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Top40 Ranked List of Car Audio Receivers/Radio/Cd’s! Read, Vote, Buy & Share!

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#1 Clarion DFZ675MC

The Clarion DFZ675MC is one of the few double-DIN-size car stereos we've seen that doesn't feature any video capabilities. Though you can't watch movies on it, you can listen to an impressive range of audio formats, including AM/FM and satellite radio; CDs; MP3 and WMA discs; SD card audio files; iPods (with the required add-on interface); and generic MP3 players via the auxiliary input jack. As well as playing music, the DFZ675MC can also record tracks from regular CDs via its Music Catcher II function. The DFZ675MC features some advanced audio tweaking features, including a Listening Position Optimizer, Digital Z-Enhancer (DZE) sound tone effects for different types of in-car speaker arrangement, and adjustment options for equalizer settings.

DesignThe Clarion DFZ675MC has a cluttered front panel design, with buttons of all sizes scattered across the faceplate. Colored backlit buttons--for disc eject, folder selection, and other system controls--run down each side of the unit, interspersed with dummy buttons. This arrangement may make for a nice, symmetrical visual appearance, but it will likely prove confusing to drivers who want to make selections on the fly.

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#2 Sony MEX-BT5100

Forget add-on modules and external hands-free calling speakerphones. The easiest and cleanest way to make calls in the car is routing them through a built-in Bluetooth phone system. If you're among the majority of drivers who doesn't have a factory-installed calling system, Sony's MEX-BT5100 is a useful all-in-one stereo and Bluetooth calling system for the aftermarket. Retaining most of the features of its predecessor--the Sony MEX-BT5000--the 5100 combines an intuitive user interface, a straightforward menu structure, and a stylish faceplate design.

DesignThe MEX-BT5100 features an elegantly simple design with a usable multidirectional joystick controller, a minimal number of buttons, and some snazzy brushed aluminum trim. The X-shaped motif on the left-hand side of the system shows that it is part of Sony's X-Plod line of car stereos. This joystick controller provides the primary interface for navigating phone menus, skipping and searching for music, and adjusting sound and volume. In contrast to a number of other similarly designed interfaces, the controller on the MEX-5100 is firm enough to resist tipping over when trying to make a selection, and has a solid feel to it. We also like the accessibility of the other controls including the prominent Source buttons situated closest to the driver, and the backlit phone and menu buttons that call up the system's intuitive menus. We like the way that the Menu button calls up different options depending on whether the system is in phone or music mode. All information is shown on the stereo's monochrome LCD display, which features a number of movie and wallpaper screen patterns and which we found a little too busy for our liking. A soft-open mechanical fold-down faceplate completes the picture.

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#3 Sony XPLOD CDX-GT920U (in-dash car stereo)

Easy on the eyes, the Sony Xplod CDX-GT920U sits close to the top of Sony's line of single DIN head units. The GT920U proves to be much more than just a pretty face, as it's packed with input options, including a rear USB input and a menu system that makes it a breeze to find the right song for the moment.

DesignThe CDX-GT920U is a very good looking single DIN head unit. The layout is similar to the rest of the Xplod line, such as the MEX-BT2600, but with fewer buttons. Most functions are controlled with a large chrome dial/joystick that dominates the left side of the faceplate. Surrounding the dial are four buttons (Mode, Source, Shuffle, and Display) and a chrome toggle. The layout is very simple and, because most operations are handled with the dial, very easy to use.

To the far right of the faceplate are the aux input jack and the Scroll, Off, and Open/Eject buttons, the latter of which operates the motorized faceplate. With a touch of the button, the faceplate rotates down, revealing the slot-loading CD player. When in the upright position, the faceplate can be adjusted between three viewing angles.

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#4 Alpine CDE-141

Alpine's CDE-141 sits at the lowest end of the manufacturer's line of single-DIN CD receivers. It is a fairly basic stereo, but its short list of features should cover many users' in-car audio needs. If you're just looking for a simple receiver to connect your iPhone with or a USB key full of music to listen to while driving, read on. However, users looking for advanced features such as Bluetooth hands-free calling, app integration, or satellite radio connectivity should look further up the car audio totem pole.

DesignOn the left third of the faceplate, the user is presented with buttons for Play/Pause, Skip, AM/FM band, and a large blue button that can be tapped to cycle through available audio sources or held to power the unit off and back on.

