Car/Mobile MP3 Player/Jukebox Comparison Matrix - who makes the best?

November 20 2017 09:09
Phatbox Car Audio System MP3 Player
Neo Car Jukebox - Neo-35

Rio Car (empeg) In-Dash MP3 Player

PhatNoise Car Audio System
(Phatbox / Music Keg)

Neo Car Jukebox (mStation Car)

Riocar (empeg Mk2a)

& Official Web Sites
PhatNoise, Inc. (USA), A division of Harmon International Group (acquired 2005).

SSI Computer, Inc. (Taiwan) /
SSI America (USA)

Rio (USA/UK)*, formerly a division of
SONICBlue, formerly a division of D&M Holdings (as part of Digital Networks North America).

Models Phatbox (w/ various adapter configs)
Kenwood Music Keg KHD-CX910
Kenwood Music Keg KHD-C710
VW, Audi, Volvo, Mazda Digital Audio Player


empeg mk1
empeg mk2
Riocar (mk2a)

Retail Price Ranges
(USD - Original)
$799 - $1063 (Phatbox)
$Various (OEM Solutions)

$389 - $620

$999 - $1699 (Intro prices)
$299 - $699 (Clearance prices)

Storage as Shipped
20, 30GB (Phatbox original)

40, 60, 80GB (Phatbox current)

10 or 20GB (Kenwoood Music Keg)

20GB (Digital Jukebox for Volvo, Audi, Volkswagen, Mazda)

0 to 60GB (from principal distributors)

10, 20, 30, 60GB

Warranty 1 Year

1 Year

1 Year

Product Class / Type Remote-mounted slave device, controlled by stock or aftermarket standard head unit as a CD-Changer.

Remote-mounted pull-out unit with dedicated wired controller with integrated display (also remote mountable).

Remote-mounted slave device, controlled by stock or aftermarket standard head unit as a CD-Changer with optional adapter accessory (replaces wired remote).

In-dash non-standard form-factor pull-out unit with dedicated controls and display (can still remote-mount wired remote control). Approximately DIN width/height, but over-sized depth.

In-dash, pull-out DIN head unit with integrated controls and display.

Main Processor (CPU) 74MHz Cirrus Logic EP7212

Hitachi SH7034 Microcontroller

220MHz Intel StrongARM S-1100-DA

Additional Chips 24MHz real-time controller (CD-Changer bus interface)

Crystal Semiconductor 4341 DAC

Micronas MAS3507D MP3 decoder

Micronas DAC3550A DAC

Crystal Semiconductor CS4231 Audio Codec (sampling tuner, MIC, etc. inputs)

Philips SAA7705H DSP (DAC, EQ, RDS, Balance, Fader...)

Memory 16MB RAM

256KB Flash RAM


512KB Flash RAM


1MB Flash RAM

Operating System Linux: Minimal distribution (can be extended).

None: Embedded Microcode/Firmware to interface chips & provide core logic.

Linux: Minimal distribution (can be extended).

MP3/Track Decoding Main CPU using software:
Versatile & easily upgradeable.

Micronas MAS3507D MP3 decoder

Main CPU using software:
Versatile & easily upgradeable.

Digital to Analog Conversion Crystal Semiconductor 4341 DAC (24 bit stereo)

Micronas DAC3550A DAC (18bit Stereo)

Philips SAA7705H DSP (16bit stereo, 4x oversampling + noise shaping)

Standard Expansion DMS Cartridge*

*Replacement/additional 40, 60, 80GB cartridges available from PhatNoise and supported auto dealerships.

Hard Disk Drive*

*See below.

Hard Disk Drive*

*See below.

Hard Disk Type 1 ATA 66/100 2.5" mobile drive
(9.5mm maximum height) inside DMS Cartridge - PhatBox uses 1 DMS at a time.

1 ATA66/100 3.5" low profile standard desktop drive

1 or 2 ATA66/100 2.5" mobile drives
(supports all current drive heights - 19.5mm max)

Maximum Storage with
Existing Hard Drives.
(9.5mm drive limitation)

(1x 120+GB 3.5" HD)
*Hard limit due to 28bit addressing.

(2x 120GB 2.5" HD)

User Upgradeable
Hard Drive
(swap for larger drive)
NO:* Individual Disk Cartridges (DMS) HD cannot be upgraded. Official position from PhatNoise, due to security concerns with OEMs.

