Car audio head units with digital output

UPDATE – 9/4/14 – The new Alpine INE-W957HD model does feature an optical output!  It’s not really obvious as it doesn’t appear to be a feature they are pushing, but it does have it.

I recently received this email from a reader regarding digital output from aftermarket head units for use with digital audio processors.  Joe brings up a great question!

Audison Demo Car at CES 2012 featuring a Full Digital Audio System

There are a number of audio processors promising extensive time alignment and EQ that seem to finally be close to retail availability. Alpine has the H800, Rockford Fosgate the 3sixty.3, and Arc Audio is working on the PS8. It would be ideal to run a digital signal to the processor to avoid unnecessary digital/analog conversions. I know there are a few head units that have digital output, but it’s never mentioned on marketing materials. What current or near-future head units do you know of that have this type of signal output?

Oh how true it is that it’s never mentioned in any marketing materials!  I remember being so stoked when my Alpine rep told me that the INA-W910BT was going to have an optical output.  I was so excited about it that I managed to sell one along with an Audison Bit One based largely on the fact that it could be an optical connection from the head unit to the processor.  You can imagine how disappointed I was when my husband came back from the install bay, stereo in hand and said,

“There’s no optical out.  Where is it?  Can you see it?”

Sure enough, I didn’t see where you could possibly make any optical connection.

“I f***ing hate Alpine; those ***holes do the same sh** to us every year!”

After calling tech support, I found out you need an additional adapter to add an optical output pigtail.  With the KWE-610A, you could run an INA-W910BT to a processor like the Audison Bit One and from there to an Audison Voce amp with digital connection.  Audison calls it their AV bit IN.

I did not have a chance to check out their full digital audio system while at CES 2012.  They were not at the convention center this year; they were off site at some hotel that we never had a chance to make it over to.  But this video from Audison helps to fill us in on the details of what a full digital audio system is and how it will vastly improve both sound quality and ease of installation.  Full digital audio is here now.

Check it out: