Aiwa CDC-MP3 Car MP3-CD Playerby Mike Andrawes on September 25, 2000 5:51 AM EST
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The idea of moving MP3's away from the computer is one that has existed in the minds of many from the beginning of the MP3 craze over 4 years ago. In some cases the solution was simple - just hook your computer up to your home stereo and instantly you've got an essentially unlimited selection of music in your house. And that was pretty much the only option for couple of years after MP3's started becoming popular. Unfortunately, that doesn't give many reasonable options for music on the go, whether it be in the palm of your hand or in your car.
A few companies did notice the potential for MP3's in the marketplace, starting with Diamond Multimedia and their Rio portable MP3 player. The Rio was a flash card based device that could hold about 30 minutes of "CD quality music" in its first incarnation. Combine the limited play time with the fact that the "CD quality music" really wasn't thanks to a combination of low quality MP3 decoder chip, DAC, and output amp and the alternatives of MiniDisc or your own burned audio CD's were quite appealing. Nevertheless, the Rio gained quite a bit of popularity and the second-generation models were improved considerably, spawning clones by everyone from Best Data to Sony.
The car audio market still largely ignored MP3 playback as an option on new decks. There were pretty much two options until recently - 1. use a portable MP3 player, like the Rio, in conjunction with an auxiliary input on your head unit or 2. find a way to put a computer in your car. Once again, the Rio may be great as a portable device, but with only 1 hour of playback, there are better options out there, such as CD changers, to keep the music going in the car. As far as putting a computer in the car, many people have succeeded in doing exactly this, whether it is in the form of a notebook computer or a custom designed box to handle playback duties. This is essentially how the empeg evolved, with the Mark II model running Linux on a 220 MHz StrongARM processor with 2.5" notebook hard drives for storage.
While the computer in the car idea is an interesting one and certainly the most flexible, it is also a very expensive one - the cheapest empeg currently available is $1200, which is quite expensive for a head unit, no matter how you look at it.
As the empeg continued to gain popularity, it remained little more than a dream for many due to the high cost and limited availability. Simultaneously, MP3 fans everywhere were looking for better solutions a number of companies announced portable MP3-CD players that used cheap CD-R(W) discs as storage for MP3 music. It's such an obvious idea that it continues to amaze us just how long it took to for manufacturers to think of it. Unfortunately, the companies announcing these players constantly delayed their products and many MP3 fans gave up hope of ever actually obtaining one.
Finally Kenwood and Aiwa almost simultaneously announced plans for MP3-CD players early this year. They were both supposed to come to market early this year, but product delays had prospective buyers screaming "vaporware" once again, with many giving up and going with computer-based units in their cars.
It's now early fall and Aiwa and Kenwood have finally delivered their products. The Kenwood Z919 is selling for about $650, making Aiwa's CDC-MP3 and its $300 price tag the most appealing car MP3 unit on the market. It is this simple fact that has kept the CDC-MP3 selling out nationwide despite Aiwa's less than stellar reputation in the car audio market.