Hey, what's the deal with the commercial ad here?
The Tire Rack - Performance Specialists

Interested in having us take a look at your E46 M3 products? Drop us a line at:

Manufactured by: Changer: Alpine | Interface: Soundgate
Website: www.alpine1.com | www.soundgate.com
Application: E46 M3 and all other 1996+ BMW with existing changers or with factory prewire in place.

BMW factory stereo systems have never really been anything to write home about. Even with the upgraded HK option the sound is anemic and lifeless. The stock system also comes standard with speaker rattles and squeaks as a free bonus. All these things can be addressed by installing an aftermarket system, etc. but that is a topic for another day.

The other thing that BMW has not as of yet seen fit to add is an MP3 capability to either its in dash CD players or the optional "BMW" (actually Alpine) 6-disk changer. MP3 has become the predominant format for exchanging music on-line and offers "close" to CD sound quality in a file size that is roughly only 10% of a traditional CD track. This means that on a standard 700mb CDR you can have close to 200 songs rather than the typical 10-20 on a traditional CD. The advantages are obvious - you can drop 1000+ songs into your changer and basically forget about ever having to change disks.

Unfortunately BMW goes out of its way to make swapping in or adding an aftermarket CD changer more difficult than it needs to be because they use an I-Bus interface between the stock changer and the stock head unit. To overcome this and use an aftermarket changer you need to use an interface manufactured by Soundgate (model ABMW35V5) to convert from I-Bus to M-Bus controls so that the head unit and the new changer can communicate. You also need an Alpine M-Bus to AiNet adaptor (simply a cable) to complete the connections.

The install is rather straight forward. My car had a factory changer installed and all that was required was to remove the factory unit and replace it with the Alpine changer and interface. The Alpine changer has the same dimensions (height and width - its actually a little shallower in depth) as the stock changer and the bracket locations are roughly the same. The only tricky part is finding somewhere to mount the interface.

Once installed, the changer hides behind the factory cover and uses the same magazines as the factory (also Alpine) unit.

So how does it sound? Let me preface this by saying that I have been playing with home audio for many years and fancy myself an audiophile. I have more into my home stereo (not including video stuff) than the value of a new M3. I also spent much of my high school and college years moonlighting as an installer at a car stereo shop as well as competing in my youth in car audio competitions. So with that out of the way I can say with full certainty that the new set up sounds just as bad as the old set up! There is no difference in sound quality between the factory changer and the aftermarket unit.

Since the sound quality does not improve why bother? Well, in a word, this upgrade is not about quality but rather quaintity - and if more is better than the Alpine CHA-S634 is at least 10 times better than the BMW unit. In short, you now have the ability to load up the changer with 4.2GB of music! At around 3-4mb per song this equates to more than 1000 tracks! MP3 does give up a bit in quality to a "good" CD recording. There are too many variables here outside of simple compression algorithms to try to pinpoint the problem: Media quality, quality of the reading device, extent of compression, quality of the writing device, etc.

So what are the bugs? Well, there are a few and some are more annoying than others. The head unit does not have a text display so poking around a disk with 200 songs is a bit of a hassle. Folder information is likewise not displayed. Track acquisition is a bit slower with MP3 than with CD and generally a little slower than with the stock set up. All of the regular head unit and steering wheel controls retain their functionality with the new unit/interface. The rest of the bugs are most likely interface related. Random function no longer plays across all the disks in the magazine but is now limited to the selected disk. Getting up over 99 or below 1 (the back of the disk) is a pain. Most times the head unit does not want to push past 99 with the track up control - the easiest way to get over 99 is to hit random and let the system find a track above 100 and then navigate from there. Pushing the track up or track down buttons quickly seems to confuse the interface and at times it responds with the opposite action to the one expected. Random setting is not retained after the car is shut off but the track is. A few other bugs like having to wait for the changer to read all the tracks before activating random, etc exist but are rather minor.

So is it worth it? If quaintly is important to you then by all means yes. Sound quality is the same, functionality is workable and having 1073 songs currently in my charger is a good thing!

Hope this has been at least somewhat helpful…

All The Stuff You Need

All Buttoned Up
(with 1073 Songs In Place)

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