Alpine INA-W900E 2-Din Receiver
Alpine’s impressive new INA-W900E promises integrated Navigation, audio-visual, iPod audio and video playback, Bluetooth, and IMPRINT upgrade capability for high-end sound quality potential. All for this $2199! Is the holy grail of source units finally here at long last?
- Monday 10th January, 2011
The only truly SQ upgradable all-in-one A/V solution on the market, Alpine’s always excellent iPod support, WVGA high-resolution display, touch screen that actually works well!
still no video playback via USB, lots of connectivity means lots of wires to connect
With the advent of the INA-W900E it appears that Alpine have indeed finally provided us all with the most holy of holy source unit solutions; one that combines the very latest in connectivity and communication with the ability to add an external processor to allow tuning to achieve true high-end fidelity.
While it may have been technically possible to combine all of these features in a previous generation unit, the trouble was you had to buy and add things like Navi and Bluetooth via separate modules. This was cumbersome to install and rather costly, with Alpine’s Bluetooth unit and Navi add-ons totaling around $1300. Since the INA-W900E sells for just $2199RRP this puts the great value of this unit into perspective. What’s more, the similar IVA-W520BT double DIN lacks Navi but still costs $1899RRP. Why would you bother when the IVA-W900E is just $300 more?
The signal processing aspects of the INA-W900E are really taken from two fronts; the in-built processing or the processing possible via upgrading with Alpine’s PXA-H100 IMPRINT unit. Basic signal processing extends to a single true parametric bass EQ band, plus a quasi-parametric treble band. The former offers centre frequencies at 60, 80, 100 and 200Hz, with a choice of four ‘Q’ width curves. The latter treble band doesn’t feature ‘Q’ adjustment but you can choose a 10, 12.5, 15, or 17.5kHz centre frequency. The front and rear outputs also have a selectable high pass filter with a choice of 80, 120 or 160Hz cut off frequencies, and you can choose a different filter point for reach pair. The filter slope isn’t stated anywhere I could find. Still, for any non-SQ biased users the in-built signal processing is not too shabby.
More serious users (like MEA readers / enthusiasts for instance) will certainly take a long hard look at adding Alpine’s venerable PXA-H100 IMPRINT signal processor option. This upgrade module turns the INA-W900E into a serious SQ tunable powerhouse. At $299 it’s a must-have for anyone seriously looking for high-end sonics, and adds selectable 2/3-way crossovers with near infinite adjustment of filter points and slopes, true multi-band parametric EQ and multi-channel time alignment. It is also possible to utilize an automated tuning system via IMPRINT for the newbies amongst you, but the manual tuning method from an experienced installer will always yield superior results.
Ins and outs
As with all modern A/V units, the INA-W900E offers a myriad of input and output options. The best news is that thanks to integrated Navi and Bluetooth the sheer clutter associated with wiring this beast is made much simpler. Sure, it’s still going to be a more difficult unit to install than your garden variety CD tuner, and if you option the PXA-H100 it get even more complicated, but all in all its not too bad. It’s certainly one of the easier Alpine A/V source units to install that I’ve come across.
You get 18WRMS x 4 from the internal amplifier, while the three pairs of RCA outputs afford you up to 2VRMS of unclipped signal. Opt for the PXA-H100 and this is raised to 4VRMS. A fourth pair of RCA A/V outputs serves to feed an independent rear video or audio zone. On the input side you get one pair of A/V inputs, a USB input for iPod devices or flash drives, a reverse camera input, steering wheel control interface input (an IR remote is supplied), Bluetooth microphone input, and Alpine’s Ai-Net connector if you fancy an old school CD/DVD Changer.
On paper the INA-W900E can handle virtually any file type you care the throw at it including CD, DVD, MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, Apple Lossless, MPEG video, as well as Divx video. What’s key is that depending on the format you’ve got you have to choose a playback avenue to play it through. This is because not all avenues play back all mediums.
Apple based media is largely consigned to Apple devices of course (the disc drive and USB port will play AAC files), but if you want Divx video playback then the only route is via burning a DVD/R disc, which is a pain when there’s a perfectly usable USB port attached. I did find a ‘USB Video’ option for the ‘AUX IN’ mode menu that could be selected, but no reference to this was shown anywhere in the downloaded owner’s manual for the INA-W900E. I did try a USB flash drive with an AVI file loaded onto it but simply got a blank screen when attempting to access the ‘USB VIDEO’ choice in the SOURCE menu.