Moving to the right, you encounter the control knob, which can be twisted to adjust the volume by default. Pushing the knob like a button calls up the search or tuning function depending on the source. Once in one of these modes, twisting the knob moves through available options and tapping the knob makes a selection. Below the control knob are Back and Audio/Options buttons that are also used for moving through menus.

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#5 Blaupunkt Monterrey MP35

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#6 Alpine CDE 102

The Alpine CDE-102 CD receiver is about as entry level as car stereos come these days. It plays CDs and that's about it...or is it?

As it turns out, even an entry-level car stereo can hide a few tricks up its sleeve. For example, the Alpine can playback digital media from its optical drive and a USB port on the faceplate.

DesignAs a single-DIN car stereo receiver, the Alpine CDE-102 doesn't have very much faceplate real estate to work with and, as a result, its interface emphasizes efficiency over aesthetics

FeaturesThe Alpine CDE-102 starts with playback of AM/FM radio and Red Book audio CDs then adds MP3/WMA/AAC playback to the mix. Users are also able to feed their media to the unit via USB port.

MP3 CDs and USB devices can be browsed using the CDE-102's search mode to navigate files and subfolders. You can jump quickly through large lists of digital audio files using the unit's percentage search function.

Although Alpine has slapped the "Made for iPod" and "Works with iPhone" badges all over the CDE-102's box, the unit doesn't actually support Apple's digital media player out of the box. You have to purchase a $30 KCE-433iV full-speed iPod connection cable to use iPods and iPhones with the head unit.

Alpine left its Ai-NET digital bus off of the CDE-102, so there can be no adding HD radio or satellite radio receivers to this head unit. However, the Bluetooth module connection means that hands-free calling and A2DP audio streaming can be added and controlled using the CDE-102's interface.

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#7 Alpine CDE 124SXM

In sumThe Alpine CDE-124SXM is a great value for those who want to kill two birds with one stone and upgrade their car stereo while adding SiriusXM Satellite Radio connectivity to their in-car audio source mix. At an MSRP of $229.99, this bundle also ends up being less expensive than what we'd expect to pay for the CD receiver alone.

However, there's another way to get this level of functionality from Alpine outside of the CDE-124SXM package. The SXV100 tuner can be purchased separately for $69.99 and paired with Alpine's own CDE-123 single-CD receiver ($199.95) and likely an entire future generation of Alpine receivers of various form factors. Of course, buying the components separately is more expensive--at a combined MSRP of $269.94, they're about $40 more separately than as a bundle. However, for that $40, the superior CDE-123 receiver adds a few niceties that serious car audio lovers will appreciate. For example, it can decode WMA and AAC audio files via its CD-player and USB port. It also sprouts a second rear USB port that's useful for those who like to leave a USB drive permanently connected. System builders will appreciate that the CDE-123 unit can be upgraded with an optional Bluetooth receiver, an input for connecting the receiver to a steering-wheel control module, and two more pairs of RCA audio connections, adding dedicated rear and subwoofer outputs for connecting more amplifiers.

For the money, we'd spend the extra $40 and buy our components separately to get the Alpine CDE-123 receiver. However, if you never plan to connect an amplifier to your receiver and are pinching pennies, the CDE-124SXM is a good value and a very good choice.

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#8 Alpine iDA-X305

FeaturesThe iDA-X305 is a mechanical-free device with no moving parts. That means no CD-slot and no tape player. With the exception of the AM/FM radio, the X305 subsists on a completely on a digital diet.

Using the included USB pigtail, listeners can plug in a portable USB drive or MP3 player for complete access to the file structure. Compatible file formats include DRM-free MP3, AAC, and WMA.

In a nice tip of the hat to iPod users, Alpine has included a short, black dock connector cable with the X305, which looks cleaner and keeps us from having to carry our stock white cable back and forth.

New in the X305 is full "Works with iPhone" compatibility, so no longer will you get a nag screen when connecting your iPhone 3G. Additionally, the X305 will also charge your iPhone while you listen, something that the X100 didn't do.

While the iDA-X305's feature set is essentially limited to radio and digital audio playback, it is capable of being extended and expanded with Alpine's line of add-on modules. We already mentioned the KCE-400BT, but the X305 is also compatible with Alpine's TUA-HD550 HD Radio tuner with iTunes tagging functionality.

