Mobile Electronics News EXPO 2013 Part II
By Simon ‘ShadowTD’ King, Talk Audio forum stalwart…
A video-heavy dispatch from Simon ‘ShadowTD’ King, TA Member and now, roving Talk Audio magazine reporter. He was as thrilled as a puppy with two tails just to be there after I hooked him up with the organisers at Creative Media and he made a slew of video clips. Knowledgeable and with his own happy style, Shads spotted the new and sexy as easily as a candle in a cave. I can see this being the start of a trend… Simon’s keen but still green and you will see a quality of image difference on the clips as his cam isn’t as posh as the TATV Sony sponsored HDR-CX730E Handycam and he ain’t quite as au-fait with the hellish task of ensuring location-recorded sound, so turn it up and try to ignore the hubbub of the show.
Meanwhile, I asked him to get there early so I could get him breakfast and bless him, he did. I, however, got slightly snarled and he was sat waiting, I gather. But I couldn’t find him in the breakfast room…so while I wondered where he was and scarfed brekkie.. he waited in a quiet spot outside. So, he’s still learning the freelance journalists’ work-in-the-field politics. He shoulda called, nagged and nailed me for the full hotel stuff yer face – as even fat blokes DO NOT STOP for bloody lunch on a mad show day! So you fill up on pig as a wicked treat and get stuck in. (next time, never forget, you sting up yer editor for the subsistence bit - you get fed. It’s the best bit of the press room at CES in Las Vegas, that too!)
As it was, I got him a Tuna Panini and a Costa coffee… poor love. What follows is all his own work…
Sitting in the foyer of the Ricoh Arena is not how I would normally spend a Wednesday morning. Especially not when I’m waiting for Adam Rayner, one of the UK’s most celebrated home and car audio journalists. But I’m his running mate for the day, reporting for Talk Audio from the Mobile Electronics News Expo 2013 on what new shiny toys await us ICE enthusiasts in the next twelve months.
As a British trade show, MEN is not beset with booth babes and massive competition between vendors in terms of decibel levels, although Car Audio & Security did provide a great deal of entertainment at about 4pm by cranking one of their show cars up to competition levels and playing the game of ‘how quickly will security show up’? A little under thirty seconds was the answer. The Expo is a more sober affair staffed by the guys who really care about both their product and brand and are going to do their utmost to get their message over to the trade dealers to in turn pass it on to us, the general public.
It’s a convivial atmosphere, especially attending with Adam. Industry relationships forged over twenty years are evident left, right and centre as just about everyone on every stand shouts his name as we walk past. I firmly believe if we were walking through the middle of the Borneo a tribesman would wander out and exclaim “Adam old boy, how the devil are you?”.
We head to the Celsus Ice Trade stand where Chris Bennett wants to show Mr. Rayner the fruits of a bonkers idea that’s been in the making for a while. It’s the Dynamat ‘half a car’ Dynamini, which with all the subtlety of its pink and purple paint job illustrates beautifully how important sound deadening is in the pursuit of in car audio fidelity. A quick piece to camera for Adam and he tells me to “sod off on my own and get stuck in…”
I’ve set myself the target of getting around all of the major name stands and having a bit of a one-on-one with whoever fails to take a step backwards. Kenwood are first on my hit list. As show sponsors, they’ve got the biggest stand in the best place and don’t appear to be letting the current financial climate affect their determination. A full size F1 replica with driving simulation is set up to run a competition for a Silverstone track day. I had a go later, spinning twice but still coming middle of the table. Not bad going. Of more interest is their new cloud connected unit, the DNN-9230DAB
There’s a common theme running through the show – all of the manufacturers know that the average punter’s expectations have been raised by the power that lives in their pocket. The smartphone has transformed (and ruined!) a number of business models but as the US Marines say, “Adapt, Improvise, Overcome”. Each manufacturer has taken their own route and Kenwood’s approach is to use the phone as an access point and complementary device. The Kenwood DNN-9230DAB itself runs Android ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ (silly name for an operating system based upon alphabetic order – the newer one is bloody called ‘Jellybean” fer gossakes! Ed.) on an unspecified processor and acts as an in-car ‘vehicle hub’, connecting to your existing accounts and presenting your email, social networks and calendar not only visually but via Text-To-Speech allowing you to keep your eyes on the road. Speech-To-Text (via Kenwood’s servers) lets you talk back at the unit and interact with just about every service – Voice search for music across connected iPods and music in the cloud, destinations via Garmin-enhanced Google Navigation. It can even connect to your Netflix account and stream content over a built-in DLNA server to iPads and Android tablets. It was hidden behind a plastic anti-tamper cover due to the pre-release nature of the software (the unit’s due to street in May and may leave you but one old fashioned ‘bob’ from £1,500.) but a swift mention of Talk Audio and off it comes for a prod-and-play. A real flagship ‘statement’ product that offers what some car manufacturers are trying to build in for a £6k price tag to the aftermarket.