! Warranty does not provide for user-upgrade !

*Additional catridges available in 40, 60 and 890GB sizes.

YES: Most new 3.5" drives should work.
- Maxtor recommended.
- Western Digital known not to work in many cases.
- IBM not recommended due to noise.

! Warranty does not officially provide for user-upgrade !

YES: Any 2.5" ATA mobile drive should function. A second hard disk can be added to a 1 disk player, or disks can be swapped for larger ones.

Warranty does not provide for user-upgrade. Breakage of warranty seals will void your warranty ! - All warranties now expired.

Drive Mounting & Protection 1. Plastic cartridge holds 1 2.5" Mobile HDD.
Mobile drives feature the highest shock/vibration ratings.

2. Cartridge plugs into PhatBox horizontally (see PhatBox picture) or vertically (picture of USB cradle), depending on Box orientation.

3. Shock-absorbing and postive locking mechanism in Box.

1. Metal-clad plastic-framed Main Unit (Neo unit) holds 1 3.5" low profile desktop HDD.
Desktop drives are not as shock resistant as mobile drives.

2. Main Unit plugs into Car frame horizontally or on its side.

3. Small rubber pads on/under drive and rubber grommets around side-mount screws help isolate drive inside tray. Only effective when horizontally mounted.

1. Internal drive tray for 1 or 2 2.5" Mobile HDD.
Mobile drives feature the highest shock/vibration ratings.

2. Tray mounted on an 8 degree-from-horizontal angle for optimal orientation when installed in dash.

3. Tray completely isolated from case using large shock-absorbing rubber mounts.

Hard Disk Format /
(Music File Storage)
FAT32 hard drive partition, Database-driven music management.

FAT32 hard drive partition, with standard file/folder structure.

ext2 Linux hard drive partition, Database-driven music management.


Available through website:
See official site.

Other models available at retail and from select auto dealerships. See web site above for more information.

Offical software development continues to be active.

Available through numerous websites*:
See official site for more information.

*Configurations from other retailers may differ.

Sold Out & Discontinued.
Check the For Sale forum at for personal sales.

Customer Support

Official support channel slow to respond through email, but helpful:* See official site.

*Based on forum participation and feedback from other users. Customer support took 1 week to reply to email inquiries: questions were all answered satisfactorily however.

PhatBox support based in USA: email and web-form.

Official support channel responsive, but not generally too helpful: See official site.

Neo support based in USA: email and web-form.

Riocar official support discontinued in 2003. - See the unofficial forum at for information and third-party repairs.

Development Active software development from manufacturer who is currently working on OEM projects.

Software available in a feature-complete state with some known issues. Issues get responded to and development ongoing.

Continued development efforts not apparent.

Software released with known issues not resolved or responded to in a timely manner.

Development for Riocar has been in an unofficial capacity for over 3 years. Current Alpha/Beta software derivative of work being done for other Rio/OEM projects

Software update version 2.0 made available after official support had been halted. Current version of 3.0Alpha available for download.

Third Party Development Community Unknown:

Formerly Low Activity at


YES: High Activity
Extensive 3rd party development, projects and resources.

Third Party Software Releases
(Mods, Add-Ons, Utilities)


YES: See sites above for more projects and in-depth details.

Hijack kernel
jEmplode management software
emphatic lyric scroller (& info screens)
Palantir IrDA playlists for PALM-OS
...and much more.

Third Party Hardware Releases
(Electronic Mods, Add-Ons, Appearance Mods)


YES: See sites above for more projects and in-depth details.

The following projects have been completed:

Radio Tuner Module
Memory Upgrade
S/PDIF add-on board
Color lenses
Aluminum fascias

Open User Forums

No: Official forum no longer available.

Unofficial: BBS with some amount of user support. No developer communications at any level. Low traffic.

Moderate database of information.

Unofficial: BBS with large amount of support from users and some of the original development staff. High traffic.

Very large database of information, multiple forum categories, user-based preferences, easy to navigate and search.

Frequenty Asked Questions List
Official (
Knowledge Base

Official (
Jukebox FAQ

Unofficial (
Hardware & Software FAQ
(maintained by Tony Fabris)

Upgrade Abilities YES: Player Software, firmware, desktop software, and user guides. downloads.

