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Shaken & Stirred - THE 2011 M.E.N. Awards

Funnily enough, as regular readers, will know, the James Bond themed awards dinner I compered recently left me feeling both shaken and emotionally stirred as I was stitched up. I tried to give the last gong of the night to my editor…well anyway I am now proud holder of a Lifetime Achievement award which is on the news archive right now, as well as being at the end of this huge article.

What follows is a transcript of the text that is going into the trade title Mobile Electronics News magazine. Sent to everyone in our world. It’s about some people you may not know and a lot of things you will know.

Have a shufty and see if you agree. In lots of cases, you won’t, as these awards were voted for by dealers and they have different criteria as to ‘best’. An amp that reviews well, oddly enough, helps to sell them – just look at the Clarion APA amp gong, same model as I loved but with nil input from the Fat Bloke as to outcome. The trade voters also favoured winners of EISA awards. And I am bloody certain that some reps were just damn well more pointed about standing over their dealers while they filled out their forms to make sure their verbal approval turned into a vote. But like politics, then.

And as for details about EISA, along with the 106 different images I would need to go thieve and implant as a gallery to properly populate this article, it would only be a solid six hours work or so and sadly, the reviews have to come first! So erm, go Google ‘em!

OK, not presented as Talk Audio awards but I figured a few of you would be gripped as to what the trade guys think. Be warned, you may learn some minor insider insights….

Oh and before you go, do you think Talk Audio should run poll based awardsof our own, consumer ones? And have a big ‘Do’ where they get given out? After all, by big sister has won awards in her trade, which is organising this stuff!

Just a thought, loves.

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Shaken & Stirred
“Pay Attention Bond, these gadgets could save your life…” as Q might have said. For it was the occasion of the eighth Mobile Electronics News awards in what has been our TENTH year of publication. Yours Truly was compere again at our now famously vital social-and-glory black tie gala event and the theme was James Bond.

I wore five O’clock shadow stubble with the collar open on my dress shirt and bow tie undone to show it was a real one, just like James’. We had tables all named after the movies and a brace of dancer lovelies who had stepped straight out of Casino Royale and were nine feet tall in their feather Vegas Showgirl costumes, to act as my greeters and to guide and be snapped with those folks collecting awards.

We had a few more ‘people’ awards this year yet had slimmed down the number of product gongs overall while adding a crucial extra product award too, called Editor’s Choice for equipment deemed awesome by Mobile Electronics News’ EdUnit himself. For this year, the industry’s voting effort was better engaged with and more comprehensively widespread than in previous years, resulting in the best spread of well deserved glory we have seen.

New ‘People’ awards included an Installer Of The Year category for mobile installers and one I asked for, which was Best Technical Support.
Let’s take you through them in the order we got them on the night….

Services to the Industry Award
Many eons ago when Terrible Lizards still stalked Milton Keynes, a couple of chaps set up the first importation of the high end Japanese brand of car audio - Alpine. One of these chaps was Keith Holness, our winner of the Services to the Industry award. Since the 1st January 1986, Alpine has been in the UK and has built firm branding as the top end of car audio. Despite being the sort of chap much more comfortable with sending new employees to the stage to collect product awards rather than lording it up himself, however deserved, Keith has been a backbone for Alpine in the UK forever. The quiet one, pulling off deals at high levels and being a part of the UK planning and operations rather than front-of-house PR. Stuff that saw Alpine rise in the UK to be a true power and outpost of Japanese corporate empire, rather than a small two-geezers and a lock-up operation.

Keith is enormously loved by those he works with and universally respected by those he does business with. He has Alpine through his being like lettering in seaside rock (Translate THAT one to your Japanese colleagues without a picture, guys!) and has supported all ice media, both trade and consumer, again forever. A real powerhouse of the UK Ice industry, we salute you, Keith.

Best Single DIN AV Head Unit
Still the sexiest and most ‘James Bondian’ of all Ice products, the single-DIN headunit with a screen that comes whirring out of the dash always impresses your mates and no fib, I’ve always described these items as ‘Bondian’. And Clarion’s VZ401E which took Bronze most certainly fits the bill in this category for being so totally well equipped and uniquely for having a double-DIN big brother identical in every screen and function except for the headunit’s format. The Kenwood KVT-526DVD took Silver with a crisp button layout and a very cool Graphic User Interface (pretty screens) and the Alpine IVA D511R took Gold for its not just having all the same awesome connectivity as the others but also the Alpine IMPRINT capability, which is truly Next Level audio auto tuning tech. It’s like an expert with an RTA spent four hours with a 500 band four channel EQ.