Away from the high-end aspirational stuff, the £200 headunit has always been a marker for me. While £200 is no small amount of money, if a unit has the features, the build and the SQ then it has a case to make. It’s easy to forget single DIN when you can get a 6in double DIN touchscreen for this money but the KDC-BT73DAB offers DAB(+), Bluetooth, 2 USBs and aha internet radio for that tempting price point. It’s a smart looking unit with an understated look that will appeal to the more mature car audio enthusiast.
The teeny-tiny Kenwood skinny amp…
Moving over to Alpine, there’s a different slant on smartphone compatibility. Alpine are introducing TuneIt!, an app designed to free the often fiddly sound-tuning settings from the depths of confusing menus and out on to your phone or iPad. This makes a great deal of sense, although one of the units, the CDE-178BT at approx £250, ironically has the biggest graphic display Alpine have ever fitted to a single DIN unit. There’s also a mechless version, the iDE-178BT, which will save you £30 while retaining all of the other features, including Facebook notifications to your stereo via TuneIt! Finally the CDE-177BT hits that magic £200 price point but trades the graphic screen for two lines of text and a graphic icon area.
Alpine have also paid serious attention to their 8in INE-W928R. It’s time to trot out the old Size Does Matter maxim boys and girls (stop sniggering at the back). This is the first time I’ve seen this unit in the flesh and the difference between this and a 7in unit (behave!) is astonishing. In terms of quickly glancing at the map when you’re lost in an unfamiliar city, there are significant readability benefits and Alpine have been working hard to increase the number of vehicles they provide fitting kits for. They now cover nearly double the models that they were offering when they launched the unit last year. You really have to see it to believe it.
JVC were the only other manufacturer to have their own stand. JVC have always offered a high value proposition for car audio and this was well illustrated by their current choice of demo vehicle being a Smart Car equipped with their NSX1 MirrorLink unit. MirrorLink unfortunately hasn’t taken off with the smartphone manufacturers in the way that the CE crowd were hoping and it’s difficult to understand why. It’s not perfect – there is some lag and the picture is not the native resolution of the phone but as proved in the demo video it’s mature enough to work out of the box and give you navigation, music and phone functionality which is what a lot of people are looking for. Sony in particular are to be questioned at this point – they make phones and head units and won a CES innovation prize for one of the latter yet none of their phones have MirrorLink. Baffling. Hopefully this situation will improve as 2013 progresses. (Editor’s note, it took six calls but the new Sony Experia Z, released literally two weeks ago, supports MirrorLink.)
Sony also had a showing at Expo at two of their distributor’ stands, Armour Automotive and CEL. Showcasing their new App Controlled units. This is a novel idea – it costs money to equip a head unit with a full graphic screen so why not just use your smartphone? Working over Bluetooth, you get control of the major functions of the stereo including iPod control with album art. A compelling option on a range of head units at the £100-£180 end of the market.
This was on Armour Automotive’s stand, who are top level UK Sony distributors.
Pioneer also had space on the CEL stand but it was a much bigger showing with their full range present and correct with support on hand from the guys from Pioneer UK. Pioneer like to stagger their unit launches so there was nothing new in double DIN and we’ve already seen the new single DIN units. The DEH-X8500DAB is a strong contender to the Kenwood unit mentioned already for those who are looking for a more eye-catching device. I’d be very interested to see these two units in a head-to-head. Pioneer are also taking care of existing customers by working hard to offer existing AppRadio (DA-100) customers the opportunity to use their iPhone 5 with the unit. Apple caught everyone on the hop with the change to Lightning (That’s the new connector on 5th Gen Apple stuff. Ed) and it’s heartening to see manufacturers not leaving existing customers in the lurch, at least where it’s technically possible.
