9-inch Multimedia head unit
Bigger can indeed be better! Alpine’s massive 9-inch multimedia head unit combines a beautiful touch screen with the latest in-car tech.
What’s better than a double-DIN head unit with a 7-inch screen? Why, one with a 9-inch screen of course! That’s what the Alpine X009E-U head unit delivers. And with great screen size comes greater power, or at least the ability of the screen to do more than one thing at a time. It is, of course, this big screen that sets the X009E-U apart from so many other head units, but that is by far from the only one of its many features.
BIG BUT MORE
But let’s start with basics. For sound you get four 50 watt channels of power, plus pre-outs for those four channels and two subwoofers. The two subwoofer signals are treated separately for things like time alignment, so they’re not mere duplicates of each other.
For inputs you get an AM/FM tuner (but no DAB+), USB with support USB memory, of course, and for both traditional iPods and iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch), a disc spinner for both CDs and DVDs, Bluetooth of course, a composite video and stereo audio A/V input, and a HDMI input. There is also a connection for a reversing camera.
The unit has built in GPS navigation, and you get updated maps for three years. These are on an SD card which slides into a slot behind the display panel. Also behind the panel is the CD/DVD slot. Press the eject key on the button panel and a control screen for the panel comes up. This offers an on-screen disc eject button and a tilt control. There are five tilt levels available so you can optimise the panel position for viewing or access. If you choose the disc eject button, the top of the panel slides down as the bottom moves out away from the body of the unit. After a couple of seconds – the whole thing is smooth and quiet – the screen is horizontal, so you can eject the SD card or insert a disc. If a disc is already in the unit its edge will slide out as well, facilitating removal.
Most of the control is done by means of context-relevant buttons on the touch sensitive screen, of course, but there’s also a panel of basic controls with an eject key, phone, music and navigation screen selection, a mute key, volume up and down and a favourites selection. Although this panel is separate – it’s connected to the main unit by a 900mm cable, so there’s quite a bit of placement flexibility – the markings on the keys make it clear that it only goes one way up. The volume keys are towards the left side, away from an Australian driver.
The unit supports MirrorLink for connecting certain apps on a number of modern Android phones. The idea is that once connected (typically by Bluetooth it seems) these apps run on your phone but are controllable by an interface presented on the Alpine’s screen – one that’s optimised for that function. Sounds useful. Unfortunately as is the way of these things, it all depends on the phone you have. Mine does not support it. The MirrorLink web site lists a range of compatible models from HTC, Samsung, Fujitsu and Sony. Nothing for LG or the many no-name brands.
With the essential G-KTX-009-U fitting kit (this can’t be skipped because it includes the key
control panel, power loom and some of the other cables) user installation in some cars is doable. The determining factor – aside from skill level – is the dash space around the regular double-DIN dashboard slot. The oversized front section is up to 28mm deep. It hangs down below the bottom of the chassis by about 65mm with the key panel installed underneath the screen in the installation frame, and by 35mm with the panel nude.
Likewise it extends to the left and right side by 18mm nude, 21mm with the frame. For those prepared for a professional remodelling of the dash a broader range of vehicles will be accommodated.
There’s no skimping on the facilities in this unit for setting up the sound. There is an adjustable crossover for bass management. Separate high-pass filters are available for the front and rear speakers. A low-pass filter is available for the subwoofer. Both frequency and filter slopes are adjustable for all three of these, up to 24dB/octave for the slope. Aside from allowing the best matching of subwoofer to speakers, this also means the best performance can be extracted from the unit’s own amplifiers, or from an external subwoofer amplifier, since none of them are wasting certain frequencies’ watts on speakers unable to do much with them. The system also has full time alignment adjustments so that you can set all the speakers (including separately for two subs) to deliver the sound for optimum performance at your listening position. Three memory presets are available so you can reasonably easily change the setting to include a compromise for others in the car, and switch back when you’re alone. There’s also a parametric equaliser to tame resonances and help overcome car noise issues.
