Kenwood Brings 10GB MP3 system to the Car.

By Richard Menta - 02/01/02

Kenwood has announced the Excelon Music Keg, a 10GB digital music system for your car that will play digital tunes off its internal hard drive using any of several digital formats including MP3 and WMA.

Designed in tandem with digital media technology company PhatNoise, the Music Keg is a three component system composed of:
  • The Cartridge - the 10GB removable hard drive
  • The Cradle - a computer desktop docking bay for the cartridge to facilitate file transfers. The unit comes with the Kenwood Excelon PhatNoise Music Manager software for the PC to handle the transfers.
  • The in-vehicle or trunk-mounted Music Keg that serves as the heart of the system. The cartridge slides into the "Keg" after files are loaded.

The Kenwood Excelon Music Keg with Cradle and 10GB cartridge.

The Music Keg installs into the vehicle anywhere you would put a CD changer and is designed to work with all 1999 or later Kenwood in-dash receivers offering CD changer control and CD text capability. That's a big plus for Kenwood owners who already have the head unit.

The Music Keg has a 24-bit digital-to-analog converter and will display MP3 file names and ID3 tags on the receiver's CD text display. The company's press release made us believe that the unit played OGG Vorbis, which was a hell of an announcement. The truth is the management software that comes with the unit allows encoding of MP3, VBR, M3, WMA, WAV, and OGG Vorbis, but the Music Keg does not play all these formats. Vince Busam of PhatNoise cleared this issue up for us:

To be clear, the Kenwood Music Keg itself does not play Ogg files. Only the included PC software. There are no free fixed-point decoding libraries for Ogg that would allow ARM based platforms like the Empeg and Music Keg to play those files.

Shipping this month, the Kenwood Excelon Music Keg and lists for $900. That is $600 less than Sony's XPLOD MEX-HD1, the first mobile stereo unit to actually rip CDs internally. Of course, those who don't already have a suitable Kenwood head unit will have to add the cost of one.

The Kenwood's three-piece setup is more complicated than the single piece Sony, but it also is more flexible. Even though the Kenwood can't rip CDs direct from its head unit, it has a more workable system for liberating potentially thousands of tunes already on a user's PC to the car. Transferring songs to the Sony requires using the company's proprietary Magic Gate Memory Stick flash cards, which top out at 128MB. That means a lot of back and forth trips.

"Kenwood is a leader in bringing mobile and home entertainment technologies to the market," said Bob Law, vice president of sales and marketing. "The Music Keg is the mobile music system that resolves the technical and convenience issues of using hard drives in vehicles. The product has already been well received, and we expect high consumer demand."

New Kenwood Head Units

Kenwood has also announced several new Excelon in-dash CD receivers that are compatible with Excelon Music Keg. These players offer 50-Watts per channel, and are equipped with a removable faceplate, remote control, and CD changer control. All of the units have Sirius Satellite Radio capability and read CD, CD-R and CD-R/W discs.

The Kenwood Excelon KDC-X959 with OEL video display

The top of the line receiver, the Excelon KDC-X959 also supports Microsoft's WMA format internally and offers a Organic Electro Luminescent display (OEL) that can show photographs or a series of low-res 5-second MPEG movies that will be created by Kenwood as a little eye-candy. Kenwood will supply these free downloadable clips to owners of the X959 in the near future off the Kenwood Web site.

The KDC-X959 ships in April and will retail for $700.

The KDC-X959 also features a bright, fine-pitch Organic Electro Luminescent display (OEL) that can show and store 40 consumer-created images or a consumer's 5-second MPEG movie.

The Kenwood Excelon KDC-X859 is identical to the X959 with the absence of WMA compatibility and the Organic Electro Luminescent display. The addition of the Music Keg to this player brings WMA functionality back as well as OGG and all the other digital formats we mentioned above. The KDC-X859 ships in February and will retail for $600.

Kenwood Excelon KDC-X759 is the third head unit and as a stand alone product does not read digital music files even though the CD can read CD-R and CD-R/W discs. This unit requires the addition of the Excelon Music Keg to enable it with full digital music capability. The KDC-X759 also ships in February and retails for $550.

Rounding out the list are the Kenwood Excelon KDC-X659, X559, and the starter X459 ranging from $300 to $500.



Rio Volt Portable CD MP3 Player - The Volt plays MP3 and WMA files from CD and is available from Amazon.

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