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TerraTec CAR 4000 review: TerraTec CAR 4000

TerraTec CAR 4000

Nathaniel Wilkins
4 min read
The CAR 4000 delivers a competitive assortment of inputs and outputs. The front panel hosts an amplified stereo microphone-recording input (dual 1/4-inch jacks), which can be used for making high-quality live recordings in WAV or MP3. A headphone output, also on the front, enables private listening. Rear-panel audio connections include a stereo RCA analog line output, two stereo RCA analog line inputs, one optical digital input, and one optical output. It's a minor complaint, but this pricey unit should also have coaxial digital ports for additional recording and playback flexibility.
Finally, the CAR 4000 features a MultiMedia Memory card (MMC) slot, which enables you to transfer songs to the card, then drop it right into your portable MP3 player--if it has an MMC slot. However, we can't guarantee that this method will work with every MMC-equipped portable. TerraTec's CAR 4000 is one of the priciest digital audio receivers (DARs) that we've tested, so it's fitting that it includes so many features for playing MP3s and other digital audio files in your stereo system. With an internal 40GB hard drive and a single CD tray, the TerraTec can play noncompressed audio files (WAVs), MP3s, and WMAs. This DAR can rip and encode CDs, as well as organize your songs for easy listening. The unit has analog- and digital-recording capabilities, as well as a USB port, enabling music transfers from a PC or any audio device. The CAR 4000 packs a considerable punch but is not without its limitations. The CAR 4000 is an attractive, black machine with a thick, metal casing. Measuring 2.75 by 1.5 inches, the front of the unit is deceptively small for a device that houses a 40GB hard drive, a CD drive, and premium digital/analog conversion circuitry. While text is readable from a respectable distance of about eight feet--farther in the unit's awkward text-zoom mode--longer titles end up scrolling across the display.
Front-panel buttons such as play, stop, and record are clearly labeled with symbols and text. The remote control is slightly flimsy and lacks backlighting. However, its button layout is logical, and the four-way keypad makes it easy to navigate menus.
Setting up the CAR 4000 was a quick process--a relief after some of the more complex DAR installations that we've encountered. We connected the unit to our receiver, powered it up, waited briefly for initialization, and popped in a Future Sound of London CD. Utilizing the built-in Gracenote CD database, the unit quickly displayed the artist's name, the disc, and the song titles. While listening to the disc, we installed the included Media Manager software on our PC, rebooted, and connected the CAR 4000 to the computer. Then, we fired up the easy-to-use Music Manager and transferred songs both ways between our PC and the CAR 4000 via a USB cable. The unit supports ID3 tags, allowing you to browse MP3s and WMAs by artist, album, folder, playlist, or song title. Music recorded through the CAR 4000's mike, as well as via its line and optical inputs, can be stored on the hard drive as either uncompressed WAV files or MP3s at bit rates up to 320Kbps. When ripping music from an audio CD, the MP3-encoding bit rate can be set as high as 192Kbps, or the music can be stored as WAVs. Most DARs don't even record, let alone offer such flexibility.
In an interesting twist, the CAR 4000 has selectable user modes that offer different levels of depth to the interface. The unit defaults to level one, but advanced users can switch to level two or level three, where menus and options are more complicated but offer a higher degree of configurability. Among other things, levels two and three offer a very cool song-grading option--you can use the remote to rank each tune on a scale of -2 to 2. After you've rated enough songs, the CAR 4000 generates a list of your own personal top 100 tunes.
Unlike some other high-end DARs, this TerraTec doesn't have a built-in CD burner. As a workaround, you can transfer recorded music from the CAR 4000 to your PC via USB and burn a disc with your computer's CD burner. Since we haven't been impressed by the slow, copy-protection-saddled CD burners that come bundled with some DARs, we didn't find this model's lack thereof to be a major drawback. We recorded into the CAR 4000's analog and digital inputs, ripped CDs, and transferred music through the USB connection. The sonic results were consistently excellent, but we did encounter a few small snags. Audio CD ripping speed is limited to real time (1X), and song extraction from MP3 and WMA data CDs is rated at a slow 4X. Fortunately, you can listen to an audio CD while it's being ripped, so you can fill the 40GB by just listening to your CDs through the device.
USB audio file transfers from the PC clocked in at a reasonably fast 0.74MB per second. It took about 2 minutes, 20 seconds to transfer our 90MB Outkast folder onto the CAR 4000's hard drive. But we'd have preferred a faster Ethernet connection since that would allow you to add files from other computers on your home network. However, for a one-time transfer of MP3s from PC to DAR during installation, the CAR 4000's solution is acceptable.

TerraTec CAR 4000

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8