The Fusion CA-IP500 is the latest in a wave of mechanical-free receivers that we've seen, but it's the only one we've seen that features an internal iPod dock. Just open the faceplate, pop in your iPod, and you're off. However upon closer study, we found that while the CA-IP500's internal dock eliminates the need for USB or dock connector cables, it creates a new problem of dealing with multiple iPod designs.
On the surface, the Fusion CA-IP500 follows the most classic of car stereo designs: two knobs located at opposite ends of a single ISO DIN-size faceplate with a display situated between them. On the left is the volume knob and on the right is the search knob, used for tuning radio stations and choosing songs. But while the surface may seem classic, what's beneath the surface is anything but.
For starters, the display between the knobs is an animated dot-matrix OLED display. The display is only monochromatic, but it's very bright and easily viewable even in broad daylight. The control knobs are finished in chrome with rubber grips and blue LED backlighting. Oddly, the blue color of the LEDs and the blue of the OLED display are completely different, which is aesthetically annoying. Above and below each knob are a total of four buttons for power/source selection, adjusting the EQ, accessing the menu, and toggling the display.
Moving beyond the flip-down faceplate, we find that the Fusion CA-IP500 is a mechanical-free device with no moving parts (with the exception of a pair of hidden fans cooling the chassis and the faceplate). In place of a CD or tape player, there's an internal iPod dock. After inserting an iPod, the user is able to choose songs using an organizational structure similar to that of the classic iPod interface.
The Fusion CA-IP500 deals with the issue of the various generations and sizes of iPods by shipping with an array of adapter sleeves. The unit works with and has adapters for the iPod Classic, the iPod Touch, and all three generations of the iPhone. Just snap in the appropriate adapter, slide in your iPod, and close the faceplate. If you're a single iPod user, setup ends here and you can enjoy your music. However, if you own multiple iPods--for example a Classic and a Nano--or if you want to listen to music on a friend's device, then you'll have keep the appropriate adapters with you at all times. Who wants a glove compartment full of empty plastic sleeves?
This setup also presents a problem if Apple releases a new iPod design in the future. For example, the fourth-generation iPod Nano was released after the Fusion CA-IP500. People can order an adapter sleeve for this new Nano on Fusion's Web site at no additional cost, but then you still have to deal with the slight inconvenience of waiting for it to be shipped. Fortunately, Fusion's customer service is quick and very easy to deal with.
While some iPods are easy to remove, others--such as the slim iPod Touch--are more difficult to grip and require more force than we were comfortable with to remove.
In addition to iPod playback, the CA-IP500 features an AM/FM tuner with RDS and a rear-mounted RCA auxiliary input.