Tech Feature: Audi allroad's SD card slot
Is it an essential part of an infotainment system, or just an eyesore?
I distinctly recall the first time I saw an SD card reader made strictly for automotive use: It was on an aftermarket car stereo at the 1999 Consumer Electronics Show. It was a certainly a novelty then, at the dawn of the MP3 age, and I wondered if anyone would use it.
I wondered the same thing when I recently noticed an SD card slot in the dash of a 2013 Audi allroad wagon. As part of my routine tech testing, I dug out my SD card with a few loaded MP3s and slipped it into the slot. As in other recent vehicles with an SD card slot, such as several Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz models, it allows yet another way to access digital tunes, much like plugging a thumb drive into a car’s USB port.
But almost 14 years later, I still have to wonder who actually carries SD cards in the car, or why someone would bother adding music files to a medium more commonly used for storing digital photos on a camera. While some vehicles have an SD card slot for loading navigation software and mapping, I can think of one music application that would be appropriate and truly welcoming.
Audiophiles abhor MP3s or similar “lossy” music formats for their low sound quality, even though a higher bit rate can provide better quality sound. Most automakers support only MP3 and WMA file formats for SD cards as well as music stored on a USB drive, but they’ve ignored another digital-music abbreviation: FLAC, which stands for free lossless audio codec. This format allows for storing fully uncompressed digital music files on an SD card, and several major artists, including Paul McCartney and Pearl Jam, have released recordings as FLAC files.
Given the audio systems arms race we’ve seen in the past decade or so, with automakers adding more speakers and amplifier power to stereo systems, I’m surprised none has one-upped the competition by adding FLAC compatibility. Who cares if most people have never heard of the format and even fewer use it? That hasn’t stopped Acura and others from soldiering on with the dead audiophile format that is DVD-Audio.
The ability to listen to FLAC files would maybe give me enough incentive to carry an SD card loaded with music into the car. Otherwise, an SD card slot in the dash is an eyesore at best, and a waste of space at worst.
My vehicle (2010) came with an SDHC slot. I write some tunes to the card, stick the card into the reader, and enjoy the music. I love it. If only my audio system supported FLAC and OGG formats, it would be pure bliss.
I do not have an iPod, nor do I want one. I do not want to play music through my mobile phone, either. This is perfect: it is simple.
Simple always wins. Simple is robust!
Here's an SD advantage - usb thumb drives are typically enormous and must stick out of something - SD cards are designed to go completely inside things
Talk about eyesores - a giant USB drive sticking out of your dash is a much larger eyesore than the slit of an sd card slot.
That thing is about as big as a U.S. quarter, plugs into an USB slot, and takes micro SHDC cards which are the size of a U.S. dime. One micro SDHC card can hold up to 64GB of data:
I have used these in lieu of removable media, have even configured them inside of servers in a ZFS pool (RAID1+0), or used them for data and music. And if I ever fill one up, or it fails, all I have to do is take them out of the USB reader and stick another one in, like floppies back in the day, except with much higher capacity, faster transfer rates, and somewhat better reliability.
We are not technologically illiterate around here; quite the opposite, which is why people like myself despise this consumer grade simpleton crap inside of cars. It brings in inefficient complexity and more things which can break.
It does not have to be SDHC, however, SD and by analogy SDHC is a very popular storage format in Germany, so it comes as no surprise that a German car would come with one.
From my standpoint, USB is fine too. What is not OK is Bluetooth, iPod, mobile phones and the like. I do not want the artificial dependency in my vehicle, just to be able to play my music. That is ridiculous and unacceptable!
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