03 December 2009
In the early 90s, with the digital revolution decisively underway, a group of American companies began to recognize the need to have radio keep pace with technology. Over the next
10 years or so, various companies came together and after several years of testing and development, the In-Band On-Channel (IBOC) method of broadcasting was completed, enabling digital signals to travel the airwaves alongside traditional analog signals. IBOC remains the underlying principle behind today’s HD Radio technology. In 2000, iBiquity Digital Corporation was formed. Fast forward to 2009, and there are over 3,000 radio stations broadcasting HD channels. The technology is rapidly gaining popularity, as it offers improved sonics and a host of convenience features such as Artist, Album and track information, and more importantly iTunes tagging.
Many car companies are already offering HD tuners as standard or optional equipment. If you have not experienced HD radio yet, you should check it out. It’ll be hard to go back to “regular” radio. Now that you get it, you need to actually get it! This time we’re going to have a close look at one of the first aftermarket radios to incorporate an HD tuner as a standard feature inside the regular single DIN chassis, the all new Dual XHD7714. FEATURES and FUNCTIONS
To say the Dual XHD7714 is fully featured for its moderate price (around $299 USD) would be quite an understatement. In fact, the list of features found inside the Dual XHD7714 takes up the entire side of the box! Sure, you get all the obvious capabilities, such as CD and MP3 disc playback, iPod connection and control, AM/FM and the aforementioned internal HD Radio tuner.
One of my favorite things about having the HD tuner included is you also get iTunes tagging. When you hear a song you like, a simple press of a button will save that songs “tag” to memory, or if your iPod is connected, it will even send the tag directly to your iPod. The next time you sync your iPod with iTunes, the tagged songs are displayed in iTunes for preview or purchase.
To get the music out of the head unit, there are 3 pairs of RCA outputs, (front, rear, and subwoofer) as well as a built in, 4 channel, CEA-2006 rated amplifier.
Another great feature found in the new Dual, (that I believe should be in all aftermarket radios) is Bluetooth connectivity. The Dual XHD7714 supports HFP (hands free profile) A2DP (advanced audio distribution profile) and AVRCP (audio video remote control profile). Once the initial setup is complete, an automatic Bluetooth connection to your cell phone is established every time you get in the car and your phone is within roughly 10 feet of the radio. This connection allows hands free operation for receiving and making calls, and can import your contact list into the headunit. The A2DP/AVRCP functions allow you to stream audio from a Bluetooth compatible device, and control it via the Dual’s front panel buttons. Nice!
The front panel of the Dual XHD7714 includes a 3.5mm input jack and a USB connection, so you can connect basically any portable MP3/WMA player to the the Dual units Aux input.
While I like the easy access and versatility the front panel inputs provide, I was a bit disappointed when I realized they also must be used to connect an iPod, making it impossible to truly “hide” the iPod cables. I keep an iPod in my vehicles glovebox all the time, and I seldom remove it, only to update the songs and firmware a few times a year. With the Dual’s front only inputs, the white cables are always hanging off the front of the radio. I may be picky here, but would it be that tough to put a dedicated iPod input on the back of the chassis?
Ergonomically, the Dual unit is very easy to use, incorporating the now popular large centrally located multi-function volume control. Most of the buttons are large enough to operate with a gloved finger, but they do seem to require a very firm press.
The Dual XHD7714’s generously sized display is a dual line dot matrix LCD, with “white” characters on a dark background. Calling the display characters white is a bit generous, as even with the brightness turned all the way up, the characters are still a grayish blue, but are quite clear and easily legible even from a distance. The Dual’s display was easy to read and you can select what you’d prefer to have displayed, so it was quite functional if not as fancy or flashy as some of the competition.
