We don’t do car audio at PC Authority, but for this, I am prepared to make an exception.
This is Alpine’s IDA-001: the first headunit I’ve seen to ditch its CD transport in favour of a single USB port. And I’m confident it won’t be missed, as for years now I’ve only ever used an iPod (and occasionally a laptop) in my car.
This has meant that the unit’s LCD screen takes up about a third of the fascia. In the middle, a single wheel with a few buttons dotted around it drives the menu structure and navigates through your iPod, and the rest of the unit is taken up by the transport controls. The iPod itself connects via its data cable, and after a fair wait for the IDA-001 to index it (subsequent power ons resulted in only a short wait), all the navigation could be done through the dial in the middle of the headunit.
Disappointingly, the IDA-001 can only deal with a single device at a time through its one USB port. If you had any ideas of hooking up an external hard drive, iPod and your passenger’s USB key to the unit via a hub, abandon them now. Its USB port is also at the back amongst the cable loom and power inputs. It’s great aesthetically, but less than ideal if a passenger has just handed you a USB key filled with music. You’ll instinctively try to plug it in on the front of the unit, as you’d insert a CD.
Although it’s mostly iPods and USB filesystems, the IDA-001 can also connect via Bluetooth (after you buy an optional adapter) for phone calls and wireless music playback via Stereo Bluetooth -- the protocol better referred to as A2DP. Those who are still clinging to the CD like the RIAA to its business model can also hook up and control a CD stacker.
The usual assortment of RCA outputs, a detachable faceplate and radio with RDS are included. It also features the sexiest digital clock the car world has ever seen. A minor point, perhaps, but it illustrates perfectly how design is valued in the unit. The fascia is clean and sharp, there are no garish gimmicks and the button layout appears to have been designed by God himself.
Perhaps it was just designed: there are headunits on the market that look like the manufacturer decided to forego sending CAD files to the factory and instead opted to courier a spent leg of lamb with a few smarties glued to it. I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if it turned out that’s exactly how Sony’s car audio design division has been operating for the last five years.
It is quite expensive for what it offers, but if you want a stylish, simple, high quality headunit and have migrated entirely to file based music, you owe it to yourself to shortlist it.
It's a great first attempt from Alpine, but the CD-less headunit concept hasn’t reached its zenith. Yet.