The words “hands-free” and “Bluetooth” have been so commonplace lately that some people don’t even react to the terms and the importance of the technology that lies behind the tags. If you’ve ever driven behind someone still using a handset while driving, you know what I’m talking about. Considering how easy it is to get Bluetooth in the car, it’s difficult to understand what drivers are waiting for. When are these people going to get a clue!
Studies have shown the dangers of driving while talking. So some state governments have pushed for legislation to stop people from multi-tasking in their cars. Why it isn’t a federal law, like with seat belts is a mystery. Nonetheless manufacturers have responded to the situation with a plethora of solutions. You have Bluetooth ear pieces, portable Bluetooth devices that attach to your car’s visor and of course built-in Bluetooth on your car radio. Whatever suits your needs, the key here is that all of them are fairly inexpensive.
Clarion has its own very affordable solution. Clarion’s long standing reputation for safety consists of ergonomic designs that keep the driver’s eyes on the road rather than fishing for buttons. Remember the ergonomic design of Clarion’s Pro Audio 7770? Strategically placed curves and Braille style dots on that piece were magnificent.
Today, Clarion’s approach is the same with a twist of 21st Century style. The new Clarion CZ500 is a single-din CD player with built-in Bluetooth that packs a powerful punch in a budget package. Its well designed faceplate is stylish with differentiating colors and chrome accents (part of a new family design for the company’s new radios), while keeping all vital functions close to the driver. For ease of use Clarion opted to use a quarter-sized rotary knob and a circular spider-patterned buttons to navigate through menus, source, and functions. The operation is very fluid. The concave source button is directly in the middle while the track and seek buttons are on opposite sides.
Directly above at 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock are the Band and Menu buttons which also act as phone functions. Down south at 7 o’clock and 5 o’clock is Clarion’s Preset scan/Auto memory store (PS/AS) and Sound button. The 1-6 preset station buttons multifunction as music options such as scan, repeat, random, play/pause, previous folder/10 tracks, and next folder/10 tracks. They are placed underneath a vibrant blue display. With these basic essentials in easy-to-reach locations, exploring the CZ500’s functions is quite simple.
Ergonomics aren’t the only impressive feature the CZ500 has. There’s also a built-in 50×4 amplifier and a slew of standard options. Of course it offers USB input with iPod integration, the aforementioned Bluetooth for hands-free calling and the ability for adding more entertainment. It’s ready for HD Radio with THD300 (iTunes tagging), XM Satellite Radio, and has the customary auxiliary input. All that and it still boasts front and rear 6V outputs along with a subwoofer output. Not bad for an MSRP of $249, although you will find it for less at various retailers.
Clarion recognizes consumers’ diverse taste in portable music devices. Behind the unit is a pigtail with an USB port for users that store music on portable USB data drives which they can directly plug into. In addition, Clarion uses a convenient way to connect the iPod. Unlike some head units on the market that require an additional cable, Clarion has taken a sleek approach and utilizes the USB input as part of its integration. Using iPod’s USB charging/data cable and plugging it in directly into the iPod, the CZ500 seamlessly recognizes it as an iPod and confirms connection with the Clarion logo on its screen. The iPod menus are easily maneuvered using the rotary and menu buttons. Identical iPod user interface is displayed on the CZ500 screen. Another popular source is the aux in. This enables any device with a headphone output such as a voice recorder to easily transmit through the car’s speaker system using a standard 3.5mm minijack. And you also have the Bluetooth option.
Somtimes connecting Bluetooth devices can be tricky; but pairing the phone with the source unit was simple. Within seconds the phone confirmed connection. I was able to then launch Pandora and stream the music to the CZ500. The A2DP worked flawlessly. When a phone call came in the music paused.
Answering was easy, using the Band button on the CZ500. The caller’s voice was transmitted through the cars front speakers clearly. I had connected the Bluetooth microphone on the back of the radio and mounted it in the cabin of my car, within close range of my vocals. I was able to converse comfortably while driving, each side able to hear with minimal trouble. To disconnect, I simply hit the Menu button. Phonebook data transfer and other phone features such as missed and received calls are part of the CZ500′s system. It also has a dialer so the user can dial a number directly from the radio.
With Bluetooth it doesn’t matter if you are listening to the iPod, or the radio, when a call is received it will automatically default to it, then return to the previous source. All in all, Clarion’s CZ500 is an attractive product. I appreciated the new family design and the feature set is well-rounded. Having Bluetooth was key and the ergonomics was quite commendable. For the price, it’s a very nice package. For consumers looking for a simple solution that takes care of key entertainment needs, this “basic” unit should fit the bill nicely.