Life with PCRN

The Porsche Classic Radio Navigation unit (PCRN) is something Porsche offered up to owners of classic Porsches that are devoid of modern conveniences such as navigation, bluetooth, and iPod/iPhone connectivity. They made this so you could replace the original factory stereo without the need to cut-up your dash board and install something in your classic Porsche that doesn’t look like it came from a spaceship. While the PCRN is modern, it has a very classic look and feel… despite the tiny LCD in the middle. I think it’s great when a car company supports their classic vehicles in this way, but is it worth it?

The PCRN is not without it’s quirks. Officially, Porsche claims it’s suitable for all classic 911s with a DIN-1 slot, up through the 993, and all four and eight cylinder models (excluding the 356). That means this will work in your 912, 914, 924, 928, 944, and 968. However, that wording would exclude the 996, despite the fact the 996 has a DIN-1 slot. This is likely due to the fact that Porsche switched to the MOST system in 2002. MOST (Media Oriented Systems Transport) is widely used by virtually all automobile manufacturers in the industry today, but since the PCRN was developed for classic Porsches, it’s not compatible with the MOST system. But, my 996 is a 2001 model, it doesn’t have the MOST system, and therefore PCRN should work—and it does! I guess it was too difficult for Porsche to add a note that mentions it would work on 996 and 986 models through 2001.

Interestingly, the 996 is very well suited for the PCRN. The navigation portion requires a GPS antenna that is usually exposed in the car, in fact, Porsche recommends different locations based on which car you own:

GPSInstall

But there’s also a Media Box and a Bluetooth microphone that need to be installed. Again, Porsche offers its suggested locations, but I’ve seen this installed in other places on the classic cars:

MediaBoxMic

The point is, no matter how you install it, the GPS antenna and Bluetooth microphone will be visible, and likely the Media Box as well when installing PCRN into a classic Porsche. But, it’s different with the 996. The 996 has a specific place for a GPS antenna, which is under the cowl panel covering to the left of the windshield wipers. There’s also a specific location for the Bluetooth mic in the dashboard. These things don’t have to be visible when installed in a 996. The Media Box can be installed in the center console storage box, so it’s not visible either. It’s almost as if the car was made for PCRN.

dashmic

Once installed, it didn’t take long to discover the quirks of the PCRN. I’ll start with Navigation. The maps are simply that of Tomtom. A bit expensive to replace/update as everything must go through Porsche. Tomtom pretends like they have no idea what you’re talking about if you reach out them. The navigation screen is small, but it’s not really all that bad. Since it has voice direction as well, the display isn’t needed other than for quick reference. What’s annoying is that’s it’s quite often… confused. Yes, “confused” is the best word. Today, in fact, PCRN told my to “prepare to exit in half a mile,” so I did. I approached the exit and, like any navigation unit, it chimed in with “exit the highway” once I had reached the exit. While I’m exiting the highway, on the exit ramp it requested, it then chimed in and said “prepare to exit the highway in 1.2 miles.” What?

After I took the exit it requested the first time, it then wanted me to complete a strange series of U-Turn maneuvers to get back on the highway. Most of the time, even though I follow the instructions as they’re given and as seen on the tiny screen, the GPS just doesn’t seem to know where I’m at. Almost every time I successfully execute any given move — “turn left at the next intersection” or “turn right” (for example) — it will chime in with “Recalculating route” and then proceed with the original route anyway since that’s what I had followed. It’s hard to trust the GPS.

The PCRN features multiple ways to play your music; SD Card, USB thumb drive, iPhone/iPod, Bluetooth Streaming, or an Auxiliary port. I have a 128GB USB 3.0 thumb drive in my car, filled with my entire music library. I also have a 32GB SD Card filled with movie soundtracks (for those times I’m driving in an action movie). It takes PCRN about one minute and 12 seconds to read the USB thumb drive. That could be due to the size of the drive or the amount of music on it, but it is a bit slow no matter what the cause. The really odd part is how it works after it reads the drive (and the same is true for the SD card as well).

You’re presented with a list of artist on the screen, and you’ll quickly discover that if you want to scroll through them with the knob that the scrolling feels backwards. You scroll left to go down the list, and right to move up the list. When you’re using this, it just feels wrong, like it should be the other way. What’s worse is you’ll start to realize that your music doesn’t seem to be in any particular order—which then makes the backwards scrolling that much more confusing as you don’t really know what direction you’re moving anymore!

Why is the music out of order? I would expect the music to be in alphabetical order, but it’s not. In fact, I couldn’t really figure out what order it was in at all as REM is at the very top of my list, followed by AC/DC and several other “A” bands. Then it somewhat follows the alphabet, but there will be bands like Wilco in between Spiritualized and Stereophonics. I finally solved this by reading the manual:

media

It’s designed that way. It sorts your music based on the date you added it to the drive. Which is why most of my music was in order as it was all copied over at almost the same time, but when I added new music, it would rearrange the order. So, if I want to listen to a particular artist, I just have to remember when I added that artist to the drive in order to find it quickly. Yes, that’s how it works.

Even more fun is that PCRN really doesn’t ever want you to not listen to music. I often don’t listen to music while driving because I’d rather hear my car. But, occasionally, I might want to hear some music. Once I’ve scrolled through and found the artist I want to hear, all I have to do is play it. I’m forever committed after that. You see, there’s no “off” button for just the music. I can press the “pause” button and that works just fine, but, if someone calls me on my phone that’s paired via Bluetooth to PCRN, the music automatically starts playing once the call is ended (despite the fact I had it on pause).

Let’s say I’m on the USB thumb drive, and I switch the the SD card but don’t actually select anything to play… great, it won’t play! Until someone calls, then it will start playing music from the SD card after the call. Even if I don’t answer the call, it starts playing after the phone stops ringing. If I’ve switched to the USB drive or SD card without actually playing an artist, and no one ever calls me, won’t it just never play? Nope. Once you turn off the car and start it again, it will automatically start playing music from whatever media you have selected. And, you can’t just press “mute” either. Pressing the “mute” button mutes the entire system. So, if you’re using navigation, you’ll lose that audio, along with any audio if someone calls you.

There is a work around. If you really don’t want to listen to music, and you don’t want to be surprised when music suddenly starts playing after a phone call or when you start up your car, there is one thing you can do: Select a media device you don’t have. Generally, you can’t do this as the option is grayed out if you haven’t got it installed. However, SiriusXM shows as an option in my list, I just don’t have a receiver for it (glad I put that in). So, if I select SiriusXM, nothing will play. Ever. Well, at least until I go back and select something I want to hear from a different source.

Additionally, PCRN rarely remembers where you left off. If I’m listening to a song, and turn the car off, once I start the car again it will usually start that song over from the very beginning. On one or two occasions, it’s actually started a different song from a different artist altogether. However, occasionally, it has started playing the same song in the exact spot it left off. But, usually, it just likes to start it over. It’s very temperamental that way.

One last point of contention is the iPod/iPhone connector on the Media Box. Yes, it’s actually labeled “iPod” so you would think it might charge the device while playing. You’d be wrong if you thought that. It works fine, as far as playing is concerned. But it doesn’t charge your device at all. I’ve tried Apple’s cable that’s supplied with the iPhone, and I even have Porsche’s USB to Lightning Cable, and that doesn’t do the trick either. Would it have been that difficult to make the PCRN capable of charging?

In the end, is it worth it? Yes. I think so, anyway. Sure, it has it’s quirks, but so does every vintage and classic car, why not have a stereo to match? The GPS is frustrating, but in all honesty, I don’t use it that much and it does get me to my destination… eventually. The sound quality is fantastic, and the design works perfectly in any vintage Porsche. It’s also easy to use, though not intuitive. Despite its shortcomings, overall, I like it, and I recommend it to anyone wanting or needing modern conveniences in their classic Porsche. Just be aware of what you’re getting yourself into!

2 thoughts on “Life with PCRN

  1. AGM

    Nice write up.

    I don’t think the MOST system is as common as you describe. At least for the 997’s, the optical fibre MOST loop was only used on the Bose factory audio systems. The standard factory audio system uses traditional analog interconnections. The PCRN unit should work in quite a few other Porsche and non-Porsche models.

    Can this unit play audio files on _data_ CD/DVDs? My factory player supports this, and it has been a simple alternative to selecting playlists from a kludged neolithic user interface, and alternative to keeping a glovebox full of USB drives.

    My Dension MOST iPhone adapter has similar issues when restarting audio. More annoyingly, it restarts at the begging of the whole playlist. I keep hearing only the first 10 songs on a 256GB thumb drive playlist unless I take a long trip. 😦 The solution has been to pause playback and turn off the radio/audio before turning off the car, presumably giving it time to store its bookmark before powering off.

    The Dension unit does however give you several sort options for selecting and listening to your audio collection. Direct audio from the iPhone is simple too, with control of the player from the radio or steering wheel buttons.

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    • I was going by the Wikipedia article that states almost all manufacturers use it. It’s Wikipedia, so it can definitely be wrong!

      There’s no optical drive on the PCRN, so it won’t play data or regular CD/DVDs. Although, I suppose you could get get crazy and connect something like a Diskman to the auxiliary port!

      Intersting about the “pause” of a playlist, but on the PCRN that trick doesn’t work. I’ve left it on pause when I turn the car off, and upon starting the car, it just starts playing the song from the beginning. It really just wants you to listen to music all the time.

      I feel like most of the quirks and personality traits with PCRN are all software related. If Porsche could just do an update to the software, that could solve all these weird symptoms!

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