We’ve come along way since 8-track tape decks and the Clarion CX501 Car Stereo is certainly proof of that. This receiver features a nice, clean design that’s not only easy on the eyes, it’s also easy to use and install. It has multiple capabilities and extra features and most importantly, it sounds great.
One of the neat tricks of this Clarion system is a nice treat as well: it automatically synchs to your cell phone as soon as you start the engine. If instant and constant communication is your thing then you’re set. Could life get any more convenient? Yes, and it probably will soon thanks to companies like Clarion. It should also get safer too. It’s not exactly safe to be holding a cell phone to your ear while driving. In fact, it’s illegal in some cities. The Clarion car stereo eliminates that with built-in Bluetooth. If you simply have to be on the phone constantly, whether for business or pleasure, the sound quality of calls through the car speakers is pretty great too. It helps to have decent car speakers, however. If you don’t, then don’t blame your receiver.
The most standard feature is the AM/FM tuner (does that really even need to be stated?). Depending on your phone or music player you have the option of streaming your songs through the Clarion unit. The USB port allows you to use your iPod or iPhone, Android, MP3 player or whatever manner of portable electronic gadgetry you’re into. Your audio player or phone will not experience any loss of battery power either. It will stay charged for as long as it’s plugged into the receiver. Of course, you can still get your twentieth century kick by playing your favorite CDs or CD-Rs (MP3 or WMA files will play, no problem).
If you’re an audiophile and a stickler for sound perfection, you’ll appreciate some of the features of the receiver. The built-in amplifier includes Magna Bass EX which gives a nice boost to the low end. There’s also a 3-band parametric equalizer which does not come standard in factory radios. High- and low-pass filters give you more sound control as do the preamp outputs.
If you want to take advantage of the receiver for your radio listening pleasure, that’s not hard to do. You can add an HD Radio tuner to get more choices than you’ll get from the standard AM/FM tuner and the addition of the SCC1 tuner which will allow you to tune into SIRIUS satellite transmissions. This could potentially make your morning commute a little more entertaining. It gives you more options at any rate. There is no subscription to satellite radio included, of course, but you can easily kick your listening experience up a notch if you want to go that route.
If you’re serious about keeping your hands on the ten and two steering wheel positions, that’s a little easier to do with an adapter (not included) which will allow you to use the steering wheel controls. It should work in most makes of cars. Probably not my parents ‘78 Chevy Malibou, but you can’t have everything.
From a purely aesthetic standpoint, it’s a pretty good looking piece of equipment. You can match the faceplate to the interior of your ride with 728 different illumination settings—you can even change it every day depending on your mood, but that might be a little obsessive. One drawback is that if you’re cruising on a bright sunny day, the glare can render the display a little hard read. This is true from both the driver and passenger seats, but we’re nitpicking here a bit, there’s really not much you can do about the sun. Since, we’re on the subject of the display, the two line display itself is a little limiting, I would have preferred a multi-line display and a few more audio controls. The menus were a little too complicated for my simple brain at times, but that could be rectified by spending a little more time with the manual. I do like the giant volume control knob that lives large in the center of the console for easy twiddling.
All in all, this is a quality, user friendly device that will have you up to speed with the latest in music and telecommunications technology. You don’t have to be a techie to take advantage of the basic components, and additions and upgrades don’t get too complicated either. For design, efficiency and ease, there’s little to find fault with in the CX501.