CZ401 PAS Magazine Review

ack when I was in retail, our store was an authorized Clarion dealer for many years. While we also carried several other product lines, we always had great success and respect for the Clarion brand and their exceptional
products. You may not be aware of it, but the history of the Clarion goes way back to 1940, and is closely tied to
the history of the automobile itself. Clarion can claim the bragging rights to a great many innovations and technologies
over the years, including Japan’s first car radio and first car stereo. Nowadays they offer everything from budget-priced,
high-value basic units to some of the most high tech and best performing car audio products on the planet. For this review,
we’re going to take a look at a unit a bit closer to the budget end of the spectrum, the new Clarion CZ401, which has a full
list price of $229.99 here in the U.S. of A.
The Clarion CZ401 is a single DIN CD/MP3
receiver incorporating an HD radio tuner
and iTunes Tagging functionality. Clarion has
long been known for their excellent AM/FM
tuners, and now they have combined that
performance with the clarity and diversity
of HD Radio, along with the convenience of
tagging new songs that can be added to your
collection later.
Sidebar: If you’re not familiar with HD
Radio, it is a digital broadcasting system that
does not require a subscription and can easily
double or triple the amount of available stations you receive. With near-CD sound quality,
the ability to “tag” any song for later retrieval
via iTunes, Artist and Song Title info, and you
can see why the popularity of HD Radio is
growing quickly.
I listen regularly to the various HD Radio
stations available here in the greater Phoenix
area, and I have to say, it’s easy
to get spoiled by the great sound quality of
the HD Radio broadcasts. The difference is
quite dramatic, both in terms of sound quality and reception. If you have not heard HD
Radio, give it a try. These days it’s all I want to
listen to when it comes to local radio.
Of course, the tuner is just one section of
the CZ401’s playback capabilities. Naturally,
it will also play back CDs, recordable discs
and MP3 or WMA files, either on a disc or
stored in a USB drive. The CZ401 is “Made
for iPod/iPhone” and is fully compatible with
most generations of Classic, Nano, Touch,
or iPhone devices via the USB port located
discreetly behind a folding door on the front
panel. In addition to charging your Apple
device, the CZ401 will also display the title
information of the selected track via its easy
to read two-line, 10-character display.
For those who want more, the Clarion
CZ401 also provides the ability to directly
connect a Sirius SC-C1 satellite radio tuner,
with no additional interface required. An
auxiliary input jack also on the front panel
provides yet another input for other audio
devices. Regardless of what your connectivity requirements are, chances are this unit
will have you covered!
The front panel is removable for security
purposes, and for convenience, a wireless
remote control is also supplied.
So you’re thinking, ‘wow, this thing has
a ton of features for the price, they must
have really skimped on the audio section.’
Nope, that would be dead wrong.
In fact, the CZ401 has an audio section
that would make an audiophile proud. In
addition to the built in four-channel MOSFET
amplifier that is rated at 18 watts per channel into 4 ohms, the CZ401 also boasts front,
rear and subwoofer outputs, rated at 4 volts!
And they didn’t stop there. Also onboard
are Clarion’s fully customizable “Beat EQ”,
“Magna Bass EX”, and built-in adjustable
high and low pass crossovers. And finally, if
your car has steering wheel controls, there are
adapters available to make them work with the
CZ401, via a dedicated plug on the rear panel.
When designing a head unit’s controls and
display, the layout, placement and feel of the
controls are critical, as is the readability of the
display. Optimally, you want a unit that can be
used virtually blind, and when you look at it, the
information should be easy to find and clearly
displayed. Clarion goes to great lengths in the
regard with something they call their H.M.I.
or Human-Machine Interface. The result is
a design that places frequently used buttons
in logical and easy to find spots, incorporates
a rotary volume control, and a bright (white)
character display on a black background. I
have to say that in my opinion, they got it
almost perfect. This folks, is basically how it
should be. Well done.
If I were to pick nits, I suppose it would be
nice to have a bit more flexibility on what’s
displayed, and to be able to control things like
scrolling speed, but that’s being pretty unrealistic for a product in this price range. The
CZ401 is intuitive, the menus were easy to
navigate, and I could even drill down to fairly
obscure adjustments like the filter Q of the
equalizer without needing a manual. While I’m
on the subject of the EQ, I should point out
that while Clarion doesn’t make too big a deal
CEA-2006A Power per channel (all channels driven, @ 4 ohms)
18.5 watts/ch X 4
A Wtd S/N Ratio (ref to 2V/1W @ 4 ohms) Amplified output
THD+N @ 2V/1W @ 4 ohms 1kHz
Frequency Response (-1.0dB)
20Hz – 20kHz
Max Usable Output Voltage
A Wtd S/N Ratio ref to full output voltage
Output Impedance
236 ohms
Frequency Response (-1.0dB)
20Hz – 20kHz
of the feature, this is a powerful tuning tool. There are three bands, Bass Mid, and
Treble, and within each band you can select one of three available frequencies. Boost
and cut is adjustable in 2dB steps, with an adjustment range spanning 28dB. On top
of that, the Q of the boost is adjustable on the Bass and Treble bands as well. Have a
look at the accompanying graphs to see what I’m talking about.
Download, view and share exclusive
content at
I keep repeating this, but for a unit at this price range, I didn’t expect the sonic performance to be as good as it was. Music on regular CDs sounded really open and natural
with good detail, no sense of compression and without any audible noise. In fact, I was
fairly amazed at how noise-free the unit was, with no sound whatsoever between tracks
or when playing a “digital black” track, even with the volume wide open. While doing my
listening, I changed CDs fairly frequently, and I did notice that the CZ401 isn’t the fastest
unit I’ve used when it comes to how long it takes to get audio output from the time you
load a disc. Most discs I tried would begin to play within about 15 seconds, which is about
5 seconds longer than average. It was mildly perturbing, but certainly not something that
was a real problem. The controls and buttons operated smoothly, with good tactile feedback and without any digital “zipper noise” that has plagued other lower priced products
in the past. The tuner also worked very well, with strong performance on both AM and FM
stations. The HD tuner also performed brilliantly.
Regardless of the type of product I’m reviewing, I always do my listening first, and then
bring the unit to the bench to see if the measured performance specs correlate with what
I heard. I’m happy to say that in the case of the Clarion CZ401 the unit sounded great, and
the measured specs came out equally as impressive. You’ll recall I mentioned how quiet
the noise floor was, and for good reason – the signal to noise performance of the preamp
section was about as good as I’ve measured in recent memory, at an exceptionally low
-92.8dBA. I’ve measured home audio CD players that weren’t that good!
Frequency response is quite flat as well, and all of the EQ and crossover filters worked
precisely as advertised. The output impedance was a touch on the high side at about
236 ohms, but considering the preamp output voltage measured a full volt higher than
advertised, I’ll take it.
The Clarion CZ401 represents one of the highest performance units I have ever tested under
the 250 dollar (US) price point. It will serve perfectly as a replacement for a factory radio, or as
the cornerstone of a very high end audiophile system. This kind of performance and functionality isn’t generally found in this price range, so kudos to the Clarion team for developing an
affordable, great sounding, uncommonly good product. If you’re considering a replacement for
your existing single DIN radio, this Clarion should be at the top of your shopping list. CLARION