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by Jeremy Schrag
Today, I thought I would do something a little different from my usual routine: I'm not going to take apart any Chrysler audio head units. Instead, I wrote a general article on some of the units I currently have in storage and in use, and with some indication on how they differ from one another. This way, we have a page where all of this information is available.
Above, you see almost the entire contents of my current Chrysler head unit collection, save for the units still in vehicles. I have been collecting these for years now, and it shows. Some units I own are in pieces, having been used for parts. Others have been sold. Still others are duplicates of the ones you see in the above picture, and are not shown therein. Of the units currently in use, I'll use an old picture from their respective articles when possible.
You might be looking at the above picture, thinking that I'm a little crazy for collecting so many of these old decks. In fact, my obsession with Chrysler car audio extends well beyond this to the some hundred or so Chrysler/Infinity speakers that are also in my collection. I was absolutely nuts about electronics in general and audio in particular, growing up in the eighties. I was constantly looking for ways to improve the audio experience in the family vehicle, but wasn't always very successful at it. That's why it was such a big deal to me when Chrysler teamed up with Infinity in 1987. Suddenly, the auto makers were starting to take audio a little more seriously.
One day, my parents bought a 1988 Grand Voyager LE on a trip to Edmonton. I had long since given up on Chrysler audio by that point, having gotten used to the subpar sound of the Quartz Lock series deck in their old 1984 Caravan. What hope was there for Chrysler, I wondered, when that old Quartz Lock deck had sounded so terrible?
But the new van had a surprise waiting for me: a black cassette deck with a five band analog equalizer. The Infinity logo was present on the display, but I didn't pay a lot of attention to it at first. We drove the new van back to Saskatchewan for a while, listening to my father's favorite AM radio station. Then, we pulled in somewhere for a break and I got out a cassette. Sick of AM radio, I wanted to hear some music for a change. Well, as soon as the tape started playing my mouth fell open. I'd just never heard anything sound that good in a vehicle before.
From then on, I made a pact with myself: as soon as I could, I would start paying attention to Chrysler audio products. I would collect some of these components whenever possible. And so, that's how I got where I am today. As an electronics technician, it only makes sense to me to show you what I have and how to do some basic repairs on these units. At one time, these decks were some engineer's pride and joy... I am glad to keep them alive when I can.
First, let's start with the Quartz Lock Precision series. Above, you see two examples of such decks. The top deck is a dealer option only product made by Audiovox, and the bottom deck is a 1986 vintage unit made by Huntsville Electronics (now Siemens). First introduced somewhere around 1982, these were Chrysler's first foray into the world of electronic tuning and auto-reverse cassette decks. Yes, they had experimented with the electronic tuning earlier than this, but those old "calculator button" decks never had the ability to play both sides of a cassette without you flipping them over. In fact, I don't know a whole lot about those older units - I very rarely see them at salvage yards.
Now, if you're after a Quartz Lock deck to use in a restoration, there are a few things to watch out for. First, the year. 1982-1983 used a common ground speaker wiring scheme, and the built in amplifiers were anemic at best. This is why some of these older vehicles have a rear speaker amplifier as an option... those old decks simply couldn't drive the upgraded factory co-axial rear speakers on their own. In 1984, some of these decks changed again to a common positive setup. These are frustrating to me, and I still have the pieces of the old Quartz Lock deck from my parents' 1984 Caravan to prove it. You see, not all 1984 vehicles had such a zany wiring setup. Some were wired like the rest of the post 1984 vehicles.
Let me explain. Remember that 1988 Grand Voyager I spoke of earlier? One day, the Ultimate Sound based deck in there failed. It had to go in for service, because I couldn't fix them yet at that point in my life. We needed a temporary deck in there, and there was only one option open to us... the 1984 Quartz Lock deck from the old van. So I plugged it in, and... oops, no front speakers. We had sound from the rear, but nothing from the dash. I took the head unit back out, looked at the connectors, and sure enough: the pins were missing for the dash positive wires. They were just not there. A careful inspection of the old head unit later revealed that it drove the positive wires on each stereo channel from one amplifier chip, and the negative wires were run to the fader for front and back fading. Yes, this old deck actually drove both front and rear speakers from a single pair of amplifier chips.