There are lots of other cool features as well; things that tend to make a product easier and more enjoyable to live with on a daily basis. For example, you can adjust the level of each of the sources individually, so one doesn’t inadvertently blast you out of the seat, or require you to turn the volume up or down every time you play it. You can set the volume to come on at power on either where you left it, or at any pre-selected level. This is especially handy for those folks (like my wife) who listen at high levels and then just shut the car off. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just about jumped out of the seat when the amps turned on… This is a great feature whose importance to the general enjoyment of the product often gets overlooked. A jack in the back of the chassis allows connection to the PAC SWI-PS steering wheel interface, so you don’t have to give up those handy OEM controls when replacing a factory radio with this Dual head unit.
Six different DSP powered preset EQ curves are available, and for those of you who like to do your own tuning, there is of course separate bass and treble tone controls as well. Interestingly, the subwoofer output does have its own separate level control function, but is a full range like the front and rear outputs. There is no internal subwoofer crossover in the Dual XHD7714.
Read on for the Results
I hooked up the Dual unit to my reference system, and played a variety of CD’s, MP3 encoded discs, iPod of course, and for fun I also copied a few dozen tunes to a USB drive. I’m happy to report the Dual XHD7714 played each of them without fault. All the compressed format songs I tried worked fine on any of the storage formats, and the unit recognized my iPod and was able to play songs and control my iPod immediately. The user interface works really well and is quite logical to operate, but if you’re like me with thousands of artists and tens of thousands of songs, finding the exact song you want can take a lot of knob turning. From a sound quality point of view, I thought the Dual sounded solid. Maybe a slight tick or so off from my reference piece, (which costs about 3 times as much), but all in all the Dual XHD7714 sounded very good! I noticed a slight loss of very high frequency detail, but that sort of thing you’d seldom ever hear in a car anyways, unless you’re sitting in the garage with the door closed and the engine off. I also paired the Dual XHD7714 to my Blackberry to check out the Bluetooth function. It worked perfectly the first time, and I was able to setup the unit to make and receive calls within minutes. The microphone for the Bluetooth hands-free is thoughtfully built into the faceplate.
ON THE BENCH
Moving into the electronics lab and firing up the trusty Audio Precision analyzer, I spent a few hours “getting the numbers out” of the new Dual.
It measured quite well in most respects, and its actual performance either met or exceeded the performance claims in the owner’s manual. The frequency response was flat up to about 17.5kHz, and the signal to noise was great on both the amplified and preamp outputs.
Preamp output MOL (Maximum Output Level) measured 3.3 volts, and the source impedance was very low (lower is better) at under 90 ohms. The built in amplifier delivered 18.3 watts x 4 and the FM tuner had average sensitivity, pulling in most of the local stations without difficulty. AM performance was not quite as good, but still what I’d consider very decent, especially if you live in an urban area. The auxiliary input will accept almost a full volt of signal without clipping, so it will be compatible with most any portable media player. W ith a century of experience, Dual is clearly no stranger to innovation and technology. They have recently introduced a new head unit that incorporates Bluetooth functionality as well as an HD Radio tuner into a single DIN chassis. What is HD Radio you ask? It’s the latest method of digital radio broadcasting, it’s subscription free, and it’s very cool! Here’s a really quick history lesson on HD Radio before we jump into our review on the latest from Dual, the XHD7714.
One of my favorite things about having the HD tuner included, is you also get iTunes tagging, so when you hear a song you like, a simple press of a button will save that songs “tag” to memory, or if your iPod is connected, it will send the tag directly to the iPod. The next time you sync your iPod with iTunes, the tagged songs are displayed in iTunes for preview or purchase.
The Dual XHD7714 is indeed a small box chock full of value and technology. The thoughtfully chosen features incorporated are useful in the real world of daily commutes and long road trips, plus it offers it all at a very low price compared with a lot of competitive products.
While it might not have quite as much polish on its cosmetics and interfaces, the Dual XHD7714 with built in Bluetooth and HD Radio still manages to cost less than some companies Bluetooth adapters!
In my opinion, the Dual XHD7714 represents one of the best buys out there in terms of value and functionality!