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Car Receivers Enter World Of Computing

LAS VEGAS -Car CD receivers are entering the computing age, with most of the new units debuting at CES offering CD-R and/or CD-RW disc playback, and some providing either MP3 or Satellite Digital Audio Radio (SDAR) capability, or both. (See separate MP3 story p. 88 and SDAR story, p. 1.)

Some suppliers-including Alpine and Pioneer-are also showing new and sophisticated digital audio processing, and nearly all are touting brighter, larger and even flashier displays than last year.

Pioneer is extending its Organic EL deeper into its line and will now allow users (through their dealer) to download their own images into the display.

Alpine’s new display allows visual confirmation of user changes in the settings, and Panasonic has added a larger dot-matrix display with menu-driven options (similar to a PC interface).

Other new displays are being shown by Audiovox, Clarion and Sony.

MP3 receivers are being unwrapped here by Aiwa, Alpine, Clarion, Crime-stopper, Jensen, Kenwood, Panasonic, Pioneer and Sony.

In SDAR, Clarion, Kenwood, Panasonic and possibly Jensen will show Sirius adapters and compatible CD receivers, while XM suppliers will include Alpine, Pioneer and Sony. (See separate stories for details).

Here is what showgoers can expect in mainstream car audio at CES:

Alpine will debut what it claims are two of the most advanced mobile entertainment products: an in-dash AM/ FM/CD player, and a separate sound processor that offers for the first time, according to the company, real-time digital analysis for the car.

Called the F#1Status system, it includes a new CDA-7990 head unit and a companion PXA-H900 processor. The F#1Status system constantly monitors the sound in the car, adjusts the frequency response and phase, and makes time corrections to yield “near-perfect response and sound staging,” according to Alpine marketing VP Stephen Witt.

The processor has the equivalent of two built-in Pentium II 600MHz processors. It incorporates more than 175 bands of digital equalization, which the installer programs via a PC according to the buyer’s tastes. It also offers Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby Digital, DTS and HDCD capability.

Shipping in February, the CDA-7990 is expected to carry a suggested retail price of $3,000, and the PXA-H900 will have a suggested retail price of $4,500.

“Three years ago, Alpine committed to developing the most advanced mobile entertainment platform,” said Witt. “We established on paper the highest level of sophistication and sound quality, then asked engineering to develop products that would meet the Alpine F#1Status criteria. This is the first of those products.”

Alpine is also expanding its line of Bass Engine head units to encompass most of its 2001 products, including V-12 and V-Tower amplifiers, and S, R and USX series speakers. The line has a new look, and a new display to provide visual verification of bass-engine functions.

“With more technology and features getting placed into products, consumers don’t always understand what mode they’ve selected or adjusted,” Witt explained. “So visual verification is becoming critical to customer satisfaction.”

New Bass engine head units starting at $299 (compared with $599 last year) will have Alpine V driver 60 x 4-watt internal amplifiers, as well as three preouts for easier system design. The line also has separate front, rear and subwoofer preamp level outputs for system building with separate amplifiers.

Also new is the MP3-capable CDA-7878MP3 CD receiver at $699.

Audiovox is debuting its first hideaway, blackout-panel CD receiver, along with a new Multi-Color Vacuum Fluorescent Display.

Called the Prestige P-975, the top-of-the-line CD receiver comes with changer controls, built-in 4 x 40-watt amplifier and wireless remote at a suggested $200.

It is joined by the Prestige P-950 AM/FM/CD, also with the new display but without the blackout panel. The Prestige P-950 has a fold-down detachable face, CD changer controls, 4 x 40-watt amplifier and wireless remote at a suggested retail price of $180.

Blaupunkt will show at least 12 new head units at CES, as well as updated CD changers, and it may show mock-ups for MP3 and SDAR. Three new models, including a MiniDisc receiver, will be offered under the premier Skyline moniker, with new titanium or silver faceplates.

In its FunLine, Blaupunkt redesigned the display and added auxiliary inputs for outboard MP3 and other portables. The company will also add four models in its promotionally priced X-Line and two to its entry-level T-Line.

Clarion’s new line focuses on being multimedia ready, and most of the company’s eight new single-CD receivers offer auxiliary inputs to accept audio from a video system. The line now accepts CD-R discs and includes a new aluminum face on the mid- to high-end models.

Also, the line features a new graduated display (similar to home units) with brighter colors. Prices on the line, which will ship mainly in the first quarter, range from $160 to $700. MP3 will be offered on a few selected models, Clarion said.

Jensen is introducing five CD models at CES, including one with a built-in four-disc CD-changer called the CH4001 and a new MP3-capable model that accepts CD-R and CD-RW discs called the CD5010K.

Jensen may also show a Sirius receiver for delivery in limited quantities late in the third quarter. Also new is a compact 10-disc changer with a multicolor LCD changer controller.

JVC will show three new CD re-ceivers under the new Digifine 2.1 line. All have aluminum faceplates. They can play CD-R and CD-RW discs and have an MP3 input jack in the front for an MP3 portable player.

The top-of-the-line model KDSH99 can also play MP3-encoded CDs. Other features include 24-bit DAC, a new EQ system, and 50 x 4-watt power. The top two models also have DVD controls.

Pricing on the Digifine 2.1 line ranges from approximately $229 to $450 or $500.

