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Buyers' Guide - In-Car MP3 Players

The complete buyers' guide to MP3 compatible head units.

By Michael Knowling

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The face of car audio has changed dramatically in the past couple of years. Compact discs have established themselves as the standard in in-car hi-fi, but - largely thanks to the availability of music off the web - burnt CD-R/RWs and compressed MP3 formats have really taken off. The only problem for the consumer is not all CD players are CD-R/RW and MP3 compatible; so here's a guide to Australian-market head units that support the 'home brewer's' format...

Hang On - What is MP3?

MP3 (an abbreviation of ISO-MPEG 1 - Layer 3) allows the reproduction of sound using minimal disc space while maintaining acceptable quality. Depending on the bit rate, a MP3 track is generally a tenth the file size as a conventional track, which - of course - allows you to cram ten times the amount of music onto a given disc. You can convert music from a conventional CD into MP3 format (using a so-called ripper) or download them directly off the web.

For more information on MP3 data, how to convert to MP3 format and more, take a look at "The Digital Music Revolution"


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The CBA-7892E is a conventional CD/tuner with MP3 CD changer control incorporated. This unit features a substantial 50W x 4 inbuilt amplifier, three pre-outs with subwoofer level control and time correction. Alpine's Bass Engine Plus Technologies lets you "shape and adjust the sound field to whatever vehicle you drive", while the MediaXpander uses sophisticated DSP technology to restore sound quality lost during MP3 compression, recording or transmission process. A remote controller and MP3 compatible stacker can be added. A detachable face comes standard.

The CHA-S634 CD/MP3 CD 6-stacker enables you to play music from CD-R/RW or MP3 discs and you can select up and down through folders and display track titles.

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The CDA-7893R is the cheapest MP3 player in the Alpine range. The inbuilt amplifier is capable of 60W x 4, there are three pre-outs with subwoofer level control, built-in crossover control and a MaxTune PRO RDS tuner. Like the previous model, it also has 4-channel time correction (to create 'virtual' speaker positions) Bass Engine Plus Technologies and MediaXpander technology. Dual illumination, a detachable faceplate and an optional remote round out the unit. Note that - in addition to allowing MP3 playback through the head unit - the CHA-S634 MP3 compatible 6-stacker can also be connected.

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The silver faced CDA-7894RB is a slightly upmarket version of the one mentioned above. It comes with all of the features of the CDA-7893R plus CD text, MP3 ID3 Tag and a standard remote control.

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At the head of the 7800-series is the CDA-7878R. While most of the features are carried over from previous models, there's also DHE sound technology, Bass Engine Pro Technology (instead of Bass Engine Plus Technologies), a 7-band equaliser and a versatile link. The in-built amplifier puts out a relatively modest 45W x 4, which means a component amplifier is preferable. Again, a remote control is included in the price.

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Alpine's flagship head unit is the CDA-7998R FantomFace. The FantomFace - which "glides out of the dash" once switched on - provides 30 percent more panel area than a conventional DIN size head unit, which allows two lines of text. Features include the MaxTune PRO RDS tuner, Bass Engine Pro technology, a 6-position digital crossover (with adjustable slope), sub-woofer level/phase controller, three pre-outs, dual illumination, 6 channel digital time correction, CD text, optical digital input, versatile link, MediaXpander, CD-R/RW compatibility, subwoofer level control, 5-band digital parametric equaliser, remote control and MP3 compatibility (with ID3 Tag for artist name text etcetera). You can also upload acoustic settings and greetings on the i-Personalize website.


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The DEH-P900HDD (Hard Disc Drive) features a sophisticated tuner, OEL display, built-in DSP, Auto EQ with supplied microphone, three RCA outputs, time alignment and ASL (Auto Sound Levelizer). There's also a built-in sub-woofer crossover (50, 80, 125Hz) high pass filter selectable for front and/or rear outputs, cellular mute, PC-link for input of personalised graphics and a steering wheel mounted infra-red remote control. An in-built Magicgate memory stick enables compatibility with memory stick ready computers and audio systems. Furthermore, the 10GB hard disc can store up to 200 CDs of music with excellent sound clarity. It can playback AM/FM, CD, CD-R, CD-RW and MP3 formats - a 6 or 12-disc CD stacker is available as an option. Output is via a 50W x 4 MOSFET amplifier.

