SiriusXM Satellite Radio has undergone a recent refresh, consolidating the once separate Sirius and XM channel lineups into one unified listing and ushering in a new generation of tuners with expanded functionality.
The Alpine CDE-124SXM is one of the first of this next generation of SiriusXM devices to hit the market, boasting such features as a 30-minute cache for pausing live satellite broadcasts and an iTunes tagging function that enables you to mark and save songs heard on any SiriusXM station for later purchase. The CDE-124SXM is actually a two-piece bundle that combines a single-disc CD receiver with the Alpine SXV100 SiriusXM Connect vehicle tuner kit in one box for a reduced price.
The CD receiver that ships with the CDE-124SXM is similar, but not identical, to the Alpine CDE-123 receiver. It's got a single-disc CD transport that plays standard audio CDs and decodes MP3-formatted audio. The receiver doesn't have a model number of its own and is listed in all of Alpine's materials by the bundle's number of CDE-124SXM.
On the detachable faceplate, there's a single USB port that also supports playback of MP3 files on portable storage devices and a 3.5mm analog auxiliary input for connecting any audio source unsupported by the USB connection. There are a grand total of 18 physical buttons scattered about the unit's faceplate that control everything from source selection to track selections to the selection of preset stations, and there's also metallic control knob that alternates between volume control and browsing of digital audio files or satellite radio stations.
Out back the receiver sports little more than the FM antenna input, the connection point for the SXV100 tuner, a standard power and speaker wire harness connection, and a single pair of RCA audio outputs that can be used for either full-range or subwoofer amplification.
In addition to the audio sources listed above, the CDE-124 supplies AM/FM radio and iPod connectivity through its USB port (although you'll have to provide your own dock connector cable). When an iPod is connected, you gain full access to the device's digital media organized into the same categories that the iPod supports, such as playlists, artist, album, and genre. There are also Percentage Search and Quick Search modes for quick jumps through especially long lists of songs. If there's someone in the passenger seat, a passenger control mode can be used to return song selection right to the device itself while playback continues through the receiver.
When the Alpine CDE-124SXM is connected to an iPhone running the Pandora Internet Radio application, you can control the app with the CDE-124SXM's PandoraLink mode. With this you can use the CDE-124SXM's controls to select preset Pandora stations, pause and skip songs, rate songs with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and bookmark songs or artists for later purchase. If you really like the currently playing song or artist, you can even use the controls to create a new Pandora station based on the musical characteristics of that song or artist.
SiriusXM Connect tuner
The SXV100 SiriusXM Connect tuner is a small breakout box that is installed in a hidden location somewhere in your vehicle's cabin. Cable ties are included to attach the unit to the standard wire harness for mounting in-dash behind the receiver. The module measures 3.42 inches long by 2 inches wide by 0.7 inch thick. There are only two connections on the SXV100's chassis: a proprietary pigtail for connecting the unit to the CDE-124SXM receiver and a small input for connecting the external antenna. The antenna has an extremely long lead that means it can be mounted externally as far away as on the trunk lid of most vehicles. The antenna itself is a small plastic box that attaches to the vehicle's chassis with a strong, magnetic mount. For purposes of our testing, we elected to attach our antenna to a mounting point on our vehicle's dashboard.
Even with our suboptimal dashboard mount, the SXV100's reception was better than some OEM units that we've tested. Judging apples-to-apples for audio quality is impossible as the speakers and receivers are different, but where actual connection consistency is concerned the SXV100 almost never lost its signal and, during our week of testing, the audio playback was only interrupted a few moments after entering a parking garage. (Many OEM systems we've tested skipped or lost signal when passing through tall buildings or across bridges with large cable towers.)
In addition to the standard playback and browsing of SiriusXM's stations by number or category, the SXV100 offers a few new features that are unique to this generation of SiriusXM tuners.
A feature called Instant Replay takes advantage of a digital audio cache rolled into the tuner to pause live broadcasts for up to 30 minutes. You can then resume playback with fast-forward and rewind capabilities. Unfortunately, switching sources or powering down the unit wipes the cache, so you won't be able to, for example, pause NPR while you run into a store to pick up a few items and expect it to resume when you get back.
Song tagging, a feature that we've seen on many HD Radio tuners, enables you to save a list of songs to a connected iPhone or iPod by tapping a button sequence while listening to a SiriusXM broadcast. When the iPod is connected to a PC for its next sync, you can access the tagged song list for purchase in iTunes.
Finally, a trio of features--Song Alert, Artist Alert, and Game Alert--enables you to mark a song, artist, or sports team (NFL, NBA, NHL or collegiate teams supported) so that when that content is playing on any SiriusXM station you'll be prompted with the option to switch stations and listen.
Browsing stations with the CDE-124SXM's knob and single-line display can be tricky--and for the first day of testing we found it rather slow. However, once we'd gotten the hang of what buttons to push and in what order, we were able to jump to any station within seconds. Still, we'd recommend that you take a moment and preset a handful of favorite stations before you get on the road, lest you spend too much time staring at the tiny screen while the vehicle is in motion.
The Alpine CDE-124SXM is a great value for those who want to kill two birds with one stone and upgrade their car stereo while adding SiriusXM Satellite Radio connectivity to their in-car audio source mix. At an MSRP of $229.99, this bundle also ends up being less expensive than what we'd expect to pay for the CD receiver alone.
However, there's another way to get this level of functionality from Alpine outside of the CDE-124SXM package. The SXV100 tuner can be purchased separately for $69.99 and paired with Alpine's own CDE-123 single-CD receiver ($199.95) and likely an entire future generation of Alpine receivers of various form factors. Of course, buying the components separately is more expensive--at a combined MSRP of $269.94, they're about $40 more separately than as a bundle. However, for that $40, the superior CDE-123 receiver adds a few niceties that serious car audio lovers will appreciate. For example, it can decode WMA and AAC audio files via its CD-player and USB port. It also sprouts a second rear USB port that's useful for those who like to leave a USB drive permanently connected. System builders will appreciate that the CDE-123 unit can be upgraded with an optional Bluetooth receiver, an input for connecting the receiver to a steering-wheel control module, and two more pairs of RCA audio connections, adding dedicated rear and subwoofer outputs for connecting more amplifiers.
For the money, we'd spend the extra $40 and buy our components separately to get the Alpine CDE-123 receiver. However, if you never plan to connect an amplifier to your receiver and are pinching pennies, the CDE-124SXM is a good value and a very good choice.