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Summary of current Audi multimedia systems and history (by LoCal)

22.7.2009 (updated 14.3.2010) - Model-year 2010 starting from calendar week 22 of 2009 is a significant one for Audi multimedia systems.

Most importantly, it marks the end of the first (or second, depending on how you count) generation of the Audi Multi-Media Interface, the MMI. This is the system that got its start on the current generation Audi A8 in 2002 and is used by/option in all current Audis except the small ones: A3, TT and R8. The original MMI is now completely replaced by a new MMI 3G.

Secondly, the MMI-lookalike navigation system RNS-E, launched around the time of the Audi A4 B7 facelift in 2004, was updated for the model-year 2010 in A3, TT and R8 (the latter rolling out slightly delayed, I hear). Audi seems to be following a historical pattern of around sixish years between major multimedia system updates (and around four years between regular radio device updates).

My intent here, is to give an overview of the current Audi multimedia systems, and also peek a little into the history and future of them. I will avoid going into details, so that the overall picture remains clear - at end of this article I will provide some links that you can look into for further reading. I hope to help people understand the overall picture of various Audi multimedia systems.

This article covers only factory-made systems in recent Audis, not aftermarket or legacy ones. The information is only current at the time of writing; expect future updates from Audi to change things - as they always do in technology. Notably, the Audi A8 is about to be replaced within a year, and a new low-end Audi, the Audi A1, to ship afterwards - both of which can and likely will include some changes to the multimedia systems as well. (See the short update in the end of this article for more on this.)

By the way, in general, Audi updates the features of its car line-up every year at least in May (model-year change) and November (what I call a mid-year change).

Please check any details and possible other options from your Audi dealer before purchasing, as there may be errors and omissions in my article, which is just intended to give a very rough overview and not drill into details. Details you can check and verify from brochures etc.

Thanks go to mlk for looking some of this stuff up and encouraging with the story.

Other than the updated section mentioned, the A8 discussed below is the D3 generation, A6 the C6 generation and A4/A5 the B8 generation etc. current models summer 2009. Date of publication and text, 22.7.2009. Update on the first-generation A1 and A8 D4 in the end of the article dated 14.3.2010.

***

Mini-glossary about radio/multimedia device physical size: single-DIN means the size of a regular car radio (like the one which you had in your first bomb of a car), double-DIN simply twice the height of single-DIN.

To understand what kind of different Audi multimedia systems are out there, I will classify them roughly into these different categories:

1) Radio. This includes the older, conventional single-DIN car radios from Audi, newer double-DIN radios, as well the radios with a separate color or monochrome screen on the A4 B8/A5/Q5. Audi radios are called Chorus, Concert and Symphony - so no matter the actual model and age, if you cars multimedia system has one of these names printed on it, you have 1) Radio. No exceptions.

2) Navigation device (with integrated screen and controls). These are the size a double-DIN radio. If your multimedia system has the text Audi Navigation or Audi Navigation Plus (with or without the word Audi) printed on it, you definitely have 2) Navigation device. One exception: If you have an Audi R8, you always have one of these devices, although the navigation menu is disabled unless navigation was ordered from the factory.

3) MMI (with separate controls below gear lever). This system is identified by a large 6.5" to 7" separate monochrome or color screen in the dashboard and separate controls below the gear lever that feature a large rotating knob surrounded by four function keys without labels, in turn surrounded by four or eight additional labeled buttons, including CAR, SETUP and RADIO. The MMI may or may not include a navigation function, depending on the factory options installed. If your car has, below the gear lever, the large rotating knob, a separate volume knob, the function keys without labels and the mentioned labeled buttons, you have 3) MMI. The controls must be below the gear lever in the center console, otherwise it is not 3) MMI. No exceptions.

Please note, that some 2) Navigation devices as well as the 1) Radios for Audi A4 B8/A5/Q5 do sport the label and/or the operating logic of Audi Multi-Media Interface, aka MMI, but only the 3) MMI truly is the Audi MMI technically. Those other systems are designed to look like it, but they are incompatible and different, and have controls integrated into their units in the dashboard. When I discuss MMI in this article, I mean 3) MMI. While these other systems have names like Audi Concert or Audi Navigation Plus printed on the device, the true 3) MMI system does not have any name printed on it.