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In the everyday Pioneer range, you can buy the DEH-P7450MP that provides an in-dash tuner with MCD control and MP3 playback. The CD department features an advanced S-9 Mechanism, a 1-Bit D/A converter, 8fs digital filter, track scan, disc title memory, CD text with scroll function, 8cm disc direct loading and the usual pause/repeat/random play/track/search features. The player is compatible with CD-R/RW and MP3 formats. The multi-play CD control features many of the functions associated with the head unit player, plus instant track selection, digital compression/DBE selection on MCD. The AM/FM tuner uses a Pioneer Supertuner III Quartz-PLL system featuring automatic seek (up or down), 24 station 6 preset buttons, control for DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) outboard tuner, best station memory and selectable Local/DX with local seek. The MOSFET amplifier delivers 50W x 4, easy equaliser (incorporating a 3 band parametric equalisation), direct subwoofer drive, selectable high pass filter, sound focus equaliser, separate bass and treble controls, selectable loudness control, electric controls, source level adjuster, dual RCA pre-outs, built-in sub-woofer crossover, lever indicator and cellular mute/attenuate. General features are a card-type remote control, detachable face (with hard carry case), clock, organic electro luminescent display (128 x 33), green button illumination with dimmer, silver face, source TV control, external DVD control and antenna relay control.

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A step up is the DEH-P8450MP. Its in-built CD has the same ingredients as the DEH-P7450MP but with WMA file playback capability. The outputs are the same, but add auto sound levelizer, three RCA pre-outs, a 4-volt RCA pre-out, built-in sub-woofer crossover and dual spectrum analyser. You also get a steering wheel mounted remote control, detachable face (with case), clock and all the rest mentioned above.

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The best unit in the Pioneer range is the DEH-P9450MP CD/tuner with MCD control and MP3 playback. The tuner, CD and CD multi-play functions are identical to the previous model, except there's an in-built digital signal processor with 13-band equaliser, 'octaver' for bass emphasis, BBE circuit, listening position selector, time alignment, auto EQ with supplied microphone, direct sub-woofer drive and a 6-volt pre-out. Direct sub-woofer drive, separate bass and treble and sound field equaliser is not available. You do, however, get PC-link compatibility, a calendar, blue button illumination, 'bluetooth' compatibility and a 256 x 80 organic electroluminescent LCD display.


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The VRX925VD is an awesome bit of gear. Using a flip-out 7-inch touch screen, this head unit has radio, DVD and multi-media centre. Features include an aluminium face, 50W x 4 output, Dolby digital, 24 Bit D/A converter, DVD video, TV control, 6 channel outputs, Beat EQ parametric equaliser and dual zone capability to suit each passenger. The MP3 capability includes ID3 Tag, which generates text to identify artist and album names. Note that a separate 6-stack DVD changer can also be plugged into the VRX925VD to provide an almost endless supply of MP3 tracks. This is known as VCZ625.

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The more basic DB625MP is a single DIN unit. It's features include a 50W x 4 output, 4 channel line outputs, aluminium face panel, colour highlight buttons, 'light' Beat EQ parametric equalisation, sub-woofer control and a detachable control panel.

VDO Dayton

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The Siemens/VDO amalgam - VDO Dayton - offers a DVD player that supports MP3. Note that this unit is designed to interface with the MS5100 and 5500 series colour screen navigation screens. The DV6100 DVD player is compatible with DVD, SVCD, VCD, MP3, CD-R, CD-RW and audio CDs. The unit features a flip-down detachable security face, there's an optical digital output for Dolby digital, comprehensive on-screen display and an infrared remote control.


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In the Velocity range of Blaupunkt products there's the VDP-01 digital sound processor/MP3 player, which can be connected to any standard amplifier. The DIN-sized VDP-01 features a 7-band equaliser (with 14 pre-programmed settings and 4 user definable), variable bass and treble configuration +/- 10dB, variable loudness configuration, loudspeaker and centre speaker control, sub-woofer level, crossover and phase adjustment, 6-channel line-out, 3 auxiliary inputs, MultiMediaCard up/down. MP3s are played from a MultiMediaCard, which is inserted into one of the slots at the front of the unit. Note that a separate MultiMediaCard reader/writer is also required to download music from your PC.

