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It’s disturbing how long it took for manufacturers to create a capable car stereo for the iPod. Many suffered from a latency issue that made searching the iPod or even switching to the next song incredibly frustrating. Add to that navigation schemes that would have led Ponce de Leon to walk the plank, and you have a user experience that rivals using the Zune. A new generation of car stereos has appeared lately that battles the confusing navigation and lag issues associated with switching tracks. Alpine hopes to lead the charge and bring iPod enthusiasts a head unit deserving of the “Made for iPod” badge.
Alpine was the first car-audio company to get Apple’s blessing for car stereos that played nice with the iPod, and they’ve built upon that experience to create the iDA-X100 head unit. The first thing you’ll notice is the giant knob protruding from the center, which is dubbed the oh-so-sci-fi Double-Action Encoder. Alpine clearly doesn’t want you to have any problems finding this puppy. If you’re used to the cram-in-as-many-tiny-buttons-as-possible school of car-stereo design, the large knob is a refreshing update. It’s actually two knobs with a large button in the middle. The outer ring adjusts the volume and navigates through menus when appropriate. Push the outer ring in and you’re moving between radio stations—or HD radio channels, when hooked to the optional TUA-T550HD. You can easily jump-navigate through large lists of songs and artists when searching for the perfect iPod track while holding a beverage in the other hand—but only if you’re waiting at a stoplight, OK? Finally, the giant button in the middle initiates the search option for your iPod. Our only complaint about the DAE—er, let’s just call it a knob—is that it’s occasionally inconsistent. There are dedicated buttons to navigate to the next and previous song, but it just seems to make sense that the outer ring, when pushed in, should be used to navigate to the next song while in Shuffle All mode, as it does in all other modes.
After you’ve mastered the ginormous button, the next best feature is the gorgeous display on the head unit. Auto-audio enthusiasts usually need to step up to a double-DIN size head unit for display this nice. The crisp screen displays the names of tracks, the artist, and the album, if available—all the information you would expect. What we didn’t expect is an epic old-school flip-clock-style time display. Neat!
The iDA-X100 head unit, while pricey, is a well-designed addition to any car’s dash. The TUA-T550HD may be perfect for serious broadcast junkies looking to upgrade to HD radio, but the rest of us are wondering who needs radio when you’ve got an iPod full of your favorite jams.
In addition to bringing all kinds of iPod-y goodness to your boomin’ system, the iDA-X100 is an AM/FM radio. Remember radio? Well, it’s back—with HD content via the optional TUA-T550HD tuner. In addition to delivering high-quality digital radio, the TUA-T550HD allows you to tag songs that are on the radio and save those tags onto your iPod. When your iPod is plugged into iTunes, the tagged songs will find their iTunes equivalent. It’s extremely simple to do and is great for identifying and remembering good tunes as you hear them.
All these features do come at a cost, of course. The iDA-X100 will set you back $400, while the TUA-T550HD is an additional $230. Not exactly a bargain in these tough economic times. With its full feature set and awesome display, the iDA-X100 seems worth it. But $230 for HD radio and iTunes tagging seems a bit spendy.