A CD changer in the trunk -- Listening to music in the car is changing

If your appetite for convenient, quality car sound was whetted by the in-dash CD players of the late ’80s, welcome to the digital ’90s, where the big action will be in the trunk. What your car really needs, besides four-on-the floor, is 16-bit, four-times-oversampled sound with dual D/A converters and Shuffle Play. Translated: a CD changer. It goes in the trunk, where the burglars don’t see it, and you control it through your radio. It holds compact discs — 6, 10, or 12 — like a mini-jukebox. And no, the discs don’t skip. Technology finally has beaten the American pothole.

How much better than the radio or tape is the sound? Lots. And the ease of doing the 50-mph-album-change by touching one button on your radio rather than rummaging through tape or CD holders on the passenger seat may not lower your auto insurance rates, but it certainly should help control your adrenaline.

Taking much less room than a spare tire and only slightly more than that old pair of sneakers banging around, the trunk disc changer has advanced to the point of flawless musical reproduction. Features rival those of home changers, and prices are ”reasonable” and still dropping. Although you could plunk down more than $1,000 on a changer, if your bill tops $600 you’re bordering on being an audiophile — or an easy mark. (You also will have to decide whether you want to change your car’s current radio, though, since it probably won’t work with a CD changer; see below.)

The changers hold magazines or cartridges, which are loaded with CDs. At the push of a button on the changer, the cartridge ejects for a disc reload. You can leave the cartridge in the changer until you get sick of those particular 6 to 12 discs — probably more than a week, depending on how much you live in your car.

You won’t be hard-pressed to find a changer — the trick is deciding what features you want. Changers come in different formats, and some are compatible with home CD players-which means you can transfer cartridges between systems. Alpine and Pioneer each make a 6-disc changer; Pioneer’s is compatible with its home system. Sony, Kenwood, Nakamichi, Denon, and Yamaha make a 10-disc changer, whose cartridges are interchangeable and can be played on any Sony home changer. Concord and Technics share a 12-disc changer format.

Still with me? Blaupunkt and JVC share yet another 12-disc format, using two 6-disc units (not compatible with, say, Pioneer’s 6-disc model); JVC’s is compatible with its home system. With any of these changers, double-check compatibility of the specific model you’ve picked. Fortunately, it’s only the changers that are different: Any CD can be used in any player.

And compatibility of changers matters only if you want to transfer magazines between a home CD changer and one in your car. Some people don’t.

”Music in the house is different than what people play in the car,” says Rich Coe, Alpine’s assistant vice president of technical development. Alpine’s 6-disc changer, of course, is not compatible with any home system, but it is the smallest one made — an advantage for those with minimal trunk space.

In your car, you don’t need to worry about cranking up the heavy metal; the neighbors are just passing by, not banging on the walls. ”A car is a place you can play your music any way you want to,” says Manville Smith, manager of Speaker Warehouse in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.