By Chris Scott Barr
If you’re a tech-savvy consumer, it’s not hard to find ways to get your favorite music into your car without relying on FM radio stations. MP3 players are generally the most popular, but you’ve also got satellite radio, HD radio and other options as well. However, if you’re terrified of technology and have no desire to install new hardware into your vehicle, your selections are limited. That’s where the Carmen by Livio comes in.
The Carmen is designed to be a very simple way to get the music you want into your car, without all of the hassle. The idea is simple, you plug in the device to your computer, select a music genre and start capturing music from one of over 42,000 stations streaming online. Once you’ve captured your fill of audio, you take the device to your car and plug it in. Tune your radio to the proper frequency, and your music plays. The question is whether or not it lives up to those expectations.
Setting up the Carmen is just as easy as they say. Plug in the included USB cable to both the device and your computer. Run the executable file, and you’re ready to make your selection. Pick the genre you want, then choose a station. Once it starts playing, the device also begins recording. You can choose to mute the playback if you’re simply wanting to record. Let the device record for a while (up to 45 hours) and then close out of the application when you’re done.
Now that you’ve got the device loaded up with tunes, plug it into your car, and either hook it up via an aux input (if your stereo has one) or through the FM tuner. Here’s where you’re going to run into my first major complaint. The Carmen has a tiny LCD screen where it will tell you information. This thing is a pain to read from very far away, and nearly impossible to decipher if your car lighter is in an inconvenient location. However, once you find the right station, you’re ready to listen to your recordings. Well, Almost.
Now that you’ve got it all setup, the audio starts playing through. But the first thing you hear is not the music you’ve recorded. Rather, it’s a clip telling you how to setup the device. This is annoying, because by the time you’ve actually plugged it into your car, you’ve already taken the steps outlined. You’ll want to go in and manually delete this file from the device next time it’s plugged into your PC. Now, after that finishes, you’ll hear your music.
The music playing is of decent quality, but it’s certainly nothing I’d write home about. After all, you’re capturing streamed audio signals, compressing them, then playing them back over an FM signal. It’s not going to be fantastic. However, it’s no worse than listening to an FM station that comes in really well. Most people using the device will be perfectly happy with the quality of sound. At least for around 15 minutes.
So what happens after 15 minutes? Nothing. Specifically, for one to two seconds, absolutely nothing plays. This happens every 15 minutes on the dot. You see, the device records your audio into 15-minute blocks so that you can skip through them easily. I’m not really sure why they bothered, as skipping through these blocks will almost always land you right smack in the middle of a song. So how bad is this pause between songs? For me, it’s an absolute deal-breaker.
You might think that it’s really not that big of a deal, but I’ve spent more hours on the road in the last few weeks than I’d care to mention, and I’ve been using this thing on many of my trips. Imagine hearing your favorite song comes on the radio, and you have a car full of people. You’re all rocking out and singing along, only to have the music cut to dead silence for a moment. Suddenly you’ve gone from really enjoying yourselves, to the awkward sound of five horrible singers butchering a great song. Now, picture this happening every 15 minutes for a five-hour car ride. Yeah, it really gets on your nerves after the first hour or two.
Another big complaint I have is with the included remote. There are buttons on the device itself, but it’s likely going to be situated out of reach. The remote is simple enough, with the usual buttons you’d want. However, it really doesn’t matter what button you decide to press, as it’s probably not going to register anyway. I tried moving the device around every way I could think, but the remote would only work when held a few inches away, pointing at a very, very specific spot. A quarter of an inch in the wrong direction, and it would not register.
My last real issue with the Carmen is the fact that when you shut off the car, it still keeps playing. You won’t be able to hear anything since the stereo is turned off, but it plays anyway. You’ll need to remember to press pause each time you get out of the car, and again once you start it back up. If you decide to just unplug it, you’ll be stuck going back to the beginning of the 15-minute block you were on.
The Carmen is simple to setup and use, I can’t fault it there. However, the numerous problems that I outlined above are enough to make me think twice before recommending it to anyone. It is possible that they will fix the pause between audio blocks, which would make it a considerably better device. Until then, I’ll probably suggest finding an alternative to this $40 device.
[ Livio ]
Update: After speaking to someone at Livio I have learned a couple of things that are worth mentioning. First, they will be releasing an update that will allow you to increase the blocks of music from 15-minutes to an hour. This means you’ll only get a quarter of the pauses in your music, which is more acceptable. Also, they informed me that in a future update they will make it so the device does stop the music when the car is turned off, so you can keep your place.
Once these two things happen, I think this device will be much more appealing to the target audience.