Updates available on website: Management software, guides.

YES: downloads

Updates available on website: Firmware downloads, drivers, printed manual update.

YES: Linux Kernel, entire operating system, player software, firmware, configurable options. downloads

Updates available on website: System/Player updates and released-software archives (consumer & developer versions), Management software updates & previous versions, user & developer documentation updates and detailed release notes.

3rd party applications, games and Linux extensions also possible (web server, FTP, telnet, shell utilities, etc.)

Products:  PhatNoise Car Audio System
Neo Car Jukebox (mStation Car) Riocar (empeg Mk2a)
Music Format Support (built-in at time of writing) MP3 (32-320kbit, CBR & VBR)

WMA (unsecure files only)


FLAC (non-lossy up to 50% compression)

Audible (audio books)

MP3 (32-320kbit, CBR & VBR)


MP3 (32-320kbit, CBR & VBR)

WMA (unsecure files only)



OGG Vorbis, FLAC (Requires v3 Alpha software)

Optional & Extensible Format Support YES.



MP3 Tag Support YES: ID3v1 & ID3v2

YES: ID3v1

YES: ID3v1 & ID3v2

Desktop Software & Utilities Windows: PhatNoise Music Manager: music management, ripper, encoder and uploader. Supports ID3 tags for creating database fields.

Other: It is possible to manually mount and access the disk on some unix/linux systems. There is an unofficial utility to allow "signing" of playlists while manually touching the disk so they will work when inserted in the PhatBox. This is not comparable to the Windows software.

Windows: MusicMatch organizer, ripper, encoder and ID tagger.

Transfering files to Neo is like copying to any Windows hard drive* - transparent.

*Can also be used in USB enclosure with Macintosh as standard hard drive without extra software.

Windows: emplode: music management, unit configuration/settings & uploader. Supports ID3 tags for automatically creating database fields.

Linux: emptool: download/playlist utility (source code available)

Mac OS, Linux, Windows: Jemplode, 3rd-party-developed JAVA software can be used with many operating systems (Mac OS, Solaris, Windows, etc.) Comparable to a clone of the Windows software.

Computer & Device Transfer Connections & Speeds USB 2.0 (new cradle):
480Mbit theoretical max*

Original Cradle:
USB (Mass Storage Class):
700-900 KBytes/s actual speed.

*Actual speed unknown at this time (email with info if you have it)

EIDE/ATA66: <20MBytes/s*

USB (Mass Storage Class) (Optional):
700-900 KBytes/s actual speed.

*Transfer speed will vary depending on hard drive make/model as well as EIDE interface on the computer.
USB2.0 board upgrade available from SSI.

USB (Custom Class):
<450 KBytes/s actual speed.

Ethernet 10baseT:*
700-900 KBytes/s actual speed.

Serial: <230Kbits/s (28.75KBytes) Max.

*Can be connected to 802.11 networking base stations for Wireless connection to desktops.

Playlist Support Limited predefined playlists and dynamic and virtual playlists. 999 Playlists can have up to 999 songs each.

Can create/access on-the-fly lists by artist, genre.

Predefined playlist support limited to standard M3U lists.* Does not support database management, navigation is file-based through standard folder structure.

Can create/access on-the-fly lists of everything under a specific folder.*

*Virtual playlists are limited to 2048 tracks.
Playlists may take a while for Neo to count and locate tracks on disk.
Cannot resume inside a playlist after powering down.

Predefined and organized, dynamic and virtual playlists. Nearly unlimited playlist/song configurations, with support for multiple levels of nested playlists.

Can create/access on-the-fly lists by artist, genre, year, partial title, PIN and more.

Property Settings for Playlists & Tracks NO: Not directly. There is a manual method of modifying certain configuration files to allow the hiding of playlists from the global random feature. There are a few other manual modifications that can be done.

NO: Not possible due to Neo's use of standard folders and no custom database.

YES: Settings may be applied to any item from the management software. Features for Playlists include the ability to set "always shuffle" as well as the ability to hide playlists from certain views/features on the player.

Time to Boot / Start <15 seconds.

Nearly Instant.*

*First-time boot after altering folder structure or music files on PC may take several minutes to rebuild the index file catalog. (depending on amount of data and size of drive).