Best Double DIN (without Navigation)
With well over 50% of all cars on the roads now either having a double DIN hole or the same space behind the panels, or coming with an OEM double-dinner when you buy it, this size of headunit has (somewhat bizarrely in some ways) become the new growth area of head unitry by market share. And the serious specification and capability with SD cards and USB inputs (and iPod and iPhone compatibility with an extra wire by Nemesis usually!) is no longer solely the preserve of the major Japanese companies as our Bronze winner, the Zenec ZE-MC294 proves. A slice less costly yet still feature-rich. The Alpine IVA-520R took Silver for its smarts and the up-sell possibilities of the navigation add-on module NVE-M300P. With the Kenwood DDX4028BT taking Gold for the fight back against the newer less costly competition, with the most amazing touch screen product that sells for £350. Delicious.

Best Double DIN (with Navigation)
This is the Sledgehammer Unit. Big real estate in the dash, big screen and there is no single question or demand the punter can ask without you saying , “Yes, it has that…” as these are the kings of the aftermarket. Double DIN with everything including navigation that makes a windscreen-mounted navigator look a bit wanky. (That said, the Clarion MAP790 uses the SIRF III chip….) The deeply desirable Alpine INE-S900R took our Bronze award with the brilliant One Look system that allows the user to show two functions at once and decide on their relative size and position on the screen. The Kenwood DNX9280BT won Silver, adding a third accolade as its predecessor won a Gadget Show test and this unit also won EISA’s Gold award in Europe this year. But Sony’s XNV-L77BT took Gold in this prestigious category here in Blighty because of the Tom Tom tie up that gives the user HD traffic safety alerts, local search with Google and weather updates. Plus the use of others’ actual speed data to find the quickest route with IQ Routes. It’s a killer unit.

Best Vehicle Interface
All of the clever head units in the world are no use at all if you cannot get at the vehicle’s own steering wheel controls to interface with, as no buyer wants to take a leap backwards in the control of their radio. Autoleads SOT range took Bronze in the interface category for being reliably well designed and well stocked, despite the huge range they have to keep. InCarTec’s bonkers little motorMOUTH device took silver for being a sale-from-a-wall-hook, peasy to understand and giving hands free Bluetooth to anyone who has a cigar lighter in their car and the need. Great for hire cars. But the mighty Dension Gateway 500 easily stole Gold, for being such a competent and clever device. Paddling like fury digitally, so you don’t need to fret, this unit adds a whole world to any MOST car by fibre optics and digital jiggery-pokery. Bloody clever and all unseen in the car, it just uses the screen it came with.

Security Product of the Year
While we have alarms and tracking devices and fleet management tools, the overall security rating of a product comes down to the Thatcham Accreditation multiplied by the feelings and experiences of those who fit and use the products. So it was about overall reassurance in this category, leading to some double-whammy successes for certain products that have won in their own right within their own sector. Thus it was a Bronze award for the Scorpion Track system for being the UK’s most affordable with the lowest subscriptions yet offering a full service. The CobraTrack Plus With Web won Silver, as it has some extra features like tow-away protection, with Smartrack’s Protector Pro taking Gold because of the even higher tech that can send an e-mail if the battery gets disconnected.

Best CAN Bus System
This award was as ‘internal’ an industry award as it can get. No consumer will ever give a tuppeny damn about these products unless you get sold a duff one and sell it on to them as part of the job and then their system doesn’t work! As you’ll need one of these to add an aftermarket headunit into a CAN-BUS equipped car, these items get seen either as an added-value to the sale or as a pejorative pain in the neck. On any of the three counts (function, added value or sale-inhibitor) it is crucial to get it right. The adapter needs to be keenly priced, yet offer a bit of margin for the dealer, not piss off the buyer who has to have it as a small extra and of course plug-and-play perfectly. That said, you also want eager and attentive service and rapid delivery. I reckon it would have been a combination of the lot that saw our winning products placed as Sailes Marketing in Bronze with the CB2M200. then Celsus’ Paser SlimKey2 system in Silver with super-specialists’ Connects2’s CAN-01/2 taking Gold.

Best Headrest Product
In the way that you can hear a boom system and thus gauge how many there are in the traffic, this category is one that you can see being used while out driving. And while it has most definitely stayed in the richer-owners bracket for purchase, there has been a revolution on the high street with TV sets getting fabulously sexy and kids will also be seeing others’ headrests glowing with Disney films as they sit in the traffic. So, in the “are we nearly there yet?” category, the well made and highly affordable C-KO HUDVD-7005 took Bronze, for being a whole headrest replacement and offering a DVD player and games system in the package. Alpine’s TME M780 took Silver for its 1,152,000 pixels versus the 336,900 usually found on this size screen, making it the closest to HD TV on the road. The Rosen AV7700 from Cobra won Gold, due to it being a simple piggy-back system yet only an inch and a half thick and being designed to work safely behind ‘active’ headrests, like BMW & Mercedes. USB input socket, too which is remarkable.

