Alpine INE-W957A Multimedia head unit
FOR: Beautifully responsive functionality, Clear and revealing sound, Superb build quality
AGAINST: Nitpicking much?
Say of Alpine what you will. Guru or Gnostic, genius or gifted, or colloquially just ‘da bomb’; the consensus is that this audio visual maestro is a bona fide master of its chosen art. Since journeying into car audio back in the late 1960s it’s been producing product after product, not only keeping their quality levels at exceptionally lofty heights, but more importantly, Alpine has kept up with the latest trends as well as starting a fair few of its own. The latest receiver to join the Alpine stable is the new INE-W957A; one which epitomises this with poise.
While the INE-W957A does possess an astonishing ability list taking a closer look actually reveals that, in its wisdom, Alpine has chosen to omit a few things too, rather than simply include its entire quiver of features. In doing so it’s trimmed the fat off, offering everything the high-end user will require, without too much more. Smart – because as we all know an endless feature list tends to equate itself to an equally exuberant price tag. I for one couldn’t be more satisfied with the features Alpine has opted to retain.
Starting with the input methodology; the INE-W957A comes equipped with Alpine’s latest slim profile mechanism; complete with a most effective suspension system that consumes minimal room as it goes about dealing with those pesky bumps. The mechanism accepts all plastic hardware short of Blu-ray and software-wise it handles the usual MP3, WMA, Xvid, AAC, DivX and MP4.
While there’s an SD card reader on board, the rear of the unit reveals the remainder of the physical inputs starting with a high speed version 2.0 USB input. Using this you can input from most digital storage devices, from small sticks through to larger hard drives. There’s also a HDMI port for when you’re using the MirrorLink system via your phone – and do note you’ll need to use a HDMI cable with a small head.
Adjacent are additional inputs such as dual audio visual auxiliary inputs, twin reverse and direct camera inputs, iPod video (requires the separately sold KCU-461iVE interconnect), Bluetooth microphone and a steering wheel control input. The INE-W957A comes equipped with Bluetooth 2.1+EDR and can operate as either a telephonic handler or as recipient of music streaming. There’s also the option of plumbing in DTV and DAB via the DVB-T and TUE-DAB1UA modules respectively and radio wise the unit includes an analogue radio tuner chip offering 12 FM and six AM presets.
Unlike days gone by, a substantial amount of entertainment now comes via smartphone and this is where MirrorLink steps up. One quick word of advice; check your phone’s compatibility before you delve in too deeply, because there are a number that are not compatible with the system. Once you’ve established your phone will host MirrorLink successfully, you marry the two upon which point you’re then able to install various apps which can be manipulated though your phone via the head unit, with the face of the head unit mirroring information stemming from your phone. The list of applications utilising this technology is not quite endless but I tell you what; it’s fast heading that way. There are apps for just about anything you desire, from hospitality and entertainment through to performance and navigation, with items like Pandora being one of the most popular.
Pandora is an internet radio application which allows you to select your favourite genre, song, album and artist. It then automatically selects and plays tracks in a similar vein, with you approving or disapproving them as it plays them, ergo allowing the system to build a comprehensive and accurate database of songs you’ll enjoy.
With no shortage of methodology regarding information input; let’s now look at getting information out. At the most basic level it starts with 4-volts front, rear and subwoofer RCA pre-outs and there’s a robust internal MOSFET amplifier which can output 22 watts continuous or 50 watts maximum at 4-ohms. There are additional audio visual outputs including rear outs for dual zone operation. Last but not least, there is also an optical digital output, although you’ll need to purchase the separately-sold KWE-610A interconnect.
Would you like a little processing with that good sir? Certainly; and might we suggest you start with Burr Brown’s state of the art 24-Bit DAC chipset, which offers a not-insignificant signal to noise ratio of 105dB? Well, from here the processing repertoire only gets more exotic. As usual it starts with the fader and balance, however in this section can also be found the separate subwoofer level and phase controls.