<10 seconds.

Drive Playback Operation RAM Buffer.

Continuous Drive operation.

Some data buffered to RAM.

Continuous Drive operation.

Music aggressively buffered to RAM.

Intelligent drive spin-down features.
- Drive spun down most of the time.
- No skipping, less noise, less wear/tear on the drives and less heat.

Song-to-Song Access Time Instant (Website quotes "<1 second")



Shuffle / Random Playback Modes YES: Random is built into the PhatBox, but you need Head Unit support to turn it on/off.

YES: Includes a "Random" mode* that can operate on individual folders, the entire hard drive, or playlists.

*Not robust: often repeats tracks in excess.

YES: Multiple modes with advanced pre-configurations and on-the-fly customizing.

Search for Music by Field (Artist, Title, etc..) NO.



Voice Feedback
(unit speaks menus and tracks)
YES:* SSA Voice.

*Only on select unit/adapter/head unit configurations.


*$39.99 User-installed upgrade from SSI.


*Technically possible through a software upgrade or a third party development.

Voice Recognition
for Device Control.



*Previously promised, but on hold indefinitely. Possible through 3rd party development using existing MIC connector.

Display Capability YES:* Limited to using head unit for display.

*Head unit displays vary from model to model -some offer little/no text (Audi/BMW).
PhatBox unit itself offers no display.

YES: 20x4 character dot-matrix display on both Neo unit and wired remote.

Neo display is black on green and wired remote is green on black.

Mounting Tip: Re-route dispay cable.

YES: 128 x 32 dot matrix vacuum fluorescent display, 2 bits per pixel (4-shades)

Standard in blue, with optional Amber, Red and Green user-changeable lens faces.

Visual Feedback:
Text display requires head unit with text support.

Information from database fields created by management software.

Limited to the head unit's format for displaying CD-Changer information.* For example, some head units may not be able to display tracks or discs to 999, etc.

*Cannot display full/long track/player information on any current head units.

Only single mode of display while playing. Track title, artist, song length, song position. Uses ID3V1 tags or file name if not present.

Multiple display modes for track and listing information. Information is read from database fields previously created by management software, not ID3 tags. Full length displays with automatic scrolling abilities.

Menu-based displays for settings and advanced selection and searching.

Visual Feedback:
Eye-Candy & Animations

*Some head units may show frequency plots or limited visuals.


YES: Advanced visuals and animation in sync with playing music. Over 40 built-in.

Startup logos and animation.

Equalizer NO.*

*Limited to head unit or external processing hardware.

YES: Limited to simple functions such as tone, bass & treble.

Plus any head unit or external processing hardware.

YES: 20-band parametric equalizer with display/controls. Can be set as 2x 10-band or 4x 5-band.

Plus any head unit or external processing hardware.

Can Play Music Outside of Car (Home, etc.) NO.*

*You may be able to power the box at home with an optional adapter (not included) as well as connect it to a stereo, but there is no way to control it or view playlist information.

YES: USB version connects to standard receiver or preamplifier stereo system with RCA line-level inputs.

Or, can use the car frame with the same connection method, but requires an external power adapter (12V, 3A - not included.)

Optional Home Bay also available at extra cost to match the rest of your stereo gear.

Use with buttons on main unit, wired remote or IR remote control.

YES: Connect to standard receiver or preamplifier stereo system with RCA line-level inputs. Can also connect direct to power amplifier and use volume control on unit. Powered with small adapter (12V, 1A - included.)

Use with buttons on unit or IR remote control. Keeps distinct settings and preferences for Car/Home use.

3rd-Party hacks exist to allow usage as a network MP3 server (streaming to other clients via http using Hijack replacement kernel)

Two-Way Music
(Copy Back to Computer)
YES:* With the external USB cradle (included).File-Copy when drive mounted in OS.

*Download not permitted through PhatNoise Music Manager software.

YES: With a USB dock or IDE frame (one or the other included depending on configuration purchased). File-Copy when drive mounted in OS.

YES: Using Serial, USB or Ethernet cable from emplode music management software.

Can Be Used as
Portable Hard Drive
for Non-Music files
YES: With the external USB cradle (included). File-Copy when drive mounted in OS (Windows).

