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Um, where's the CD slot?


The CD Has Left the Building.

Yesterday, a press release for a real sign-of-the-times product popped into my inbox. The Alpine iDA-X001 is a car stereo that offers the highest level of iPod integration ever. It really looks the business. I spend an awful long time in my car driving to and from work and my Alpine 9850Ri is my constant companion. In fact, it's one of the main things that helps me keep my sanity when stuck in the hell hole that is Europe’s biggest car park, sometimes called the M25.

One of my biggest gripes with the 9850Ri though is a rather clunky interface and a lousy single line display. The iDA-X001 then is pretty much the answer to my prayers, featuring as it does a 320 x 240 line display capable of displaying full iPod album art and a USB connection that operates at four times the speed of the ‘Full-Speed’ cable on the 9850Ri. Clearly Full-Speed was a relative term then…

I don’t want to go into too many details about the iDA-X001 and I’ll leave it to Gordon to tell you more about it in his news story, while I hope to get one in for a full review next month. In fact, what interests me more is what the iDA-X001 doesn’t have – namely a CD player. Yes, the iDA-X001 may feature an unprecedented level of iPod connectivity but it does so quite literally at the expense of the venerable CD. You do get an FM tuner and if you’re in the US, you can get an external box that gives you Satellite Radio too. The UK equivalent would be a DAB radio but Alpine has no interest in supporting DAB, which will always mean that its products will never be technologically cutting edge in the UK. In essense, this means that if you want an Alpine stereo you’ll have to listen to Five Live in AM. So you get bleeding edge 21st century iPod tech on the one part and 60s level sound quality on the other - but that’s a rant for another time.

The lack of CD player immediately sparked discussion in the office. Some thought that it was a Bad Thing. No CD player means that radio aside, you’re totally reliant on your iPod for your tunes and if you lose it on the train one day you’ll be without your music. The other argument was that you’d be robbed of the opportunity to pick up a CD from a store and then immediately enjoy the sounds within – you’d be forced to wait until you got home to rip your CD on your PC and copy it over before you could here it in the car.

My solutions to these two particular problems are not radical but they are firm and practical – don’t lose your iPod and have some patience! And who buys CDs from the shops these days anyway? Don’t we all order them online and get them delivered - which is perfect for popping the disc straight into the DVD-ROM drive for ripping.

Rather than a problem then, I think that Alpine has made a master stroke . I’m not saying that it’s the first to offer a CD free car stereo – for one Dension had a purely hard disk based model but it doesn’t appear to be on sale anymore. I’ve had a 9850Ri since it came out and I’ve only ever played a CD about three times. And if I didn’t have that CD slot I would have just ripped them first – it really isn’t a problem.

It’s fairly logical to assume that Alpine has done its homework here and after several years of producing existing car stereos that supported the iPod – basically hack jobs, it has come up with what the market really wants – a head unit designed specifically for the iPod. The extra costs of creating a device that needs to decode audio formats is offset by the lack of a CD player and for those who really need one it still supports CD and for that matter, DVD, changers.

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