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Car Audio Product Review
 

Alpine IVA-D900 Head Unit

September, 2003

Brian Weatherhead

 

Specifications:

  • Bass Control Range at 30Hz : 15 dB
  • Chassis Size (W x H x D)in : 7x2x 6-1/2
  • Chassis Size (W x H x D)mm : 178mm x 50mm x 165mm
  • Continous Power Output (Note 2) : 23W x 4
  • Maximum Mounting Angle : 30 from Horizontal
  • Maximum Power Output (Note 1) : 50W x 4
  • Nose Piece Size (W x H x D)in : 6-7/8" x 1-13/16" x 11/16"
  • Nose Piece Size (W x H x D)mm : 174mm x 46 x 18mm
  • Power Requirement : 14.4(11-16) V.DC
  • Pre Output Voltage (Before Clipping) : 4 V
  • Treble Control Range at 10kHz : 15 dB
  • MSRP: $2300 USA

Alpine

www.alpine1.com

Introduction

In the world of car audio, the name Alpine has always been associated with quality. They were building auto hi-fi years before it became main stream. This year at CES, Alpine debuted the IVA-D900 head unit. It is the first car LCD panel head unit to feature DVD and MP3 capabilities. 

The Design

The D900 has a motorized flip out display, the advantage being that the unit can be mounted in vehicles that only support a 1 DIN (standard size) opening.

The screen folds out in approximately 5 seconds, delivers music in 10 seconds, and completely boots-up in 30 seconds. This may sound long, but by the time you start your engine, adjust the mirrors, and back out of the parking spot, the monitor is ready to rock.

When in the upright position, the IVA-D900 extends outward no more than 2 inches, so there are no worries about hitting it while shifting. If for some reason there is something physically blocking the screen from folding out during power up, the unit will halt and wait for input, so as not to strip the motors. Overall the process is very smooth and quiet. Unlike some other brands, the entire process is motorized. The unit can be configured so that it starts this process every time you start your car, or just when you want. With the automatic setting, the unit will retract when you power off your car automatically.

The D900 doesn't provide Dolby or DTS decoding, and only outputs stereo. The Alpine PXA-H900 processor (review coming in a few weeks) provides surround sound decoding from the digital output on the D900.

The unit is separated into two portions. The dash mount contains the screen, and a hideaway module provides all the RCA connections. I would have liked to see the Toslink connection on the hideaway module, as it would have been much easier to connect. Nonetheless, we just ran the Toslink from the dash unit.

Note that the D900 does have power amplifiers, but they are a "token". You really are expected to use the product as a front end for processors and higher powered amplifiers.

Features

The IVA-D900 is a jack of spades kind of unit. So I broke down the features into specific areas:

Screen

  • Number of Picture Elements : 1,152,000 (800x480)
  • Effective Number of Picture Elements : 99.99% or more
  • Illumination System : U-Shaped cold cathode fluorescent tube
  • LCD Type : Low Temp Poly-Silicon TFT VGA
  • Screen Size : 7 Widescreen

The unit features a high resolution (800x480) 7" LCD screen that is definitely one of the best in the industry. Brightness and contrast are excellent, so it is well suited for the car environment. It is the first head unit to really do DVD justice. The colors look spot on.

It features several video inputs, but unfortunately they are all composite. Although there are no glaring visible effects of the composite-only inputs, we know that S-Video is always a better connection. Now on a 7" screen this may be trivial, but since the D900 is a media hub, it could potentially feed a larger ceiling mounted display on an SUV.

The on-screen menus are bright and vibrant, and the unit offers a few backgrounds to choose from. Unlike some units, there currently isn't a way to customize the background or screensavers on the D900. The screen was very comfortable to view with the top down on our convertible.

Menu Navigation

I love how the menus on this product are laid out. They are intuitive and easy to navigate through. Unfortunately the unit is a little sluggish when moving between screens. Usually the switch is 1-2 seconds, and I would trade the animated transitions for faster screen navigation. 

Below is shown the main source select screen where one uses a rotary dial to select the desired source.

Once the source is selected, the option buttons along the bottom change to suit each source. On some sources there are two or three pages of button controls that can be toggled through. For example, on the CD Changer source shown below, the button bar represents the discs in the changer. The other pages contain track and folder navigation buttons.

For MP3 discs, the D900 allows you to browse by folder to the song of your choice, making it very fast and easy to page-through 20-30 albums of songs. XM shares this hierarchal interface, by selecting genres followed by stations.

Inputs and Outputs

  • 3 Auxiliary A/V Inputs with Remote Control Input

  • Dedicated Navigation Input

  • Dedicated Camera Input

  • 2 Auxiliary Monitor A/V Outputs

  • Navigation Audio Mix

  • 3 Pre-Outs (4 volt)

  • 1 digital Toslink out

The D900 features a plethora of connectivity. Each input and output can be enabled or disabled from the on-screen setup. After enabling an output, it then appears from the source select screen. Note that this unit has a video interlock, meaning you can't see video from any source other than navigation, when driving.

The unit can act as a multimedia hub, much like a home receiver.

AI-Net bus

One of the neatest features Alpine has is the AI-NET. This single cable connects power, control, and audio to any AI-Net controller. To add the 6 disc CD changer we simply plugged in one cable. The player was then found by the D900 and was ready to play music. This bus allowed us to connect the XM tuner, and the Surround Sound processor, without having to add additional controllers, or a large tangle of wires.

Media Expander

A cool feature is the Media Xpander. This is essentially a preset EQ/effect for different types of sources. I usually used the Effect Level II on MP3 and FM material. The effect restores a lot of the ambience that is lost when the sources are compressed.

Time Alignment

The single most important feature for a car audio head unit/surround sound package in my opinion is time alignment. The D900 allows you to adjust the time delay of each channel. This makes for a perfect 3-D image. A very big problem in car stereo is the inaccurate, and often unchangeable seating arrangement. This cool feature allows you to simulate sitting in the perfect sound triangle, even though your very close to one channel. This is no gimmick, it really works. The time alignment feature delivers a huge improvement in the soundstage, well worth any cost for critical listening. It should be a mandatory feature in any head unit.

On the Bench

The following measurements were made with the IVA-D900 / PXA-H900 surround processor combination. This was how we listened to the unit, and it provided the decoding for our DVD 5.1 Material.

THD and Noise Floor

CD Source THD

It's pretty rare that a piece of equipment comes our way that pushes the limits of our own measuring equipment. The D900 was simply one of the cleanest pieces of equipment I have ever tested. Many home theater receivers are spec'ed at 0.05% THD and measure around 0.1%. There are harmonics  that can be seen, but they are 95 dB on average lower than the 1 kHz tone. Speaking of noise floor, I was amazed to see the S/N ratio approach 110 dB. Keep in mind that all of these measurements were taken in the car, rather than in a test facility.

Listening to music, it was apparent that noise was completely inaudible. The only noise we noticed was from the CDs themselves.

CD Frequency Response

Above is the measured CD frequency response. The yellow line is the base response (no EQ added to the signal), and the red is the response corrected using the parametric equalizer built into the PXA-H700. As you can see, it's possible to almost completely flatten the response to 20 kHz.

Conclusions

I can't say enough about this unit. It's clean, and it's very functional. The feature list is extensive, even more than we were able to cover in this review. The unit never goes into clipping, as we measured the THD with the volume at 100%. Alpine once again delivers a piece that sets the standard in the industry. It's simply an outstanding multimedia automobile audio head unit.

 


- Brian Weatherhead -

 

Copyright 2003 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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