The Clarion DFZ675MC is one of the few double-DIN-size car stereos we've seen that doesn't feature any video capabilities. Though you can't watch movies on it, you can listen to an impressive range of audio formats, including AM/FM and satellite radio; CDs; MP3 and WMA discs; SD card audio files; iPods (with the required add-on interface); and generic MP3 players via the auxiliary input jack. As well as playing music, the DFZ675MC can also record tracks from regular CDs via its Music Catcher II function. The DFZ675MC features some advanced audio tweaking features, including a Listening Position Optimizer, Digital Z-Enhancer (DZE) sound tone effects for different types of in-car speaker arrangement, and adjustment options for equalizer settings.
The Clarion DFZ675MC has a cluttered front panel design, with buttons of all sizes scattered across the faceplate. Colored backlit buttons--for disc eject, folder selection, and other system controls--run down each side of the unit, interspersed with dummy buttons. This arrangement may make for a nice, symmetrical visual appearance, but it will likely prove confusing to drivers who want to make selections on the fly.
The center of the unit is dominated by an accessible twist knob that functions primarily as a volume control, but it can be used to set the level of other audio functions in the relevant modes. Above the volume knob, a prominent slot for an SD card lets you know that this is a car stereo of the digital age. Circular push buttons for everything from the On/Off switch to the skip-track function are spread around either side of the main dial and, in the absence of clear labeling to differentiate them from one another, are apt to take some getting used to.
For a nice cosmetic touch, the backlighting for the side buttons can be customized with a press of the Color button on the top left of the unit, which gives users a choice between 12 preset colors (including Surf Blue, Leaf Green, and Passion Red); color scan mode, which cycles through the preset colors; and three programmable settings using different inputs of red, green, and blue. The DFZ675MC's monochrome white-on-black central display is clear and bright, although like the faceplate, it's a little too busy for our liking. When playing audio tracks, the two rows of lights down each side of the display flash on and off, distracting the eye from the relevant text information in the center of the screen.
The DFZ675MC supports a range of disc-based media including CDs and MP3 and WMA discs, although the stereo will not play discs in DVD-Audio format. When playing homemade digital audio discs (MP3s and WMAs), the monochrome display can be configured to show current folder, although track, artist, and album information is not displayed. This limitation is problematic for drivers who want a degree of control over their digital audio libraries. Skipping through tracks on a disc using the dedicated circular hard buttons is straightforward, although browsing through folders requires using the illuminated side buttons, which is less intuitive.
As we recently found in our review of the 2007 Audi A3, SD cards can be a useful way of transporting a large digital music library around. With an SD card inserted into the dedicated slot, the DFZ675MC commences playing any music files on the card immediately. As with MP3 and WMA discs, users can skip through tracks using the skip buttons on the faceplate, while folders have to be selected using the Up/Down colored buttons on the right-hand side.
Perhaps the most notable feature of the Clarion DFZ675MC is its Music Catcher II feature, which enables drivers to record CD-based tracks and albums (including those on CD-R and CD-RW) directly into the stereo's memory. There are four recording modes (LP, STD, HQ, and SHQ), and the amount of recorded music the system can hold at one time depends on the recording mode: in LP mode, it can store 663 minutes of music; in STD mode, 497 minutes; in HQ mode, 331 minutes; and in SHQ mode, 248 minutes. To record a track or an album, it must be currently playing. Pressing the red Rec button on the faceplate starts the recording process, and the track starts playing again from the beginning.
During the recording process, an icon flashes on the monochrome display, and when the recording is complete, the track again starts playing from the beginning. We're not too impressed with the system's reversion back to the beginning of the track twice in the recording process for individual tracks, however, this is less of a problem with full albums, which can be listened to concurrently while being recorded. When a track is recorded into the system's memory, it is assigned a numerical folder and a track number. For those who wish to edit this information (which is of little use when trying to find a song in the library later), the options are limited. For some reason, it is possible to edit folder names, but not details for individual tracks or artists.
For the increasing number of drivers interested in making their car stereos an extension of their iPods, Clarion offers an optional controller (the EA1276B interface), which transfers control of all recent iPod models to the faceplate. When an iPod is synced with the system, the DFZ675MC's display will show information for current album, artist, and song, and music can be selected according to the standard iPod categories, including playlist, artist, album, song, genre, random, and repeat.
The DFZ675MC has a number of audio optimization features that suggest this is a stereo for those who are serious about their in-car acoustics. One of our favorite features is its Digital Z-Enhancer, which can be used to activate preset sound tone effects: DZE 1 (suitable for coaxial speakers); DZE 2 (suitable for separate speakers); and DZE 3, which produces an acoustic output somewhere between those of DZE 1 and 2. We also like the DFZ675MC's Listening Position Optimizer, which is a means of calibrating the audio output to the size of your car's cabin. Drivers can select one of three LPO settings (Cmpct, Sedan, and 1Box for larger vehicles) to boost the output to the required level for immersive sound; LPO can also be turned off. The DFZ675MC's built-in Mosfet amplifier produces a maximum output of 50Wx4 channels, and the unit also comes with a four-channel RCA output for auxiliary devices.
Overall, the Clarion DFZ675MC is a feature-rich car stereo with plenty to recommend in terms of audio optimization and digital music. It is let down mainly by its clumsy faceplate, which will take some learning before it can be programmed when driving.