YES: Only with a USB dock or IDE frame (one or the other included depending on configuration purchased). File-Copy when drive mounted in OS (Windows & Mac OS).

YES:* With serial connection using a terminal program.

*3rd party solutions exist for transferring any type of file to/from the hard disks using ethernet: FTP/HTTP - using Hijack replacement kernel (OS-independent).

Integrated Radio NO: Must use standard head unit radio.

NO: Must use standard head unit radio.

YES: External module (optional), installs hidden inside dash or elsewhere (AM/FM with RDS).

Optional: Use standard head unit radio.

Misc. Features N/A


On-board temperature sensor

Software controlled display brightness

Cooling N/A

Top & Bottom Vents on unit, Rear Mounted fan on Car and PC frames

Side & Top vents

Products:  PhatNoise Car Audio System
Neo Car Jukebox (mStation Car) Riocar (empeg Mk2a)
Mounting Configurations Typical: Trunk mount.
Wherever space available, like CD changer (trunk, under seat, glove box...)

Typical: Trunk mount or in-dash
Wherever space available, like CD changer (trunk, under seat, glove box...)

Trunk mount: May mount wired remote anywhere, including in/on dash.

In-dash: main-unit mounting requires extra deep cavity, Neo is longer than standard head units.

In-dash usage with another head unit requires double-DIN space.

Typical: In-dash
With or without an additional typical head unit. (
In-dash usage with another head unit requires double-DIN space.)

Remote mounting possible with 3rd party solutions for wired display and wired/wireless control.

On-Unit Controls N/A

10 Buttons (includes on/off button)

4 push-buttons, 1 rotary/push button

Infra Red (IR) NO.

YES: Consumer IR input

YES: Consumer IR input & SIR IrDA I/O

Remote Control Capability (included) YES: (operates only with select stock/aftermarket in-dash head unit controls - wired connection).

YES: 12 button flat IR remote, 10 button wired remote (mountable, with its own IR sensor and display).

YES: 24 button flat IR remote included.

Works with many optional Kenwood IR remote controls.

Optional 3rd-Party Remote Capabilities YES:*
Can be used with Sony RM-X69RF wired display and IR remote (part of Sony FM-modulator package).

*Requires Sony-enabled PhatBox LE model.

None available at this time.

3rd party programmable/configurable to work with any number of IR remotes.*

3rd party PDA connection to serial port (PalmPilot) or ethernet* with unit controls and track info selections.

Web Browser and VNC based control/monitoring using any computer.*

*Requires Hijack replacement kernel - available download.

Input / Output Ports PhatBox:
  • 25-pin Centronics for head unit connection.
  • 1 Pair line level outputs (RCA)
  • 50-pin Cartridge slot for removable hard drive.


  • 50-pin Cartridge slot for connection to Box and Cradle

Desktop Cradle:

  • USB (1.1 and 2.0 models)
  • 50-pin Cartridge slot for removable hard drive.

Main Unit:

  • 96-Pin connector for dock connections
  • Consumer IR sensor on front

Car Dock:

  • 26-pin D connector for wired remote/display connection.
  • 1 pair line level RCA (4V) outputs
  • Mini Headphone output
  • 96-Pin connector for Neo drive unit.

PC Dock:*

  • 40-Pin EIDE interface (DMA33/66)
  • 96-Pin connector for Neo drive unit.
  • 2-pin L+R Audio output connector

USB Dock (optional):*

  • USB connector
  • 1 pair line level (4V) outputs
  • 96-Pin connector for Neo drive unit.

*note, configurations include either a PC Dock or a USB Dock, not both.

Head Unit:

  • 9-Pin PC High-Speed serial port
  • USB
  • Ethernet (10BaseT)
  • 1 pair line-level (1V) outputs
  • SIR IrDA transceiver on front
  • Consumer IR receiver on front


  • 9-Pin PC serial port
  • 2 pair line level (4V) outputs with fade control (RCA)
  • 1 pair line-level (1V) inputs with source selection (RCA)
  • MIC input (standard mini) connector
  • 8-Pin Molex tuner interface connector

Power Connections PhatBox: Powered through 25-pin head unit connector.

Optional power connector.

Car Dock: 2-pin mini connector for +12V/Ground input connection, 2-pin mini connector for +12V/ground output connection.