Next in the firing line is Alpine’s MediaXpander which is essentially a loudness control and from there you move to a 9-band parametric equaliser with adjustable frequency centres and logarithm widths and a boost or attenuation out to 7dB. In addition to numerous pre-set profiles there’re also three custom slots available to you to tailor your sound to suit individual circumstances and tastes. Next in the list is full time alignment functionality allowing for adjustment on all channels to a maximum distance of 336.6cm.
The satellite channels feature high pass crossovers adjustable in full third octave steps from 20Hz through to 200Hz, with slope adjustment ranging from 6dB through to 24dB while the subwoofer channel offers similar adjustment but in a low pass configuration. Also within this section are the individual level attenuators to the tune of -12dB. The final part of the sound related menu sees you setting up sound and levels for things like various sources, key strokes, warning chimes and the like.
The INE-W957A also comes equipped with an extensive navigation suite, indeed one far superior to anything installed on any smartphone, just in case you hazard wonderment as to why manufacturers install navigation into receivers these days. The system operates via Nav’N’Go navigation via Alpine’s own User Interface software and includes Alpine’s MapCare service, thereby offering three years free map upgrades through the Naviextras web portal. The software displays in either two or three dimensions with special anti-aliasing to provide clearer images. It includes 4WD off-road mapping, SUNA live traffic updates, voice guidance and text to speech ability and can alert you to things such as school zones and fixed red light and speed camera locations.
When it comes to the point of interest database you’ve got to see it to believe it. Just about everything on earth is contained in here! The navigation is extremely accurate thanks to a carefully engineered positioning system that utilises your car’s speed pulse in conjunction with multiple channels (i.e. connections to geo-sync satellites) at any one time to fixate its location.
Visually it’s a very clean unit, boasting a front gloss black surround set against a matt black backing ring. The 7-inch anti-reflective TFT touch screen occupies the entire face, offers a WVGA resolution of 1,152,000 pixels or 800 x 480 and utilises bright LED backlighting.
Along the bottom are a range of primary buttons whose illumination colour can be altered to suit your car’s dash colour, as can the wallpaper. The disc and SD slot are located behind the motorised face, a face which when moving is so quiet you’ll need to eyeball it to confirm that it’s finished its operation.
Installing and setting up the INE-W957 is not too difficult, although familiarising yourself and learning its abilities could potentially consume a fair dollop of time simply because it does so much. I took the time to get the colours right for the dash, before then setting to tuning the equaliser with our real time analyser and getting the stage and image just right using the time alignment. Once getting auditioning underway, we first checked the noise levels emanating from the pre-outs, the result being three tenths of bugger all in the way of hiss, noise or artifacts until near-full volume is reached.
Which information source you use is irrelevant; the output remains crystal clear for all of them. If anything you may start looking for higher bit-rate files as the INE-W957A goes about revealing just how many flaws are actually in your highly compressed, third hand music files. The amplification is revealing, detailed and accurate.
During physical manipulation and general usage you will quickly gain a new appreciation of the unit’s speed, as it actually reacts to your touch within milliseconds rather than actual seconds. On the display side it’s beautifully clear and sharp, affording you a most rewarding experience when watching movies and video clips.
Once again Alpine has produced a product capable of handling all your entertainment requirements, acting with the cool composure we’ve come to expect from this veteran manufacturer. There’s very little not to like about the INE-W957A; indeed the only thing I could point the bone at is the fact that some ancillary functions are sold as separate items. However, when you consider the price versus feature ratio you’ll find it’s standing firmly with the lead audio visual peloton.
Alpine INE-W957A Multimedia head unit
Type: Double-DIN multimedia receiver
Power handling: 4 x 22 watts continuous and 4 x 50 maximum
Features: Playback of CD, VCD, DVD, MP3, Xvid, DivX, WMV, AAC. Bluetooth, navigation and MirrorLink built-in. DAB and DTV optional. Multiple audio visual inputs and outputs including digital optical
Product page: www.alpine.com.au