4) There also used to be a fourth group of devices, Audi navigation/telephony devices without dedicated screens (e.g. BNS 4.0). These had small controls in the center console that operated the small driver information system screen in the instrument cluster. These should not be confused with 3) MMI. See the history section later in this article for a bit more on these, now obsolete, systems.

***

At the end of this article I will tour the recent history of Audi multimedia systems, but to give a clearer overview, I will start by explaining the currently available (model-year 2010) options. These systems are available, orderable and shipping at least in Germany and many parts of Europe in the summer of 2009, options for other markets may and do vary.

I will first group Audi vehicles into four categories based on what multimedia systems are available to them. Features of the systems are discussed afterwards. "RS" or "S" models, like the S4, are not separately listed here, but their options are the same as the respective "A" models, such as the A4.

A) A3 and TT: Audi Chorus II+, Concert II+ and Symphony II+ double-DIN radios or Audi BNS 5.0, RNS-E navigation devices.

B) R8: Audi RNS-E navigation device with or without navigation enabled.

C) A4, A5, Q5: Audi Chorus III, Concert III and Symphony III radios or MMI.

D) A6, A8, Q7: MMI.

Again, to reiterate a point, the MMI is only available on Audis A4 and up (on only then as an option in some), the A3, TT or R8 do not have the true MMI.

***

First, the radios.

Roughly speaking, Audi Chorus radio is the basic Audi radio/CD without CD changer and with limited features and options. Symphony is bigger and better with an integrated 6-disc CD changer, while Concert, the middle model, is basically a Symphony with a single-disc CD drive instead of the changer.

Audi currently ships two generations of these three different radios. Unless specced with a navigation option, the A3/TT ship with double-DIN generation II+ of one of the radios, A4/A5/Q5 ship with generation III, which has a separate screen.

A3/TT:

Chorus II+:
- Single CD drive
- Four front speakers
- 40W

Concert II+:
- Improvements over Chorus II+:
- MP3 compatible CD drive
- Eight to ten speakers (depends on car model)
- 140W
- Aux-in
- Options add premium sound system

Symphony II+:
- Like Concert II+, but with an integrated 6-disc CD changer

A4/A5/Q5:

Chorus III:
- Separate 6.5" monochrome display with low resolution
- MMI-like operating logic with controls integrated into the unit
- Single CD, no SD card slot
- Many options not available with Chorus
- (Looks and feels a lot like the old, now obsolete MMI basic system.)

Concert III:
- Improvements over Chorus III:
- Separate 6.5" (higher than Chorus) color screen
- MP3/WMA/ACC compatible CD drive
- 1 x SDHC card slot
- TP-memo
- Aux-in
- Options add e.g. sound systems, DAB radio, phone-prep
- (Looks and feels a lot like MMI, although it isn’t true MMI.)

Symphony III:
- Like Concert III, but with an integrated 6-disc CD changer

Although Concert III and Symphony III sport color screens, the screens look cheaper and inferior in quality and clarity compared to an MMI screen.

***

Second, the navigation systems.

Audi currently has two different double-DIN navigation systems, the basic navigation system BNS 5.0 with a monochrome screen, aka Audi Navigation, and the higher-end radio navigation system RNS-E, aka Audi Navigation Plus. Both feature integrated radios and CD drives. Both are options for A3/TT, whereas the R8 always ships with a special version of the RNS-E (navigation menu disabled or enabled depending on equipment level).

A3/TT:

BNS 5.0 (Audi Navigation):
- Monochrome display with low resolution
- MMI-like operating logic with controls integrated into the unit
- Dual-tuner radio
- CD-based navigation with pictograms and voice guidance
- No map display
- (Looks and feels a lot like the old, now obsolete MMI basic system.)

A3/TT/R8:

RNS-E (Audi Navigation Plus):
- Improvements over BNS 5.0:
- 6.5" color display 800x480 pixels
- 2 x SDHC card slots behind the folding display
- DVD-based navigation with color map display
- Options add Audi Music Interface, analogue/digital television reception
- (BTW: Uses RNS-E labeled map DVDs, not MMI map DVDs!)
- (Looks and feels a lot like MMI, although it isn’t true MMI.)

***

Third, the MMI.

The MMI is an option for A4/A5/Q5, which you get when speccing either the MMI Navigation or the MMI Navigation Plus option. A6/Q7 always comes with MMI, although there are different equipment levels. The A8 apparently always ships with the highest-end MMI.

