By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
CD has had a long run — over 20 years — as the key format for car audio, but one of the newest trends this year is to leave the CD slot out of the head unit.
Alpine and Clarion are among the first suppliers to offer CD-less head units, which are designed for a new breed of music listeners who purchase their music online and have stopped purchasing CDs.
"Consistently we are hearing from consumers that they have truly embraced digital products like the iPod and iTunes, that they no longer use CDs, and they are not buying CDs. The Billboard tracking information underscores that digital track sales are neck and neck with album sales. We are truly at the tipping point in terms of consumer behavior with media," said Steve Witt, Alpine's marketing VP.
Alpine is modeling its new CD-less head unit as an "in-dash iPod." The AM/FM receiver has a screen the same size as the iPod's LCD, at 2.5 inches, and it uses an interface that was co-developed with Apple. The head unit offers 200 times faster scrolling than the current Alpine "full speed" models. Alpine claims the interface is "the exact interface of your iPod," according to Witt.
In addition, it offers USB Digital, a feature Apple is scheduled to introduce at MacWorld this week. USB Digital streams music from the iPod in digital format rather than analog, which results in a faster interface and a higher signal-to-noise ratio. Alpine says it is the first automotive device to incorporate Apple's USB Digital.
The single-DIN receiver, whose name will be announced at International CES, is satellite radio ready, iPod full-speed ready (with a cable) and Bluetooth and HD-Radio ready with an adapter. It can also plug into any USB device and offer full control.
The unit also has MP3/WMA/AAC playback and supports Apple lossless files through USB. Target retail is $399 with delivery planned for April.
Clarion's new CD-less model is called the FB275BT. It has an FM receiver and an SD slot for importing music and built-in Bluetooth audio streaming plus an iPod cable that connects to a rear auxiliary input. Clarion is aiming the product at the 20- to 30-year-old portable audio user. Other features of the FB275BT include a flip-down face, and 50x4 amplifier. It is targeted for March shipping at an estimated price of $200.
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