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#9 Fusion CA-IP500 iPod receiver

FeaturesThe Fusion CA-IP500 deals with the issue of the various generations and sizes of iPods by shipping with an array of adapter sleeves. The unit works with and has adapters for the iPod Classic, the iPod Touch, and all three generations of the iPod Nano, but not the iPhone. Just snap in the appropriate adapter, slide in your iPod, and close the faceplate. If you're a single iPod user, setup ends here and you can enjoy your music. However, if you own multiple iPods--for example a Classic and a Nano--or if you want to listen to music on a friend's device, then you'll have keep the appropriate adapters with you at all times. Who wants a glove compartment full of empty plastic sleeves?

This setup also presents a problem if Apple releases a new iPod design in the future. For example, the fourth-generation iPod Nano was released after the Fusion CA-IP500. People can order an adapter sleeve for this new Nano on Fusion's Web site at no additional cost, but then you still have to deal with the slight inconvenience of waiting for it to be shipped. Fortunately, Fusion's customer service is quick and very easy to deal with.

While some iPods are easy to remove, others--such as the slim iPod Touch--are more difficult to grip and require more force than we were comfortable with to remove.

In addition to iPod playback, the CA-IP500 features an AM/FM tuner with RDS and a rear-mounted RCA auxiliary input.

In sumWhile in theory, an internal iPod dock answers the question, "Where do I put my iPod while driving?" and eliminates cables and USB dongles, it creates a new problem of carrying around adapter sleeves or being unable to use different size iPods. We also factored in the cheap-feeling build quality when determining our design score. Audio quality and ease of use is just average and we rated the unit's performance as such.

When all is said and done, we conclude that while it is possible to have an enjoyable in-car iPod experience with the Fusion CA-IP500--particularly if you are a single-iPod user--there are much more elegant solutions from the more-established competition that are more future-proof, have better build quality, and easier-to-use interfaces.

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#10 Sony MEX-BT2600

Features and performance

The main reason people will buy the MEX-BT2600 is its competitive price and its integrated Bluetooth hands-free calling capability. With a built-in microphone and Bluetooth adapter, the system provides an easy and intuitive means of making calls from behind the wheel, an increasingly important consideration as more and more states enforce bans on driving while talking on cell phones. Pairing a phone to the MEX-BT2600 is straightforward: after holding down the BT button for five seconds, drivers search for the stereo using their Bluetooth-equipped phone, completing the process with the entry of a passkey. With the connection made, all calls made out from the cell phone handset are routed through the car's speakers while the system's built-in microphone lets drivers speak naturally and be understood from the other end of the line. Unlike its higher-end sibling, the MEX-BT2600 does not copy cell phone address books when paired. This is not a problem for incoming calls, which are answered by the touch of the rotary dial. However, there are limitations on outgoing calls: drivers can either use the handset to dial out (not ideal when driving along); redial the last number (obviously limited in its scope); or use the voice-dialing feature of the phone to call out. While this last option is dependent on the phone having a voice-dial option, we found it to be by far the easiest--and safest--way to call out via the MEX-BT2600. With a call underway, incoming sound quality via the car speakers is clear as is outgoing call quality--although the latter does sound a bit tinny. A new mic-volume control lets drivers adjust the outgoing call volume.

In sumWith a price tag of $169.95, the Sony MEX-BT2600 represents a great value for those looking for an all-in-one hands-free calling and audio receiver. If you can live with its lack of phonebook transfer, the system provides an easy-to-use Bluetooth speakerphone with good calling quality and seamless integration. Its wide range of audio options--including support for Bluetooth audio--is an added bonus.

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#11 Blaupunkt Brisbane SD48

Features and performanceAs its name implies, the headline feature of the Brisbane SD48 is its SD card playback capability, which is accessed via a slot situated horizontally down the right side of the faceplate. For our test, we loaded up a mini SD card with a number of MP3 tracks encoded at 128Kbps. Selecting "SD Card" from the source menu automatically started the tracks playing, and we were pleased to see that the system displayed full folder and file names for tracks on the card. The Brisbane accommodates up to 127 music directories and displays ID3 tag information up to 30 characters in length. While users can navigate folders and files by using the up/down and left/right arrows on the left-hand keypad, the Brisbane SD48 provides no other means of browsing for tracks by name, meaning that drivers could find themselves skipping through long lists of songs before listening to the track they want to hear.

