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Turn on your ignition, and the blank front panel of the CDC-MP32 does a little dance, its two pieces flipping and sliding away to reveal the display and controls. When you turn off the unit, the word Goodbye appears on the big, bright, colorful display. This is followed by a faint swish before the panels fold neatly away again.
Once the unit is ready to play music, the smart input selection shows you only what is available: CD when a disc is loaded and CD-CH when a CD changer is connected. The other input options include three groups of six FM presets and two groups of six AM presets. Finally, there's an extra that all car stereos should have (but few do): an auxiliary input jack on the front panel. This makes it possible to use an , a , or any other portable audio device without resorting to a cassette-style adapter, which can degrade audio quality and is somewhat of a hassle in general. You can set a default audio level for each source so that you won't be blasted by high volume when you switch from CD to FM radio, for instance.
The Aiwa tuned in as many clean FM stations as our older but more expensive reference unit--a first among the car MP3 players that we've tested. The sound, however, is a bit hard-edged. The FM tuner saves you from missing your favorite programs by turning on and tuning in to any station up to twice a day--even if you happen to be listening to another source at the time. You cannot program the CDC-MP32 for specific days, so it's seven days a week or nothing at all (until you cancel the setting). Also, we wished that the tuning buttons skipped the nonpreset stations, to speed up channel flipping.
The Aiwa sounds good when playing MP3 CDs and displays artist, album, and song title, thanks to ID3 tag support. Separate buttons let you navigate between MP3 files or folders. All of these features are great, but controlling a single row of 13 buttons while you're driving is not. Luckily, the CDC-MP32 comes with a simple remote that fits most steering wheels. It controls audio source, volume, and selection of CD tracks or preset stations.
At $350 plus installation, the CDC-MP32 isn't especially cheap, but people who want MP3 CD playback, great FM reception, and a snazzy antitheft mechanism should check it out.