What about the 1984 Caravan, you may be asking. How was that wired? Well, let me give you some hope for an upgrade there. On our 1984 Caravan, both positive leads from each left and right channel were present at the black connector. They were merely joined to common pins, used in later decks as the rear positive feeds. It is actually quite simple to re-wire these vehicles for proper independent speaker connections, because all the wires are already there. You do have to remove the speakers to trace which wire is which, but that isn't too hard in most vehicles.
Confused yet? I'll try to simplify things before we move on. When it comes to 1982-1983 vehicles, it is best to find a deck matching those years if you want plug and play. 1985 and up decks can all be used provided you are willing to do some re-wiring. 1984 is a special case. If you are buying a newer deck for your 1984 vehicle, examine the vehicle harness. Do any connector pins have more than one wire? If so, you will need to do some rewiring. If not, your newer 1985-2000 era deck should be plug and play.
On the other hand , if you are looking to use a 1984 deck in any vehicle, newer or older, I would advise against it. In 1984, Chrysler audio systems weren't very good at all and the decks were very much underpowered by today's standards.
We'll move on to the mid eighties now, and the Ultimate Sound system. I've already done a fairly comprehensive article about these units, but I'll recap the more important points here.
This was really when Chrysler started to put some effort into sound quality. Mitsubishi was the supplier of these units, and they were available from 1985-1987. The upper deck in the picture is a rare Infinity model... yes, it was indeed the black version of that very deck that was found in my parents' 1988 Grand Voyager. That's the deck that started my obsession. Though these do look alike, they are different models. The Infinity model was only available for one year, while the bottom unit could be found in both black and silver for the whole 1985-1987 period. Functionality is nearly identical.
Amplifiers in these decks consisted of four amplifier chips that could manage 15 watts to each speaker, making them a big step up from the Quartz Lock units of the day. It should be said, however, that later Quartz Lock units did catch up to these in that department. Audio quality is another story... these were the best sounding decks Chrysler had in the eighties, if you ask me. Even the later Infinity models lacked a bit compared to these.
What can you plug these into? Every Chrysler vehicle made from 1985 to 2000 that has the old square dash opening is plug and play. Some 1984 vehicles, too. Older, if you don't mind the re-wiring.
On we go to the late eighties, and the first proper Infinity models. We have the Infinity I on top, and the Infinity II on the bottom. These were the first decks to include music search functions on the cassette deck, as well as automatic tape equalization for CRO2 and metal cassettes.
The Infinity I was redesigned during its run to make some buttons a little more user friendly, but for the most part was unchanged in function from 1988 to 1991. I'm not completely sure when this deck made its exit, but there are an awful lot of them out there. Made by Huntsville Electronics, it is one of the most reliable decks you can get for a Mopar. Cassette mechanisms were usually sourced from Alpine or Shinwa, with Huntsville handling the electronics themselves.
These also have an unusual connector on the back in the form of an RJ45 - this is listed in the schematics as the port for a "remote controller." There is some information for this jack being used to interface with the visor phone dealer-option of the day, but I really can't say for sure at this point in time. Unlike most decks from here on out, which can push 15 watts into your four speakers, many of these could only manage 12 watts per channel or so in the early days. Still an improvement on the ancient 1982-1984 Quartz Lock units.
The Infinity II was the next step in evolution for the Ultimate Sound decks I just showed you. In fact, in some factory literature, it is still referred to as the Ultimate Sound deck for 1988-1990. This was a very fancy deck back in the day, and is in fact so complicated it ended up being rather failure prone. I have more of these on my shelf than any other deck, and it is all due to the fact that they break down often and are hard to get working right when they do. This could be why, in 1991, they underwent a redesign, losing the pushbutton equalizer controls and some toggle buttons.
