LISTENING and USE
The Alpine CDE-103BT is very straightforward to install and connect. As with most CD headunits, it is suggested that the horizontal mounting angle be kept under 35° to prevent CD mistracking problems. The main harness plugs in, and has the usual selection of wires, but if just got your first pair of wire strippers, or you’re a newbie to head unit installation, be careful to choose the correct blue output wire for your amp trigger and power antenna. There are two blue output wires, and both provide a 12 volt source, but under different conditions. The solid blue wire is for the power antenna, and it only provides 12 volts when the unit is in tuner mode. This prevents the antenna from being up when you are listening to a CD or iPod, for example. The blue/black wire is the correct wire to use to turn on an external amplifier, as it will provide power whenever the unit is turned on regardless of mode. The RCA connections are chassis mounted, and recessed about 0.75” so the cable shells don’t require additional in-dash clearance, which is helpful when things get tight behind the dash. I got the unit connected in my listening room, and began playing with the connections and controls.
The CD transport loads and plays CD’s or CD-R’s with a hundred or so MP3 tracks quite quickly, and using the USB input or hooking up my iPod worked great! I happened to have the optional cable for my iPod, and the connection is indeed fast and seamless. In terms of sonics, the Alpine CDE-103BT doesn’t leave much to be desired. Radio reception and the sound quality of the radio in both AM and FM modes was fine, as is generally the case with the Alpine tuners.
The unit has a natural, neutral sound to it, without adding any unwanted noise. Highs were detailed and articulate, and in general, the Alpine unit sounded excellent, regardless of the source. The controls were easy to find and use, and didn’t require endless referencing of the owner’s manual. If you are familiar with typical Alpine operational nomenclature, you may not even need the manual. I appreciated the functionality provided by the subwoofer level control, and the various tone settings should be adequate for all but the most serious tweakers.
ON THE BENCH
As usual, after my listening was completed, I moved the unit to the electronics lab and connected it to my Audio Precision analyzer. The Alpine CDE-103BT either easily met or exceeded all of it’s published specifications! Frequency response was virtually ruler flat on both the RCA outputs as well as the amplified section. Signal to noise was very good too, as was stereo separation, and distortion levels. The RCA outputs are good for about 2.3V, which is what you expect at this price point. The only specification that could have been a bit better was output impedance, but at just over 300 ohms, it’s still better than many units in this price range.