The unit works with Alpine’s TuneIt app – both for iOS and Android. With iOS you need your device’s USB cable plugged into the unit. For Android it works with a Bluetooth connection. This app can deliver preset parameters to the unit for a range of loudspeaker sizes, plus a selection of specific Alpine models. It can set EQ modes, and allow you to adjust the aforementioned time alignment, crossovers and parametric EQ by dragging things around on the screen.
The cable looms provided support connections for steering wheel controls and reversing camera. Do make sure you connect the appropriate cable for the handbrake otherwise the DVD player will not produce an image on the screen (this safety feature ensures it works only when the handbrake is applied, unless you cheat on the connection).
The Alpine X009E-U was a pleasure to use. The key pad controls were well chosen, nicely wide and easy to select by touch with just a little practice. They’re gently backlit too, so easy to see in the dark. The touch screen was first class when it came to operation. I guess nine inches doesn’t sound like a lot more than seven, but in practice the larger button sizes were easier to hit with reliability, and the touch screen was just about as responsive as an iPad or good Android tablet.
The unit was reasonably speedy in recognising discs (although it was a touch fussy, rejecting one of my standard slightly scuffed ones that works in every other device I’ve tried). On switch-on it took about 12 seconds to resume delivering music, both from CD and from an attached iPod Nano, and about a further seven seconds for the GUI to come up on the screen.
The navigation system was clear and easy enough to use. The GPS antenna is on about three metres of cable so a good mounting location should be easily within reach.
I set the unit up with front and rear stereo speakers and a subwoofer, and the audio results were extremely pleasing. It delivered high volume levels cleanly and with good balance. Things were a bit more stressed in the absence of a subwoofer, especially when I had the bass up a bit, but that was at extremely high levels.
Some movies might seem a touch light-on sound-wise. The unit effectively mixes five channel sound down to stereo, so you won’t miss anything happening in the main mix. But it seems to ignore the LFE track entirely, so anything in there (dinosaur footsteps, bass components of explosions, and sometimes some of the bass from music concerts) will be missing.
Playing music from iPods/iPhones was probably the nicest overall experience thanks to the display of cover art. Bluetooth connections didn’t deliver this, but did provide the usual track, album and artist information. And it sounded excellent as well. You can set the audio and hands-free devices separately, so you can use an iPod Nano for music while leaving your iPhone or Android phone free for calls.
The hands-free Bluetooth phone operation was effective. With one incoming call I’d misplaced the microphone, yet was still able to conduct a conversation. Although, to be fair, the caller was relieved when I found the microphone on the floor amid a pile of cables and put it in a position in which it could realistically capture my voice.
The HDMI input was an odd beast. For some reason it would only work the supplied HDMI cable, not my own perfectly good ones. Its main purpose is for displaying video on suitably equipped phones, specifically iPhones with HDMI adaptors for their lightening ports. I don’t have one of those so I used my trusty Blu-ray player. This only worked at more or less standard definition (both interlaced and progressive). Even then the unit protested, flashing up a ‘HDMI Communication’ error message briefly before settling down and playing the video.
While talking video, let me note that whether by HDMI or using DVDs in the built-in disc spinner, the LCD screen produced a remarkably good picture. I could be picky – oh, why not, I might as well be – and note that with interlaced input it doesn’t apply a film mode, and it seems to use a 60Hz screen driver so that pans on 50Hz DVDs (ie. most Australian ones) can be a little jerky. But the contrast range was strong, the colours clean and natural, and (except when confused by the deinterlacing) the fine detail of the picture was stable and clean. The ability to tilt the screen can help get a good angle on the picture for the best look.
The Alpine X009E-U head unit is not for everyone – indeed, for every vehicle. It is not inexpensive, and a professional installation will in most cases be called for. But if you and your car can stretch to that, you both will be very well rewarded.