Coming Soon - The Return of Bluetooth Kits!

After being out of production for a few years, the resurrection of what was the MDeck BA-2 is happening. It's been in the works for about a year, and although it isn't quite ready, we wanted to share where we are and have a place to announce progress as we move towards production.

tl;dr; you might have some burning, obvious questions. Hopefully they are addressed in the FAQ section at the bottom. 

The BA-2 needed an overhaul. With the chip shortage of previous years, all of its critical components became scarce. On top of that, many improvements to the BA-2 have been realized since its design. We set out a year ago to completely redesign the product with the above in mind, but also pushed ourselves to do something a bit more bold for our comeback.

Added Radio Support

The new kits will continue to work with the 3 radios supported by the BA-2: BMW CM5905, CM5907, and CM5908. Additionally, this new version will support another radio - the Jaguar AJ8700 used in XJS and XJ6 models between about 1983 and 1991. This is exciting for us as it's our first exposure beyond the BMW community.

One Series, Three Models

For technical reasons, having one product support all 4 radios would have been impossible or very expensive. The core design is shared by all, but with some different components and accessories.

Thus, we are naming the series the BA30 series. Within it, we'll have three models:

  • BA31 - For CM5908
  • BA32F - For CM5905 & CM5907
  • BA32J - For AJ8700

Here's an early prototype built in the BA31 configuration:

Improvements Across the Board

The BA30 series was a ground up re-engineering and boasts several improvements for all models:

  • Chip Shortage Resilience - All electrical components were chosen for high availability from respected vendors to make the product less vulnerable to chip shortages.
  • Higher Audio Fidelity - Key learnings related to the electrical design within these radios allowed us to drastically improve the audio noise floor in Bluetooth mode.
  • A Bigger Brain - The BA30 boasts about 60x the computing horsepower of the BA-2. With a dual-core processor at 240MHz, the BA30 easily handles its core tasks and new features, with plenty of headroom for future enhancements.
  • Field Upgradable - Future enhancements only matter if there's a way to update once installed in the car. We've been working on a desktop companion app that allows you to update the device wirelessly over Bluetooth. The app will support both Mac and Windows. Have a feature suggestion? Let us know!
  • User Settings - Some users of the BA-2 expressed a desire to do things like change the function of a button, or disable phone call support since they didn't want to install a microphone. Where technically possible, we want to enable this tweaking. Our companion app will allow users to change such settings and save them to the device. 

Major Additions for CM5908

The CM5908 is a bit special to us. Not just because it was the premium BMW radio of the time, nor just for its quirky 1980's futurism with its touch-less slider, but it's also the radio that got Cantaloupe Radio started. While many users will be satisfied with simply the addition of Bluetooth, we wanted to comprehensively upgrade one radio model to give it an OEM-feeling user interface plus the audio performance and connectivity you'd expect from a high-end modern aftermarket radio.

This gave rise to 2 new optional add-on products made to work with BA31: the CM5908 Display+ and CM5908 Amp+.

CM5908 Display+

To have a cohesive user interface that feels factory, the old LCD display had to go. It just doesn't offer the ability to display new information in an intuitive way. At the same time, a full-color, high-resolution display would kill the period look and defeat the purpose of all of this.

We iterated and iterated until we landed on a design we're really proud of. Professional photography to come, but take a look at it next to the factory display:


We think the chunky, 3-section, dot matrix design is faithful to the period aesthetic, and at the same time, takes advantage of 35 years of display progress. It features dimmable LED backlighting and modern LCD advancements for significantly improved visual contrast and viewing angle. The matte, anti-glare screen finish maintain's the radio's understated appearance.

Most importantly, it allows us to display the rich info you'd expect from a modern unit: audio source, artist, title, playback state, and on-screen settings control for things like.... a custom EQ!

As with all of our products, it installs with only simple hand tools and is always reversible.

As an aside, to have a completely overhauled UI, we also needed to have full access to the front panel - buttons, slider, and LEDs. We have achieved this on the BA31 with new circuitry and an extra flex cable to connect. All of this will be detailed in our install videos to come.

CM5908 Amp+

The final area of the CM5908 to address was the amplifier section, and specifically these pain points:

  • Low amplifier output power - the CM5908 amplifier is rated at 5 W/ch. An upper-end aftermarket unit these days will make over 4 times that for louder, clearer sound.
  • No line or subwoofer outputs - practically no OEM radios of this period did. Thus, connecting to an external amp must be done via speaker-level inputs, which suffer from various fidelity issues, most of which stemming from the next point
  • THD and noise floor of preamp section not HiFi - even prior to amplification, the preamp section of the radio introduces certain distortions and noise not present in a well-designed, modern audio signal path.

To address these, we brought in some seasoned audio amplifier and power electronics engineers to design a replacement for the vertical amplifier board that runs along the back of the radio. Here's some quick highlights:

  • 4-channel flagship Class-D amplifier from Texas Instruments - We aren't quite ready to quote a power figure yet, but it's in the ballpark of 25-35 W/ch
  • 4-channel 4 volt line level preamp outputs - Still not enough power? Go crazy, bring your own amp!
  • 4 volt subwoofer line level preamp output - Add your own subwoofer for some improved low end
  • Class-H tracking power supply - allows the amplifier to run cooler at lower output volumes for reduced thermal wear while still being able to generate large amounts of power when needed
  • Complete bypass of radio preamp - with BA31 and Amp+ installed, only the tuner (AM/FM/WB) passes through the old preamp at all. For everything else, the signal is sent digitally straight from BA31 to the Amp+, resulting in a high fidelity, low-noise signal path.

The Display+ is of course leveraged to expose additional audio settings and refinements related to the Amp+ when installed.

Amp+ is still in development. We have functioning prototypes, but have decided to de-prioritize until BA30 products and Display+ are out the door. Can't wait? Let us know!

Here's a prototype unit from the rear with the heatsink removed.


And finally, here we show the internals with BA31, Display+, and Amp+ installed.


When can I buy one?

We don't have a firm date yet, but we are shooting for July 2023. We are late in the engineering development stages of the BA30 and CM5908 Display+, but there is still loads to do to get to production and shipping. We plan to release all 3 BA30 models and the CM5908 Display+ at that time, but the CM5908 Amp+ will be released later with a date TBD.

How much will it cost?

We don't have prices yet. We won't have them until we are closer to production and have a clear idea what our costs will be.

Why the random Jaguar radio addition?

It comes down to OEM parts sharing. The AJ8700, like the BMW radios discussed here, was designed and built by Alpine Electronics in Japan. Rather than design an entirely new cassette mechanism for each radio, Alpine would design one mechanism family and use it in many of its OEM and aftermarket designs. The AJ8700 is one of these radios we've found that shares a similar mechanism, and with some electrical tweaks, we were able to add this radio under the new series' umbrella of support.

Why not a mobile app instead of a desktop app?

A mobile app would be the obvious choice given the use case. However, for a variety of technical reasons, developing and supporting both an iOS and Android app would require significantly more time and outside expertise than our cross-platform desktop app.

A future mobile app could be developed to interact with BA30 devices, but for now, we expect the app won't need to be used often, so this mountain of development work is a lower priority.

I have another comment, question, etc. How can I reach out?

Email us any time!