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Amplifiers, Head Units, And Navigational Systems - A/V Entertainment

Choosing The Best Product For Your Truck: Part 1

Natasha Thorson
Sep 1, 2008
Walk into several mobile electronics showrooms and ask for the best product, and you will likely get several different answers. Every store employee is trying to sell you what it has in stock, but even the honest salesperson would be hard-pressed to give you a definitive answer.
In a market where "best" is often determined with a subjective overtone, it's not a bad idea to make your buying decision your own. When making a purchase, you must always factor in your own personal preferences and not base them solely on the salesperson's recommendations. Look at what your current needs are, and then take into consideration what you may require in the future-features, functions, usability, and cost. Quality, reliability, and performance should also heavily weigh in on deciding what the best product is for you. Simply, there are many variables to consider.
This two-part series will compare various mobile audio manufacturers in a ranking format. In this article, we will be taking a look at amplifiers, head units, and navigational systems. Be sure to check out Part 2 in an upcoming issue where we take a look at speakers, subwoofers, and video.
Amplifiers
Amplifiers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, and yet none of those will determine one product's superiority over another. When shopping for an amplifier, you first have to start with the basics: the number of speakers you will be powering, their (combined) impedance load, and the power required to get the most out of them. You should also note that amplifier choices range from one to six channels, so choose the one that fits your current needs, as well as one that meets your future needs in case you plan on upgrading with more speakers later.
Lastly, you should also be aware that there are different (technology) classifications of amplifiers:
• Most full-range amplifiers use Class AB topology, which is generally employed for its excellent sonic quality.
• Class D amplifiers are used for their efficiency, which allows them to be small yet highly powerful. However, their sonic virtues are often compromised by the design, thereby most are designated as subwoofer amps.
• Class G and Class H amplifiers combine the sonic purity of Class AB amps and the efficiency (and often size) of a Class D.
While this can be useful information to have when shopping for the right product, don't get wrapped up solely in a product's technological capabilities because an amplifier should be judged by its overall performance, power, and value.
ARC Audio
Teaming up with one of the premier engineers in the industry, Arc Audio amplifiers demonstrate admirable performance and quality. Arc's amplifier offerings, KS MINI and KAR2, display good options, while the SE reference line offers the best of Arc's amplifiers. www.arcaudio.com
Good: Good things come in small packages, and the ARC Audio KS125.2 MINI proves it's true. The KS125.2, with Class G Multi-Rail switching technology, produces 125 watts x 2 at 2 ohms and bridged output at 250 watts x 1 at 4 ohms with over 80% efficiency. The extremely small amplifier is perfect for the limited space available inside trucks.
MSRP: $329.00
Photo 2/18   |   amplifiers Head Units Navigational Systems arc Audio Amplifier
Better: An affordable amplifier design, the Arc Audio KS 300.4 with Class-H technology is a multichannel amplifier capable of 200 watts x 4 at 2 ohms. The KAR Series is built as a small, simple, and sleek chassis design.
MSRP: $399.00
Photo 3/18   |   amplifiers Head Units Navigational Systems amplifier
Best: Arc's reference amplifier comes from one notable engineer with more than 30 years of experience in automotive amplification-the Signature Edition by Robert Zeff. The SE4200 is packed with numerous features and components of the highest quality. The SE4200 has individual gain controls for its four channels, each of which will produce 110 watts into 4 ohms or 200 watts into 2 ohms while in stereo mode. Bridged, the power jumps to 400 watts x 2 into 4 ohms and 400 watts x 2 into 2 ohms.
MSRP: $1,399.00
Photo 4/18   |   amplifiers Head Units Navigational Systems amplifiers
MTX Audio
High-quality audio is not easy to obtain in today's diesel trucks. Terminator, RFL, and Thunder Elite amplifiers serve as MTX's range of different products available. www.mtx.com
Good: A great value for the money, the Terminator TN250/1 Class D mono amplifier delivers 200 watts x 1 into a 2-ohm load. It's dressed in the same aggressive black cover as the rest of the Terminator amplifier series to create a custom-looking install.
MSRP: $219.95
Photo 5/18   |   amplifiers Head Units Navigational Systems terminator Tn250 1
Better: The technology-driven cosmetics of its charcoal gray body, flat black side panels, and recessed brushed aluminum display of the MTX gothic logo make the MTX RFL600D distinctive. The Class D monoblock amp has a rated power of 600 watts x 1 into 2 ohms. Like its siblings in the RFL line, it is stackable for installs that have space limitations.
MSRP: $379.95
Photo 6/18   |   amplifiers Head Units Navigational Systems monoblock Amp
Best: The best of what MTX offers is evident in the styling and performance of the Thunder Elite TE1501d amplifier. Within its beautiful glossed-black exterior accented with chrome is a single-channel Class D powerhouse making a whopping 1,500 watts into 1 ohm.
MSRP: $799.95
Photo 7/18   |   amplifiers Head Units Navigational Systems thunder Elite Amplifier
Head Units
Every audio system has to have a source that generates the audio signal. That source is typically the head unit found in the dash. When searching for a suitable head unit, you can narrow down the field by figuring out what you want your unit to be able to do. Other than the customary features such as AM/FM radio, head units can include one or several of the following: satellite radio, HD Radio, CD/MP3/WMA/AAC playback, navigation, mobile video, iPod connection or iPod Direct, USB input, Bluetooth, and a host of other options for users to select from. In addition, you may be inclined to look at products including features such as equalization, crossovers, digital time correction, and if the features can be expanded using add-ons. Always check out the user interface to make sure it works for you (such as knobs vs. buttons, or touchscreen), and then consider if its cosmetics will work with your vehicle. Before all else, set yourself a budget before you fork over big dough on something you don't need.