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The Woodstock DAB 52 integrates a tuner, CD and MP2/3 player. MP2/3s can be played from CD-ROM or a MultiMediaCard, displays up to 127 directories with file names and ID3 tags of up to 30 characters. The in-built CD player caters for CD-R and CD-RWs and there's the capacity to link to a CD changer. The tuner features FM, MW and LW with AM noise suppression, RDS and more. The amplifier provides 45W x 4, a 5-band parametric equaliser, automatic sound, separate front and rear bass and treble control, programmable loudness, sound presets and 4-channel preamp outputs. Other standard features are a flip release panel, clock, telephone mute, multi-colour display and optional remote controls. The Woodstock can also read MP3s stored on MultiMediaCards.

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Blaupunkt's Los Angeles MP72 has the same MP3 flexibility as the Woodstock - it accepts MP3 format CD-ROMs and MultiMediaCards. Detachable face and keycard protection, a 50W x 4 output, sub output, 5-band digital parametric equaliser, self adjusting equalisation, FM, MW and LW reception, RDS, radio text, 36 station presets, 2 auxiliary inputs and 4-channel preamp outputs.

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The Blaupunkt Acapulco MP52 is considerably cheaper than the unit above. It reads MP3s only from CD-ROMs and can display 127 directories and ID3 tags - in addition to all the usual CD functions. The AM/FM tuner features 30 presets, output power is 50W x 4, there are 4-channel preamp outputs, a sub-woofer out, 2-way auxiliary input, digital parametric 5-band equaliser automatic sound and a clock. The product comes finished in anthracite with a multi-colour display and optional remote controls.


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The top-line single-DIN MP3 unit in the range is the KD-SH909R. The HS-IIIi tuner section comprises RDS and delivers a total of 24 AM and FM station presets, while there's also a MOSFET amplifier that delivers a 50W x 4 output, two pairs of gold plated line output terminals, 7-band equaliser, sub woofer output terminals and a motorised slide-out detachable face with carry case. Further kit is a pre-amp fader control, source specific volume control, volume attenuator, extended bass, dot-matrix multi-colour LCD display and the in-built CD player supports CD-R/RW and MP3 formats. DVD/VCP and changer control and a remote control are standard.

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JVC's KD-SH707 has a similar appearance and the same features as the unit mentioned above, except it doesn't have DVD/VCP control.

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A completely different look can be found with the KD-LH2000. This unit offers the same 50W x 4 output, HS-IIIi AM/FM tuner, 3-band parametric EQ, gold plated line output terminals and subwoofer output terminals. A single CD player reads CD-R/RWs, MP3s and it has the ability to control an external stacker unit. The remainder of features are the same, except the LCD display features variable colour.

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The top model in the KD-SX series is the KD-SX985. This job flaunts a multi-colour full flip-down detachable face and a 'triple cluster control' that consolidates frequently used buttons. Features are subwoofer output terminals, station name registration, 50W x 4 output, two pairs of gold plated line-outs, CD text, changer control, 24 preset AM/FM tuner, pre-amp fader, bass, treble and balance controls, loudness, volume attenuator and more.

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A little more affordable is the JVC KD-S785 with a modest 45W x 4 output, a non-plated pair of line outs and a mono colour display. It still offers a range of features, though - CD text, the same tuner found in the more up-spec models, pre-amp fader, separate bass, treble and balance control, loudness, volume attenuator, remote control, CD, CD-R/RW and MP3 compatibility and detachable face security. One of the only features it lacks is changer control.

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The double DIN sized KW-XC828 is CD, CD-R/RW and MP3 compatible and envelopes a 3-band parametric EQ, large dot matrix multi-colour display, pre-amp fader control, bass boost, volume attenuator and comes with a remote control. The HS-II tuner has a total of 24 AM and FM presets, station name registration, while the in-built CD system features text support, random/repeat and intro scan. A separate CD changer can be added where required. Output power is 45W x 4 and there are two pairs of lineouts. Note that this is one of the few MP3 compatible head units that also offer a cassette player (which features repeat, blank skip, multi music scan and Dolby B noise reduction).


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The KDC-9020R CD/WMA/MP3/Reciever features with FM/MW/LW reception with 32 presets and station name presets, RDS, a fully motorised mask with a detachable faceplate and security code, 3D fine dot display, 50W x 4 output, three gold plated pre-outs. Add a built-in high and low pass filter, separate bass, treble, mid-range controls and source tone memory, System Q-EX (present and manual sound control) and dual CD/MD changer control capacity. There's also a new bass management system, selectable key illumination, digital clock, memory calendar, 2-way phone mute and built-in fuse, coil and DC-DC inverter. Changer features include disc name presets and CD text. The in-built player has a WMA (Windows Media Audio) and MP3 decoder with ID-3 Tag display, supports CD test and CD-R/RWs. Oh, and don't forget the TV control with in-dash TV.

