Good value on features, moderate quality
Aug 5, 2005
Review by romulusnr
Rated a Very Helpful Review
User Rating: Very Good
Ease of Use:
Pros:MP3, ID3, USB, detachable faceplate, DIN, LO/DX, AUX, DSP, remote control
Cons:MP3CD compatibility, random mode poor, USB connector, erratic controls, fake spectrum analysis, volume inconsistency
The Bottom Line: Get it at a sub-$120 price if you are really interested in the MP3USB feature or all of them together.
The one thing that stands out about this unit is that in addition to being an MP3 CD player, it can also play MP3s from a USB computer drive. This is a relatively recent and obscure feature in audio devices of any kind.
Recommend this product?
Although the PLCDUSB78MP3 (whew) MSRP's for around $250, it's easy to pick one up right now for under $120. And at any price under $120, this is a good value, if you can live with some snags.
Like all modern dash units, this one tries to be pretty. The display has an alphanumeric array which displays all features, including the filename and ID3 track information from MP3s. The display also includes what looks like a spectrum analyzer, but is really just a simple volume meter, with the LCD carefully designed to fake the behaviour of an analyzer.
The unit will accept most USB drives as an MP3 file source. Instead of a regular USB port, the panel has a mini-port, and a simple one-piece adapter to USB. Using the one-piece adapter, your USB drive will jut outward, hanging in midair held up only by the adapter's tiny connection to the faceplate. This causes lots of vibration on the USB drive, and makes it a hazard for anything in front of your stereo. The mini-connector is not a standard mini-USB connector, so getting a male-to-female USB cord is probably not a bad idea, but that connection to the faceplate is still precarious.
The MP3CD feature has mixed success. Some MP3CDs will not play at all; the unit will display "MIXED CD" and sometimes start playing the CD as an audio CD, which will result in static. Other times, a CD will fail during the initial scan with "ERROR 08", which is a transient error -- persistent re-scanning (by putting the unit back in CD mode) will usually eventually result in a successful read. For its part, the unit's manual suggests that if this happens to you, you should press the unit's RESET button, located in a recessed spot next to the main dial. Which seems a bit unprofessional.
One issue with this is that there is a sharp difference between the volume level of the radio and the volume level of the other modes. When one mode (such as a mis-scanning MP3CD, or when you pull out the USB drive) fails, the unit defaults back to radio mode. The radio volume level is so high, that this will suddenly blast your ears if you previously had the unit at a reasonable volume in another mode.
Note also that Random Track mode is not actually random, at least not for MP3 playing. It is more or less random in ordering, but it will always follow the same order, starting at the same track, for a given CD. This is a bit of a drag when listening to the same MP3CD for a while, each time you turn on your radio and play some random MP3s, you'll start at the same song. You can track-forward to advance through the pseudo-random order to where you left off, but this can be a pain on a 100-track CD. Also, random mode occasionally disengages for no apparent reason, reverting to normal sequential mode from whatever track it was on.
The dial control on the front panel is inconsistent and touchy. Turning one direction will have rapid results, while turning in the other direction will sometimes have no result. The mechanical intermittency of the dial does not at all match the effect it has on setting values (like volume). However, the remote control makes this less important.
The faceplate is detachable, with fairly easy reattachment. The CD opening is hidden behind the faceplate holder, which will mechanically slide down and outward when you need to eject/insert a CD or detatch the faceplate. This is perfectly nifty, but watch out for anything in front of the unit. And keep in mind this will also swing up anything plugged into the USB port.
The sound quality is good, with loudness control, fixed DSP settings, PLL tuning and LO/DX. My radio reception has improved with this unit over my car's factory unit.
The Aux input is a nice addition in a unit with all these features at this price; an stereo RCA-to-1/8'' adapter may be in order to take advantage of this.
For its MSRP, this unit's downfalls are not worth the price, but for the current going rate of as low as $100, it has a lot of good features. (Once you figure out exactly what MP3CD format(s) will reliably work, let me know.)
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Amount Paid (US$): 115
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