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The Panasonic CQ-C8305U is one of the high-end models in Panasonic's CQ single-DIN car stereo series. The system features a stylish faceplate design with some useful hard-button controls as well as a less stylish, full-color Organic Electro Luminescence (OEL) display, which can be used to play a selection of animated backdrops while the stereo is in use. Out of the box, the CQ-C8305U can play regular Red Book CDs; compressed audio discs (in MP3, WMA, or AAC formats); and AM/FM radio. With add-on modules, the system can support Bluetooth hands-free calling, intelligent iPod control, and satellite radio.
The most conspicuous design element of the Panasonic CQ-C8305U is its 3D dot matrix (3DDM) display, which catches the eye with its motion graphics. Panasonic says that the OEL display gets "five times the contrast of an LCD screen," although in daytime driving we found the display can be difficult to read in direct sunlight due to lack of brightness and the display's reflective coating. The full-motion display failed to impress us as either useful or ornamental: its less-than-impressive 172x54 pixels show grainy footage of racing cars, snowboarders, and spacescapes that look like they belong in a computer game circa 1986. The CQ-C8305U's display is fortunately more useful for showing text information on disc- and iPod-based audio.
Aside from the display, the CQ-C8305U has an elegant faceplate layout: while its single backlit dial is a little small for our liking, we do like its blue backlighting, and the presence of well-positioned hard buttons for navigating music and tweaking audio output. The two pushbuttons to the left and right of the dial are a particularly intuitive means of skipping tracks forward and back when driving along. We also like the system's dedicated hard buttons for skipping between folders on digital audio discs and its prominent Source button. As with many other stereos, the CQ-C8305U's basic EQ controls are accessed by pushing in the volume dial, while its more advanced SRS WOW audio-enhancement feature is programmed via its dedicated sound quality (SQ) button.
With a push of the eject button, the CQ-C8305U's motorized faceplate rolls down to reveal its single disc slot, which can play regular CDs plus homemade CD-R/RW discs loaded with MP3, WMA, and AAC files. When playing any of the latter, the stereo's display can be set to show text information for folder and track information, although there does not appear to be any way to show artist details. An alternative screen setting enables users to display a graphic showing folder and file structure, with a shortened ID3 tag in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, although we are at a loss to see why anyone would find this configuration more useful than the standard text.
Text information is also available for tracks playing from connected iPods using the optional Panasonic CA-DC300U direct cable for iPod. With an iPod connected, all music control and track information is transferred from the player to the stereo. By holding down the folder skip buttons, users can call up three of the iPod's menu categories: playlist, artist, and album, although the other popular categories (including songs, genres, and composers) are not available.
All audio sources play via the CQ-C8305U's built-in MOS-FET amp, which delivers an output of 18 watts RMS/50 peak x four channels. One of the most impressive features of the Panasonic CQ-C8305U is its range of acoustics-customization and sound-processing options. Principal among these is SRS WOW, an audio-enhancement suite that includes TruBass and SRS Focus. TruBass is a signal processing technology for bass enhancement, which uses a filter to increase bass perception. With TruBass on, the CQ-C8305U delivers a deep, thrumming bass note. SRS Focus is another sound processing technique that is, basically, designed to send speaker output vertically upward to carry the acoustic signal to the level of the car occupants' ears. In practice, SRS Focus enhances the audio output by giving a fuller, brighter sound.
While the add-on iPod functionality of the Panasonic CQ-C8305U meets with our general approval, the same cannot be said for the stereo's optional Bluetooth hands-free calling interface. The Panasonic CQ-C8305U can be turned into a Bluetooth hands-free calling interface with the addition of the Panasonic PYBT100U, which comprises a lightweight module that can be hidden behind the dash; a microphone; and a clicker, which has two colored backlit buttons used to accept incoming calls and to hang up. Pairing a phone to the Bluetooth module is a straightforward process, as is accepting an incoming call to that cell phone once it is paired: simply push the blue button on the phone clicker to route the call through the car's speakers.
As an in-car disc player, the Panasonic CQ-C8305U performs well, giving drivers an intuitive means of selecting digital audio and presenting them with clear ID3 tag information. Panasonic's attempt to enhance the system's appearance with color animation fails to meet its brief, and results in a very dated appearance. On the positive side, the CQ-C8305U delivers excellent sound quality and plenty of options for tweaking audio output, including a user-friendly seven-band equalizer and SRS WOW sound processing. The stereo's full-speed iPod connectivity, while basic, is straightforward to use and makes the optional iPod module a worthwhile investment. This is not the case for the clunky optional Bluetooth module, which provides limited call options and very poor call quality.