If anything, 2003 was a benchmark year for innovation in almost every mobile electronics category. From head units to subwoofers, never have more component choices been available. More importantly, better products, with improved performance and enhanced feature sets, cost less than ever before.
In the head unit category, MP3 capabilities have been included on all but the most basic receivers - not that Sport Truck readers actually look at entry-level components. And as we've been predicting, with the downward spiral of DVD transports, we expect to see more in-dash DVD receivers making an appearance in 2004, with units from well-known manufacturers making an appearance later this spring at prices that will establish new benchmarks.
Related to DVD developments in the in-dash category, units with integrated LCD screens continue to gain traction in the marketplace, in spite of prices for full-featured units with built-in screens remaining in the more-than-$2,000 price category. While there has been some downward movement in price, the popularity of these units means that this is the one category that manufacturers have less incentive to move prices lower. We expect that at the 2004 Consumer Electronics Show several manufacturers will introduce new models, some with built-in DVD transports at prices that might approach $1,500.
Powered by awareness on the part of the vehicle manufacturers, rear-seat entertainment has gone mainstream. While on the OEM level, overhead monitors dominate, in the aftermarket, headrests with monitors pre-installed offer additional options. Some are so easy to install that they fall into the do-it-yourself category and are sold by mass merchants rather than specialty dealers.
In the signal processor category, multichannel sound remains the buzzword, and the Dolby Digital format has become the de facto standard much as it has in the home. Multichannel sound provides five discrete full-range channels and a separate channel dedicated to low-frequency reproduction. In addition to signal processors, we expect to see this capability to be integrated into an increasing number of mid- and high-end head units starting in 2004.
While not a glamourous category, there was big news in the amplifier segment as high-efficiency digital amplifiers are no longer for subwoofers only. Manufacturers have mastered the obstacles in building digital amplifiers that can accurately reproduce full-range signals up to the upper limits of human hearing. While the number of amplifiers in this category in 2003 was small, its advantages, such as a compact size, are undeniable, and we expect this will be one of the primary mobile electronics product trends in 2004.
As in almost every other category, 2003 saw speakers offering better performance at lower prices. Both integrated speakers and component separates now offer greater power handling capabilities, which is important as more powerful amplifiers become available. Massive drivers continue to make waves in the subwoofer category as several manufacturers have taken technology from their leading-edge products and applied them to more mainstream products.
Navigation remains a niche product, but there is some good news on the horizon. The technology is getting less expensive and the components smaller. This means that the next trend in navigation will be to integrate full voice navigation capabilities into single DIN-sized units. The first of these units was introduced in 2003, and we'll be watching to see if this spreads to other manufacturers in 2004.
With thousands of components to choose from, choosing the best in each category has been exceptionally difficult this year. While not the last word, we feel that this year's selection represents a meaningful balance between performance and cost, giving our readers a great starting point in building the ultimate system for their trucks.