Best Head Unit (under £150)
A sadly shrinking and yet increasingly commoditised sector with some real horrid cheapo rubbish on sale in the more peripheral catalogue type businesses. This price of deck is thus no longer an entry level one but more importantly a contest to see who can cram ever yet more digital functionality in the single DIN chassis for the price sold. The Bronze award goes to Pioneer for their DEH-8300SD, which as the suffix suggest can read from Secure Digital cards It would have been £500 five years ago. Hi volt preouts, digital crossovers, EQ, OEL display…madness! Sony’s CDXGT540UI won Silver for its high and low pass filters and the cleverness of being able to intro-sample, even from the front USB, while Alpine’s CDE-120R won Gold for its high end aspirations yet modest price.

Best Head Unit (over £150)
Rather than going all out for the mad end and terribly costly machines that still exist, the voters were still from the real world so our £150 price point has concentrated things a bit. The Clarion CZ501E won Bronze for including the highest level 4 Volt RCA outputs to back up the on board Bluetooth and built in microphone, adding safe telephony to the mix of other high quality features. The JVC KD-R921 was awarded Silver and has 5V preouts, a Texas Instruments 24 BIT DAC and other goodies while in Gold, we find the Alpine CDE 117Ri, which was awarded the top spot for its tremendous sound quality, much loved by brand-o-philes. It’ll work on the Imprint system (See Editor’s Choice) which is a killer feature.

Best Bluetooth Solution
A lovely wide-ranging category, the Bluetooth concept has become a necessity, rather than a luxury. Just how it is applied to your car varies from a discreet dash-top stand alone control system, a whole actual headunit with the equipment on board, or else a piggy-back for another unit. Our awards reflected them all The Bronze goes to Alpine’s KCE400BT add-on hide away box for their compatible headunits. . The fabulous and new Parrot Asteroid won Silver for their Android app-using single-DIN headunit. The daddies’ of Bluetooth’s first headunit has been joyously received. And in Gold the excellent Bury Music dash top Bluetooth system that is also properly designed for the real music fan as an alternative way to manage tunes from an iPhone.

Best iPod / iPhone Solution
So much equipment is made to be enslaved to the iPod and this matters as millions have been sold. I once saw someone use a $300 vending machine to buy one at Las Vegas airport! In Bronze we find the neat and tidy Dension ice>Link Lite which powers and cradles your precious ‘Pod. In Silver position, it’s Kenwood’s BT61U single-DIN headunit for doing the job at a keen price and well. The fascia of the unit is minimalist and cool looking, which must help sell it and won it votes. The issue of whether a unit could do it at full speed, is of course a moot point nowadays. In Gold, we find the Connects2 iConnect-FM, a device that will work in any car with a radio. You put power in and aerial in and out en route the radio and get your iPod as a new radio station. Not posh but a mega-solution for everyone. A winner.

Best Amp (under £150)
Amplification has been getting better and better priced as time has gone on and a new class of crazily high quality Class D amps is changing the world. Even in more normal class AB amps like these, the changes have meant more and more watts for the entry level amplifier purchaser. These are crucial first forays into power for an enthusiast. If that first spend on proper amplification doesn’t satisfy, we’ll lose them to surfing, or DJ-ing or something. In Bronze we have the worthy Fusion CA-AM 20350, a 2x55w RMS slab that scored well with our voters. The FLI Fli Loaded 900s won Silver due to the 4x100 watt generosity of wellie for the money and the Kicker EX 450.4 won Gold for doing even more of the same with four channels of some 400 watts each. All certified in each box and all above the specification they are claimed for.

Best Amp (over £150)
Although they don’t make many models, the simple reason is that they don’t need to as the Clarion APA4360 in Bronze is a superb piece of engineering with real power and improbably high fidelity specs that you can hear. I have reviewed this one myself and am delighted to see it win in these MEN awards. Clean and potent, too. The JL Audio XD200/2 in Silver position is another I have reviewed and I can attest that the XD amps are part of this new Class D revolution referred to above. Lots of power and superbly clear. A well deserved award for a company even the Japanese watch closely. And in Gold, the VIBE Black Death Reaper amplifier, more properly called the Bass 2. It has 18V, 14.5Kw @1 Ohm madness abilities and is a metre long. And you can strap two for 29Kw if you have the batteries!

Best Cabling / Wiring Solution
No serious car audio system, be it for loudness or beauty can be fashioned without the use of power and signal connection cables and accessories. These can either be commodity style as cheap as possible (although do be warned, some cheaper cables are not worth the tuppence you’ll pay, just ask Autoleads…) or else form part of the bling and fun and appeal of a top end install and add real value. In Bronze we have the Stinger cables brand that Celsus import and distribute. Sold in useful accessory packages as well as being sold off the roll, they do go up to two over gauge in power hawsers if you want to order a reel! Connects2 of course are the home of Tsunami in Silver, who despite having a name that isn’t cool when it actually happens, still have some really excellent products. Especially their big capacitor banks. Pure bling with massive muscle. But in Gold, the unassailable Autoleads selection of cabling products from review-winning packages to fitting bay consumables at best price, the outfit has still got sway.

