Installing a PhatBox into my Ride


What is a PhatBox? Well, a small company named PhatNoise worked for a few years to create a really cool hard-drive based MP3 player for the car. Unlike other systems which replace your stock stereo system with a new unit or are RF-modulated and have an ugly external remote control, the PhatBox just replaces your OEM CD changer. Instead of 6 CDs, you get 20 or 30 gigabytes of MP3s.

The best part of the PhatBox is the interface. First, it's totally plug-and-play with the BMW stock headunit (which was a deciding factor in buying it for me) - you just plug it in to the prewired connectors in your trunk, and it works. Second, it uses a really neat interface called SSA/Voice to control it, complete with computer-generated voice prompting to announce what album you're on. Finally, it just sounds really good through the HK system in my ride.

I ordered the PhatBox with a 30gb DMS cartridge and I received it a week or so later...

First part:
It all started when I got home from the BMW dealership. I had already ordered and received the PhatBox, and was just dying to install it in my brand new car.

But wait, there's a catch (of course):

The 2002 requires a new trim piece due to a slight interior redesign, and the dealership didn't know the trim they had in-stock wouldn't fit. So, they had to order a new one for me.

Because I live so far away from the dealer, I opted to have them mail it to me when it came in, so I could install it myself.

Still, I just had to see how the PhatBox worked! So I opened the trunk...

...and removed the stock trim panel.

Here you can see the antenna amplifier at the top, and behind that, there is a large piece of sound-deadening material. At the bottom, you can just make out the red wingnut for the jack, sitting in the left trunk tray.

Behind the left trunk tray, there is actually a small area where the PhatBox can fit (not mounted, but placed loosely) - more on that later.

After a little searching, I realized that the wrapped-up bundle of wires on the left side contained the necessary wires to connect the CD changer (or PhatBox in this case).

After carefully unwrapping the protective covering on the wires, I now had access to the two connectors that will be plugged into the BlitzSafe adapter.

The 3-pin (left) is the power & ground while the 6-pin (right) is the audio output.

While the BlitzSafe adapter feels very flimsy, it was definitely sturdy enough accept both these plugs. I wouldn't recommend fooling around with it too much, though - I still get the feeling that it could just disintegrate at any time.

Here, you see the PhatBox connected to the CD changer wires via the BlitzSafe adapter.

(This is all you REALLY need to do to start listening to your PhatBox. Well, you have to plug the DMS cartridge in first.)

The night before, I had pre-loaded the DMS with the latest BMW firmware and put a handful of albums on it, just so I'd have something to listen to.

I followed the PhatBox install instructions, it all went without a hitch, it upgraded the firmware, and I was able to listen to it through my stereo immediately - and it sounded great!

Of course, this was all I could really do that day.

I had no good way of permanently mounting the PhatBox, so I did what any other crazy person would have done:

I left the trim off, secured the PhatBox under one of the rubber straps on the floor of the trunk, and pulled the privacy shade back over it.

It wasn't exactly pretty, but I was able to listen to my tunes while I waited for the parts to come in!

Second part: After a week of waiting, I received in the mail a nice big cardboard box full off goodies from my dealer!

Opening it up, I found the CD changer mounting hardware and instructions...

...and the new trim piece. Compare the shape of the stock piece (left) with the CD changer piece (right).

There's definitely a lot more space in there for cool gadgets like the PhatBox now!

Don't get too excited yet, this is just the same photo from before, serving as a little "refresher" for you.

Again, note the space behind the left trunk tray - more on that at the end.





If you can't tell, the process was a little frustrating. Getting the left trunk tray (the big huge plastic thing currently behind the driver's seat) out turned out to be a major pain in the butt. I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to get it back in, it was that tough. Ugh.

Of course, I did get it all back together. It ended up taking about 2 hours to do - because that left trunk tray was very hard to remove and replace (it might have been easier had I disassembled the entire trunk, but I guess I'm just lazy).

The HK system amp is now mounted vertically where the space was before. The antenna amplifier is back where it was before.

Guess what?

The PhatBox does NOT fit where the CD changer is supposed to be placed. Bleh.

Well, I made it fit.

I couldn't mount it horizontally at all, because between the connector in the back and the DMS sticking out there wasn't enough space; I couldn't shut the new trim piece.

Fortunately, there is a nice shelf there that goes forward a ways, so I was able to put the PhatBox in there. It did sit pretty loosely, and I couldn't find a good way to secure it with screws, so I took that large piece of leftover sound-deadening material, folded it in quarters, and jammed it behind the Phatbox. It actually holds it in place quite well!

Remember that space behind the left trunk tray that I have mentioned a few times? The reason I brought it up is that in retrospect, I probably would have used just the trim piece and not the CD changer mounting hardware.

The PhatBox will fit in that little space with room to spare, and at that point you could simply put a thick towel under it to keep it from sliding around - or even build a small bracket to permanently mount it. It definitely would have saved a few hours of my time.

Either way, it's all put back together, and it sounds fantastic!

"Go ahead, make my day."

Nobody better mess with me right now.

Of course, after this was all done, I had to clean up the mess, put my tools away, and take a shower. Man, that was more of a pain than I thought it would be.

Still, after I was done with all that, I took the car for a drive. The music sounds fantastic - there's just so much of it. And you know what? I think the car actually handles better, I get more low-end torque, and I could swear an extra 10hp...

- Cowboy


PhatBox is © 1999-2001 PhatNoise, Inc.

All content/photos ©2001 "Cowboy" Ben Alman, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.