The JVC KD-PDR30 is a car stereo designed specifically for use with iPods. Its simple design and straightforward interface make it easy to plug in and play--but navigating through iPod libraries is not as straightforward.
The JVC KD-PDR30 features a stylish, silver-plastic-trimmed faceplate with two circular controls on the left-hand side: one is a standard volume dial, and the other is a four-way D-pad similar to one we saw recently on the JVC KD-HDR1. Being specifically designed as an iPod interface (note the PD in the product name), the JVC KD-PDR30 comes with an iPod connector as standard. When installing the stereo in a car, users can run the cable for the connector through the glove box (as we did in our test) or place it elsewhere in the cabin; however, as the iPod controls themselves are rendered redundant when the player is connected to the stereo, the iPod does not need to be accessible while driving. The scenario is different for those connecting other (non-iPod) MP3 players to the JVC KD-PDR30 via its front-mounted auxiliary input jack, as music selection on those players must be performed using the player itself.
The JVC KD-PDR30's display consists of an eight-character monochrome white-on-black LCD panel, with various backlit icons indicating playback source, playback mode, and EQ controls. Six radio-preset hard buttons along the bottom of the screen double as a means of altering the playback mode for CDs and iPod playback and are flanked by the Source Select and Mode buttons. We like the simple layout of the faceplate, and found it easy to program while on the road. In particular, the LCD text display is impressively visible in direct sunlight.
In addition to its primary iPod playback capability, the KD-PDR30 can handle regular CDs and CD/RWs encoded in the MP3 or WMA formats. For the latter, the stereo will show ID3/WMA tag information, with users able to switch between artist/ album tags, track name, and an elapsed time readout by pressing the DISP button on the top-right side of the four-way D-pad. As with many single-DIN systems, the limited screen size of the KD-PDR30 means that tags are nearly always truncated, although an option is available to scroll them along.
The KD-PDR30 features five preconfigured EQ settings (Rock, Pop, Jazz, Vocal, Hip-Hop) as well as user-adjustable settings for bass, midrange, and treble. There is also a Super Bass setting, which sets the stereo to maintain a full bass signal irrespective of audio volume. In Rock and Hip-Hop modes, Super Bass is activated automatically, leading to a very aggressive (and often overwhelming) bass tone.
When playing songs from a connected iPod, users are given many of the options they get from the iPod player itself, including: Shuffle (albums, songs, playlists, and so on) and Repeat. The D-pad controller is loosely based on the design of the iPod wheel itself, and, while it does take some time to get used to (there is no center button, for example), it generally succeeds in giving drivers a useful means of transferring control of the player to the stereo. Each of the four compass point buttons corresponds to a function on the iPod, with Up acting as the Menu button, and Down as the Play/ Pause and Select button.
One difference between the D-pad and the iPod wheel is the Menu structure: whereas pressing the Menu button on an iPod takes you back only one level, the Up button on the JVC D-pad takes you right back to the category select level (playlist/ artist/ track/ genre). This can be slightly annoying if you want to hear a different album by the same artist without going all the way back to the root level to make the selection.
Where the JVC KD-PDR30's iPod interface really falls down, however, is in its inability to enable drivers to quickly search large iPod libraries. The only way to get through a list of songs/ artists/ tracks is to press or hold down the forward and back Skip buttons; these actions allow the driver to skip one track or 10 tracks at a time, respectively. But this is still an inadequate means of getting through larger playlists that might be thousands of entries long. We would have liked a more sophisticated interface that enables drivers to search for tracks/ artist/albums by first letter, for example.
In terms of output and sound quality, the JVC KD-PDR30's built-in MOS-FET amp delivers 20w-per-channel's worth of decent output, although MP3 discs sounded a little too soft for our liking, especially at freeway speeds with the car windows or sunroof open when the full-volume output was in danger of being overwhelmed. Other sources including Red Book CDs and iPods sounded loud enough, however. For those wanting more volume, the JVC KD-PDR30 comes with two pairs of 2.5-volt preouts and a dedicated output for an external subwoofer which might be the means of getting the most out of the Super Bass and Rock and Hip-Hop EQ settings.
We wanted to like the JVC KD-PDR30: its plain, usable faceplate design and standard iPod compatibility are definite plus points in any modern car stereo. However, after pressing the forward Skip button a couple of dozen times to get to the bottom of our iPod library, we have to say we're disappointed in the search and navigation interface.