Before I move on, you could get the Infinity I in a premium model, but not the Infinity II (to my knowledge). The premium model deleted the slave CD port on the back, and did not have the Infinity name on the front, but in all other ways was the exact same deck. And speaking of that slave CD port, the Infinity II has one as well: an eight pin DIN connector that interfaces with the expensive slave CD unit. These outboard single CD players were so expensive at the time, I haven't even seen one yet. It doesn't help matters that only a few vehicles were offered that option, most frequently the TC and LeBaron.
Moving along, we have a couple of early 1990s units. Remember that 1991 redesign to the Infinity II I spoke of? It's the farm fresh top deck in this picture, one I have not gotten around to profiling in its own article yet. Unlike the earlier Infinity II unit, this was available in a premium model, which is what you see here. This deck literally has all the functionality of the 1991-1992 Infinity II present and accounted for - even the slave CD port is present on the back panel. It is made by Mitsubishi, like so many other decks of this vintage.
On the bottom is the Infinity III, a further iteration of the Ultimate Sound deck and the next step on from the Infinity II. The styling has become much more ergonomic, but at its heart it does still share a lot of things with its older brothers. The cassette mechanism is nearly identical. Functionality is nearly identical. Yes, that slave CD port is still on the back panel.
You're probably getting anxious for me to get to the CD players now. Well, I have a couple more units to show and tell before then.
Here are two more units that have not been profiled in an article yet. These are both CD changer control decks, available in the mid 90s.
Up top is one of the more unusual models Chrysler has produced. First, this one isn't a Mitsubishi, like so many others of the era were. This one is Alpine built, and the only such unit I can think of ever made in the 90s. Alpine mostly built the CD head units, not the cassette ones. But when the cloud cars came along, Alpine was called on to produce a head unit with a tape deck that could control a 6 disc CD changer in the trunk. This was that head unit, as you can see from the unusual mounting bolt locations. I haven't had this unit open to tell you much about it, but what I can tell you for now is that it suffers from the same issue many of the Alpine built CD players suffered from: an intermittent display. I'll get into that when I write up that article.
The CD changer control didn't originate solely with the top deck, no sir. The bottom deck was also Chrysler's answer to that little problem. This one is built by Mitsubishi. Though it looks a lot like the Infinity III head unit that preceded it, functionality is very different in some ways. First, the Infinity III had an 8 pin DIN slave CD port. This deck has the same connector, but cannot interface with that old CD player. Instead, this Mitsubishi deck controls the CD changers of the day. Make note of this... the connector is the same, but the interface is not interchangeable. You cannot run the CD changer on an old Infinity I, II, or III; and you cannot run the old slave CD player on this deck.
And more importantly, while the slave CD connector on the old decks can be used to easily add an auxiliary input, you are out of luck when it comes to the changer control decks.
Let's move on to CD players. Here are two of the Alpine built CD players you could get in the mid to late 90s. Up top is the three band EQ model from a cloud car, and on the bottom is the infamous Infinity IV.
Now, the top deck is another unit I haven't had time to get into, so I'm not sure how it differs from the Infinity IV, but I have indeed written about the bottom deck before. Starting in 1993, Chrysler thought it was a good idea to do away with the slave CD player option in favor of a deck that had the CD player built into the head unit itself. CDs were the wave of the future, and they'd already been beaten to the punch by other car makers. So, Chrysler went all out.
In 1993, to my knowledge, you could not get a CD player without also getting the Infinity speakers. This was a very expensive option that cost a couple thousand bucks on my parents’ 1993 Grand Caravan LE, but the sound quality was out of this world. Of all the decks in the nineties, the Infinity IV was the best sounding. Alpine really hit it out of the park with this deck, and those Infinity speakers only helped ensure the home run.
Let me tell you, for an audio geek in 1993, I was in heaven any time I played a CD in that van. Not only was the deck the best thing I'd heard to date, so were the speakers. This was before they started cheaping out on the Infinity speakers, and every part of the sound system screamed attention to detail.
But enough about that, let's talk about CD-Rs. A lot of you may be wondering about support for recordable CDs in these decks. Well, that really depends on the age of the unit. The earliest decks were hit and miss - you often need to tweak those units as I showed in my guide on the Infinity IV. Newer decks, like the top one in the picture, can often play them by default. CD-RW support is another story... there, you pretty much have to go as new as possible; and I'm not even sure any of these style decks can do it, regardless of the year.
