As the saying goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!" That seems to be the approach taken by Alpine Electronics when designing its new iDA-X305 digital media receiver.
Based on the already impressive iDA-X100 receiver, the X305 keeps the same single-DIN size, rotary encoder-based interface, and lightning quick browsing of digital media while adding iPhone support and a few more watts of power to boot.
On the surface, the X305 also receives a visual refresh with a new matte-finish faceplate that blends better with many vehicles' dash panels and a brushed metal control knob that adds a bit of bling. Compact disc aficionados need not apply as the iDA-X305 also continues the X100's formula of omitting a CD-slot and moving parts in favor of a purely USB-based input scheme.
The most prominent aspect of the X305's interface is the control knob that sits just left of its center. Alpine calls this the Double-Action Encoder, for reasons we'll mention below. The knob can be twisted to perform such actions as adjusting the volume or scrubbing through menu options and media.
Selections are made by pressing the large Enter button in the center of the knob. Reversing through menus is accomplished by hitting the back button to the left of the knob.
Pressing in on the outer ring of the encoder and twisting activates the second action in the Double-Action namesake: QuickSearch. People can chose between either Percentage search (which jumps to a specific part of a list in 10 percent increments) or Alphabet search (which jumps through a list in order of initial letter). Search modes are easily chosen with a tap of the F button between the knob and the screen, and allow for quick navigation of large digital media libraries.
To the right of the control knob is the 2.2-inch, full-color TFT display. Here you'll find iPod album artwork and menu information. The entire faceplate is backlit in cool blue light, but can be changed to red if that better suits your ride's color scheme.
The left side of the faceplate is home to additional buttons for skipping tracks, pausing playback, and power/selecting audio source. A phone button answers incoming calls or activates voice-activated dialing when the iDA-X305 is paired with the Alpine KCE-400BT Bluetooth hands-free module. For security purposes, the iDA-X305 features a partially removable faceplate, so you can take everything except the 2.2-inch screen with you when you leave your car.
The iDA-X305 is a mechanical-free device with no moving parts. That means no CD-slot and no tape player. With the exception of the AM/FM radio, the X305 subsists on a completely on a digital diet.
Using the included USB pigtail, listeners can plug in a portable USB drive or MP3 player for complete access to the file structure. Compatible file formats include DRM-free MP3, AAC, and WMA.
In a nice tip of the hat to iPod users, Alpine has included a short, black dock connector cable with the X305, which looks cleaner and keeps us from having to carry our stock white cable back and forth.
New in the X305 is full "Works with iPhone" compatibility, so no longer will you get a nag screen when connecting your iPhone 3G. Additionally, the X305 will also charge your iPhone while you listen, something that the X100 didn't do.
While the iDA-X305's feature set is essentially limited to radio and digital audio playback, it is capable of being extended and expanded with Alpine's line of add-on modules. We already mentioned the KCE-400BT, but the X305 is also compatible with Alpine's TUA-HD550 HD Radio tuner with iTunes tagging functionality.
The internal amplification receives a 5-watt per channel boost from the X100 to the X305. However, while power is now rated at a peak output of 50 watts by four-channels, average power output remains at 18 watts per channel.
The character of the audio can be tweaked with a two-band (bass/treble) equalizer with a loudness function. Those who need more control can add the IMPRINT audio processor for an additional charge to custom tune the audio to their particular vehicle.
Additional power can be had by way of the upcoming headunit power pack, which boosts average power to 50 watts per channel, with an unstated max, or by adding external amplifiers using any of the three 5-volt preamp outputs (including a dedicated subwoofer output, with its own gain control).
Everything that we liked about the X100 is back and better than ever in the iDA-X305, so our recommendation of this receiver for people with large digital audio collections is a no-brainer. We also like the extendability of the X305 through Alpine's collection of add-on modules and the freedom it gives us to build our cabin tech experience one piece at a time.
However, while many users have successfully made the jump to a completely device-based approach to their music collections, many more still depend on physical media. If you can't break your addiction to CDs, perhaps this isn't the receiver for you.