Regular readers will be aware that back in July I installed a Digital Radio into my car – Not a dash mounted model, a fully installed single DIN in-car radio.  While this was a pre production version of the Bluestate 557, it was impressive, and I’ve enjoyed every moment of DAB+ listening.

As I hinted around that same time, Malta manufacturers Bluestate had plans for a newer version of the unit which would also feature AM for the Australian Market.

Well this week, the Bluestate 558 arrived, and It could not be more impressive.

Read below for more, including pictures and a video – plus, if you’re interested in a Bluestate 558, contact me using the form below.

Bluestate 558 Digital Radio

Bluestate 558 Digital Radio

I assumed the installation (I installed the 557 myself!) would be simple, take the 557 out and plug the 558 in.  But that was not to be.  The antenna cable I had rigged up for the 557 to fit my own car did not fit the new 558.  Instead the 558 comes with three dongle cables hanging out the back.  A Coax style screw plug for your DAB and FM antenna, a more standard style in-car radio antenna connection for your AM, and a USB dongle, which is for Software upgrades.

The 558 also features additional RCA outputs for a better surround experience including Sub-woofer.

I took the time to have the unit professionally installed.  At a cost of $120, this covered the proper in-car mounting of the unit, as well as the creation of an antenna split in car, so I could plug both the DAB/FM and the AM antenna in at the same time.

Up front, this unit is impressive.  The 557, while a good working unit, was a simple design, square buttons and a very basic style.  The 558 has the exact same layout as the 557, except using a more sylish design for the buttons – and while that’s  a very simple sounding thing, it makes the unit look more professional and the buttons are larger and therefore easier to use.

So, apart from the cables in the back, and the design on the front – what’s different?

The Bluestate 558 still packs the USB Interface and SD Card slot that the 557 had, however it’s now a fully working and fast scanning and playing process (the 557 pre-production unitn I had was dogged by problems with it stopping or just not recognising the USB)

The Volume control is improved and is now a smooth and fast transition – rather than a full turn of the wheel to drop the level by 1 point, you now get a quick tactile response to volume controls.

Likewise the channel changing has improved immeasurably on DAB – previously, you would be flicking through stations and it would choose to stop and tune into one – now there is  a smooth scrolling with the up and down buttons, and a clear wait for you to pause on a station before it tunes in.

There are now 18 DAB preset channels, multiple FM preset channels, the addition of AM Radio, and – wait for it, Bluetooth phone connectivity.  This is just sensational.  A very quick bluetooth pairing with my Blackberry and I was in action.

I made several test calls, and the effect is amazing.  Digital Radio or other mode listening is immediately interrupted, the caller audio comes through your stereo while your audio is sent using the normal on-phone microphone, which worked fine for me sitting on the passenger seat.  Callers at the other end reported great audio quality.

When you add a feature like Bluetooth for your phone, along with Digital Radio you’ve got a pretty compelling product offering for those of you driving older vehicles which feature the Single DIN size radio.

Clearly a large number of cars these days don’t have these standard in-car radios – going for more multiple DIN units or bespoke media players that would not be interchangeable for anything off the shelf at a car audio store.  That said, spend a little time on the road in any traffic jam and you’ll realise there are a stack of older vehicles on the road so the potential here is quite large, if the drivers and listeners are willing to shell out for it!

There is no large scale distribution planned in Australia as yet, and speaking to the installers I used this week, I can see why – they and others like them are nervous that these radios do/will require a separate antenna to be installed.

Well, my experience is just one vehicle.  But our pretty crappy old Holden Barina Cabrio (1998) has to be a good example.

Unfortunately, the AM reception is not something I’ve been able to get on this model, when my installer connected the AM Antenna he got no audio, but given all AM stations are on DAB+ – there is little need, unless you are travelling to regional areas where DAB+ is not available and your favourite stations are in AM.

In fact, the 558 offered me BETTER reception in the exact same vehicle than the Bluestate 557 did – around Lane Cove, Artarmon and Gore Hill – in what is known as the Transmission Triangle (due to the three TV towers at Willoughby, Artarmon and Gore Hill) on the older 557 I was getting drop-outs, whereas with the 558 I got reception all the way to my office in Artarmon – perfect!  That tells me the 558 has other tweaks under the hood too.

I simply cannot wait for more people to experience Digital Radio in the way that I do, your natural radio listening environment – in the car.  It’s just fantastic!

If you want more information, and are interested in buying a Bluestate 558, contact me:
[contact-form 6 “BlueState Enquiry”]