JVC’s Elkameleon series offers two new units with a new motorized rotary knob that pops out and lights up when the unit is activated. The KDLX 100 has built-in 45 x 4-watt power, and the KDLX 300 has 50 x 4-watt power.

Kenwood is showing a new line of Excelon CD/receivers that all play back CD-R and CD-RW formats. Three of the units also accept Sirius satellite digital radio and iBiquity digital radio (see SDAR story, p. 1), and one is MP3 ready.

All new Kenwood models also have more built-in power (50 x 4 watts) and wider faceplates with a new four-tone variable-color fluorescent display.

The new Excelon series has three D MASK+ motorized, self-hiding faceplates and one model with a manual version (D MASK). The units feature an advanced crossover system called System Q EX, which lets users adjust tonal balance to suit music genre, speaker selection and vehicle acoustics.

At the top of the line is the Excelon KDC-X917, which features CD Text, RDS (Radio Data System) capability, and a Dual Zone feature lets the receiver operate its front and rear channels independently and play two different stereo sources simultaneously, when it is used with the optional KCA-S210A adapter.

The new Excelon line is expected to ship from Kenwood in March at suggested retail prices of $500, $450, $380 and $280, respectively.

In its Premier Reference Series, Pioneer is introducing a CD receiver with optical digital outputs and a companion digital processor designed for the competition market.

Called the DEX-P9, the single-CD player will feature a 24-bit DAC, optical digital input and output, controls for DVD and a digital processor, and Organic Electro Luminescence (OEL) display technology. OEL is a bright display, even in direct sunlight, with a wide viewing angle, quick refresh rate, low voltage requirement and 3D graphics capability, the company said.

The DEQ-P9 digital processor will interface with the DEX-P9 with an optical digital input and feature independent one-third octave (31-band) left/right equalizer and a four-band digital crossover network. All processing will be done in the digital domain and converted utilizing 24-bit DAC.

For 2001, Pioneer will add OEL display to units starting at $330.

Due to the open architecture of the display format, the top-line models DEH-P9300 and Premier DEH-P930 will allow users to download personal images into the display. Users can give a disk with an electronic image or e-mail an electronic image to their local dealer to customize their display. More details will be offered at CES, said Pioneer.

The company is introducing seven new OEL themes on the screens (for display animation) including a CART racing theme and a starship theme.

Top models Premier DEX-P9, DEH-P9300 and Premier DEH-P930 will also offer a new larger OEL screen (256 x 80 pixels vs. 256 x 52 pixels), while other models will use a smaller-pixel (128 x 33) OEL display introduced last year.

Pioneer also completely revamped the cosmetics of its 2001 CD lineup and is offering a rotary volume knob on several additional models. All of the new models and CD changers are now CD-R compatible, and a prototype MP3 unit will be shown, with delivery planned for late 2001.

Panasonic is introducing a total of 12 CD receivers. The company has a new larger dot-matrix display that is based on a menu theme, so if a user hits a menu button, the display shows several tabs that can be chosen to make adjustments in graphics and features.

Panasonic has also extended its Day/Night features (with a silver display by day and blue at night) into more models in 2001 and has added auxiliary audio on eight models for interfacing with a portable MP3, CD or DVD player.

Sony is launching a redesigned Xplod line that will include at the high end its first MP3 unit and several Memory Stick receivers (see story, p. 87).

Among the Sony’s 17 new head units this year are two models that are being positioned just below the Active Black Panel line. Called L-cubed, the head units use new three-color dot-matrix displays with no buttons and are controlled by a wireless IR “joystick” that does not have to be pointed at the unit.

The model CDX-CA850X in the Mobile series has a 50 x 4-watt built-in amplifier, and the CDX-C860X is the Mobile ES version. Both are AM/FM/ CDs with flip-down panels and will ship in March at suggested retail prices to be announced. As with all 2001 Sony head units, they both can play CD-Rs.

All new single-CD receivers for 2001 include a feature called My Best Position (MBP), which shifts the soundstage to the driver’s or passenger’s liking.

Many Xplod models now come with an EQ7 seven-band equalizer with preset equalization curves for rock, jazz, techno, etc. Sony is also expanding its Digital Soundfield Organizer (DSO) function, which lifts the sound stage of the front speakers up to “the driver’s ears” by applying psychoacoustic principles. DSO will move from the Mobile ES line into several new models.

New ABP models will now be available with detachable, flip-down faceplates, and some will feature a wider display with finer dot pitch and faster graphics, said Sony Mobile VP Steve Haber.

There are four new ABP models, and the top-of-the-line model CDX-M770 will also ship with the wireless “joystick.” Three of the models have detachable displays, and all are single-CD receivers with changer controls.

Also new from Sony is the world’s smallest six-disc changer, according to Haber. The Mobile ES unit under the Xplod brand has a red finish and advanced ESP at a suggested retail price of $249. It is joined by a standard six-disc changer under the Sony Mobile series at a new low price for the company of $99.

A new MD receiver featuring long-play MD, which can hold up to five hours of music on an 80-minute MD disc, is also debuting. Called the MDX-CA680X, it is a single-MD player with CD-changer controls and built-in 52 x 4-watt amplifier. The MDX-CA680X will ship in April at a suggested retail price of $379.