Disclaimer: The product under review is the JVC KD-SH99, which is the same as the JVC KD-SH77 with the added feature of a MP3 decoder. This allows the KD-SH99 to be able to play MP3 files recorded on CD-Rs. If and when ePinions decide to put this model in it's own slot, I will move this review there to better help many ePinion readers.
Many who have been looking an MP3 head unit was scarred away by Awia's CDC-MP3 (read my review (or at least, complaints) at http://www.epinions.com/content_26591399556
). This was the FIRST MP3 head unit offered by a well-known audio/video company, and also the first to play MP3s off a CD in a head unit.
Other companys like Sony, though very reputable in high quality, created similar head units which weren't perfect. Sony players cut off the first 2 seconds on the MP3 file, which caused many users to edit their MP3 files to have 2 seconds of silence at the begining of all the files they wanted to edit.
All other MP3 head units always comes with a few issues that made them not so attractive. This gave "MP3 head units" a bad name.
In fact, when the JVC KD-SH99 was available, I was very skeptical. I read many early adopter's reviews and opinions, and heard many praises about their MP3 playback. The Refined MP3 Head Unit
Compared to other MP3 head units, this is the one and only head unit I'd ever consider as a true product. While others had issues and bugs, as if they were just test versions, the JVC KD-SH99 have NOTHING to fault. No skips, pauses, heat-issues, or any 2 second skippage of any kind. It plays all CD-R and CD-RW media (the Aiwa claims to play CD-RW, but it skips more than the CD-R) recorded in any speed...even up to 8x! (The max my recorder can go). The Aiwa? It skips on anything over 1x (thought it still skips occasionally at 1x).
The most debated issue with Aiwa's player is that it only randomize in the directory it is playing. Not so with this unit! It randomizes in all directories AS WELL AS in a specified directory, which maximizes the flexablity of playback.
As also being more refined, its faceplate is made of brush aluminum, and a large display of useful info such as time (always displayed!), station, station name (if your area/station supports it), CD-Text, MP3 filename, ID3 tags (version 1), etc.
The faceplate elegently folds down by a means of a motor (none of that cheap gravity pull downs kinds!) as well as tilt in 2 different angles. A remote control is provided by the back-seat-potatoes (as opposed to the couch potatoe). Why do I call them that? If you have a DVD player and a display, your KD-SH99 can be interfaced with them, allowing full control of playback, track switching, pausing, and fast forwarding and rewinding. The same unit can also control a portable VCR as well.
It is so refined, it even has a option of you hooking up the dimmer line to your car (if your car supports it) so when you turn on your headlights, the display dims with the rest of the dash lights.
All of this for the same price as the beta test quality of the Aiwa CDC-MP3. Sound Quality
With 19 watts RMS/50 peak x 4 channels, sound quality is very sweet with a seperate amp, but with stock speakers (Nissan Sentra - also reviewed), they totally didn't work out. Although I am still stuck with stock, the sound quality is decent. This isn't the fault of the head unit, however. When I configured the unit to work on my reciever at home, it sounded like a high quality component from...well, what else? JVC! There is a built in equalizer that you can customize, instead of choosing pre-setted "Rock, Pop, Jazz, etc". Of course, the unit also have those pre-sets if you are not equalizer inclined. Other Features
Besides the remote and the MP3 abilities, the CD-player portion does have a Digifine2.1 enhancement. This allows a DSP to be used to impliment a 24-bit Burr-Brown D/A converter. What does it mean? Well, CDs are encoded at 16 bits. Witht his converter, intropolating the signal at 24-bit gives the digital to analog conversion to be more accurate, which improves the overall quality of the sound.
With audio inputs in the rear for a DVD or a VCR (as well as being able to control them), the added bonus is a front line-in (line level) input for any other portable device you may have. This is perfect since the unit does not have a cassette player, which may allow it to be used as an input with those cassette converters. You can use your walkman or another MP3 device to be played. Me? I've actually played a movie on my laptop for my passengers and had the sound routed into the line-in jack so it sounds like a theater. :) This also lets the driver to hear the movie, at least, if he plays it safe and watches the road (and not the screen!).
The multitude of display options are there as well. It allows you to display CD-Text or track numbers with times. When playing MP3s, it shows a track number with time, MP3 filename, or the MP3 ID3 tag (the title, artists, etc). With the radio, the unit doesn't just stop at displaying the frequency. It also allows you to text-customize your stations! That means 104.9 will display "Live 104.9" or "The Mix" or even "My Fav Station". Whatever you want it to be. :)
This feature also lends itself to CDs are aren't CD-Text compatable. If you have time to do so, you can name all of your tracks and the unit will remember it! The next time you play the CD, instead of "Track 01" being displayed, it'd say "Moby - Southside" or "Britney Spears - Opps! I Did it Again". (Uhg...) Nothing is Perfect
Alas, there is one thing at fault. The display is super dim! Even at it's brightest settings, it is hard to read in daylight. I hope JVC will learn, but the best display would be made by a color LCD not LEDs. This is the same display used on color Palm Pilots. The only thing they'd have to do to make it readable at night would just add a backlight to that kind of display, and presto! readable.
Another thing would be the radio reception sensitivity. At 11.3 db, it's not the greatest, but at least it is better than the Aiwa's paltry 12 db. The lower the measurement, the more sensitive it is to radio signals. Good head units can be had with sensitivity of around 9 to 10 db. Does these small differences count? YES! With the Aiwa, I can't even get a good signal on a particular station, while my factory unit does! On the JVC, I can get the station, but it's pretty good amount of static. Last Thoughts
All in all, the $300 I paid for this little wonder was worth it. If you already own the Aiwa CDC-MP3, and it still works for you, keep it and sulk a little. If it is giving you trouble, chuck it for this unit!
CD-based MP3 players are more convient than CD changers and/or hard drive head units. Even if you wanted a CD changer, this JVC can accomodate it as well.
What else do you want? From Crutchfield Key Features:
motorized, detachable face
faceplate angle adjustment
HS IIIi tuner
iEQ 3-band equalizer
Super Bass offers eight levels of adjustment
4-volt front/rear preamp outputs
4-volt subwoofer outputs with selectable low-pass filter (50, 80, or 120 Hz)
power amplifier switch lets you turn off built-in power for improved sound quality when using outboard amplification
CD changer controls
front panel auxiliary input for easy connection of a portable cassette, MD, or MP3 player
rear line inputs for connection of DVD or VCR audio
plays MP3 files stored on CD-R or CD-RW
reads ID-3 tags
19 watts RMS/50 peak x 4 channels
CD frequency response 5-20,000 Hz
CD signal-to-noise ratio 102 dB
FM sensitivity 11.3 dBf