Digital audio playback without backup
The IVA-W200 is designed to handle most common audio inputs on the market. RedBook CDs and WMA and MP3 discs are all inserted in the same slot as DVDs, and play without any problem. In addition to being a garden-variety AM/FM tuner, the IVA-W200 is wired to receive satellite radio (with a dedicated Sat button on the bezel), HD radio, and iPod inputs. The latter three capabilities are only available with the purchase of additional equipment and/or services. The standard off-the-shelf unit plays MP3 and WMA discs. The unit can also be used as a display for external Alpine navigation systems, and it can be hooked up to another auxiliary input through an additional RCA jack.
Navigation of digital audio files is straightforward; the IVA-W200 presents the user with a list of folders and then a list of tracks to make their selections from. Also to our liking was the full tag information for the folder, the artist, the album, and the track. Our major complaint about navigating digital audio with the IVA-W200 is that, once you have navigated to and started playing a desired track, the unit will not allow you to back up one level to select another song from the same album. Instead, users who want to make another selection have to press the File Search button, which takes them back to the master menu.
Navigating an iPod on the IVA-W200 is much easier than on the Eclipse AVN6600 that we tested recently. Having hooked our iPod up via the Alpine Full Speed Connection Cable (sold separately), we were able to control track selection and volume using the touch screen. With an iPod hooked up, all direct controls on the MP3 player itself are disabled, but the IVA-W200 does a good job of offering a flexible range of control options. Users can select tracks by the artist, the song title, the album, or the playlist. The IVA-W200 screen displays full tag information for each track, and its basic text format and lack of fancy graphics enable drivers to read the information at a glance.
One-way Bluetooth calling
While the iPod add-on to the IVA-W200 is a seamless addition, the optional Bluetooth module--connected via Alpine's Ai-NET or M-Bus interface--is far more awkward to install and operate. It appears that the IVA-W200 was not designed with the addition of hands-free calling in mind. We can live with the external microphone, but the necessity of two external modules--one as the connection interface, the other as a control pad used to receive calls--underlines the lack of integration between the touch screen and the phone.
As such, there is no way to place outbound calls with the KCA-100BT Bluetooth module other than dialing the number directly into the phone handset or using the phone's voice-dial capabilities (if so equipped). Pairing the phone with the module is simple enough: press the large central button on the three-button control pad for about eight seconds, then use your Bluetooth-enabled phone or music device (the IVA-W200 supports Bluetooth audio streaming) to search for the module. Our Samsung SGH-t619 found the module without any trouble, but once we'd punched in the number, we found it easier to use the handset's built-in speakerphone for outgoing calls than to route the call via the head unit to the car speakers.
When a connected cell phone gets an incoming call, the IVA-W200 sounds a doleful, three-tone alert accompanied by the appearance of a red phone symbol on the LCD screen. Sound quality for incoming calls through the car speakers is poor; voices sounded buzzy and distorted, in sharp contrast to the clear output from audio sources. The procedure for connecting a Bluetooth audio-enabled device is similar to that for hands-free devices, and streamed audio files can be accessed by setting the Source option to CD Changer. Interestingly, audio quality is much better when streaming music by Bluetooth, but it is still inferior to that of disc-based digital music.
Overall, the Alpine IVA-W200 exhibits some advanced features and is a strong candidate for a midrange, all-in-one media player. We especially like its iPod- and Bluetooth audio compatibility. Those looking for seamless hands-free communication, however, should look elsewhere.