I was a Clarion retailer during the 1980’s and have always considered the brand to be very well engineered and constructed, but lacking a little more cosmetic pizzazz. Sort of like the girl at the dance who is only a wallflower until she takes off her glasses and lets down her hair... then everyone wants to dance with her.
Clarion products have always been solidly engineered and very well made with subtle styling and appeal. Well, if the offerings shown this year are any indication, it looks like the Clarion wallflower just had a professional makeover. The 2009 Clarion gear looks better than ever, and I was anxious to get my hands on some of it to review. A request was made, and shortly thereafter I received a new Clarion CZ509 single DIN headunit.Clarion calls the CZ509 a Bluetooth/CD/USB/MP3/WMA/AAC/iPod compatible/AM/FM receiver. Me, I just call it cool. It features a removable faceplate, 3 sets of preamp outputs, built in amplification and a wide array of useful control functions. It even comes with a wireless remote control. With a retail price of under 300 bucks, the CZ509 also offers exceptionally good value!
Controls and Features
As you may have surmised from the description, the Clarion CZ509 will play pretty much any popular format your heart desires. Fully capable as a normal CD player, the Clarion unit also will playback MP3/WMA or ACC files recorded to CD, or stored on a USB thumb drive, or via the ever popular iPod. Other sources include the built in AM/FM tuner, and auxiliary input, a Bluetooth compatible streaming audio device, and your choice of either Sirius or XM satellite radio via the optional interface. With all these choices for source material, you need good control and adjustability of the playback, and the Clarion CZ509 has you covered there as well. No adapters needed, there is built in iPod control via the USB cable, and you can even select a simple mode if you prefer to use the controls on the iPod itself. Music stored on a USB drive is accessed quickly, and accessed intuitively via easy to use buttons on the front panel. The controls are well laid out, and fairly simple to use. I really like the protruding and detented rotary volume “ring” which allows you to quickly adjust the volume without having to take your eyes off the road. This feature alone makes the Clarion CZ509 a better choice than some other more expensive units in my opinion. While I’m on the topic of safety, I should mention what is probably one of the best features of this unit, the built in Bluetooth functionality that allows for hands-free cell phone operation. You can make and receive calls, import your phone book from your phone, see caller ID on screen and even stream audio wirelessly to the headunit, all via the included Bluetooth 2.0 functionality. And, I should point out here that the entire Clarion CZ509 costs less than some other brands optional Bluetooth adapters!
Going back to the front panel, I found the controls to be logically placed, although I did have to consult the owners manual to find the more obscure adjustments like how to set the input sensitivity for the auxiliary input, or how to adjust the contrast of the LCD display for best viewing. But, after I learned the basics of the way things worked, it was smooth sailing, which is good because the Clarion CZ509 offers a ton of adjustability.
You get a built in DSP powered EQ, with 3 selectable frequencies for each of the bass, mid and treble adjustments. Then, there are adjustable Q settings for those frequencies, and a range of 15 steps for boost/cut for each setting! This is by the way in addition to the built in Clarion “Beat EQ” sound setting, for those of you disinclined to tweak things on your own. And there’s more… Clarion also includes a special circuit they call “Magna Bass Extend” (Who comes up with these names?!) which is supposed to extend the very low frequencies and make your music “more dynamic.” Want more? Of course you do, so the Clarion CZ509 also comes with an adjustable BBE MP sound processor designed specifically to restore and enhance the harmonics in music that has been lost due to compression. Having some experience with BBE products in a past life doing live concert sound, I can attest to the difference in intelligibility the process can provide when applied correctly. Building it into a headunit, especially if MP3’s are your media of choice, is a very good idea. Also included in the built-in software are adjustable frequency high and low pass crossovers. Meaning you can provide a bit more control to the signal sent to your amplifiers, or by using them in conjunction with the crossovers in your amplifiers, use them to make your overall crossover slopes steeper.