Best Hands-Free Kit
Lots and lots of us need to go hands free, yet we are not all going to want to have a full AV add-on to our cars like a sexy Dension set and some of us simply won’t have the technology to piggy back, anyway. So it’s crucial that systems are available to be used as small dashboard add-ons for telephony. In Bronze, we have Parrot’s CK3100 LCD dash top set, one up from the 3000 that has no display, it is simple to use and works brilliantly. In Silver the Bury CC9060 won points for its bigger 2.8in screen and its no-training-needed voice command control. But the tour de force that is the Parrot MKi9200 won Gold, for its full offering to take you from a 2.4in screen into an entire entertainment system with as much connectivity (iPhone, USB, SD, line in) as most double-DIN headunits.

Best Parking Sensors
Modern cars are like driving a fish tank, such is the sight-line from the windows and parking sensor installation is increasingly a profit centre for fitting bays. Do you recall the big Mercedes that had steel penises that rose up out of the rear extremities when you put the car into reverse, so you see where its butt actually was? In Bronze we have the ParkSafe PS540 system, which can be supplied with four or two sensors and features paintable sensors with anti-hook and spare wheel functions. The Park Master 0356/358/359 sensors from Cobra won Silver for offering a clever totally flush and thus manufacturer-quality finish to the job. The Steelmate PTSD4 reverse-only set won Gold for being high VFM and for its traffic-light dashboard display, making it more straightforward to use versus analysing bleeper tones.

Best Bass Solution (over £150)
Our youth has become used to instant gratification, so the ‘I want it all right now’ subwoofer bass solution has become another surprise growth zone in market share. And it has to be said that by no means are all the offerings compromises, with the ‘right now’ still adding up to a decent sale. The Bronze in this category goes to the JL Audio JL CP212-W0v2 BassWedge enclosure which has two twelves, a slot-port and is built with edge flanges so you can even boundary-load it, down firing against your boot floor. The Kicker 11PHD12 Dual Active powered enclosure has won Silver with two twelves on 200 watts and a remote bass gain knob-in-a-box to clinch the deal for the money. But the FLI Trap 12 Twin Active took Gold for despite the brand starting life as entry-level it has evolved and the smooth and curvy enclosure has an eight hundred watt amplifier whose heatsinks follow the lines of the enclosure. Beautiful!

Best Bass Solution (under £150)
When it comes to immediate gratification the winner of our Bronze award, the Fusion CS AT1100 is a killer. It has a classically tubular enclosure, yet a flat base so it won’t roll as easily, arrives with a remote control for its potent little amp and most of all, for the money it rocks and I know, ‘cos I’ve tried one! The Fli FL1200 Amplifier wins silver just for being a serious 300 watt monoblock bass amplifier with some cutie bling for very little money indeed. That’s over a quarter-kilowatt to put it in perspective! And in Gold we have Alpine’s SBG-1244BP twelve inch bandpass enclosure. This simply sounds fucking awesome and I know, as again, yes, you get the picture. But fat, rippling, monocoque-shaking lows on not too much power, as it is awesomely efficient. Alpine bass award-winningly affordable? Shocking!

Best Digital Radio Product
A category which has come to the forefront his year, with the BBC and government both engaging properly with the digital future of radio in a big conference at the heart of the BBC, scant days after our awards. So this one really matters. In Bronze we had the PURE Highway, a simple, clean cigar-lighter-add-on unit that is about to be replaced, but scored a good ‘un for many dealers in 2011. Next, in Silver place is the Caliber RCD277DBT a simple, elegant single-DIN solution that includes a lot of hardware, like a mag-mount aerial. Finally, unique to this award alone, we had TWO GOLDS! The Kenwood KDC-DAB4551U and the JVC KD-DB53 units. Both crackers of their type and well deserved equal pegging in a new era.

Best DAB Innovation
This category has but one Gold winner which is Connects2’s AutoDAB unit. As clever as Jock Weasel McSlipperyFish, it tucks away behind the dash of the car that the owner thought was stuffed with an unassailable OEM system and it feeds the display of that OEM controls with AutoDAB’s displays. The car will have to have an antenna fitted discreetly but the looks and controls for the car owner are just as before the fitment but simply seeming to deliver DAB radio and the DAB radio station idents instead of the FM stuff. Very clever. They had pride of place at the Drive To Digital Conference held at BBC Broadcasting House a few days after the MEN awards night. You could tell that the assembled great and good were impressed.

