-on, the Motorola takes it.

Motorola: Audio quality is alright, but static and interference can force you to have to switch transmit stations in the middle of a call, then change the station on your radio, and that can make a supposedly hands-free phone call pretty hands-on. Also, when using the Motorola as a stand-alone unit, for some reason the audio from the internal speaker is FAR too quiet to hear, much less understand, what the person on the other end is saying. As a standalone bluetooth hands-free device, the Motorola is worthless.


Appearance:
Alpine: If properly installed, the Alpine can be a very nice addition. Hide the display in the upper left corner of the windshield where only you (and possibly a back-seat passenger) even notice it, and it is useful, without being a distraction or an eyesore.

Motorola: The Motorola is tied with the Alpine in this category simply because it is small in size, and is more likely to be mistaken for a garage door opener by someone who doesn't know what it is. It's very small, and doesn't encroach on dashboard or windshield space. It does run the risk of interfering with visibility while the visor is up, if you're tall like I am (6'3") and need all the window space you can get, but it's also easily moved, so it's really not a big deal.


*Red Text denotes winner in each category
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Would there be any interest in a YouTube video review of both of these? I'm willing to throw something together, one video for each, with demonstrations of the features, if there's any interest. . .
 

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If your video would be anything at all like your posts above it will be killer! I've read every post and every word. If I ever decide to do something like that I'll come back here to review it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
If your video would be anything at all like your posts above it will be killer! I've read every post and every word. If I ever decide to do something like that I'll come back here to review it.
Thanks for the kind words, I'll see what I can do about a youtube video review in the next couple of weeks. I've put about 1500 miles on the car this week, it's been a long week, and I don't think I'll get around to it this weekend, but I'll try.
 

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Trying to decide what to do in this same situation. Not sure I want to put a ton of effort into this, just want to listen to audiobooks from my mp3 player during my commute! Thanks for all the details. One thing I'll mention is crutchfield currently is doing half off all installation accessories when you buy a receiver, so you can get the din kit for half off if you buy your deck at the same time. Pretty big savings.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Trying to decide what to do in this same situation. Not sure I want to put a ton of effort into this, just want to listen to audiobooks from my mp3 player during my commute! Thanks for all the details. One thing I'll mention is crutchfield currently is doing half off all installation accessories when you buy a receiver, so you can get the din kit for half off if you buy your deck at the same time. Pretty big savings.
Half off of double price is still right around what other sources charge for the same stuff. . . They tend to overprice, but I will admit, if you need advice on installation or parts compatibility, they usually have some decent info and live chat with a tech is pretty handy, but their prices are usually substantially higher than if you were to shop around.
 
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