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A step down is the KDC-MPV7020 CD/MP3/Reciever. This unit uses the same tuner and changer control system as the previous model. The in-built CD player also has the same features, but does without WMA capability. It gets a flip down detachable faceplate, dot matrix wide LCD display (with variable colour), TV control, selectable key illumination, built-in fuse, coil and DC-DC converter. A remote control is included. Amplifier performance is 50W x 4, there are dual pre-outs, sound control with pre-programmed curves, separate bass, treble, mid-range controls and source tone memory.

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The KDC-Z838 CD/MP3 Receiver boasts high and low pass filters, preset and full manual sound control, separate bass, treble and mid-range control, source tone memory and output mute. The AM/FM tuner has 24 presets, station name presets while the CD section has a MP3 decoder with ID-3 Tag display, can read CD-R/RWs and is CD text ready. Output power is 50W x 4 and there are three gold plated pre-outs and there is one standard auxiliary input. Other features are a 3D multicolour display with selectable key illumination, TV control, bass management system and a built-in fuse, coil and DC-DC converter. Security is by means of a flip-down detachable faceplate and security code, and it also features full CD/MD changer control. A remote control is thrown in.

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If you're after a MP3/WMA/CD Receiver with CD/MD changer control have a look at the KDC-Z939. This model has everything mentioned above plus the facility to play WMA format and there's an organic EL display, display customise, built-in clock, memory calendar, 24 station preset FM/LW/MW tuner with RDS and 2-way phone mute.

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Kenwood has two MP3 compatible stacker units - the KDC-CPS89MP 10-disc CD/MP3 changer and the KDV-C840 10-disc DVD/VCD/MP3/CD changer. The KDV-C840 comes with a remote control and stand-alone power supply.


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Here's the Sony CDXMP70 'high end' single CD/tuner with MP3 playback. The in-built tuner has 30 presets across FM, MW and LW bands, best tuning memory, while the CD section features repeat, shuffle, a 1-bit D/A converter MP3, CD-R/RW playback. It also has the capacity to control a Sony MD/CD stacker. This unit puts out 52W x 4, has three pre-outs and an auxiliary input. A 7-band equaliser, dynamic sound stage organiser, high and low pass filters, remote control, flip-down detachable faceplate and seven selectable display colours are also provided.

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The CDXMP30 Premium XPLOD CD/tuner features MP3 playback plus D-Bass boost, 'My Best Position 2' image enhancement, CD capabilities are the same (including MD/CD stacker facility) Output is 50W x 4 and there are dual pre-outs. A (non flip-down) detachable face can be set to one of two selectable display colours.

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And now for something different - the Sony MEX1HD 10G Hard Drive. This is a CD/tuner with an internal 10gig hard drive, which supports storage of approximately 200 conventional CDs. A memory stick is used to transfer to music to the hard drive. MP3 compressed files are supported, there's a 7-band EQ, dynamic sound stage organiser, high and low pass filters, 30 preset FM/MW/LW tuner, remote control, while output power is 45W x 4, plus there are three pre-outs. A MD/CD changer can also be plugged in. A motorised flip-down detachable faceplate is a trick feature.

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Sony's MEX5DI is a CD/tuner with a 4.5-inch colour TFT screen. The TFT screen can be used to display images uploaded via the in-built memory card slot; this includes still and full motion pictures. The memory stick can also be used to load music (including MP3s). Features include a conventional in-built CD layer (capable of reading CD-R/RWs and MP3s) 7-band EQ, dynamic sound stage organiser, high and low pass filters, 30 preset FM/MW/LW tuner and can interface with a MD/CD stacker. There is no listed amplifier output, but there are three pre-outs. The screen has 32,00 colours, and there's a motorised faceplate and an infer-red remote control is included.

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The MP3 compatible CD stacker that can link to most of these Sony head units is the 10-disc CDX757MX.

Given the above list there's obviously plenty of MP3 format head units to chose from - so get yourself down to your local car sound specialist and haggle for a good price! Be on the lookout for models that are about to be discontinued or replaced - these can usually be bought quite cheaply.

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