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Sorting the hits from the misses.

It is not hard to find a cheap CD-tuner that is reliable and delivers clear sound. However, pay a little bit more, around pounds 300, and you will really appreciate an ICE upgrade.

For that money you will get more power and style, and better build quality.

The sound will be clearer and easier to control, while you will be able to play home-made discs, run separate amps and enjoy a host of extra features. We looked at 10 units costing between pounds 240 and pounds 329, to sort the hits from the misses.

All the decks came with RDS tuners with EON (Enhanced Other Network) and PTY (Programme Type) and featured lots of station presets. In terms of power, there was little to choose between them, with maximum outputs of 200 to 240 watts, which should satisfy most users.

With the increase in home CD-writers, we liked those machines able to play CD-R and/or CD-RW discs (recordable and rewritable). Although no deck featured a DAB (digital audio broadcasting) tuner, we preferred those you could up-grade with a plug-in box later.

MP3 files have revolutionised in-car music listening. Essentially, the files are compressed so 10 times the amount of music can be stored on a single CD. The latest format is Microsoft's WMA (Windows Media Audio), but only the Clarion decks could handle it.

When buying a unit, the internet is a good source of bargain ICE, especially from official dealers. Also, look out for models being sold off as new ones come in.

After checking the spec, we looked for a clear display that was easy to use - important for road safety.

The radios were tested for accurate station location and sound quality. In the CD players, we tried a pre-recorded disc with text - with which the unit can display details, such as the artist - a CD-R and MP3 files.

With each format we checked operating speed, sound quality and how well the disc information was delivered.

Kenwood KDC-7024 Rating: **** Price: pounds 299 DAB: Yes CD-R/RW: Yes MP3: Yes

At last! Kenwood has ditched its fiddly buttons and cluttered panels for an unusual twin-front set-up. The impressive spec included a DAB plug-in, 200W of power, CD Text and disc titling. Performance was excellent on the CD-Rs, although it took a little while to work out what an MP3 disc was before starting playback.

Alpine CDA-9811R Rating: *** Price: pounds 279.90 DAB: Yes CD-R/RW: No MP3: No

With the 9811R, Alpine has kept to a tried and tested format - seriously stylish with an up-market. Sound quality was brilliant from the 4x60W unit, and it came DAB-ready.

Sadly its feature list didn't have functions such as CD Text, disc titling and crucially, CD-R, CD-RW and MP3 capability.

However, it would run an MP3 auto changer.

VDO Dayton CD2803 Rating: *** Price: pounds 239.99 DAB: No CD-R/RW: Yes MP3: Yes

The cheapest unit we looked at. However, we found a few of the joystick-style controls were too close together, resulting in wrong button selections.

A good value package, despite lacking CD Text and DAB input. It also handled the CD-R and MP3 discs well, but we weren't too keen on the displays.

Blaupunkt Seattle CD72 Rating: *** Price: pounds 300 DAB: No CD-R/RW: Yes MP3: No

For this year's range, Blaupunkt has opted to stay with the basic layout of central display and menu-driven selections clustered around it. Sound quality was great, especially when the five presets were used to their best. We thought the CD Text options limited - only a scrolling title - and it didn't have MP3 capability, which lost it ground. Overall, a competent deck, but somehow lacking the 'wow' factor.

VDO Dayton CD4203 Rating: *** Price: pounds 299.99 DAB: No CD-R/RW: Yes MP3: Yes

An impressive deck from VDO, where the basic layout revolved around the huge black display showing large dot matrix digits, which were both bright and clear.

The unit worked well and quickly with both the CD Text and MP3 discs, but for the price, a DAB plug-in would have been a welcome addition.

Alpine CDM-9807RB Rating: ** Price: pounds 249.90 DAB: No CD-R/RW: No MP3: No

The second lowest price here, and, although cheap for Alpine, it still managed to look impressively stylish. Despite being the only unit having a front CD slot (rather than a flip down panel), the control layout was still very good and the display suitably large and clear. But in this company, the 9807RB hasn't enough features, with no radio or CD Text, no CD-R/RW ability or MP3 or DAB control.

Clarion DXZ-838RMP Rating: ** Price: pounds 329 DAB: Yes CD-R/RW: Yes MP3: Yes

The most expensive player on test, this Clarion had an extensive list of specifications. And the DXZ-838RMP was only one of two units that could read WMA files as well as MP3s.

Oddly, it refused to recognise the CD Text disc, and, when playing the MP3 files, it took 23 seconds to flip from track to track.

Blaupunkt Acapulco MP52 Rating: **** Price: pounds 300 DAB: No CD-R/RW: Yes MP3: Yes

More German understatement here, from a deck which looked practically identical to the Seattle. Having turned on the CD Text we thought the displays a bit limited and the undamped flip front panel jarred with the high quality of the unit. the CD-R performance was very good. Sound equalisation included six presets, plus a mike in the facia monitored cabin noise to adjust the volume to levels you have set.

JVC KD-LH70R Rating: ***** Price: pounds 270 DAB: Yes CD-R/RW: Yes MP3: Yes

We liked the clean, stylish lines of this fashionably silver unit. The 4x50W gave great sound quality. The deck quickly picked up the CD Text and information from the CD-R, and it was the best performer with the MP3 file, reading and playing tracks fast. Overall spec and value combine to make this our Best Buy.

Clarion DXZ-738RMP Rating: ** Price: pounds 269 DAB: Yes CD-R/RW: Yes MP3: Yes

Another hi-spec deck from Clarion with a similar appearance to the 838 model, albeit with a brushed finish to the front panel. And although the many buttons were of similar size to its stablemate's, they were better lit and easier to see. Sound quality was good, with plenty of equalisation settings. However, it refused to read the CD Text, and then compounded its problems by not recognising the CD-R, either.

The verdict:

There was a lot of quality in this group, but only our top two really produced the goods.

The JVC had a similar performance and spec to the Kenwood, but was pounds 30 less and came with a remote control.

The Kenwood offered a little more style, and those twin facias could prove irresistible to gadget fans. If you're buying with your bank manager at your side, go for the JVC, but if you can stretch a little bit further, plump for the Kenwood.

CD players 1 JVC KD-LH70R 2 Kenwood KDC-7024 3 Blaupunkt Acapulco MP52
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Title Annotation:Motors News
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:May 30, 2003
Words:1172
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