Alpine
Vehicle entertainment and information system innovation keep Alpine at the forefront with their mobile media solution products. Alpine's CDE, iDA (iPod integration digital media receivers), and IVA media center offer a range of head units for every need. www.alpine-usa.com
Good: Alpine's affordable CDE-9874 CD receiver with iPod Control has a sleek LCD display with fixed blue and red illumination. Its rotary knob makes for easy access to digital music while its front-panel auxiliary input allows easy input from portable media players. The unit is also Bluetooth-enabled for hands-free calling.
MSRP: $180.00
Photo 8/18   |   amplifiers Head Units Navigational Systems alpine Head Unit
Better: No CDs in your collection? Consider Alpine's iDA-X200 "mech-less" head unit, designed specifically to provide seamless control of your digital media sources, particularly the iPod. The receiver has a 2.2-inch full-color TFT screen to display artist, album, and track information, as well as album art if loaded on the iPod. It also features iTunes Tagging.
MSRP: $300.00
Photo 9/18   |   amplifiers Head Units Navigational Systems alpine Receiver
Best: The ultimate control center, Alpine's IVA-W505 2-DIN Mobile Multimedia Station does it all, playing DVD/CD/MP3/AAC/WMA/DivX media, while also offering iTunes Tagging when connected to Alpine's HD Radio tuner. Bluetooth connectivity allows for both hands-free communication and audio streaming from enabled sources. An internal docking station for Alpine's Blackbird PND allows it to be used through the 7-inch touchscreen display.
MSRP: $1,100.00
Photo 10/18   |   amplifiers Head Units Navigational Systems alpine Mobile Media Station
Pioneer Electronics
Pioneer is a brand we all know for high-performance head units. Their latest CD players are loaded with the features you'd expect, and now offer expandability and versatility to better connect you with your music. Pioneer's DEH line offers many to choose from, while the FH presents the best features with a factory appearance. www.pioneerelectronics.com
Good: Individuals looking for a solid single CD player without breaking the bank will appreciate Pioneer's DEH-P3000IB. It boasts iPod Direct Control for super fast access to music from a connected iPod player. It's also XM, Sirius, and HD Radio ready, and with its MOSFET50 50 Watts X 4 power, you won't miss a beat of music.
MSRP: $130.00
Photo 11/18   |   amplifiers Head Units Navigational Systems pioneer Cd Player
Better: Pioneer's DEH-P6000UB is the ideal car stereo for all music lovers. With a built-in USB connection, adding a portable device like an iPod, MP3 player, or jump drive with your favorite music is a snap. It plays multiple music formats including MP3, WMA, or AAC. With the added OEL display, seven-band graphic EQ, and high-volt preamp output, the DEH-P6000UB is a great value.
MSRP: $250.00
Photo 12/18   |   amplifiers Head Units Navigational Systems pioneer Car Stereo
Best: For new model vehicles with dashboards outfitted with a double DIN-sized head unit, the Pioneer Premier's flagship FH-P800BT can provide that luxurious element to achieve the "better than OEM" look and feel. It features a large segmented OEL display, USB direct control of iPods and music players, as well as built-in Bluetooth connectivity. It also boasts Advanced Sound Retriever (ASR) technology that enhances compressed audio playback by restoring the data lost during the compression process of MP3, WMA, and AAC music files for a richer, fuller, and more dynamic sound.
MSRP: $330.00
Photo 13/18   |   amplifiers Head Units Navigational Systems pioneer Premiers Flagship
Navigation
Unless you're living under a rock, you know by now that navigation systems make getting somewhere easy. Key components to look for when selecting a navigation unit are its GUI (graphical user interface) and ease of use-graphics should be easily discernable and menu selections should be simple to navigate. Feature sets will vary, like those of any head unit, but may also include multimedia options such as video and dual zone capabilities. Speed is of essence, and HDD-based systems typically top the list, with DVD-based systems close behind (ask your dealer how to obtain upgrades for each system because they will vary). Also be aware of audio and video performance and mapping features such as intuitive address search, or millions of POIs that can really help seal the deal.
Eclipse
Manufacturing audio, visual, and navigation products, Eclipse has been recognized as one of the top navigation head unit manufacturers with products that feature great functionality and innovation. In fact, the AVN (Audio Visual Navigation) product line is one of our favorites. Here's a look at three products from their current lineup. www.eclipse-web.com
Good: Portable or in-dash, the AVN2210p MKLL navigation system is also a CD/USB multisource head unit. It comes with a detachable touchscreen Tom Tom portable navigation unit designed to mount directly in the AVN2210p MKLL's chassis, and can also be transferred to a another vehicle and used as a standalone PND.
MSRP: $649.99
Photo 14/18   |   amplifiers Head Units Navigational Systems navigation System
Better: A DVD navigation system with a 7-inch TFT touchscreen display and dual DVD multisource receiver make Eclipse's AVN6620 fully capable of navigating and entertaining. This double-DIN unit gives it a factory look, and will play virtually all media formats.
MSRP: $1,299.99
Best: Eclipse's AVN7000 HDD Navigation System comes with a 7-inch TFT display and DVD/MS multisource single-DIN receiver. This touchscreen unit incorporates all the functions-no need to install outboard hideaway components. The AVN7000 plays CD/CD-R/RW, MP3, WMA, DVD-Video, DVD-R/RW, and DVD+R/+RW, ensuring virtually all entertainment media formats are supported.
MSRP: $2,699.99

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