Best Speed Camera Detection System
A subject dear to my recidivist heart, these are of course safety devices and should not be used as a license to speed. Ever. We had but a Silver and a Gold in this year’s line up when all the dust settled and they were the Stinger DSi system in Silver for its literally awesome comprehensive ability and fabulous technology, with the easy to use and install Pogo Alert Plus taking Gold. With its clear OLED Screen, eight and a half hour battery life and the Origin 360 database for all Europe behind it, plus a laser detector you can unplug if the law changes, it slaps most other offerings quite firmly into a spot behind them. Origin Technologies are ones to watch.

Best Alarm
In a world where our clever technology has resulted in the poor bloody owner or even their house becoming the weakest spot to attack to steal a car, it’s good to know that a car alarm that screams is still a crucial helper in keeping what’s yours, your own. There’s savage competition in the market and our dealers voted the Cobra 4405 into Bronze place, with its own back up battery and the CAN-BUS use of the car’s own remote to arm, it has smarts as well as category 2-1 Thatcham approval. The Scorpion SIGMA S35 took Silver with its vehicle-specific software database, always adding more cars to the CAN-BUS capability of the set, while the legendary Clifford AvantGuard 5.5 took Gold, again as it has so much packed on board. Arguably the finest and most sophisticated piece of car alarm kit ever made, it has remote starting and anti-hijack tech too.

Best Tracking - Fleet
So long gone are the days when you left the office and left direct control behind. No more swift nipping over to the girlfriend’s for a quickie in the middle of the afternoon or POETS, (Pissoff Ome, Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday) as the boss can see where you are at. This is crucial to cost effective fleet management, especially in the face of stupefying fuel costs. And our dealers are impressed by TrackItNow’s ERA Software in Bronze position that can be used to manage one vehicle or a national-grade fleet, under the ‘motion’ or ‘advance’ products, while CobraTrak Plus took Silver due to its clever Tow-way, tamper and even GSM jamming alert technology. The SmarTrack Fleet Assist took Gold as it really is like having Big Brother watching you and can e-mail your boss if you go over speed. It uses the SIRF III top end GPS chip - better than most PND’s and even some DIN navs!

Best Tracking - Consumer
A slightly more personal and emotive sale, in personally-purchased individual vehicle tracking for consumers, the Trackitnow ERA system again took Bronze as their system is designed to start with one car – and kept up with a Ferrari on the Nurburgring at 160mph. SmarTrack Protector Pro took Silver with such smarts as battery disconnect alert and the dealer-friendly feature that the system is transferable when you sell the car if you want, which is a keen closer-of-sales feature. CobraTrak Plus took Gold in this personal category, just raising up to pole position in the votes on its features and benefits.

Best Hands-Free Distributor
Hands free is increasingly important as the forces of Law & Order are striving to make using a phone held to your head as socially unacceptable as drink driving. And by the way, do remind your business customers that getting caught hand-holding a phone in a work vehicle means six points, not three and a double (£120) fine. The Bronze Hands Free Distributor award went to Nemesis Technology for their capable Brodit product and their wide selection of stuff like J-Link leads, (used to plug iPods’ AV inputs into head units) while CEL Trade took Silver proving a wide expertise across many fields of mobile electronics and in Gold position we have Chameleon who are deep specialists in their field and offer a top service as well to their happy dealer base who voted them into the top spot in this category.

Best British Product
An emotive issue with stuff being made all over the world and yet designed in the land it is sold and claimed as ‘British’. The issue is the engineering and the quality control and not all outfits send QC staff off to their foreign factories as you really need to. The Scorpion Track tracking system has taken honours with the Gold award. Proud to be designed and manufactured in the UK so there’s NO foreign QC issue, this top end GPS vehicle tracking and recovery system is insurance approved yet charges its users the lowest subscriptions in the UK industry. Five year warranty and free inclusion of European coverage made this product an easy winner. Established since 1973, Scorpion have had respected auto security products to offer throughout the years. This is their coolest product right now.

Best Component Speakers (over £150)
The pinnacle of our audio awards, these speakers are the ones the true enthusiast will buy. The best efforts from the top companies made in the best configuration you can get - component. There are so many brands and so much competition and every good maker claims theirs are the finest. According to how the voting came in, we had the Focal K2 Power 165 KRX2 in Bronze position, with their lovely phase plugs, adjustable midband and fabulous engineering. JL Audio Evolution C3-650 took Silver for their clever convertible nature and true edge-driven domes, reaching way into bat frequencies. But in Gold position we find the Vibe Space 6 3D system. It has an utterly unique look to it, rich in engineering ‘flex’ that says ‘we made this’ and unashamedly designed for love of the Audi R8’s interior design feel and look. So, if you have an R8, then truly you are a fool and a damn fool, if you don’t upgrade. These are crisp and clean and well loved enough to take the top accolade.

