First eight-track players slid off into history. Then that unruly stack of cassette tapes disappeared from glove compartments. Now, car-stereo makers are marketing units that threaten to boot compact discs into the auto audio graveyard.
On Wednesday, Blaupunkt announced it's shipping a second-generation, $160 stereo and AM/FM radio that ditches the CD player in favor of ports for other digital music technologies including Apple iPods and other MP3 players, thumb drives or other USB devices or SD memory cards.
Other makers have competing units that began appearing last year. All are aimed at the growing segment of music-loving auto enthusiasts who carry their tunes in their pockets.
"We're very close to an age when we're not going to have to carry around a bunch of discs anymore," says Ben Oh, editor of Car Audio & ElectronicsMagazine. Units "are starting to gain some popularity."
Clarion. The car-stereo maker rolled out a $199 unit last year that plays music from MP3 players or SD cards. It was treated as a market test, but "we've hit our expectations" for it, says Kevin Kuenzie, senior manager. "You get better sound out of a CD, but very few people recognize it."
Alpine Electronics. Three CD-less units were unveiled in January at $200 to $400, "for the consumer who takes their iPod with them everywhere," spokeswoman Connie Sung says. In the space vacated by the CD player, "We take that real estate and use it toward better sound quality and faster data transmission."
Blaupunkt. The new unit adds capabilities to one introduced last year that was a "slow burner" in sales, not catching on right away, says Andrew Oswick, a general manager. But the future is clear: "There's a new breed of consumer who doesn't want to have CDs. They get their music from any number of online stores."
In industry lingo, the units are called "mech-less" for their lack of mechanical parts, unlike CD players' slide-in/slide-out transport and spinning optical drive. That should enhance reliability and eliminate CDs' skipping on rough roads.
Not all makers are embracing the trend.
Pioneer Mobile Entertainment doesn't have a CD-less unit. "It's going to take some time to get some traction," says Matt Pekmezian, senior brand manager.
For one, lots of older music aficionados people still more likely to buy their music on CDs aren't going to want to go without a car player.
When it comes to ditching the CD slot, "Maybe it's a little too early to take that step," says Shane Chattergoon, who oversees audio content at Performance Auto & Sound magazine.
Removing CD capability may be a bridge to the next development: Makers are working with satellite music providers to let motorists obtain their personal music directly. That way, they won't even have to carry it on a thumb drive or iPod.
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