Designed for the MP3 junkie with a car, the new Kenwood KDC-MP8017 in-dash MP3 CD player (see it up close) may improve your quality of life, especially on long road trips. In addition to playing regular audio CDs, the $360 unit plays CD-R/RWs with MP3s burned onto them. That means you can cram about 11 hours of compressed music onto a single disc so you won’t be fumbling around for more CDs while speeding down the highway.
The last Kenwood MP3 CD player we saw, the Excelon Z919, was riddled with usability issues and has a fat price tag of $750. Since then, Kenwood has introduced the second generation, the Excelon Z828, which still costs a stiff $650. The MP8017 cuts some of the fat off the Z828 while preserving some of the base features.
The faceplate uses a 12-character dot-matrix color LCD display with a white LED backlight. It also features the anti-theft deterrent D-Mask, which allows the faceplate to manually rotate (to hide the unit) or be pulled off entirely. Although the interface and the colorful display are laid out in a simple manner, navigation through a series of folders — typical on a home-burned MP3 CD — may be complicated.
Probably the most confusing element here is the fact that the order of the MP3s played doesn’t necessarily match the order in which they are burned. For instance, if we have a track in a folder buried three levels down, we won’t be able to hear it until the tracks in the second folder level are played. Of course, you can try to find the track manually, but trying to find a specific folder while driving isn’t particularly easy.