A6/Q7:

MMI Radio:
- 6.5" color display 400x240 pixels
- Single CD, no SD card slot
- Internal amplifier
- CD changer only option

MMI Radio Plus:
- Improvements over MMI Radio:
- 2 x SDHC card slots
- Better sound system
- Options add Audi Music Interface, rear-view camera, DAB radio, premium sound, phone-prep

A4/A5/A6/Q5/Q7:

MMI Navigation:
- Improvements over MMI Radio Plus:
- DVD-based navigation with color map display
- Basic speech control (addresses entered letter by letter)
- Options add Audi Bluetooth telephone

A4/A5/A6/A8/Q5/Q7:

MMI Navigation Plus:
- Improvements over MMI Navigation:
- 7" color display 800x480 pixels
- 40 GB hard-disk with room for own music
- Navigation from hard-disk with 3D and topographical maps
- Premium speech control (addresses entered word by word)
- DVD drive can playback DVD video discs (as well as CD/MP3 etc.)
- Controls include a thumb-joystick for operating maps and DVD menus
- Options add analogue/digital television reception

***

Regional notice: MMI and RNS-E, as described above, roughly speaking apply to Europe and at least North America (although some differences between Europe and U.S. are in map compatibility and e.g. U.S. support for satellite radio vs. European DAB digital radio). Navigation and other multimedia systems in other regions may and often do differ radically. Components may be less elegantly integrated, but may also offer cool new features. For example, MMI 2G navigation in Japan bypassed the MMI electronics and took over the MMI screen. MMI 3G navigation in Korea goes further than this, it actually incorporates a touch-screen in the MMI screen just for the Korean navigation, while disabling other MMI controls when in navigation mode. Both of these navigations look completely different compared to the MMI navigation modes. Japanese counterpart of RNS-E, the RNS-J, also physically looks completely different compared to RNS-E and includes a minidisc drive behind the screen. See links at the end of this page.

***

So, there you have it - the categories and current state of Audi multimedia systems. A few words about the history and future of them:

The radios named Chorus, Concert and Symphony go back to the late 1990s, when the first generation shipped. These were single-DIN units with cassette decks; only Symphony was double-DIN and included also a single CD drive. Second generation (circa 2002) Chorus still had a cassette deck, as did Symphony (in addition to a CD drive, which now sported an integrated 6-disc changer too), but Concert was finally CD only.

Second generation radios included an improved user-interface with a bit larger screen and function buttons to select radio presets from the screen. The third revision in late 2006, called generation II+, went CD only across the range and changed to a double-DIN layout (previously only Symphony had been double-DIN); which allowed for a larger screen (including new things like displaying CD text titles and MP3 titles) and function buttons around it for selecting radio presets and other functions from the screen.

The current basic navigation system BNS 5.0 was preceded by the BNS 4.0, which was a CD-based navigation (navigation CD drive in the trunk) installed along a separate Audi radio system. It used voice guidance and pictograms in the small instrument cluster driver's information system screen, much like BNS 5.0, but unlike BNS 5.0 it had no screen of its own for selections and text info. Controls were located in the center console (including a rotating center console knob predating MMI) and those controls were used to operate menus displayed on the instrument cluster screen. BNS 5.0 was introduced around 2006.

The current radio navigation system RNS-E was introduced in 2009 to replace the old RNS-E, introduced in 2004. The improvements include better screen resolution and MMI 3G like design, improved navigation, graphics and speed, SDHC card support instead of SD card support only, as well as support for Audi Music Interface. The original RNS-E was preceded by completely different doule-DIN RNS-D with CD navigation and a smaller, more rectangular color screen without MMI-like control logic. RNS-D was in turn preceded by RNS-C, which outwardly looked much like RNS-D. Before MMI arrived to the car models, BNS 4.0/5.0 and RNS-D/E and their predecessors were used as the navigation options in A4/A6/A8.

The MMI was introduced with the Audi A8 around 2002. Since the latest MMI, introduced in 2008 in the A8 facelift, is officially called MMI 3G, a debate has sprung up what generation the original MMI should be called. Current consensus seems to be, that the original MMI introduced in 2002 is MMI 2G and the first generation Audi multimedia system is the RNS-C/D, but who knows. Anyway, the first MMI with its separate 7" color screen, new control logic and controls below the gear lever was introduced in the Audi A8 in 2002 (and is now commonly known as MMI 2G). The color screen version was also known as MMI High, and could be equipped with DVD navigation with map display.

