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Some suppliers are now looking at offering head units without CD transports. The products, if fully featured, could become technology statements, while keeping costs down by eliminating the CD mechanism, which costs suppliers from $10 to $25.
Clarion said it will display at International CES in January a head unit without a CD player. It would offer an FM tuner, Bluetooth and USB and an SD card slot. It could stream music from cellular phones or an MP3 player and would have an auxiliary input for an iPod. A higher end version could have iPod control. The low-end model might carry a suggested retail price in the neighborhood of $130, said Clarion senior VP Ralf Engelbrecht. He foresees a market where the low end would include these CD-less head units, while the high end, at $350 or $400 and up, would include DVD players.
Jensen is also looking at such a player with some of the same features plus satellite radio. “With young consumers today, they'd just as soon carry a USB [drive] or an iPod as carry a box of CDs,” said Leek, adding, it raises the question of “how much longer do you have to put an optical drive in a radio?”
Alpine declined to comment on the possibility of a CD-less head unit but marketing VP Steve Witt, said, “You can expect some radical in-dash product from Alpine beginning in 2007.”
In the marine market, Prospec, the exclusive distributor for JBL Marine, is distributing a CD-less head unit under both the JBL brand and under Prospec's own Seaworthy brand. The new JBL MBB218 is slightly bigger than a DIN-sized head unit and can also be surface mounted. It offers AM/FM/Sirius reception with CD changer controls and iPod capability. The unit includes a black box that mounts separately for better protection from the elements. Suggested retail price is $229. The Seaworthy model MBB126 is an AM/FM receiver with iPod capability, but no satellite radio or changer controls at $129.
Not all suppliers are rushing to throw out their CD transports. Dual disagreed that CD sales are declining more rapidly than anticipated. It also stated it doesn't see any compelling reason to remove a CD mechanism from a head unit. “CD is still a strong, widely used music option,” said Jim Braun, Dual president and CEO, adding “We do look to add other playback features into the head unit.”
He also noted, “We see the demand for music and entertainment in the car as higher than it has ever been. We still see the dashboard [as key] for accessing that entertainment in the vehicle. We also see Bluetooth and wireless capability as something that will increase demand.”