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What's Up with Car CD Head Units?

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
Any of you guys know the car cd head unit market? I need something better in the sub$500 category (plus a couple hundred more for new front speakers). I'm looking at no-rear-fill-no-subwoofer-no-outboard-amps-no-way! Not to be grumpy -- it all looks like really cool stuff -- but my existing collection of home stereos, office rigs, home theaters, and headphone rigs already has me sufficiently amused, engaged, and occasionally vexed.

It looks like the pricier cd head units emphasize features, not player quality (the player specs are the same up and down the line for each manufacturer) or amp quality (again, similar specs up and down the line).

Is this true? Do the $250 Alpine/Blau/whatever units have the same CD drives and amps as the $450 ones? I could care less about MP3, bass enhancement, multicolor faceplates, whatever, but I'll pay for it if I can get better core components along with it.
post #2 of 12
I can't help too much, but most of the car head unit market is driven by features, as you stated. I believe Nakamichi is known for better sound quality w/ less features. Check out these sites, maybe they can help.

Elite Car Audio
Sound Domain
post #3 of 12
I've always liked the way Alpines sounded even though they never had quite as many features as the Pioneers, which would be my second choice.

Like home audio, you're much better off going with a "dead head" and a seperate outboard amplifier. Used amps can be had fairly cheaply and I strongly recommend going this route.
post #4 of 12
Is it really possible to tell the difference in CD player quality in such a noisy enviroment as a car interior?

Unless the unit is obviously defective, I know I would be hard pressed to hear the difference in playback quality ( over stock car speakers while driving) between say an Alpine and a Pioneer at the same volume.
In this case, (a car interior) I would go for the best price vs feature model I could find.

(Now radio performace is another animal altogether, but we are talking about CD playback only, no?)
post #5 of 12
I am beginning to think I'm the only person on HeadFi who thinks sources can sound markedly different, but yes, different car CD players do sound very different. Upgrading a head unit can make a world of difference even if you're already using an external amp (which you should be to even bother reading this thread). Ah well. Alone I am.
post #6 of 12
I have a Kenwood KDC-416S headunit and a Kenwood KAC-849 amp in my car (I agree with kelly, you definitely need an external amp even for normal 6.5" and 6x9") and I think for a car its a good setup. I never really looked at pricier models (I bought the headunit new online for $150 after shipping and the amp for $230 after shipping) so for the price I think its a good deal. I'm sure higher models sound better. The only advice I give is buy your stuff online, its much cheaper. Use something like www.dealtime.com to find the best price. I found most hifi audio stores that carried car audio to be pretty amusing at what they would tell me about certain models and companies. Like "Clarion doesn't make any MP3 head units." Yeah, that is a bunch of utter bull. And places like Best Buy are obviously even worse. Happy hunting.
post #7 of 12
Quote:
Originally posted by kelly
I am beginning to think I'm the only person on HeadFi who thinks sources can sound markedly different, but yes, different car CD players do sound very different. Upgrading a head unit can make a world of difference even if you're already using an external amp (which you should be to even bother reading this thread). Ah well. Alone I am.

Kelly, I'm not in dissagreement with you but...

Quote:
I'm looking at no-rear-fill-no-subwoofer-no-outboard-amps-no-way!
You will have to admit that in this setup, differences between two well respected head units (CD playback) will be hard to hear in a moving car.
That was my only point.
I'm a big believer in sources sounding different, but in this setup it would be difficult indeed to pick out those audiophile type of differences.
post #8 of 12
quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Originally posted by kelly
I am beginning to think I'm the only person on HeadFi who thinks sources can sound markedly different, but yes, different car CD players do sound very different. Upgrading a head unit can make a world of difference even if you're already using an external amp (which you should be to even bother reading this thread). Ah well. Alone I am.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Me, too, Kelly. That's why I listed sources as the most important audio reproduction chain component group. You can pick the "air transducers" you love, but sources crack the whip. Back to the question, however: do any current manufacture vehicle source makers give a rat's ass about actual source performance?

Bootman: get a quieter car
post #9 of 12
Thread Starter 
Many thanks to all for your time and input! I'm glad to hear people are happy with their Alpine, Pioneer, and Kenwood units. I'll keep that in mind when I start demo-ing units at autosound shops.

The advice to go with head unit + amp is good, I'm sure. After all, I used to listen to receivers exclusively, and now I won't even listen to a dedicated headphone amp without a preamp! I'll demo some combos and try to figure out whether I'll be able to hear any difference in a Grand Cherokee (background noise in excess of 90 db!) that I'm willing to pay for.
post #10 of 12
Not to hijack your thread, but has anybody heard the Mark Levinson sound system in the Lexus cars? They're also supposed to have really quiet interiors, which would be great for music listening.
post #11 of 12
Quote:
Originally posted by Old Pa


Bootman: get a quieter car

lol. you are right.
But, my main vehicle is a company car with am/fm only radio, no less!

My wife's car is a Jeep Cherokee that is loud as all heck.

...I'll stick to headphones.
post #12 of 12
You guys are doing it all wrong. No need to get a quieter car -- just turn the damn thing up. I guarantee you won't be able to hear that 90dB of background noise with the speakers at 115dB.

kerelybonto
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