Clarion CZ500A CD Tuner
It’s a sign of the times that Clarion’s CD tuner range extends to only three basic variants and that the most expensive of these now costs just $399RRP. This is it, the CZ500A, and while its price is very affordable it still offers everything a well equipped CD source needs.
- Friday 11th February, 2011
3 Year conditional warranty, for $399 gives you everything you really need including built-in Bluetooth, best features compared to price point rivals, IR remote supplied.
Lacks a little pizzazz, no pause function.
You could probably quite rightly say that 2010 was the year digital media players (well, iPods basically) seriously began to kill off the humble CD tuner. While ardent fans of the compact disc still cling to it for its supposed sound quality advantage, the bulk of listeners are trading up for the far greater convenience of digital storage.
In my view, there’s negligible discernable SQ between the CD original and a lossless encoded digital track (don’t tell the MEA SQ geeks I said that – they disagree) (Ed: Yep!), and in any case most younger generation listeners have been fed a constant diet of compressed media their entire lives. They simply don’t know any different, and for them a CD is about as modern as an LP…
So, where does this leave the modern CD tuner like Clarion’s CZ500A and its more affordable CZ200A and CZ100A brethren? Well, I think the answer is that they just keep becoming more feature packed while costing less to buy. The CZ500A may be affordable, but it’s packed with goodies including Bluetooth hands-free with audio streaming, iPod control, and a full complement of inputs and outputs. So, it’s got a CD transport for the rare occasion that you need it, and works equally as well as a digital media controller for bulk of the time.
Clarion’s latest front panel design is yet another departure from their previous models in layout, and shares no common traits with other media sources in their range. I think Clarion have experimented with their source unit front panel design more than any other manufacturer in recent years. The names and functionality of each button doesn’t seem to alter much, but how they’re arranged seems to be completely different year on year. I think they should settle on a design theme and stick to it for a while, with only minor cosmetic revisions for newer models. This works well for Alpine, Pioneer, Sony and JVC, and encourages buyers to stick with the same brand year to year thanks to their familiarity with the functionality of every subsequent model range.
Having said that the current guise works quite well and is a massive visual step forward as well as a leap in quality over last year’s ‘horse shoe’ type design. Gone are the cheapo silver buttons, and now all Clarion CD tuners share the same circular arrangement on the far left of the face. While this design trend has really been done to suit those LHD Americans yet again, in practical use us RHD folk still get to see a full view off the dual layer LED screen when making adjustments. That’s a fair trade off I reckon.
A massive, protruding volume dial dominates the front panel design, and Clarion has fitted it with a nice grippy rubber trim ring so that it rotates perfectly to your fingers’ commands. While the CZ500A gets high marks for the clarity of its left side controls, the right side controls get marked down for being angled downwards and having characters that are too hard to discern. No such troubles with the massive dual line LED display however, which is clearly legible from all angles and under all light conditions.
Ins and outs
A single, large plug-in loom houses all your power and speaker outputs, making installation a real headache free experience. The CZ500A gives your four channels offering 50-watts maximum per channel, which equates to a usable 18WRMS per channel in realistic terms. Furthermore, three full pairs of RCAs are provided and each musters a solid 4VRMS per channel.
A flying lead mounted USB port, steering wheel remote port and Bluetooth microphone input port are located at the rear as well. I prefer rear mounted USB ports as I find USB sticks and iPod cables sticking out of the dashboard to be unsightly. The 3.5mm stereo auxiliary input jack, however, is mounted on the front face plate – which is where it really needs to be for convenience sake.
Given the cost of CD/R discs versus the ever lowering price of USB based flash storage, I’d be very surprised if many people still bother with the clunky task of burning CD/R discs with MP3s anymore. If they do then the CZ500A will still oblige with playback, and the same can be said for Windows Media Audio file types. Likewise the USB port reads MP3 and WMA encoded flash drives, which is certainly the cheapest solution with 8GB geek sticks costing a pittance these days.
For most of us iPod playback is the norm, and the CZ500A happily connects and controls all the very latest generation iPods, iTouches and iPhones. There’s no iPod self control mode offered, and once connected your iPod becomes a slave to the CZ500A, while the iTouch and iPhones still offer their normal multi-tiered functionality with playback continues.
If you’re an iPhone user who wants to enjoy hands-free calling and music streaming the good news is that the CZ500A happily connects and functions perfectly. Unfortunately the A2DP connection standard employed compressed the music content horridly. If you try and connect the iPhone simultaneously to the iPod cable with paired the music playback doesn’t function properly. So, an iPhone for hands-free and a second iPod for music it is then. This isn’t solely a Clarion phenomenon, and is a problem with Bluetooth when used with iPhones – period.
The EQ provided in the CZ500A is a 3-band system with a few pre-tuned curves and two user set curves. These user set curves can be adjusted using a pretty well designed EQ system employing true parametric bass and mid frequency bands, while the treble band is fixed Q in nature. The bass band offers 60, 80 or 100Hz centre frequencies with variable Q of 1, 1.25, 1.5 or 2. The mid band offers 500, 1k, or 1.5kHz centre frequencies with variable Q of 0.5, .75, 1 or 1.25. The treble band has a choice of 10k, 12.5k, 15k or 17.5k centre frequencies. All bands offer plus or minus 7dB of adjustment for a total of 15dB of variance per band. So, while Clarion’s owner’s manual is rather scant on details on the matter in actuality to EQ control afforded by the CZ500A is pretty damn good if you’re bothered to take advantage of its prowess.
The only other notable features are the inclusion of Clarion’s Magna-Bass EX function (on/off), and the subwoofer outputs can be set for full range operation or have a low pass filter applied at 80, 120 or 160Hz. A filter slope is not mentioned but assume 12dB per octave.
During my evaluation of the CZ500A I saw nothing that would cause you any dramas come installation time. The RCA, Bluetooth and steering wheel remote ports are all mounted on flying leads and will need to be connected while juggling the chassis in front of your dashboard but that’s nothing to be concerned about. Just remember to remove the two CD transport screws on top of the chassis before mounting it into your dash.
The true value of the CZ500A becomes clear when you look at its Bluetooth equipped price point rivals. Alpine’s $449RRP CDE-103BTi, Pioneer’s $399RRP DEH-6250BT and Kenwood’s $429RRP KDC-U546BT all only feature two pairs of RCA outputs and their displays are only single line. Sony’s $399 MEX-BT3850U also has a single line display, while JVC’s $439RRP KD-R816 offers similar features but costs $40 more at RRP. All of these units aside from the Alpine also use front mounted USB ports, which is preferred lass than rear mounted.
So, while the CD aspect of the humble CD tuner may become less and less relevant over time, Clarion’s CZ500A stands as arguably the best value Bluetooth equipped unit on the market today. It simply gets the job done without fuss, and ticks all the most important boxes that matter to buyers. When you factor in Clarion’s 3 Year warranty (conditional) it makes the CZ500A a very compelling choice for anyone shopping for a Bluetooth equipped CD tuner.
Clarion Australia Pty Ltd.
Telephone: (03) 8558 1115
Facsimile: (03)9551 0377
Business Hours: Monday -Friday 9am-5pm