In sumWith its discless design and support for a range of digital-audio sources, the Blaupunkt Brisbane SD48 could well represent the future of the car stereo (although it could do with being more iPod-friendly). It offers decent audio output and a good range of audio-customization features, and with a price tag of around $160, it offers an alternative to entry-level stereos from the likes of Sony and Alpine. However, its lack of disc-playing capabilities and its basic faceplate design may deter some.

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#12 Sony CDX GT620IP – radio / CD / MP3 player

Features and performance

As denoted in its "IP" designation, the CDX-GT620IP has an as-standard full-speed iPod connector, which transfers all controls of a connected iPod to the stereo faceplate. Unlike the entry-level CDX-GT420IP, the stereo has a one-touch interface for accessing iPod libraries. To browse tracks on the iPod, drivers press the Browse button denoted by a magnifying glass. The backlighting on the rotary dial flashes a neon blue (it can also be changed to red if that fits your car's interior better), indicating that it is the controller that is used to scroll through the iPod-related categories (Artist, Album, Genre, Playlist) that show up on the bluish-white dot-matrix display. The rotary dial has a solid, tactile feel and is calibrated to let drivers search through long lists of alphabetized entries reasonably quickly. Although with very long lists of tracks, you may find yourself turning the dial for quite some time before reaching Ziggy Stardust. Having reached the chosen category, drivers push the dial in, which brings up all the listings in that category.

In sumWith an price of about $160, the CDX-GT620IP delivers decent sound quality and iPod compatibility for a competitive price. We like its stylishly simple faceplate design and its intuitive audio-search interface, while its DSO function gives even stock speakers a boost.

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#13 Alpine CDE-9874

Features and performanceIn addition to its standard AM/FM tuner, the CDE-9874 can handle Red Book CDs as well as MP3, WMA, and AAC-encoded discs via its single disc slot. When playing the latter, drivers can use the system's dedicated View button to cycle through CD Text, ID3, or WMA tags on folder, file, track, artist, and album. The Search button (denoted by a magnifying glass icon) lets drivers navigate files on an MP3 disc by searching through either a list of files or folders. Using the rotary dial, drivers can scroll through all the folders and files on a disc, with the display showing about 10 characters at a time. We found this to be too few characters for our liking, especially when the file tracks were preceded by an index number, which reduced the number of letters even further.

With the chosen song showing on the display, a press of the dedicated Enter button selects the song. Like the more expensive Alpine CDA-9885, the CDE-9874 features a "quick search" feature: holding down the Search button for more than two seconds, drivers can access a full list of all the songs on an MP3 disc by file name and number. This is a very useful feature for skipping to a specific track, but only if you know its numerical folder/file designation. Whether using quick search or the regular browsing function, we do like the fact that you can navigate to your chosen song without interrupting the currently playing track. We also like the dedicated back button, which lets users go back one level when browsing.

In sumWith a price tag of about $150, the Alpine CDE-9874 ticks all the boxes for an entry-level stereo. With an easy-to-use faceplate design, some advanced browsing features for digital audio files, reasonably priced iPod expandability, and good support for external components, it is a cost-effective digital-age replacement for your stock stereo.

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#14 Sony CDX-GT420U

Features and performanceThe "U" designation on the CDX-GT410U is an indication that the system can play audio from USB-enabled mass storage devices. This includes digital audio players with USB connections (such as the iPod) as well as music files stored on thumbdrives. One of the remarkable features with the latter is the stereo's capability to play music tracks from thumbdrives containing a mixture of audio and nonaudio files. The CDX-GT410U can also play disc-based audio including Red Book CDs, and discs with MP3, WMA, AAC, and ATRAC files.

In contrast to a number of USB-enabled stereos we've seen, the CDX-GT410U has a very useful browse function, which provides an intuitive means of navigating large libraries of compressed audio files from both USB drives and compressed audio discs. Pressing the Browse button brings up an alphabetized list of artists, which you can browse by rotating the volume knob and--importantly--without interrupting the currently playing song. To make a selection, users push in the control knob taking them to a submenu of track titles, which can be browsed and selected in a similar way. We also like the dedicated Back button, which can be used to take the user back by one menu level; and the DISP button, which cycles between information (where available) on track name and number, album name, and artist name.

