The New Orleans MP58 shows that Blaupunkt customers get what they pay for. In contrast with the Brisbane SD48 that we reviewed recently, the New Orleans MP58is a stylish head unit with a well-thought-out interface for letting drivers search their MP3 files with ease. It may not have the standard SD card slot of the disc-less Brisbane, but the New Orleans has an altogether more modern, ergonomic character, from the materials used for the bezel to the backlit buttons and the three-line display.
With its silver matte plastic trim, and glossy silver and black switchgear, the New Orleans MP58 is a good-looking and easy-to-use car stereo. The stereo features a three-line display, which can be customized to one of 4,096 colors using Blaupunkt's Variocolor feature: drivers choose a color either by selecting it from a scrolling palate or by programming their own levels of red, green, and blue. As we have found on previous Blaupunkt stereos, despite the impressive range of colors, many of them appear washed out in daylight, making it more difficult to see information on the display than with the standard blue backlighting. Nevertheless, the display itself maximizes the limited faceplate real estate with decent resolution text and dynamic graphics, which give it some added visual appeal. The switchgear on the New Orleans MP58 is of a far higher quality than that on the Brisbane SD48: the one-piece four-way keypad to the left of the rotary dial has a solid feel, as do the dedicated function buttons for audio, source, and menu control. We also like the red backlighting for the various hard buttons, which make them easier to see at a glance. Our one gripe with the faceplate controls is the feel of the rotary volume knob, which, because of its small size and flimsy seating can be difficult to use on the fly. We do like, however, like the blue spot (the literal "blau punkt") in the center of the dial, which comes in handy as a one-touch mute button.
Features and performance
As its model designation suggests, the New Orleans MP58 can play MP3-encoded discs, in addition to its standard AM/FM tuner and "Red Book CD" capabilities. For our test we inserted a homemade MP3 disc and found that the New Orleans MP58 provided an intuitive means of navigating folders and files via the four-way key pad to the left of the main rotary dial. Using a loose variation of the controls on an Apple iPod, the system requires users to browse categories with the left and right keypad arrows, and items within those categories using the up and down arrows. The system is a bit fiddly and can take some time to get used to, but it does provide a logical means of navigating large folders. Dedicated Repeat and Mix buttons provide a useful way of shuffling or repeating songs either on a specific directory on the entire disc. In search mode, the system's three-line display shows three list items at a time, and while it can take a while to get to the bottom of a list of dozens of tracks, the stereo does feature one-touch scrolling, which makes life easier. Another positive feature of the search functionality is that it lets drivers browse for songs without interrupting the currently playing track. By pressing the Display button, drivers can switch to two alternate views while playing MP3 discs, both of which show the file (track) name in larger letters with the folder (album) name in smaller letters beneath. With regular CDs playing, the New Orleans MP58 can also display CD text.
The New Orleans MP58 also comes with a standard USB cable for the playback of digital audio files from flash drives and other generic USB storage devices. Similar to disc-based tracks, the files from a USB device can be browsed on the multiline display using the four-way keypad. 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 and rather than reading the iPod's album information, the stereo listed albums as number folders. Somewhat disappointingly, the New Orleans MP58 does not feature a front-mounted auxiliary input jack, so those who want to play music from an iPod via the stereo will have to invest in Blaupunkt's add-on iPod control module.
For all audio output, the New Orleans MP58 has a number of advanced sound-tweaking features. In addition to the regular EQ levels--accessed by the Audio button--the system has an "Enhanced" menu, which gives drivers the capability to select one of three preset EQ settings or to adjust the characteristics of each of the bass, middle, and treble levels. Users can set the frequency and quality of bass, the gain, frequency and quality of middle, and the frequency of treble.
With a "Red Book" CD playing, sound quality is very good, with bright highs and a rich midrange. Bass output is adequate, although audiophiles will want to make use of the facility for an external sub, which can be adjusted for gain and frequency using the head unit controls. (The X-Bass button, which is designed to boost bass output at low volumes, had very little effect in our experience, even when set to maximum gain.) The system also comes with four-channel preouts for those wanting to connect external amplifiers.
The Blaupunkt New Orleans MP58 is a capable car stereo with support for a range of digital audio formats, a good music selection interface, and a stylish faceplate design. Its lack of iPod compatibility lets it down, though. However, with an MRSP of $260, the system is pricey relative to the similarly equipped competition, and users may find themselves considering the Pioneer DEH-P6000UB or the considerably cheaper (and iPod compatible) Sony CDX-GT610UI.