A year or so later, the new Audi A6 was introduced with the same MMI High as an option, and new versions of the MMI with a low resolution 6.5" monochrome screen as standard and additional option, called MMI basic and MMI basic plus respectively. All sported the MMI control logic and separate controls below the gear lever, although MMI basic cars sometimes had less labeled buttons. MMI basic plus could be equipped at factory with CD-based navigation with voice and pictogram guidance (no map display), much like BNS 5.0 that would come out later for the smaller Audis. All MMIs, MMI basic, basic plus and High were based around a MOST fiber-optic loop architecture that allowed digital transfer of sound and data within all the separate modules of MMI distributed around the car. (This major technological feature separates MMI from other radios and navigation systems in Audi cars, which do not have/use MOST.)

Audi continued to software update the MMI throughout the years and added new options like the Audi Music Interface. The last hurrah for the original MMI came in the form of Audi A5 and A4 B8 in 2007, when third generation radios were joined by the MMI as the navigation choice for the new A4/A5. MMI basic plus and MMI High were available with navigation (and only with navigation) for A4/A5 from 2007 until November 2008 (A5) and May 2009 (A4).

In a model-range wide multimedia system facelift that started with Audi A8 in week 22/2008 (and actually with the unveiling of Q5 before that), continued with Audi A6 in August 2008 (A6 facelift) and with Audi A5/S5 in November 2008, and was finally completed in week 22/2009 when the remaining A4 B8 and Q7 (Q7 facelift) got the new MMI 3G, the original MMI was replaced in 2008-2009 by the MMI 3G, which comes in different forms and variations of its own (MMI Radio, Radio Plus, Navigation and Navigation Plus depending on the car model).

Near-future points of interest regarding Audi multimedia systems are the new Audi A8 launch, likely only six months away, and the Audi A1 that should come out next year. Concept photos for an Audi A8 related new model (A7 Sportback) show completely redesigned MMI graphics and a numeric keypad (quicklinks? radio station presets?) near the gear lever, it will be interesting to see what, if any, changes to MMI 3G surface in a production Audi A8. Concepts may be just concepts. It is unlikely (is it?) that the Audi A8 would use something completely new, since the MMI 3G is so recent, but new features and design certainly seem be plausible.

Audi A1 is interesting because it is the launch of a completely new small-car model and the small-Audi RNS-E (even in its updated form) is aging fast. Add to this the concept ideas Audi has shown for the A1, with a new horizontal MMI-like screen duplicated in the dash and the instrument cluster (sporting Mac-like display of browseable album covers), as well as mobile device with the same MMI-like screen acting as a phone and a keyfob... Audi A1 just might be the launching point for something completely new, while RNS-E continues to live on until A3/TT/R8 are revised... Or, the A1 could just use RNS-E, we shall see.

***

Update 14.3.2010 on the new, first-generation Audi A1 and the revised Audi A8 D4 multimedia systems:

Earlier in this article I have described, amongst others, the multimedia options in the out-going Audi A8 D3 and the current smaller Audis: A3, TT and R8. The new systems on the Audi A1 are likely to resemble future systems in the next-generation A3, TT and perhaps R8. The Audi A8 D4 system, on the other hand, is likely to end up in the new, first-generation Audi A7 and the next-generation Audi A6 C7 when they appear within a year. So, important revisions that are expected to roll over in the future to most other Audi models as well. This overview is based on press-release information and analysis based on it, so please double check this stuff later on.

Expectedly, the updated systems seem to spell the end of single-unit navigation systems in Audis, as well as solidify the role of the MMI 3G technology in the entire line-up. Touch screens continue to be avoided as an ergonomic decision, although touch is not entirely absent. Not so expectedly, the quirky new small-Audi systems presented in Audi A1 concept models didn't make the cut, instead Audi opted for a sort of miniaturization of the familiar Audi A4 B8 multimedia systems there. The future of bigger Audis and most factory navigation options in Audis seem to be variants of MMI 3G, while smaller and mid-size Audis also have cheaper MMI-lookalike radio systems with separate screens (e.g. radio Concert) available as lower-end options.