In sumPropping up Sony's 2008 range of single-DIN car stereos, the CDX-GT420U retails for about $130. For that very reasonable price, drivers get a system with a good range of features including a USB interface, support for digital audio discs, and a useful navigation feature for browsing large libraries. On the downside, audio quality, while loud, is nothing special, and the system's two luminous color schemes may induce some buyers to go for something a bit more understated.

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#15 Sony MEX-BT5100

Features and Performance

The MEX-BT5100 doubles as a music player and a hands-free calling device. To make calls, users have to pair their Bluetooth phone with the stereo, which is a very straightforward process requiring them to search for a phone using the head unit itself. Once the phone is found and connected, drivers can then import up to 50 contacts from the phone into the stereo's phonebook memory. It may just be that we have too many friends, but we found this limit to be unduly restrictive as it meant that we could not simply dump our entire contact list onto the stereo. With contacts copied to the MEX-BT5100, the easiest way of calling out is by using the Phonebook option. Navigating the call menu structure is pleasantly straightforward, and we are impressed with the speed at which the menu options appear and disappear once selected. We were less thrilled by the process of browsing through contacts once we got to the phonebook, which entailed a somewhat laborious process of notching through the contact names one at a time without the option for scrolling through by holding down the joystick.

In sumWith a price tag of around $330, the MEX-BT5100 is not cheap for a single-DIN car stereo. Its integrated Bluetooth hands-free calling interface, however, makes it more than a simple audio receiver, and for those looking for a good-looking, intuitive all-in-one entertainment and communications device, the MEX-BT5100 provides a compelling option.

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#16 Pioneer DEH-P6000UB

Features and performance

The DEH-P6000UB's various sources are selected using a coverflow-esque menu, which lets drivers select sources using simple identifier icons. The stereo's name gives some indication as to its feature set with the "UB" showing that the device has USB compatibility. Its USB 2.0 port can be used to connect USB-enabled digital audio players and mass storage devices. However, it is while connected to an iPod that the DEH-P6000UB is happiest. The DEH-P6000UB's menu structure and control interface are designed for navigating iPod content. With an iPod connected, there are two options for car occupants: either they can opt to transfer all control of the iPod to the stereo faceplate (as with most other iPod-specific stereos), or they can select "Passenger control mode," which enables control of the iPod's music using the player itself--a feature that shows that Pioneer has really thought about the design of the DEH-P6000UB from the perspective of those in the car.

In sumFor a price of about $250, the DEH-P6000UB is a good-value single-DIN stereo. We like its snazzy design, its as-standard iPod control including its advanced features for navigating iPod libraries, as well as its many audio tweaking and customization features.

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#17 JVC KD-S100

Design and FeaturesThe KD-S100 is a sharp-looking head unit with a stylish black lacquer and matte silver faceplate, accented by fluorescent blue back lighting for button trim. Aside from its main volume control knob, the stereo features ten small hard buttons for browsing and selecting music and for adjusting settings. We prefer our buttons to be slightly bigger and more clearly labeled than those on the KD-S100, but we like the simplicity and economy of the design, which makes it easy to skip songs on the fly The system's monochrome LCD display is likewise simple and unshowy. The white-on-black characters show up well, even in bright daylight. When playing music from MP3 discs, USB drives, and iPods, the display can be configured to show an impressive number of combinations of artist, album, and song title, as well as folder and file information. Unlike many single-DIN systems, the KD-S100 is able to display a decent number of characters on its display, enabling drivers to see song titles at a glance. The source button on the top left of the faceplate provides a straightforward means of switching between different audio inputs, which also include line-in (via a rear-mounted 1/8-inch jack), satellite radio, and AM/FM radio.

In sumWhile numerous premium factory-fitted audio systems are customized to the interiors of individual cars, the KD-S100 is the first and only example of this application we have seen in a third-party aftermarket device. There is no denying the KD-S100's ability to enhance audio output relative to the standard audio of its host JVC head unit. Based on our experience, the system does a great job of maximizing the potential of stock factory speakers. Enhancing audio output through signal restoration is nothing new, but the KD-S100 does a good job of sharpening high- and midrange output while adding a reasonably convincing phantom subwoofer. But digital remastering can only go so far. The KD-S100 is not for a system for those who are expecting the kind of audio output associated with an arsenal of high-quality audio components.