Best Component Speakers (under £150)
Another vital category as these are a gateway drug! Like one chocolate leading to scoffing the whole box. That you can get credible performance from a set of components costing under £150 can be revelatory to your customer and can delight to the point where they become true car audio addicts. So, well done to Pioneer’s TS-E170Ci set as they have taken Bronze for a smooth sound and remarkable result overall for the price and of course, that slick Japanese presentation. JBL’s GT6-5c have won Silver, due to the characteristically potent signature JBL sound that all their stuff has always had, while Focal’s PS130 has won Gold for their clean output – which incidentally in the bigger size won EISA Gold, so all Europe’s mags agree they are wicked.

Best Full Range (over £150)
This class went bloody insane this year! It was all about COAXES, guys! In Bronze, we have the VIBE Black Death 12, which is a linen-edge MIBAND TWELVE INCH with a real pro compression driver in it! Bonkers in a gorgeously daft way. Far more sane was the Silver award for Vibe’s Slick 6 proving to be a safe bet, Known Good sale, with the EISA award-winning Focal PS165 in Gold. Which erm, is a component speaker, so our voting went a bit ‘murrrr’. Like Wagner on the X Factor but in reverse.

Best Full Range (under £150)
Another horribly important gateway product, as the mere replacement of your front speakers with better quality coaxes is often the necessity-sale due to death of OEM stuff and yet can ignite a surprised happy enthusiasm in the punter. So it’s lovely to see the Alpine SPR-17C take the Bronze award as I loved them when I reviewed them myself. Focal’s 165CVX take the Silver award with their high quality rotating-to-better-angle tweeter assembly and JL Audio’s Evolution TR600-Cxi take the Gold based upon their woven textile domes and long travel midband cones. Another well deserved win for a brand with a fervent following in the UK.

Best Cellular Accessories
Another category with a sole winner, the Gold Award goes to Nemesis’ Brodit Apple iPhone 4 Active Holder. It is of course of the Made For iPhone tribe and cunning with it, with the battery charging of course, but the real plot is the effective tilt and swivel function of the mount that just makes it a delight to use and has resulted in happy user reviews all over the places they sell these on the ‘net. Part of a well respected line of cellular accessories and an easy winner in this category.

Editor’s Choice
A lovely shiny new category and entirely appropriate that our esteemed EdUnit, the Marty Party, Mister Williams, should determine the worthy winner. And it was easy this first time around. The Gold goes to Alpine’s PXA-H800 and RUX-C800 combination which is a set of control electronics for the very finest, most competition-grade purity and beauty sound systems you can conceive. With a simply brilliant second-generation auto-equaliser, this system is like having a consultant with Golden ears, an Audio Control SA3055 Real Time Analyser and four hours to carefully tune the car with twin 31 band equalisers to create perfection.
In a few seconds. And with something like 500 bands!
To explain the total tech including the time alignment would take a page or two but the point is, it can now be adjusted for taste once set ‘correctly’. So you get all bases covered. It’s brilliant!

Product Innovation
A very important product in this increasingly pressured world, however scary it sounds, was the Exeros Sleep Watcher-XR, which took our sole Gold in this category. As a now currently –treated OSA sufferer (fat git that snores so bad, I stop breathing for a minute and a half to frighten my wife!) I use a CPAP machine at night. It’s a constant-pressure air mask and I sleep like a baby with it on. While I was not using the machine I filled out a form about how likely I was to nod off, say on a warm Sunday afternoon after lunch, or when stopping at the traffic lights.

And so help me, I did, once. I scored so badly they should have taken my licence away. It even got me off Jury duty as I would have fallen asleep in contempt of court. So a product that can monitor alertness or rather the lack of it and alarm the driver back into wakefulness to stop and get a coffee, is a bloody hugely important thing that’s been tried before, unsuccessfully. This however, is bloody clever and uses a camera with facial recognition technology. Genius.

Sales Representative of the Year
One of the Industry’s most coveted awards, this has gone to a bloke that is universally liked by his customers and works like a true Japanese Company Warrior for his brand. Second-time winner Tim Kay of Alpine Electronics is unique in getting a second of these and is in very good company (as well as being in a good company) since Atsuhiro Takeda, who also works for Alpine, received this last year and both Graham Johnson (Lifetime Achievement award) and Keith Holness (Services to the Industry award) who have been/are his top non-Japanese colleagues are richly thus honoured.

My own experience is that be it at Car Audio & Security, Trax, Huets open day, BCSS open day, event after event, Tim and I have been meeting all season over the bonnet of the Passat demo car and making jokes about ‘meeting this way’. I called Huets and BCSS for comments and they were glowing but it was colleague Joanna Butler’s inside track about his youthful love of music and how he loves to dance, that I loved.

He is dedicated, knowledgeable and a damn fine salesman as well as being what girls call “A Total Sweetie!”. Well done Tim, richly deserved, Sir!

