The Alpine CDE-102 starts with playback of AM/FM radio and Red Book audio CDs then adds MP3/WMA/AAC playback to the mix. Users are also able to feed their media to the unit via USB port.
MP3 CDs and USB devices can be browsed using the CDE-102's search mode to navigate files and subfolders. You can jump quickly through large lists of digital audio files using the unit's percentage search function.
Although Alpine has slapped the "Made for iPod" and "Works with iPhone" badges all over the CDE-102's box, the unit doesn't actually support Apple's digital media player out of the box. You have to purchase a $30 KCE-433iV full-speed iPod connection cable to use iPods and iPhones with the head unit.
Alpine left its Ai-NET digital bus off of the CDE-102, so there can be no adding HD radio or satellite radio receivers to this head unit. However, the Bluetooth module connection means that hands-free calling and A2DP audio streaming can be added and controlled using the CDE-102's interface.
We ran into issues getting the unit to read from our 8GB USB drive, but our smaller drives were recognized without issue. Browsing through files and folders happens quickly whether we used the USB port or MP3 CDs.
Pressing and holding the volume knob for 2 seconds toggles the Loudness mode, which boosts the audio output of smaller OEM speakers. With only a two-band EQ (bass and treble), you have surprisingly little control over the sound quality. And without the Ai-NET connection, there's no way to add Alpine's Imprint audio processor to the mix.
Power output is rated at 50 watts x 4 channels max, with an average (RMS) output of 18 watts per channel, which is quite respectable for an entry-level stereo.
By not giving the CDE-102 a dedicated subwoofer output, you lose in-dash fader control if you choose to use a subwoofer. However, you are given the opportunity to disable the internal amplifier to reduce line noise while using the preamp output to power an external amplifier, a feature that we usually only see on high-end audiophile receivers.
We wouldn't say that the CDE-102 is the best system to start building an audiophile system. While the unit has some high-end features, it ultimately lacks the expandability that we've come to demand from our car stereos.
However, we do think that the Alpine CDE-102 would be an excellent OEM replacement stereo for older vehicles, as it offers more power, features, and flexibility than the average factory radio.