Alpine's CDE-141 sits at the lowest end of the manufacturer's line of single-DIN CD receivers. It is a fairly basic stereo, but its short list of features should cover many users' in-car audio needs. If you're just looking for a simple receiver to connect your iPhone with or a USB key full of music to listen to while driving, read on. However, users looking for advanced features such as Bluetooth hands-free calling, app integration, or satellite radio connectivity should look further up the car audio totem pole.
On the left third of the faceplate, the user is presented with buttons for Play/Pause, Skip, AM/FM band, and a large blue button that can be tapped to cycle through available audio sources or held to power the unit off and back on.
Moving to the right, you encounter the control knob, which can be twisted to adjust the volume by default. Pushing the knob like a button calls up the search or tuning function depending on the source. Once in one of these modes, twisting the knob moves through available options and tapping the knob makes a selection. Below the control knob are Back and Audio/Options buttons that are also used for moving through menus.
There's also a button marked "FAV" just above the power/source button, which I had the hardest time figuring out. The CDE-141's instruction manual makes no mention of the button and I was ready to accept that it had no purpose when I spotted the FAV Setup setting in the General options menu; it allows the user to assign a favorite source to the button for quick activation with a single tap. With only four audio sources available, this seems a bit excessive, but the feature probably comes in handy on some of Alpine's more fully featured receivers further up the line.
The receiver feeds information back to the users on a single-line, monochrome LCD that is able to scroll titles longer than its 10-character limit. Below the screen is a bank of seven buttons: six presets and one display toggle marked with an eye icon. To the right of the display are the USB and auxiliary audio inputs.
The entire faceplate is detachable for security and pops off at the press of a button on the lower left corner of the face, but Alpine hasn't included a case of any sort with the CDE-141. The faceplate feels fairly robust, so I wouldn't worry too much about cracking, breaking, or otherwise damaging it, but care should be taken when placing the device in, for example, a crowded bag or purse to avoid marring the glossy finish or getting crud in the USB port or the exposed auxiliary input.
As I stated, the CDE-141 has four available audio sources. The first is the single-disc CD player that is clearly visible along the top edge of the unit's faceplate. This optical drive is able to play standard "red book" audio CDs, including store-bought commercial discs and home-burned CD-R and CD-RW discs. Those discs that have been encoded with CD-Text can also display metadata on the CDE-141's display, and burned CD-R/RWs that contain MP3, AAC, and WMA audio files can also be decoded, searched, and played back much in the same way as USB audio, which we'll get back to momentarily.
Tap the source button and you'll be able to listen to terrestrial radio stations with the CDE-141's AM/FM tuner. Tapping the Skip Forward and Back buttons causes the automatic tuner to scan up or down the frequency band for the next broadcasting station. Holding one of the six preset buttons beneath the screen saves the current station to that button to be recalled later with a tap. Between the FM1 and FM2 modes, the driver can save 12 FM presets, but only six for the single AM band. Those who like to tune their own stations (or want to use the CDE-141 with an FM transmitter) can tap the center of the control knob to activate the search function and then twist the knob to select the desired frequency. There are no surprises here.
The 3.5mm analog auxiliary input on the front of the CDE-141's faceplate is even simpler. It accepts audio patch cables with the common headphone-style minijack connector. You plug it in and audio comes out. The only control that you get in this mode is volume.
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.