This is perhaps the most popular of Chrysler's head units these days. Made by Mitsubishi in various versions over the years, it is perhaps the first example of any factory head unit able to play both CDs and cassettes in the same unit. These were a big deal when they came out in the mid 90s for just that reason, and these remain quite popular for those looking for a CD player that will just plug and play into the dashes of most Chrysler vehicles.
A conspicuous lack of an auxiliary input remains the Achilles heel of this unit, but that's really the only complaint one would have had back in the day these first came out. CD-R support was sketchy at first, but these quickly evolved over the years to handle them. The cassette deck was good quality and reliable. You could even get the time with the ignition off by pressing the volume knob, a welcome feature that continues on many Chrysler decks to this day. In terms of sound quality, these never got as good as the Alpine built single CD units, but it wasn't exactly bad sounding. Just a little boomy at times, thanks to the auto loudness circuit built in.
In our next picture, we see two more decks I haven't written an article about. Up top is the standard CD player that came with my folks' 2002 Caravan, and on the bottom is a somewhat unusual and simplistic unit that came from a Neon.
I will admit that neither of these have really been apart yet, so I don't have a lot of information on them at present. Both decks come from Huntsville Electronics and the bottom unit is, to my knowledge, their first attempt at a CD player. It is very bare bones in the operational department, and equally bare bones in the sound quality department. This particular unit will not load or eject discs properly, so I'll be looking into that issue before too long. When I do, I'll write an article for it.
The top unit is known as the RBK. All I can tell you for now is that it does have CD changer control capabilities for the newer in dash CD changers Chrysler was offering in the early 2000s. Otherwise, it too is pretty basic in functionality; though it is the earliest deck in my collection known to be able to play CD-RWs. This particular deck was redesigned at some point in its run to allow satellite radio support. You can identify the newer units by looking for the button activated audio controls, rather than the analog bass, fader, balance, and treble controls seen on this unit.
Onwards and downwards we find the RAZ. I no longer have this deck, so this picture from the past is the best I can do for this article. Built by Mitsubishi, this was one of the first units to incorporate RDS (radio data system) and satellite radio support. I've written at length about this unit before, so I'll spare you the finer details on this unit. This was Mitsubishi's next evolution from the old combo CD/cassette deck you saw earlier in this article.
Meantime, there are a few things to remember about these round faced decks of the early 2000s. First, not all are created equal. Some of these had the old dual 7 pin connector configuration, others got a newer square connector. The changeover occurred in 2001, and things are made more confusing by the fact that both connector styles were used in 2001. You really need to pay attention to this, otherwise you may be faced with having to buy an adapter harness to even plug in that new deck you got on eBay last week.
While I still had this unit, I found myself quite disappointed with the sound quality. It just didn't sound that good, what with the auto loudness circuit making the bass overly boomy. Thus, when my folks sold their old 2002 Caravan, this is the deck that went with it.
From the RAZ, we move on to two more round faced units I've done articles on.
Up top is the RBU, an Alpine built unit that looks identical to the RAZ, but is quite a bit different in functionality. The biggest difference is in the back seat audio feature [editor’s note: the biggest difference overall, in my opinion — having replaced an RAZ with an RBU — is the RAZ’s poor sound clarity and “boominess.”] The RBU can broadcast a signal to wireless RF headphones from a different source than is being played over the vehicle's speakers. It supports satellite radio and RDS like the RAZ does, but to my knowledge does not support the rear video screens that started to appear in the mid 2000s. Usually, the RAZ was used in those applications.
The bottom unit is another one-off model intended for specific vehicles. It is a four disc in-dash changer built by Mitsubishi that was found in the Sebring, among a few other cars. This unit is physically deep enough to present issues with mounting in some cars, and it uses the old style black and gray connectors. These are often quite problematic when it comes to the changer mechanism, and I found that both of mine had problems like rubber isolators out of position and gears loose when I took delivery of them. They require bolts to be installed for proper shipping, otherwise it is likely they won't show up in proper working order on the other end. There is an article on these units - more information can be found therein.
