With the Brisbane SD48 digital media receiver, Blaupunkt--a name synonymous with car stereos of old--is proving it can make products for the digital age. It may look like a regular single-DIN head unit, but similar to the Alpine iDA-X001, the Brisbane SD48 is a "mechless" device designed to support digital audio sources made up from ones and zeros rather than cassette tapes or CDs. Its basic faceplate may lack some of the functionally we've seen in comparably priced units, but its standard SD card slot, USB port, and auxiliary-input jack give it good support for a wide range of digital audio sources.
During installation, the Brisbane SD48 feels light and insubstantial--not surprising seeing as the system does not contain a CD drive or any moving internal parts. While this latter characteristic identifies it as a product of the digital age, the stereo does suffer from a somewhat outdated faceplate design with uninspiring black plastic for the bezel and a single-line dot-matrix display. A cluster of black plastic buttons to the left of the main rotary dial provide an adequate means of navigating the system's large menus, while the five buttons surrounding the dial itself give intuitive one-touch access to the stereo's main features. To spice things up, Blaupunkt endows the Brisbane SD48's display with "Variocolour" backlighting, giving drivers the option of selecting one of 256 colors to suit their cars' interiors. Drivers are given two options for selecting their preferred hue: either they can enter a value for Red or Green level (from 0 to 16), or they can use a feature called Color Scan, which starts the system scrolling through all colors until the drive presses the Menu to stop it at the desired color. While 256 colors sounds like a lot, the reality is that many of the colors look dull and washed out, especially in direct sunlight. Aside from this gimmickry, our only other gripe with the design of the Brisbane SD48 is that the cable attaching the USB port to the back of the stereo is not as long as we would like it to be: while we were able to successfully run the cord out through the glove box in our Chevy Aveo test car, drivers with larger cars may find that they need the assistance of a USB extension cable.
Features and performance
As its name implies, the headline feature of the Brisbane SD48 is its SD card playback capability, which is accessed via a slot situated horizontally down the right side of the faceplate. For our test, we loaded up a mini SD card with a number of MP3 tracks encoded at 128Kbps. Selecting "SD Card" from the source menu automatically started the tracks playing, and we were pleased to see that the system displayed full folder and file names for tracks on the card. The Brisbane accommodates up to 127 music directories and displays ID3 tag information up to 30 characters in length. While users can navigate folders and files by using the up/down and left/right arrows on the left-hand keypad, the Brisbane SD48 provides no other means of browsing for tracks by name, meaning that drivers could find themselves skipping through long lists of songs before listening to the track they want to hear.
The same is true of digital files on USB drives, which are connected to the head unit via a USB 2.0 port. While thumbdrives play without any trouble, the situation is different for iPods that are connected via their proprietary USB cable. During our testing, with an iPod connected and USB selected as the source, tracks from the iPod did begin to play, but instead of showing the track name, the stereo's display showed a bizarre four-letter word phrase for each track (track one: EJVN; track two: SDOW; track three: DIAL, track four: EAOV; and so on). Even more mysteriously, by pressing the Display button repeatedly, it was possible to call up the correct artist and album name for the currently playing song. However, seeing as the track name is the most important piece of information that drivers need when skipping through to find their required music, this is of limited use. Other supported sources include external media players connected via the front-mounted auxiliary input jack, and AM/FM radio, although drivers of U.S. cars will need to use the included European vehicle antenna adapter to connect to the latter. For those still wedded to the idea of disc-based music, the Brisbane SD48 can be connected to a CD changer. The system can also be connected to add-on Blaupunkt modules for Bluetooth hands-free calling and (for those who are interested in seeing track names) a dedicated iPod adapter.
In keeping with Blaupunkt's audiophile reputation, the Brisbane SD48 delivers plenty of punch output (18W RMS x four channels), with a host of audio refinement features. Basic EQ controls are adjusted using the four-way keypad to the left of the main dial, with standard options for bass, treble, balance, and fader levels. There is also an option labeled "Enhanced," which gives drivers to option of setting the gain and frequencies of bass, middle, and treble outputs or to select from a range of EQ presets for different types of music. The system also puts a lot of emphasis on enhanced bass settings: a dedicated "X-Bass" button beneath the main control dial lets drivers boost bass output at low volumes. The X-Bass settings can be tweaked through adjustment of the level of boost, and--through the "Enhanced" menu option--the cutoff level frequency.
Because of its exclusive support for compressed digital audio formats, it is difficult to objectively assess the quality of the Brisbane SD48's audio output relative to disc-playing head units in its price range. Unsurprisingly, all the focus on bass adds up to a solid low-end sound. We were less impressed with audio clarity and separation at the higher end of the range, although this is probably more because of the quality of the original sound files than the stereo itself.
With its discless design and support for a range of digital-audio sources, the Blaupunkt Brisbane SD48 could well represent the future of the car stereo (although it could do with being more iPod-friendly). It offers decent audio output and a good range of audio-customization features, and with a price tag of around $160, it offers an alternative to entry-level stereos from the likes of Sony and Alpine. However, its lack of disc-playing capabilities and its basic faceplate design may deter some.