Best Distributor
There’s a big difference between wholesaling and distribution and it is a very few companies in the UK who can get away with doing both, let alone doing both well. The technical difference is that a distribution deal means you are one of a very few – or sole – suppliers of that line into your market, importing the products yourself. As against buying in bulk from the main supplier and selling to the trade in smaller amounts - wholesaling. This year, the Gold winner is CEL Trade for their key work with Sony and Fusion, with which they are making a major league brand-comeback. Keen and proactive, they have clear brand awareness and aim and take the wide view needed rather than simply flinging it out on price. Armour Automotive take Silver with a truly one-stop offering from commodity to entry to high end to esoteric, they have it all and Celsus take Bronze for their attentive service and brand passion.

Installer of the Year
It’s so lovely to see a fellow Man Of Girth bestriding the industry like a colossus of cool, winning a repeat Gold Installer of the Year, Paul Ellis of Source Sounds in Sheffield, is a Demi-God of Ice.
His team of sound off cars was legendary, one Renault had its whole wheelbase lengthened to look like the audio-version replica homage install they were building, before demolishing a brick wall to get it into the show room for a season of show car duties! The skills are as legendary. This last bout of insanity, Paul had an industrial process line-engineer supply him with conveyor motors for factory use (shades of How It’s Made, anyone?) and created super-strong door open-and-scissor action motorisations, for heavyweight doors laden with a rash of coax and component speakers like a disease, that weighed 60kg each! The quality of the fit and finish is unassailable and a good slew of his customers appreciated his efforts enough to vote him into pole for 2011.
Well done, Paul, your inspiring leadership is what makes the install bay at your place so damn hot for cool stuff!

Mobile Installer of the Year - IFitStuff
A new award for this year, the previously unsung mobile fitter. They have to be ‘corporate’ for their corporate customers, they have to be neatly turned out enough not to look like a tramp for calling at the owner’s place of work or home on private jobs and they have to be all departments all at once for all of them and present themselves as someone fit to get at the customer’s car. It’s a wide technical skill set as well as being a personable soul with people skills, they don’t have anyone across the fitting bay to shout at and ask stuff, of, they must know themselves or have top backup. Voted for by users of the professional website www.ifitstuff.com (“Knowledge is Power”) the Gold for Mobile Installer of the Year goes to Danny Barker. Well done Sir, glory is thine and you were the worthy first recipient of what is going to be a hot category in future as the DAB revolution gathers pace.

Car Electronics Retailer of the Year
A real sexy award this, given to the outfit that the manufacturers and distributors seem to love the most. A bunch of mad keen Tottenham Court Road traders, (which is a London street that was the closest the UK had to Tokyo’s Akihabara district for electronics specialists’ shops) Gold Award Winners Car Audio & Security set up in deepest Hayes, Middlesex, close to Heathrow airport in 2006, next to the bypass. Idiot-proof easy to find, they have lots of space and a lovely showroom, with more headunits hooked up, live and shiny like in Japan in glass cabinets than anyone, anywhere in the UK. They have regular open days and as they sell so much of so many makers’ products, every single demo car in existence can be found at their shows – usually far more than even the biggest car shows can get to come! It’s down to the Churchillian leadership of Mr. Raj Sangha, a deeply astute man, who knows the trade inside out and clearly loves it. I have seen his boyish grin of delight at a kicking new CAS system. Their install bay lads are top end.

Best Wholesaler
If you are an Ice dealer, you may have some lines you major in, companies that you have accounts with directly. And there will be those that you don’t but dearly need to stock in your shop. This has always been thus and CELTrade take Gold for having become the pre-eminent wholesaler of our industry. A major sub distributor as well of some serious nav lines from Garmin and TomTom, they are also a large part of Sony’s UK car audio distribution and are de facto distributors for Fusion in the UK. The simple truth is that the team were all hired by the same bloke and you can tell. They are all cool dudes. Acumen, a wry grin and a terrifying grip of the UK industry’s trends and politics, this has a team’s name on it and the captain?
That’d be Tony Green.
Well done to the whole lot of you, you should carry him shoulder high around the showroom crying “Captain, My Captain!”

Best Advertising Campaign
An award close the hearts of a company that is about publishing. Our parent company is called Creative Media, after all and we know about communication and images. There can be brilliant advertising and there can be clever advertising and there can be simple slap-it-on-a-barrow style. What we looked for was of course a lovely healthy presence as well as some quality in design and layout, together with a clear message and some corporate identity showing through. This year’s campaign from Armour Automotive took Gold with their neat weaving-in of their acquisition of the Dension brand and clever use of MEN awards branding in their ads too. Scorpion collected the Silver as they reinvented the brand in Spring and ramped-up their campaign under the “Little Product With The Big Sting” by-line. Subsequent ads changed with the current trends. CEL Trade accrued the Bronze with their clear approach and real effort to incentivise their customers.