Because of Bongiovi Acoustics' business model of selling the KD-S100 through car dealerships with its potential for commission, package deals, and payment plans, it is difficult to nail them down to a specific price for the product. According to JVC, the original Bongiovi system had a price tag of "$699 upwards," while Engadget reported that the total cost of the device as being somewhere between $700 and $1,000. For that kind of money, the KD-S100 puts itself up against entry-level component audio systems. For those investing in a new car who are willing to pay an extra $20 per month (albeit for an indeterminate length of time) for significantly improved audio, the JVC KD-S100 is a compelling option.

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#18 Alpine CDA-9885

Design and featuresAlpine makes some of the most attractive car stereos on the market (see the iDA-X001), and the CDA-9885 is no exception. Its colorful bank of backlit buttons on the right side of the volume dial can be set to either red or blue, depending on your mood or the car's interior.

For other buttons, such as the six presets and the navigation buttons to the left of the dial, a muted red backlighting gives the system a uniform color scheme and makes it easy to use at night. With the choice of four background visual (BGV) animations, the system's green-on-black monochrome LCD screen can be as busy as your tastes desire. Personally, we preferred to turn the graphics off to get a clearer view of the screen's text information for HD Radio programming and disc-based digital-audio tracks.

In contrast to some stereos with a similar amount of screen real estate, the CDA-9885's display shows a relatively large number of text characters, making it easy to navigate radio stations and audio libraries at a glance. For HD Radio stations, the display shows artist and song information (where available) and other details on station frequency, time, and date, which can be cycled through by pressing the Title button to the right of the display.

With an MP3/ WMA/AAC disc inserted in the single slot behind the stereo's mechanical drop-down faceplate, the display can be set to show information for artist and track names, or folder and file names. For text tags that are longer than the allocated 15 characters, the display can be set to scroll information automatically, which is a useful feature.

In sumWith its $200 HD Radio tuner and a base price of about $250, the Alpine CDA-9885 is by no means a cheap option for bringing HD Radio on the road. If you have room to hide the enormous external module, however, it is a stylish and easy-to-use device with a great sound and one of the most intuitive audio navigation interfaces we've seen in this class.

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#19 Sony CDX-GT520

PerformanceWith the HD tuner connected, the CDX-GT520 makes HD Radio its own separate source, giving drivers the chance to browse through only those radio stations that broadcast an HD signal. While we like this segmentation of HD Radio, it appears to come at the cost of all other AM and FM analog stations, which are no longer available with the HD tuner connected. On the positive side, HD Radio output is noticeably crisper than standard FM radio, and we do like the track, artist, and channel text information that accompanies most HD broadcasts. One thing we did notice, however, is that, while the CDX-GT520's HD Radio output is clear, its volume range is much lower than that for disc-based audio.

For MP3-, WMA-, and AAC-disc playback, the CDX-GT520 displays up to 10 characters of ID3-tag information for artist, album, and folder, which can be cycled through using the Display button. Using the Shuffle button, drivers can shuffle songs within a specific album; albums on a disc; or all songs in all albums on a disc.

In sumAs a standalone device, the CDX-GT520 is a simple, user-friendly in-dash receiver with support for a good range of digital audio sources and some decent audio-customization features. While we like the fact that the stereo is able to act as an HD Radio tuner, we are less than impressed with the necessity for Sony's expensive, clunky XT-100HD module.

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#20 Sony CDX-GT420IP

Features

As well as its as-standard, full-speed iPod connector, the Sony CDX-GT420IP is an AM/FM tuner and has the ability to play CDs and compressed disc-based audio formats such as MP3 and WMA. Its front-mounted generic auxiliary input jack lets non-iPod owners connect their media players, too. For such a simple device, the CDX-GT420IP features some impressive audio-tweaking options: In addition to its six preconfigured EQ3 settings, it enables users to create their own custom EQ curve, and to fine-tune output by adjusting the level of the low-pass filter. A separate control for subwoofer level is also a nice touch.

In sumWe like the functionality of the Sony CDX-GT420IP. With a price tag of less than $150, it provides an affordable and user-friendly means of playing digital audio from a variety of media, including iPods, other portable audio players, and compressed disc-based formats. Despite its simple design, the CDX-GT420IP does a good job of giving drivers access to their iPod libraries on the road and delivering robust, tweakable audio output.

