CD Changer Features
The Kenwood player looks much like any other in dash DIN CD player. In fact, except for the CD-MP3 label you probably wouldn't know it wasn't. There are some nice security features. You can set a security code on it so that if it is stolen, well, sucks to be them! Course, you're still out an expensive stereo, but the thieves aren't going to be listening to any tunes anytime. You don't want it stolen though, which is why the faceplate is both removable or flipable. By "flipable" I mean that it can rotate completely around so that the space where the radio was just looks like a blank as if there is nothing installed. Very cool.
Outside of the "MP3" part of it the radio is pretty standard. This would probably be a decent buy even if you're not looking for MP3 playback. The radio has 3 FM and 1 AM band, 6 preset buttons, a 12 character display, disc and station naming (you can set a name for a CD or radio station and it will display the next time you go to it or put in that disk). There is also a preset button for sound tuning with rock, jazz, top40, pops, flat, folk and user defined settings.
The MP3 features are quite inclusive. It will play ISO9660 discs with up to 5 directory layers deep. It has random only on a folder basis, not across the full disk. This can be gotten around though, because ISO9660 honors unix symlinks, so under your favorite Unix you can create an "all" folder with symlinks to all the other MP3s on the disk, and go to that when you want to randomize across all songs on the CD. It will read ID3 version 1.0 and 1.1 tags and you can choose between 3 different formats of the information displayed.
One of the problems with the mp3 playing is related (I assume) to simply reading the MP3 format. When power is turned on, or a new disc put in, the unit displays a reading disc message that lasts for a few seconds depending on how many files are on the CD. This happens even if a normal CD is loaded (though not for as long). Also there is a 3 second pause when switching songs, so even a live album has pauses. There is a 4 second period before the ID3 tag is read, so don't expect to flip from song to song and read the ID3 tag quickly. The fact that it reads ID3 tags at all is a huge win. The other model I was looking at, the Sony CDX-MP45X would not read the ID3 tags at all, and would only display the filename, but only an 8 character filename (which is all ISO9660 supports). Seeing "BLUERO*1" instead of seeing "Blue Rodeo - Five Days in May" does me no good :)
All in all the features and abilities of the player are two thumbs up. I had no problems with them at all, no skipping, and even though it only reads ISO9660 type 1 and 2, you can put a Joliet type disc and it will play it just fine.
Sadly there are some things against this unit :( None of them are related to the features on the system though. They are 100% physical. I'd be willing to guess that Kenwood did almost no user testing when designing the faceplate layout. The buttons are small and poorly placed. When using a deck I like to be able to operate it without looking at it. The buttons are all small enough and similar enough that this is almost impossible. The most commonly used features (next and previous song) are hidden away and the up and down folder buttons (also the FM/AM buttons) are reversed. The top one (FM) moves down a folder and the bottom one (AM) moves up! Very counter-intuitive. The feel of the buttons isn't that great either, feeling quite mushy.
The other problem is with the faceplate. It is spring driven, not motorized, and about two weeks after I had it first installed the faceplate got jammed in the open position :( Very sucky. I had it replaced at the store I got it from without issue, but the fact that it happened, and it was a known issue (messages on the user discussion board had mentioned this a few times) annoyed me. Since replacement (four months ago) I have had no trouble with it.
If you're really hankering for a CD-MP3 player for your car, with good features and (mostly) high quality, this is a great player. If you can wait a bit, I'd wait to see what the next generation of players from some of the other car audio companies are like. Aside from some issues with the system at the start, I've been very happy with mine.
- User discussion board - http://pub56.ezboard.com/fhighwaymp3frm2
- User reviews - http://www.neoseeker.com/Hardware/Products/Kenwood_MP8017/Kenwood_MP8017_userreviews.html
- Tech Zone review - http://www.thetechzone.com/display.asp?i=61&p=1
Specs and some data from http://www.thetechzone.com/display.asp?i=61&p=1