PC Dock: standard 4-pin PC power connector (+12,gnd,gnd,+5)

Head Unit: standard-type mini power connector (12V, 1A)

Dock: Standard ISO car audio harness with 12V accessory, 12V backup, ground, dimmer, audio mute input (action configurable in software)

Compatibility with Stock & Aftermarket Car Audio YES:* Select Phatnoise products only.

1. Interfaced with select head units for control. Selection:

Phatbox Digital Media Player
91-2003 Acura (select models)
96-2004 BMW (select models)
99-2003 Ferrari (all models)
95-2005 Ford (select models)
94-2003 Honda (select models)
95-2005 Licoln (select models)
Mini (all models)
95-2005 Mercury (select models)
99-2002 Porsche (select models)
03-2004 RangeRover (select models)
03-2005 Scion (select models)
99-2003 Sony decks (select models)
99-2003 Toyota/Lexus (select Models)
Harmon Traffic Pro Head Units (not compatible with Ford TPII)

Kenwood Music Keg
Compatible with select Kenwood head units only.

OEM Digital Media Player
98-2001 Audi (select models)
Mazda (coming soon)
98-2002 Volkswagen (select models)
01-2005 Volvo (select models)

2. Can be used with any radio head unit with FM modulator adaptor - only available for Kenwood Music Keg and requires optional KCA-RCAFM.


1. Can be connected to standard AUX-IN of many head units.

2. Can be used without another head unit with external amplifiers - has its own volume control extra +12V output that can be used as remote trigger for amp.

3. Can be used with any tape head unit with cassette tape adapter (not included)

4. Can be used with any radio head unit with FM modulator adaptor (included).


1. Can be connected to standard AUX-IN of many head units.

2. Can have any head unit with line-level outputs connect to its AUX-IN

3. Can be used without another head unit with external amplifiers - has its own volume control & +12V remote trigger for amp.

4. Can be used with any tape head unit with cassette tape adapter (not included)

5. Can be used with any radio head unit with FM modulator adaptor (not included).

Construction Materials PhatBox: Aluminum Shell with Steel & Plastic Components.

Disk Cartridge: Injection Molded Plastic (High Impact).

Case: Thin Steel (painted black) case over plastic frame & Injection Molded Plastic front panel & buttons.

Wired-Remote: Injection Molded Plastic.

Car & PC Docks: Injection Molded Plastic.

Head Unit: 1mm (0.04") Stainless Steel case & Injection Molded Plastic front panel & buttons.

Docking Unit: 1mm (0.04") Stainless Steel.

Dimensions PhatBox:
 Height: 63.5mm (2.5")
 Width: 219.7mm (8.65")
 Depth: 65.1mm (6.5")

Disk Cartridge:
 Height: 16.5mm (0.65")
 Width: 91.4mm (3.6")
 Depth: 139.7mm (5.5")

USB Desktop Cradle:
 Height: 114.3mm (4.5")
 Width: 129.5mm (5.1")
 Depth: 94mm (3.7")

Main Unit:
Height: 43mm (1.7")
 Width: 131mm (5.2")
 Depth: 215mm (8.5")

Car Dock:
 Height: 50mm (2")
 Width: 178mm (7")
 Depth: 222mm (8.7")

PC Dock:
 Height: 43mm (1.7")
 Width: 146mm (5.7")
 Depth: 230mm (9")

Head Unit (includes front fascia/bezel):
 Height:55mm (2.2")
 Width: 186mm (7.3")
 Depth: 152mm (6")

Docking Unit (includes rear connector):
 Height:50mm (2")
 Width: 183mm (7.2")
 Depth: 173mm (6.8")

Weight  ?

1.2Kg (2.6lbs) Main Unit with 60GB Maxtor.
2.5Kg (5.5lbs) with 2 HDD.

Carrying Case NO.

YES: Included.

NO: Sold seperately on empeg website (Sold Out).

Misc Accessories
and Options
Extra DMS Cartridge

Extra USB Desktop Cradle

  Extra Car Dock

Additional Colour Lenses

Extra Remote

AM/FM Radio Tuner Module

Products:  PhatNoise Car Audio System
(Phatbox / Music Keg)
Neo Car Jukebox (mStation Car) Riocar (empeg Mk2a)

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