One of these days I hope that Alpine twigs onto the fact that a vast majority of its customers download movies and TV shows on the internet, that statistically speaking most of these files are in Divx format, and that most folk want to be able to play them back via the USB port. Flash memory is so cheap now (8Gb for $20 or thereabouts) that it no longer makes sense to spend time burning DVD/R discs. That the mysterious ‘USB VIDEO’ option exists may mean that this feature is on the way. Let’s hope so.
The unit can play video via an iPod or iPhone, but this is limited to Apple native formats of which Divx is not allowed (thanks again Apple). I was not able to test the iPod video playback as Alpine forgot to package the required cable in my test sample unit. If you’d like to know how the INA-W900E works with video playback (especially via iPods and iPhones) then check out my recent review of the similar IVA-D511E here: http://mobileelectronicsaustralia.com.au/reviews/alpine_iva-d511e_din_mobile_media_station/
The good news is that basic audio playback using the iPod interface is great, and in typical Alpine fashion this is a fuss free and very intuitive task. You get ultra fast access to artists, albums and songs and skipping ahead through the alphabet is quick thanks to a nice slider bar arrangement. One particular aspect I love is that when playback of any album begins you can access the same artist’s other albums through a direct forward/backward press of the touch screen. Brilliant!
While I still lament the loss of Alpine’s industry benchmark Pulse-touch system, the more crude touch screen system employed by the latest generation Alpine A/V units is still the best in the business. The screen is snappy to respond to prods of the finger, and I never found any of those annoying corner placed buttons that refuse to acknowledge repeated pressing that seem to plague most other brands’ A/V touch screen systems.
Look and feel wise its traditional Alpine all the way, and while it’s still quite old school in font and style the interface is at least clear, concise and very easy to navigate. I’m not a big user of Navigation but the Alpine system does employ NAVTEQ based mapping software, which is at least equivalent to what else, is on the market. The Bluetooth system employed by the INA-W900E is excellent, and paired quickly to my iPhone 4 while providing clear speech during the test phone calls I placed. Better still, it didn’t force me to use Bluetooth based audio streaming, happily playing back audio via the USB docking port while simultaneously interrupting to make calls. During calls I could choose to hear the other person via the car’s speakers or the iPhone’s internal or external speakers. All Bluetooth integrated systems should be this good.
Aside from the one glaring USB video playback oversight the INA-W900E is a revelation, though I’m somewhat disappointed it’s taken until the 2010/11 for something like this to finally be available (and reasonably affordable) when all the technology has been with us for well over half a decade now.
It seems that we’ve finally arrived at a time and place where all the prerequisite connectivity technology can finally be integrated into one device without the need for a host of costly and cumbersome semi-integrated black boxes. Sure, the PXA-H100 is a cost option, but in reality 95% of customers will never need its features so shouldn’t be forced to pay for them unnecessarily.
So, aside from Kenwood’s $2699RRP DNX7360BTNAV, the INA-W900E is the only A/V solution on the market that can appease both the modern techno-junkie and the audiophile in one fell swoop. And on that point the Kenwood’s in-built time correction, EQ and crossovers are rather inferior to those offered by the Alpine system. I’d love to elaborate on that with a full review, but Kenwood have always been notoriously lackluster when it comes to providing test samples of their products – which is a polite way of saying they don’t return phone calls or emails. What I can say is that their EQ is not parametric, and the crossover is only 2-way in design, and therefore no match for the IMPRINT system from Alpine.
That means that for anyone truly serious about an A/V unit and who have SQ aspirations the INA-W900E is the stand out choice. Like is always the case with Alpine products, it knows what it needs to do and it just gets the job done well. At $2199 it’s even what I’d consider pretty darn good value to. Does that make the IVA-W900E the best A/V solution on the market today? I’d have to say yes.
Alpine Electronics of Australia Pty Ltd.
Telephone: (03) 8787 1200
Facsimile: (03) 8787 1299