Let's continue on to this unit, the six disc in dash DVD changer that is currently installed in my folks' 2008 Grand Caravan SXT. These came about around 2007, just when Chrysler's entertainment systems got really complicated. Like many of Ma Mopar's newer offerings, this is a CANBUS based unit that will not operate without said CANBUS. This trend irritates me to no end, because I know it’s Chrysler’s way of making sure only their authorized techs can work on these without access to a vehicle. And just to make everything more complicated and irritating, this is a high speed model. Yes, there are two speeds of CANBUS your vehicle could be using. They are not compatible with each other. A high speed head unit in a low speed vehicle, or a low speed head unit in a high speed vehicle, is little more than a brick. They won't do anything, and the car will complain about it.
Which is which? I'll tell you what I know as of this writing. 2008-2012 Caravans and Town and Countrys, 2007-2012 Nitros, 2008-2012 Libertys, 2007-2012 Wranglers, 2009-2010 Journeys, 2009-2012 Rams, 2011-2012 Grand Cherokees, 2011-2012 Durangos, and of course the 2008-2012 Volkswagen Routan are all high speed vehicles. The rest are low speed. And just to make things ever so much more irritating, it has been said that the 2012 high speed CANBUS is not compatible with the high speed CANBUS of prior years. Really, it is best to match things up on a year by year and model by model basis after 2007 if you are looking to replace a factory head unit.
Feature-wise, this here is one of Chrysler's most loaded units. It plays MP3s from CD or DVD, including recordables and RWs (if you're lucky - some of mine don't work). It works with your rear VES (vehicle entertainment system) if so equipped. It plays DVDs. It plays CDs. It shows RDS data. It supports your steering wheel controls. It works with the uConnect stuff.
That said, there is one big way Alpine and Chrysler dropped the ball with this thing. It will not randomize MP3 or CD playback, and it only supports 256 files per folder. If you have a folder on a DVD with that many files in it, it will play them all in a row one by one. If you want to hear a specific track, you either have to seek through the folder or hit the list button and use the scroll to go find it. Maybe you should just plug your iPod into that handy auxiliary port instead.
Finally, two more units appear in this picture. First, the RES I wrote about a while back. This is a low speed model, with limited functionality, made by Siemens. It plays MP3s, but only from CD media. It does not have RDS support, or Sirius support, or uConnect support; but there was a variant that did have these features. I still cannot power this unit up, because I do not have access to a low speed CANBUS vehicle, so my independent guide for this unit will have to do for now.
Last but not least is the MyGig REN from my parents' most recent automotive purchase, built by Harman-Becker. In terms of functionality, these really are loaded for Chrysler head units. Being based on the QNX operating system, these are more aptly called "carputers," because that's really what they are - full-on computers in your dashboard. These all have single disc DVD drives in them, for playing any sort of CD or DVD you can think of. They support rear video, backup cameras, and uConnect. You can load AAC or MP3 files onto the internal 20GB hard drive.
There are, however, some functional differences between the four main North American variants. The REN could get Sirius as an option. Same with the RER. Aside from this, the RER is the one with the navigation features... that's the main thing separating it from the REN. But there is one more big difference to talk about, and that is in the uConnect support. The REN requires an external module for uConnect support. The RER does not - it has all the brains inside it. So, if you're looking to swap the REN for the navigation unit, you will have to keep that in mind that uConnect support is different for the two.
I could go on at length about the MyGig head units, but I have already done so in my standalone article for this unit. For now, I'll just answer the one question people seem to ask most: can these be made to work in older vehicles? And the answer to that is no. Not without a big pile of money, anyway. They require that CANBUS signal to operate. There are emulators out there, but they are expensive. And just like every other Chrysler deck these days, you have to watch out for those CANBUS speeds. High speed models will still not interchange with low speed.
This concludes my general look at all the Chrysler head units currently in my collection. I hope my article has been informative. Next time, I'll get into that Alpine built changer control tape deck I showed you, and tell you how to fix the blank display problem on that unit.
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