Basically, judging by press material, Audi A1 gets its own versions of the Audi A4 B8 radio Chorus/Concert and MMI Navigation Plus, all using the MMI operating logic. I expect the systems to be quite like the A4 B8 versions, although the cheapest Chorus radio comes in a single-unit form-factor (monochrome screen in the radio instead of a separate monochrome screen as in the A4 B8). The radio Concert as well as MMI Navigation Plus systems have a separate 6.5" screen (smaller than the 7" MMI Navigation Plus screen in the A4 B8). The screen is a flip-screen, but otherwise familiar. MMI Navigation Plus would seem to be MMI 3G, a first in small Audis, while the radios are likely "lesser" technology like in the A4 B8. One curious feature is a navigation preparation (not MMI 3G) for retrofitting in the A1 radio Concert, perhaps running RNS-E type software.

The next-generation Audi A8 D4 seems to run a new variant of the MMI 3G with a slightly larger screen and new features. In the basic version it adds a new button layout and six preset buttons to access radio stations. The so called MMI touch option replaces the preset buttons with a small touchpad (for which the gear-lever works as an wrist/arm rest) which can act as six preset buttons (numbers light up on the touchpad) as well as a scrollpad for navigation and, most notably, a drawing pad for entering numbers and text letter by letter. The touchpad can also be used to operate the MMI menus. MMI touch does not use a touch screen, however, and the regular MMI big knob is still there too. Other notable features are optional separate MMI access from rear (rear-seat entertainment option) including selection of navigation address from the rear and importing the address to the front. In the future the system will also get Internet access (including WLAN for passengers) and Google Maps satellite images.

Both the A1 and A8 D4 systems get next-generation MMI operating logic graphics. The familiar orange/red/green/blue text-menu based look that started in the A8 D3 in 2002 and that has been carried over to the current MMI 3G, is now being replaced by a more graphical user-interface featuring various icons, a rotating circle and browsing of music like in Apple cover flow. Even though the MMI 3G technology was released two years ago, the launch of A1 and A8 D4 seems to be the first true revision to the actual MMI operating logic and graphical representation thereof. Notable are also the changes to the driver information system (in the instrument cluster of both A1 and A8 D4): new multi-function steering wheel replaces the old one which was based on the steering wheel of the A8 D3 from 2002, and a new, long overdue if I may add, tab concept replaces the even older trip computer stalk/reset button show. Driver information system graphics have been improved too.

So, the venerable RNS-E seems to be on the way out and MMI 3G is here to stay for the next several years, finally transition from the old A8 D3 based system "completed" with the new graphics and user-interface, new driver information system, new physical buttons, new steering wheels and new features. Future seems to include also the (mostly) separate screen radios for smaller and mid-size Audis that were introduced in the A4/A5/Q5 B8 family - mostly all these systems using the MMI operating logic and the new graphical look too.

***

Finally, some notable links for detail-hunters:

Will the real MMI please stand up? Difference between standard radio Concert/Symphony and the optional DVD navigation's MMI controls in B8 platform Audi A4 and A5
http://a6retrofit.tripod.com/articles/a4a5realmmi.html

Updating MMI High
http://a6retrofit.tripod.com/articles/updatemmi.html

Audi In Car Entertainment Systems
http://www.kingslynn-audi.co.uk/parts_and_accessories/infotainment/Audi%20Infotainment.pdf

The New MMI Generation from Audi - Top-Level Multimedia and Communication (links added 25.5.2009)
http://www.fourtitude.com/news/publish/Audi_News/article_4163.shtml
http://www.cartype.com/pages/2919/the_new_mmi_generation_from_audi

Audi MMI 4G in the next A8?
http://audiforum.us/mmi/11863-audi-mmi-4g-next-a8.html

Will MMI appear on next gen A3,TT & R8
http://audiforum.us/mmi/12035-will-mmi-appear-next-gen-a3-tt-r8.html

MMI 2G, 3G... but what was 1G?
http://audiforum.us/mmi/10966-mmi-2g-3g-but-what-1g.html

what is MMI Navigation for real..
http://audiforum.us/mmi/12084-what-mmi-navigation-real.html

Finding a6.stufftoread.com/wiki/index.php/Nachrüsten and a few other retrofit links
http://a6retrofit.tripod.com/articles/retrofitlinks.html

Links about regional differences in Audi multimedia systems:

Converting Japanese MMI to Europe: Becker Automotive System
http://audiforum.us/mmi/11135-becker-automotive-system.html

RNS-J: Japanese NAVplus...help
http://audiforum.us/rns-e/4861-japanese-navplus-help.html

Pictures: MMI 3G navigation in Korea
http://audiforum.us/mmi/12758-mmi-3g-navigation-korea.html

By LoCal

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