Non-Lcd Display Head Unit Rockford Fosgate RAV DVD1 AM/FM/CD/DVD Receiver $900Why You Need It: Stunning good looks, exceptionally well-designed controls, excellent sound quality, all combined with all-format playback capabilities.Information:Rockford Fosgate, (800) 366-2349, www.rockfordfosgate.com
Signal ProcessorAudiobahn ADD51T Dolby Digital Signal Processor $700 Why You Need It:Add 5.1 multichannel Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby Digital, or DTS to most systems with Audiobahn's versatile half-DIN signal processor.Information:Audiobahn, (714) 690-7530, www.audiobahninc.com
Enclosed SubwooferBazooka CS8A5 8-inch subwoofer with built-in 200-watt five-channel amplifier $300Why You Need It:Extremely clever upgrade solution that adds an enclosed 8-inch subwoofer and a powerful five-channel amplifier in a single, integrated enclosure.Information:Bazooka/SAS, (800) THE-TUBE (843-8823), www.bazooka.com
Navigation Head Unitharman/kardon TrafficPro AM/FM/CD/GPS $1,500Why You Need It:Brings voice navigation to the masses by eliminating unnecessary features while not requiring a separate changer for simultaneous CD playback.Information:harman/kardon, (516) 921-TPRO (921-8776), www.hktrafficpro.com
Mono And Stereo AmplifiersXtant 1.1 Amplifier $200Why You Need It:Compact size, courtesy of its digital design, means that Xtant's new 100-watt 1.1 amplifier can be used as a building block for complex systems.Information:Xtant, (888) 44XTANT (449-8268), www.xtant.com
Rear Seat EntertainmentSavv LCD Headrest Monitors $600Why You Need It:With a crystal-clear picture mated with one of the widest selection of ready-made LCD headrest monitors, SAVV has just the right video for your rig.Information:SAVV, (562) 529-7700, www.savv.com
Multichannel System AmplifierAlto Mobile GD 600DSP $1,000Why You Need It:Highly efficient digital design means a "fit anywhere" chassis; six channels on board means it can power an entire multi-channel, multimedia system.Information:DANEX, (414) 423-5430, www.altomobile.com
Integrated Drop-In Replacement SpeakersPolk AudioPolk/MOMO Series $150 - $240Why You Need It:Same sound quality that we found last year in Polk/MOMO's separates is now available in a line of integrated, drop-in replacement speakers.Information:Polk Audio, (410) 358-3600, www.polkaudio.com
Four-Channel AmplifierAlphasonik PMZ6004 Four-Channel Amplifier $350Why You Need It:Low-profile design, generous 200-watt output, and optional remote digital voltmeter make Alphasonik's PMZ6004 four-channel amplifier an outstanding upgrade.Information:Alphasonik, (714) 988-0370, www.alphasonik.com
LCD Display Head UnitAlpine IVA-D900 AM/FM/CD/DVD Receiver $2,300Why You Need It:The sharpest, clearest retractable screen built into a head unit that can serve as the control center for the most comprehensive system imaginable.Information:Alpine, (800) ALPINE-1 (257-4631), www.alpine-usa.com
Component Separate SpeakersBoston Acoustics Z-Series $1,000Why You Need It:High-performance, high-excursion design with a state-of-the-art crossover; goes lower and plays louder than traditional door-mounted speakers.Information:Boston Acoustics, (978) 538-5000, www.bostonacoustics.com
Radar/Laser DetectorEscort SR7 Remote with ZR3 Laser Shifter $1,600Why You Need It:Simply the best, most comprehensive front and rear radar/laser-detection and laser-jamming solution available, at any price.Information:Escort, (800) 964-3143, www.escortradar.com
Satellite RadioKenwood KTC-H2A1 Here2Anywhere Portable Sirius Receiver $130Why You Need It:With the addition of an easy-to-install vehicle kit ($70), it's now possible to take 100 streams of Sirius satellite radio with you wherever you go.Information:Kenwood, (800) KENWOOD (536-9663), www.kenwoodusa.com
Mass Storage Mp3 PlayerDension DH101 AM/FM/HD Receiver $800Why You Need It:Offers the ability to store hundreds of MP3 files on its removable hard drive in a DIN-sized package that can be installed in almost any dashboard.Information:Dension USA, (866) 822-DMP3 (822-3673), www.densionusa.com
Component SubwoofersJL Audio 13W6v2 13-inch Subwoofer $600Why You Need It:JL Audio transfers many of the top-of-the line W7's performance attributes into a small box, install-friendly format in a unique 13.5-inch driver.Information:JL Audio, (954) 443-1100, www.jlaudio.com
2003's Top Factory Demo Truck Polk/MOMO '02 Ford EscapeWhy You Need It:While there were many outstanding factory demo trucks on the circuit in 2003, one that stood above the rest, combining innovation, flexibility, and sonic excellence, was Polk Audio's '02 Ford Escape. Showcasing a unique center channel setup, installers Thom Voisinet and Josh Claar illustrate that it's possible to fully integrate a dual center-channel speaker array for full 5.1 multichannel surround sound. Information:Polk Audio, (410) 358-3600, www.polkaudio.com