Car Stereos Debuting Without CD

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The first digital car stereo head units without any CD mechanism are debuting here at International CES in what may be a taste of things to come in the changing autosound market.

The CD-less head units from Alpine and Clarion are aimed at heavy iPod and MP3 users who purchase their music through digital music sites and no longer invest in CDs.

In fact, 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 marketing VP Steve Witt.

In addition, it offers USB Digital, a feature Apple is scheduled to introduce this week at a separate event. 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 here) 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 price 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 a 50 by 4 amplifier. It is targeted for March, shipping at an estimated price of $200.

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