In a few short years, the iPod has changed how we store, carry, and listen to music—first in portable music players, but now also in home-audio and, most recently, in car-audio systems. Harman Kardon, a well-known brand among audiophiles, has now entered the iPod-auto arena with its Drive + Play system.
Audio installers tucked the Drive + Play’s electronic enclosure unit under the center console in my car (with wiring and iPod connections); they mounted the control unit on the console next to the driver’s seat and the LCD screen just above my Land Rover’s terrain-management controls to the right of the instrument cluster. The screen is a monochrome LCD affair, large enough to be easily read, with an adjustable backlight. The controller is shaped like a mushroom, with the outside ring imitating the circular movement on an iPod control pad. It has four buttons that mimic the play, pause, and backward and forward buttons, and the center of the “mushroom” is the select button. There is also a very attractive blue-lit ring just inside of the control ring that allows you to easily see it in the dark. The Drive + Play accepts all iPods, including the Nano (with no need of an adapter).
The Drive + Play system sounds good and works well overall. There are several ways to hook up the audio output, and wireless or wired FM transmission is the easiest. However, to get the best sound quality, you should use the stereo’s auxiliary input jack or CD changer input. The screen is very easy to read, and the adjustable backlight and contrast are very welcome. To be able to actually see a song list in the car is a godsend, rather than flipping back and forth trying to find it. The hard-button transport controls work pretty well, but you have to press them properly to get them to work. The ring controller is welcome, although once in a while it would slightly stick and keep scrolling when I had stopped. When you scroll through the song list, it does not scroll back to the beginning again.
In addition to the $199 outlay for the system, be prepared to cover a couple hours of labor costs for an audio shop to install it. Even so, I consider this system one of the better iPod integration solutions out there. TPV