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#21 Audiovox Xpress

If you can spend the extra money for a professional installation, the Audiovox XpressR offers one of the best-looking, fully loaded XM radio receivers on the market.

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#22 JVC KD HDR1

Features and performanceThe KD HDR1's headlining feature is its built-in HD radio receiver. Comparing the sound quality of HD- and standard- analog broadcast on the KD HDR1 is easy, as it takes up to 10 seconds for the device to pick up the radio channel's HD signal after it has found the regular analog signal. During the time it takes to lock onto the digital signal, an HD icon flashes in the bottom right-hand corner of the display. The difference between the two signals is startling: when the HD mode kicks in, the audio output becomes far clearer, with the hissing and fuzz associated with regular FM broadcasts completely eliminated. In HD mode, the KD HDR1 reproduces instruments and voices with greater clarity, and acoustic separation is far more distinct than in analog mode.

Another benefit of HD radio (other than its being free) is its ability to carry multiple channels of music from the same radio station--so-called "multicasts." Most HD stations have only one or two channels on each channel to date, but there is potential for up to seven channels to be multicast on a single FM or AM frequency.

In sumThe KD HDR1 is a bargain for those looking for an in-car stereo with a built-in HD Radio tuner. While its monochrome display is a little small for navigating audio libraries, its user-friendly interface and range of supported sources make it an appealing option for the price.

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#23 Eclipse CD3100

FeaturesIn addition to basic AM/FM receiver duty, the CD3100 can handle standard CDs, as well as MP3- and WMA-encoded discs. There is, however, no support for DVD audio. Through the use of add-on modules, the system can also be used to play music from iPods (using the iPC-106 module) and auxiliary inputs (via the AUX 105 module), and as a tuner for satellite and HD radio.

The CD3100 offers a wealth of EQ customization options. In addition to the preset EQ configurations (Defeat, Power, Sharp, Vocal), there are plenty of ways in which users can tweak the audio output to their own tastes. The simplest way to do this is by adjusting the basic band settings for bass, treble, and midrange by using the control knob. A useful graphic on the left of the unit's display gives a visual representation of the current EQ setup.

In sumThe Eclipse CD3100 is a car stereo for drivers interested in fine-tuning their in-cabin acoustics. It manages to combine an intuitive user interface with a useful search feature for navigating digital audio CDs, although programming its Area Shot navigation feature is more trouble than its worth.

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#24 Kenwood DPX302

FeaturesLike most car stereos of the digital age, the Kenwood DPX302 can play AM/FM radio and regular Red Book CDs as well as discs encoded with the main compressed audio formats, including MP3, WMA, and AAC. When playing back digital-audio discs, the dot matrix display shows artist and track information, which scroll automatically across the screen in a stuttering stream. While the information is legible, the screen shows only 10 characters at a time, meaning that the driver will have to wait for a while to read long song titles.

Perhaps the system's most impressive features are its advanced audio settings for listening to disc-based and radio sources. The Kenwood DPX302 features dedicated controls for tweaking the front and rear high pass filters, as well as a setting for the low pass filter and controls for subwoofer phasing. For compressed audio tracks recorded at a very low bit rate (below 96Kbps), a Supreme setting restores their high-frequency region in order to improve lost sound quality.

In addition to these advanced audio settings, the Kenwood DPX302 features six preset EQ configurations (including Rock, Pop, Jazz, and Top 40) plus an option for users to customize their own output levels. The system also has dedicated settings for bass, mid, and treble, and a subwoofer level control if your audio system is equipped with a standalone sub. All outputs play via the system's built-in Mosfet amplifier, producing 22 watts RMS multiplied by four channels.

To optimize all this output tweaking for individual cars, the system enables drivers to calibrate the output based on speaker size, with settings for 6x9-inch speakers, 5- or 4-inch speakers, and OEM speakers--a feature we particularly like. A standalone attenuator button is another nice touch, as it gives drivers the option to turn the system's volume down quickly when needed.

In sumAudiophiles may tolerate the Kenwood DPX302's unwieldy programming controls and small screen in order to get a budget stereo with decent customization features. However, there are other stereos in the same segment that are much easier to use.

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#25 JVC KD-BT1

In sum

The JVC KD-BT1 is a very capable car stereo. Its wealth of Bluetooth features is complemented by a very useful USB interface and support for most digital audio formats. We're not great fans of the system's complex menu structure, but owners will probably get used to it after a while. The main concern among users should be having a phone that is sufficiently equipped to take advantage of all its features.

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#26 Alpine iDA-X001

In Sum

The stylish Alpine iDA-X001 is a useful interface for making your iPod library accessible in the car. We like its advanced digital connectivity that enables the transfer of album art and lossless playback, as well as its clean faceplate design and its well structured menus. However, its main jog-wheel interface is still a good way behind the simple functionality offered by the iPod itself.

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#27 Sony CDX-GT610UI

In sum

The Sony CDX-GT610Ui is a multisource in-car stereo at a great value. Its range of external audio source support makes it attractive to digital audiophiles, while its user-friendly interface makes it simple enough to program on the fly.

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#28 Sony MEX-BT5000

Making the callHands-free calling via the MEX-BT5000 is also straightforward to set up. Having already paired the phone to wirelessly stream music, we didn't have to do so again for making calls, but the process is much the same if you just want to use the Bluetooth for phoning while driving. To pair up our Bluetooth-enabled Samsung SGH-T619, we navigated through the menu (Settings > Connection > Search), and the head unit took about 30 seconds to find and correctly identify our phone. After allowing access and entering our chosen passcode, we punched the same code into our phone, and we were ready to call. The stereo is a completely autonomous phone interface: we could enter numbers using the joystick, then call out without having to take our phone out of our pocket.

While it can be laborious process to cycle through and select the 10 numerals, it is better than other systems we've seen that require the driver to use a cell phone to initiate outbound calls, which are then transferred to the head unit interface. Another elegant feature of the MEX-BT5000 is its built-in microphone, which obviates the need to wire up an external mic to a car's sun visor. One of our favorite things about the MEX-BT5000 is its versatility for making hands-free calls and its ability to store contact and call-history information. An item menu called Receive PB prepares the MEX-BT5000 for wireless phone book transfer of up to 50 contacts. Alternatively, callers can access six speed-dial entries using the preset button on the front of the faceplate or select numbers from a list of previously dialed or received calls. Call quality is in the same league as other hands-free units we've seen, with incoming calls sounding good through the car speakers but outgoing calls coming through in slightly muffled, cavernous acoustics usually associated with speakerphones. With all of its terrific functions, the principal drawback of the MEX-BT5000 comes in the form of its start- and end-call buttons. Rather than having one large, conspicuous button for both functions in the vein of most OEM Bluetooth interfaces, the MEX-BT5000 presents drivers with one slim button hidden from the driver's view by the joystick to make outgoing calls, and another button (which doubles as the control to turn the entire stereo off) for hanging up. Pressing the start-call button while the call is underway results in the stereo passing the call back to the cell phone handset. Owners of the unit will probably get used to this strange arrangement, but we would have liked a more intuitive design.

Despite its few functionality quirks, however, the MEX-BT5000 is an attractive combination of advanced Bluetooth communication and entertainment features and high-quality digital audio playback.

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#29 Alpine CDA-9857

Slow searchOne issue we found was that search was initially inoperative on both CDs and our iPod. It seemed as if the unit needed a moment to scan the library before it would let us navigate all the tracks, although the quick-search mode worked right away. After a minute or two, we were able to navigate through our entire CD and iPod.

As a midlevel head unit, the Alpine CDA-9857's main strength is its ability to easily connect to other Alpine components that can extend its capabilities. Many of its features are fairly run-of-the-mill, but we do like its construction and navigation interface. The lack of any front-panel inputs is a drawback. Its accompanying KCE-422i iPod cable offers a seamless connection and very good iPod integration. The KCT-100BT Bluetooth module works well but is a little cumbersome and won't integrate well with many car interiors.

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#30 Kenwood KDC-X890

The X890 sports a number of additional features, including controls for a Kenwood iPod adapter; satellite radio (separate subscription, tuner, and antenna required); and HD radio. There is also a connection for a CD changer, RCA cables for auxiliary inputs, and three sets of 5-volt preamp outputs.

A removable faceplate make the X890 less vulnerable to theft, and the unit comes with a two-year limited warranty from Kenwood.

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