I finally picked up a new head unit this afternoon, to replace my good ol' Alpine 7878 high-end deck. The replacement was supposed to be an ultra-fancy Eclipse AVX2494 double-DIN with video and DVD which I actually bought, but realized after looking at it, that it didn't have Pre-outs (what deck today doesn't have pre-outs??? -- especially a $1500 one?). So, I looked high and low for something else that would satisfy my need for audio ecstasy. The best single-DIN Alpine non-video unit has a funky slide dial selector that, well, ***** bad. The Eclipse CD8455 was what I decided I wanted, but none of the dealers in town could get one within a week. There was one CD8445 in stock, in town, to I bought it. It's lacking just a couple minor features that the CD8455 has, so I was cool with it.
Anyway, installation was a breeze. The owners manual is the best I've ever seen. I had modded my ISO brackets for my previous Alpine, for a totally "flush" (with the dash) face, and the CD8445 slipped right in with no trouble. No binding of the motorized face, and wiring was completely straight-forward. I would have liked the RCA outputs to be a little longer, but that's a minor detail.
Upon firing it up for the first time, I noticed that the sound has more muscle. Surely this is due to the 8V pre-outs. I re-adjusted my amp gains, and the music still sounded very rich and pronounced. Nice. I'd have to say that out-of-the-box, the CD8445 sounds better than the Alpine CDA-7878, but with the Alpine's vast (and complicated) time alignment, crossover, and EQ capabilities, the Alpine 7878 is a high-end audiophile dream. Being that this is a Windows (R) kind of world now, 99.9% of users, including audio-freaks, want plug-and-play, but still want it to sound great. That's what you'll get with the Eclipse CD8445 (and CD8455).
Navigating the menus on the Eclipse is childs-play, compared to the complicated and hardly intuitive Alpine CDA-7878, which literally needs extensive professional experience to get right. The Eclipse, in contrast, was completely dialed in within about an hour, without having ever touched one before.
I was disappointed, however in the depth of actual adjustability. Crossover HP/LP/BP for front, rear, mid, high, etc. on the Alpine are all individually adjustable and separate from each other. The Eclipse is more for a basic user with high-end hopes -- its crossover adjusts both HP and LP together, with an adjustable slope level in-between. That's fine, since I and most people would actually set it up like this anyway (or flat, using external x-overs). The DSP time alignment on the 8445 is also very basic. You plug in the vehicle type (shape) from a menu, then select the tweeter position for the front, and it guestimates the best alignments for you. The Alpine 7878 required precise adjustment of each element of front and rear (or 3-way) sound, each with its own delay settings and x-over points. Complicated -- but, yeild as close-to-perfect, as you can get, time alignment and levels, if done correctly.
There are some quirks with the 8445 though. Balance and fader adjustment disappears if you are using the "sweet-spot" position feature. The DSP "environments" are too exaggerated and not natural-sounding. The remote is fairly big and is VERY slow to adjust volume. CD tracking is as fast as it should be, but MP3 tracking (to the next track) takes too long compared to the Alpine 7878 (fastest MP3 tracking out there, that I know of). There is no "angle" setting, that I have found yet, for the face, while "on". The display is all but impossible to see in daylight. And the look, although quite nice, is still not adult enough for my tastes. And, the teaser of multiple color combinations for the illumination, is over-shadowed by its lack of good choices. The Alpine 7878 was just about perfect. The older Sony Mobile ES XR-c900 was absolutely perfect looking. I miss the days of ultra-high-quality construction and design in place of flashy, non-functional bling.
I haven't played with the Area map features, or Memory Stick stuff yet, but they're not really necessities to me.
In summary, this $550 deck can't even come close to the fine-tuning capabilities and pure audiophile focus of the $850 Alpine CDA-7878. But, I have to say, that it is still a deck with impressive audio adjustability and capabilities, wrapped up in a relatively inexpensive and good-looking package, that's absolutely the most intuitive to use, of any deck I've messed with.
For non-techie audio-freaks who want a deck they can throw in, spend 15 minutes setting a single x-over range and answering 3 questions about vehicle type and speaker placement, for some very quick setup on their system and have it ready to show off to the ladies or compete with, I can't think of a better unit. And with an ultra-low impedance, high output, preamp system, the sound quality of the CD8445 is absolutely outstanding by any measure.