Parrot are an odd one. Originally just The Bluetooth People, when I ask Asif Gilani to clarify their increasingly diverse/bonkers product matrix (car handsfree, Asteroid, Zik speakers & headphone and the Drone) he calls them ‘wireless technology solutions’. Can’t argue with that. I’ll admit to wondering if Parrot had it in them to go the distance with Android when the first Asteroid was released, but now with four products in the line-up it’s hard to argue with their commitment. Especially with the Asteroid Classic getting a 2.0 upgrade soon (note that this is the Asteroid platform being upgraded, not the Android version). The double-DIN Smart offers a lot for £500 – internet streaming radio, satellite navigation and crowd-sourced traffic info, all wrapped up with really accurate voice recognition but it’s the form factor of the Mini I really fall for. Essentially an Asteroid Classic designed to work with existing kit, it comes with a very satisfying remote featuring one of my favourite UI paradigms, the jog wheel and of course that Parrot voice recognition.
It’s worth mentioning the elephant in the room at this point in time – MTP. Google also moved the goalposts with Android Ice Cream Sandwich and pulled support for USB Mass Storage. This was how everyone used to connect their Android phone to the computer, making the internal memory mount as a memory card. Without this option, manufacturers must support Media Transport Protocol, a newer option that allows the smartphone manufacturer to ‘abstract’ the file system and make better use of the space in the phone.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single one DIN unit at the show that supported MTP. The Kenwood KDC-BT73DAB had a good go at thinking about it, but never got anywhere. This means that anyone who has a Samsung Galaxy S3, or HTC One, or Xperia Z is stuffed when it comes to connecting their phone via USB despite the presence of little green Android logos all over the place. The manufacturers are aware of this but the ship has sailed for 2013. It’s worth noting that a few of them are now supported MP3 as a codec over Bluetooth so you are bypassing the SBC Bluetooth codec and doing the MP3 decompression in the head unit just as if the file was local, but only Sony will admit to this functionality.
This hiccup aside, it’s obvious that the ubiquity of the smartphone isn’t going anywhere, especially not in-car. By now it’s gone 4pm and I’ve realised I’ve been having so much fun I’ve accidentally powered through lunchtime! So I say my goodbyes to Mr Rayner and set off in search of some burger-related sustenance. Putting my Note2 into the cradle and plugging in the line-in cable now seems distinctly antiquated – every one of the major manufacturers has moved in to this arena with their own ideas and concepts and despite the economy and the shrinking market for aftermarket audio I’d say we’ve never been better served for in-vehicle technology. A great start to 2013!
Adam here again… well bless him, Shads has a bit of a misplaced minor celeb thing going on for me! And that has just translated into the video work a tad as the products, not the people are the stars and of course that SOUND issue is a doozy – you’ll see some of my early stuff so close to Atsuhiro Takeda’s face for sound pickup at a noisy Gadget Show Live that it was actually comical. (check “Alpine ICS-X8 showing MirrorLink technology” on Presenterbloke channel) We’ll have to get that man a gun microphone for his camcorder! But for a first go, I’m way beyond impressed. Shads knows his stuff…and the bit he won’t find out until he reads to this point is that despite him doing this for love, Kenwood reckon that he is the deserved beneficiary of the penultimate Kenwood digital radio giveaway that we have been running for ages on Talk Audio. Yes, the man has worked his butt off for the glory and the trade insider access and at no point even expected me to buy him a coffee, let alone be able to properly pay the man…(and he got a panini instead of a full breakfast!) but this is a lovely unit and a very good DAB deck. The £199.99 KDC-DAB455IU does not normally come complete with a DAB aerial but this one shall do. It is the inside-the window glass-stick type and is normally an extra £25 worth. It’s got your name on it, Shadman!
A HUGE thanks ShadowTD AKA Simon King, for a report more up to speed on what’s new than I could have done. You are a natural…and there’s no escape now, ya git, yer mine!
Oh, and I just could not resist using this about the Kenwood DNN-9230DAB – it is from Denmark and just makes our video efforts look like finger-painting! There is some USA tech that will vary app-wise from Europe in here, mind but it is wicked and introduces a really heavy concept!