The Alpine CDE-9874 is a simple single-DIN in-dash car stereo that goes head-to-head with the entry-level Sony CDX-GT420U we reviewed last week. With a clean, easy-to-use interface and built-in capability to play MP3, WMA, and AAC-encoded discs, a front-mounted auxiliary input jack, and expandability options including iPod and Bluetooth compatibility, it is about the most you can get for your money in the sub-$150 price range.
In common with other Alpine stereos we've seen, the CDE-9874 features an intuitive and colorful faceplate design. Its main rotary volume control dial is flanked by two colored button clusters, which are responsible for controlling separate functions. To the left of the rotary dial, a set of three buttons with red backlighting are the primary interface for searching and selecting music from digital audio discs, and iPods; a magnifying glass, an enter button, and a go back button. To the right of the dial, a quartet of four buttons gives drivers the capability to skip between tracks, sources, and radio bands. We found the system's white-on-black monochrome display to be easy to read at a glance and visible in bright sunlight.
Features and performance
In addition to its standard AM/FM tuner, the CDE-9874 can handle Red Book CDs as well as MP3, WMA, and AAC-encoded discs via its single disc slot. When playing the latter, drivers can use the system's dedicated View button to cycle through CD Text, ID3, or WMA tags on folder, file, track, artist, and album. The Search button (denoted by a magnifying glass icon) lets drivers navigate files on an MP3 disc by searching through either a list of files or folders. Using the rotary dial, drivers can scroll through all the folders and files on a disc, with the display showing about 10 characters at a time. We found this to be too few characters for our liking, especially when the file tracks were preceded by an index number, which reduced the number of letters even further.
With the chosen song showing on the display, a press of the dedicated Enter button selects the song. Like the more expensive Alpine CDA-9885, the CDE-9874 features a "quick search" feature: holding down the Search button for more than two seconds, drivers can access a full list of all the songs on an MP3 disc by file name and number. This is a very useful feature for skipping to a specific track, but only if you know its numerical folder/file designation. Whether using quick search or the regular browsing function, we do like the fact that you can navigate to your chosen song without interrupting the currently playing track. We also like the dedicated back button, which lets users go back one level when browsing.
With the addition of Alpine's KCE-422i iPod cable (about $30), the CDE-9874 turns into an intelligent iPod interface with data and logic control of the player transferred to the stereo faceplate. With an iPod selected as a source, the Search button can be used to access the typical Apple menus (Playlist, Artist, Album, Genre, and so on) with the names of listings in each category shown on the display. The quick browser function also becomes more useful with an iPod as it provides a complete alphabetized list of all the tracks on the player. Drivers can turn the rotary dial to progress through the list to their chosen song, and also use the six preset buttons beneath the stereo display to jump to corresponding points in the track library. Other expandability options include the steeply priced Alpine KCE-300BT ($200), which gives the stereo into a Bluetooth hands-free calling capabilities.
With 16 watts RMS, audio quality of the CDE-9874 is what you would expect from an entry-level stereo. While the system delivers plenty of power, we found the output to be muddy on the low end and shrill on the high end at high volumes. With our stock car speakers, the audio sounded best with the Defeat function engaged. The system provides the usual array of EQ settings, including controls for bass, treble, and balance, as well as some more advanced settings for bass bandwidth, which determines the breadth of bass frequency that is boosted relative to the center frequency. A high-pass filter with three settings gives further control over bass output. For the connection of external amps, the CDE-9874 provide a couple of 2-volt preamp outputs, while an IC setting lets drivers turn off the power to the internal amp when an external amp is connected.
With a price tag of about $150, the Alpine CDE-9874 ticks all the boxes for an entry-level stereo. With an easy-to-use faceplate design, some advanced browsing features for digital audio files, reasonably priced iPod expandability, and good support for external components, it is a cost-effective digital-age replacement for your stock stereo.