Alpine iPod Interface

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Date: Saturday, May 6th, 2006, 13:53
Category: iPod

alpine9852.jpegThe Alpine CDE-9852 head unit with KCE-422i interface cable is probably the best integrated iPod automotive solution in the $200 price range. I received my unit from Crutchfield with a custom bezel and adapter plug to fit my car, making installation a breeze. This unit will support a subwoofer and I will most likely add one, but the Bass Engine equalizer control allowed me to add significant bass emphasis without the mid-bass tubbiness that you get with a simple tone control. I replaced the paper cone factory speakers several years ago with same size Polk speakers and they sound significantly better with a bit of equalization and the loudness contour turned on. What is there not to love? Great sound, direct control of my iPod and 2,000 plus songs at my fingertips. The display will scroll through Artist, Album and Song Title along with elapsed time. Sounds like heaven. Well I do love this unit and hate it at the same time.
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alpine9852.jpegThe Alpine CDE-9852 head unit with KCE-422i interface cable is probably the best integrated iPod automotive solution in the $200 price range. I received my unit from Crutchfield with a custom bezel and adapter plug to fit my car, making installation a breeze. This unit will support a subwoofer and I will most likely add one, but the Bass Engine equalizer control allowed me to add significant bass emphasis without the mid-bass tubbiness that you get with a simple tone control. I replaced the paper cone factory speakers several years ago with same size Polk speakers and they sound significantly better with a bit of equalization and the loudness contour turned on. What is there not to love? Great sound, direct control of my iPod and 2,000 plus songs at my fingertips. The display will scroll through Artist, Album and Song Title along with elapsed time. Sounds like heaven.
Well I do love this unit and hate it at the same time. A lot of what I hate can be said of most after market car stereos. My instrument panel is all black and the original OEM radio was actually made by Alpine for Honda and fit right in. This new unit is silver and styled to look like it came out of a science fiction movie. Worse, it opts for a removable faceplate and no code protection. My original code protected factory stereo was practically immune to theft, but I think this new unit is going to require removal of the faceplate on a regular basis. I hate this anti-theft solution, which has been adopted by most manufacturers of after market units. Worse, the radio is not illuminated at all when off, so finding the power button is done by feel at night. Once turned on I would have to characterize the illumination as insanely bright, even with the auto dimming feature it is still distracting and obnoxiously bright.
I consider myself pretty tech savvy and I figured out which of the nearly identical buttons turned on the unit with little trouble. I was at a loss to turn it off and had to break out the dreaded manual. Much like a mobile phone, turning the unit off requires that you push and hold the on button for at least two seconds. This very same button at other times changes the source from Tuner to iPod to Disc.
The Alpine interface for controlling the iPod is nasty when compared to the controls on the iPod itself. Here is your wonderfully intuitive iPod connected by a cable to a poorly thought out MP3 player. In order to access the songs in your iPod, you are forced to use the counter-intuitive controls of the Alpine with the added little delays that come from communication through the cable.
Showing this to my spouse was an eye opener. Navigating through the iPod menu I was asked to lower the volume, well the knob that controls the volume becomes a jog dial in that mode, so you have no volume control while searching. Ah! That is why there is a mute button. After about a minute I was told that she would simply use the other car and not this one. I explained that it was not too terribly difficult to change the source back to the tuner and once there it worked much like the old radio.
Obviously, Apple does not need to get into the car radio business, but some manufacturer would do well to pay Apple for industrial design services. I decided to try my hand at a quick design for a head unit that would be far friendlier than this Alpine:
colorRadio.jpg

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