Alpine CDE-141 CD/MP3 receiver review: This CD receiver sticks to the car audio basics

Roadshow Editors' Rating

6.9 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 5
  • Performance 9

The Good The Alpine CDE-141 covers the audio-source bases with CD playback, AM/FM radio, and USB and auxiliary inputs located on the faceplate for easy access. iPhone 5 and iPod users will appreciate the CDE-141's native compatibility with Apple's devices.

The Bad The 10-character display means that almost every song title will have to scroll. Alpine doesn't include a case for the detachable faceplate.

The Bottom Line The Alpine CDE-141 won't blow you away with bells and whistles, but this entry-level car stereo gets the basics right at a competitive price.

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.

Design
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.

Source button
The Source/Power button serves dual purposes and is capped by the mysterious FAV button. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

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.

USB/aux-in
USB and analog audio inputs enable digital audio playback from external devices. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

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.

Features
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.

CD player slot
The CDE-141 is, of course, a CD player. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

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.

Plugging an iPhone or iPod device into the CDE-141's USB port using either a 30-pin or Lightning-to-USB connector opens up the receiver's compatibility with the Apple device. After a few moments' search, depending on the size of the library stored on the iPod, it can play media stored on the device largely as it would with a USB mass storage device. However, rather than browsing by folder, the iPod's songs are organized by and can be browsed according to song name, artist, album, or genre. Multilevel hierarchy means that these categories can nest: after picking a genre, you can select an artist, then browse that artist's albums, and then ultimately select a song. You can also browse by composer, access stored playlists, play podcasts and audiobooks, or access Genius Mixes saved on the device.

Installation
The Alpine CDE-141's installation is fairly straightforward. The unit ships with a standard wire harness with standard connections for power, ground, speaker-level outputs, illumination power antenna activation, and the like. A standard AM/FM antenna port should receive your car's connection.

A pair of RCA stereo preamp audio outputs and a remote turn-on lead should facilitate the addition of external amplifiers or a powered subwoofer. But there are no other connections on the back of the CDE-141 to enable the addition of external tuners for satellite radio, HD Radio, or additional audio sources.

To complete a basic installation of the CDE-141, you'll need to provide a vehicle-specific wire harness to connect to one provided by the receiver and potentially a mounting kit for your car's dashboard.

Performance
Possibly one of the CDE-141's greatest strengths is that it is so simple. There are no advanced features to get confused about; no Bluetooth needs pairing or tinkering with. Most of the 141's functions can be figured out and mastered with an hour of fiddling in your driveway -- which is good, because the included user manual and quick-reference guide are remarkably sparse.

Searching for particular songs on a USB-connected mass storage device or iPod is straightforward and quick. The single-line, 10-character display means that nearly every song or folder name will need to scroll, but the chunky dot-matrix font is easy to read and the display doesn't wash out in direct sunlight.

CDE-141 by Alpine
Some users may find the CDE-141's simplicity and affordability to be its strongest features. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The front USB port is easily accessible, but care must be taken to not knock larger USB key drives and possibly damage the port. Likewise, the front auxiliary input is easy to reach, but I'd like the option of using a rear input and adding an audio patch cable somewhere else in the cabin for a cleaner look.

People who want to listen to Android devices in the car are limited to the CDE-141's analog input. The USB port is incompatible with older devices' mass-storage mode and Nexus devices' media device mode, but this is to be expected. Still, the USB port isn't totally useless to Android users, as its 1A output means that it can at least charge your phone (tested with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Verizon HTC ThunderBolt, and the Apple iPhone 5).

In sum
As it's an entry-level CD/MP3 receiver, I didn't expect the Alpine CDE-141 to blow me away. The $110 unit offers a good base level of connectivity for people who simply want to listen to their digital audio in the car without spending a fortune.

Alpine CDE-141
The Alpine CDE-141 is a solid, simple car audio entry point for iPhone and iPod users. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

iPhone and iPod users will get the most out of their purchase, since the receiver can connect and command their devices with nothing more than the cable they already have. Android users will be left fumbling with their auxiliary input-connected handsets, offloading their media to a portable USB drive, or looking upmarket for a Bluetooth-enabled receiver.

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