Alpine CDE-141 CD/MP3 receiver review: This CD receiver sticks to the car audio basics

Finally, there's the USB Audio port, which is hidden behind a little plastic door on the faceplate and is easily the most feature-laden source in the list. Mass storage devices, such as small key drives, can be connected to this port for playback of MP3, WMA, and AAC files. Tapping the control knob's center search button allows you to browse files on the device by file name or through the folder hierarchy. While music is playing, tapping the small button marked with a pictogram of an eye cycles through artist, album, track, and folder names on the text display. Play, Pause, and Skip controls behave as you'd expect them to. Meanwhile, four of the six preset buttons take on secondary functions. Buttons 1 and 2 skip among folders; 4 cycles among repeating one song, the whole folder, and no repeat at all; and 5 cycles among shuffling the songs in the current folder, on the entire device, or not at all.

Plugging an iPhone or iPod device into the CDE-141's USB port using either a 30-pin or Lightning-to-USB connector opens up the receiver's compatibility with the Apple device. After a few moments' search, depending on the size of the library stored on the iPod, it can play media stored on the device largely as it would with a USB mass storage device. However, rather than browsing by folder, the iPod's songs are organized by and can be browsed according to song name, artist, album, or genre. Multilevel hierarchy means that these categories can nest: after picking a genre, you can select an artist, then browse that artist's albums, and then ultimately select a song. You can also browse by composer, access stored playlists, play podcasts and audiobooks, or access Genius Mixes saved on the device.

Installation
The Alpine CDE-141's installation is fairly straightforward. The unit ships with a standard wire harness with standard connections for power, ground, speaker-level outputs, illumination power antenna activation, and the like. A standard AM/FM antenna port should receive your car's connection.

A pair of RCA stereo preamp audio outputs and a remote turn-on lead should facilitate the addition of external amplifiers or a powered subwoofer. But there are no other connections on the back of the CDE-141 to enable the addition of external tuners for satellite radio, HD Radio, or additional audio sources.

To complete a basic installation of the CDE-141, you'll need to provide a vehicle-specific wire harness to connect to one provided by the receiver and potentially a mounting kit for your car's dashboard.

Performance
Possibly one of the CDE-141's greatest strengths is that it is so simple. There are no advanced features to get confused about; no Bluetooth needs pairing or tinkering with. Most of the 141's functions can be figured out and mastered with an hour of fiddling in your driveway -- which is good, because the included user manual and quick-reference guide are remarkably sparse.

Searching for particular songs on a USB-connected mass storage device or iPod is straightforward and quick. The single-line, 10-character display means that nearly every song or folder name will need to scroll, but the chunky dot-matrix font is easy to read and the display doesn't wash out in direct sunlight.

CDE-141 by Alpine
Some users may find the CDE-141's simplicity and affordability to be its strongest features. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The front USB port is easily accessible, but care must be taken to not knock larger USB key drives and possibly damage the port. Likewise, the front auxiliary input is easy to reach, but I'd like the option of using a rear input and adding an audio patch cable somewhere else in the cabin for a cleaner look.

People who want to listen to Android devices in the car are limited to the CDE-141's analog input. The USB port is incompatible with older devices' mass-storage mode and Nexus devices' media device mode, but this is to be expected. Still, the USB port isn't totally useless to Android users, as its 1A output means that it can at least charge your phone (tested with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus , Verizon HTC ThunderBolt, and the Apple iPhone 5).

In sum
As it's an entry-level CD/MP3 receiver, I didn't expect the Alpine CDE-141 to blow me away. The $110 unit offers a good base level of connectivity for people who simply want to listen to their digital audio in the car without spending a fortune.

Alpine CDE-141
The Alpine CDE-141 is a solid, simple car audio entry point for iPhone and iPod users. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

iPhone and iPod users will get the most out of their purchase, since the receiver can connect and command their devices with nothing more than the cable they already have. Android users will be left fumbling with their auxiliary input-connected handsets, offloading their media to a portable USB drive, or looking upmarket for a Bluetooth-enabled receiver.

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