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Powering Car CD

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Now that 25-watt two-channel car compact disk players have dipped in price enough to bring superstores and specialty store chains into the selling mix, those retailers must deal with the fact that these units alone do not have enough on-board power to create the ambiance required for car CD.

For now at least, a majority of consumers will not be able to upgrade to CD like they did from radio to cassette - slap in a powered, four-channel in-dash unit and drive off. The consumer moving to CD in the car will probably need an additional amplifier, maybe two, and purchasing new rear speakers are probably a good idea, numerous industry sources told HFD.

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And that fact produces a peculiar dilemma for those larger retailers since most customers are going to them to upgrade an existing system with one unit - usually a head piece, and not a slew of CD accessory items.

At this time, only two companies offer a powered, four-channel unit - JVC and Sony.

JVC's 3500 Digifine unit is a four-channel pull-out CD that drives 8 watts by 2 in the front and 22 watts by 2 in the rear, for a total of 60 watts. JVC has a suggested retail price for the unit of $599, but JVC car audio national sales and marketing manager Thomas Caronia said that he has seen the unit retail for $429.


Sony, probably the leader in car CD according to most objective sources, currently markets two four-channel CD units. The CDX-7580, with a suggested retail price point of $599.95, is a pull-out; the CDX-7440 ($549.95) is a fixed unit. Both models provide 50 watts of power, that can be split over two or four channels.

"A four-channel CD receiver is perfect for a customer that doesn't have a lot of dough ... and wants to begin to reap the benefits of CD," said Sony Mobile Electronics Division Director Matt Frankel.

"Sony's two four-channel CD units can power four basic speakers which is perfect for a customer who wants to add CD to an OEM system," Frankel feels.

Most independent specialists and installers would disagree, preferring to sell non-powered CD units with amplification added through input jacks.

Mike Bruce, owner of Performance Car Stereo in Commack, N.Y., (and a second store in Florida), does just that. He reported that 25 watts of power four ways is the minimal amount needed for effective CD sound in the car environment. Bruce sells Alpine, Yamaha, Eclipse, Clarion and Panasonic autosound products.

Bob Taylor, president of Car Tunes in Cromwell, Conn., (which sells Yamaha, Blaupunkt, Mitsubishi and JBL) believes that speakers are the key to good CD sound, not necessarily how much power is applied to the format.

Said Taylor, "OEM speakers, which are often coaxials, don't require mass amounts of power, so 20 watts into each speaker will probably do. Separate speakers require about 40 watts per channel."

"$399 CD may do well with mass merchandisers, but 25 watts of power in a sub-woofer is not conducive to any kind of bass response," reports Frank Barbara, owner of Sound Odyssey Inc. in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. (which sells Alpine, Yamaha, Boston Acoustics, Clifford, Panasonic and Nakamichi).

Even the larger independent specialists are skeptical about whether an entry-level powered unit can provide the ambiant quality for car CD.

David Bent, best car speakers for bass without subwoofer buyer for New York-based Stereo Warehouse chain which includes Rabson's Audio Video stores (which sells Alpine, Sony, Yamaha and JVC), feels that a lot of how much power you use depends upon the vehicle, but that 30 watts to 35 watts per channel is a general minimum starting point. If the customer uses 6 by 9 inch speakers in the rear, 45 watts to 50 watts of power will be necessary, said Bent.

Manufacturers, for the most part, are being realistic about the quality of sound provided by an entry-level powered CD piece.

"In replacing a factory system with CD, a two-channel would be adequate, but a consumer wouldn't glean the true performance that CD can offer," said Bill Cowdry, Kenwood vice president of car audio and security products.

Kenwood currently markets one of the most competitively priced CD units on the market.

Cowdry said that his company has chosen to develop additional amplifiers to the line, rather than develop a four-channel CD unit. Although, "you might see a four-channel unit from Kenwood in a year from now."


To better market the two-channel unit, Kenwood "might package an amplifier and CD as a promotion, but not on-going."

Marketing amplifiers with CD receivers might catch on in the industry.

Korean autosound supplier Sherwood made news at Summer CES when it announced delivery on its first CD (25 watt per two-channel), which will be marketed with a 50-watt amplifier, for a total suggested retail price of about $499, according to Rick Jordan, company vice president of marketing.

For many manufacturers in the know, using internal power for front speakers with add-on amplification for the rear speakers is the ideal way to go.

"Run the front speakers with internal power and with an external amp push 100 watts through the rear channel," Steve Valentine, national product manager for Sanyo best 6x8 pioneer car speakers in the world , said when asked what the minimum-power CD system should look like.

"But the best way to go is don't use the internal power, but add on enough amplification to bring out the pure quality of the sound," said Valentine, who conceded that this scenario could get pricey.

"When you offer lower-priced CD receivers, fewer people will be able to afford add-on components," reported Rick Del Guidice, national product manager for Panasonic's Auto Products Division.

"As the pricing spiral continues down, people will want just an in-dash CD unit, four speakers and that's all. You've hit that low price point, in effect, to attract that customer."

Although, according to Del Guidice (who contends the minimum CD system should have 50 watts each side), the average CD customer is still purchasing amplifiers, as well as crossovers and equalizers, and will be, at least for a while.

Russell Paik, who oversees an upscale autosound line that does not even include a powered unit, said that - for the present time at least - most CD systems will utilize components, "although that is not to say what the (CD power) future will hold."

PHOTO : JVC's 3500 Digifine (top) unit is a four channel pull-out CD that drives 8 watts by 2 in the front and 22 watts by 2 in the rear, for a total of 60 watts. Sony's CDX-7580 is a pull-out piece and provides for 50 watts of power.

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