Best Manufacturer
The Best Manufacturer award has to be decided (I’d imagine from a dealers’ point of view) from a couple of angles at least, maybe more. You guys need products that are innovative, cool, fun, sexy looking and actually affordable. You want branding and real fat-bottomed marketing behind the stuff you sell. You want cinema goers to be actively pursued and see Hollywood involved in those brands. You want good service, technical excellence and lovely people to deal with, all proud to be doing what they are doing.
Well, if all that sounds soppy and absolutely fantastical, then so be it, for Alpine Electronics, our worthy 2011 winners are ‘All That’ as Will Smith would say. Holders of TWO Rep Of The Year awards, multiple product gongs as seen above and while Graham Johnson of Alpine was awarded one of our highest awards in recent years (just before ‘retirement’) his partner in crime Keith Holness received another for Alpine this year for Services To The Industry.
That and the fabulous equipment honoured with the inaugural Editor’s Choice, utterly clinches it. Well done and domo arigato gozaimas, oishi des’. (“Thanks ever so much, tasty!” In what limited Japanese I have….)

Best Technical Support Staff
I’ll admit deadly sin and say I am proud to have instigated this award for technical assistance. When you don’t know what the bloody pink wire does and the manual’s an inch thick and you just don’t have time, you need to be able to ring someone and Just Get An Answer. You don’t want to find you are connected to a call centre where no matter how willing, they are just RTFM-ing, themselves. You need expertise. Said expertise is thinner on the ground than is generally accepted and the stars of the trade who rescue all of our butts from time to time (me definitely included) had gone unrecognised.
So it was with particular delight that I was able to announce Mr. Mike Edwards of Kenwood as the first ever recipient of this prestigious award. Try him, call him up and the first thing he always says, is to ask if he can help you.
He generally can, right off the top of his noggin and incidentally is one of the funniest and most sweet natured blokes I know. A deeply well-deserved award to a highly capable and long serving product manager I’m honoured to call my mate! “Well done, Ginger Ninja!” (That last bit from his colleagues.)

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Lifetime Achievement Award
Now on MY copy of everything up to this point, It said my long serving editor, Mr. Martyn Williams was down to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, as he was my first ever editor on Car HiFi some fifteen years ago and has been around ever since. It made perfect sense to me.

What didn’t was that as I launched into announcing Marty’s award, my radio microphone went dead and I heard Williams-San pretending to be a Bond Villain in the PA saying, “BWA ha-ha…you think you have control? I have the microphone now...” and going on to inform me that I was in fact the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement and I found myself emotional in front of a crowd who were standing up, applauding. It was laughter, tears and snot all at once after a truly rare moment.

Wherein the most voluble fat bastard you ever met was actually, momentarily, totally lost for words.

Thank you so very much, I have had dozens of lovely messages from Facebook and Talk Audio and my family are very proud.

I know my mum would have been, too.

Our Sponsors
All that remains is a quick but profoundly heart felt thank you to our illustrious sponsors, Connects2 and Nemesis Technology, without whom, this totally vital event would never happen. Connects2’s Josh Beddow said, “We were proud to sponsor the evening for the third time, it was a great night and we look forward to next year.” and Matt McPherson said, “On behalf of Nemesis technology, I wanted to thank the organisers for a great event. Well organised and with a great atmosphere. It was good, as a sponsor to get the opportunity to speak to our important customers but also hopefully make some new friends and new customers. We look forward to continuing our relationship with M.E.N. magazine and letting your readers know more about our innovative products coming to market soon.”So there you have it, The Best, The Only, The Original, Ice Awards Night. Make sure you are part of it next year!

If you have read this far or dipped in at the end, this was of course a TRADE event….for Mobile Electronics News magazine, the publication sent to all ice dealers and the manufacturers. (I write a regular column in there each month, with industry anecdotes and scurrilous trade stuff, called Rayner’s Rants.) I figured you would be interested in the dealer’s viewpoint. There’s analysis of a trade, in these prizes…


Apart from yourself and Keith @ Alpine I just can't take these awards seriously anymore. A fusion and a fli amp getting an award WTF? This is misleading the public, surely? And then the Audison Voce AV 5.1k which won the EISA award for best amplifier didn't get a mention. I'm sorry but the awards are a joke !
Shaken & Disturbed !!!

Just spotted another blinder. Vibe have won the award for the best speakers in the uk over £150 !!! Makes me want to give away my Pioneer 3 Way ODR's because the industry awards have gone to the Vibe Space 6 3D system.

No seriously the general public who use this forum, regard this kind of information as being the Gospel truth, and are easily mislead.

The MEN awards are not doing our industry any favours. I personally spend a lot of time with my customers to find out what want & expect to get for their money. We seem to forget too easily that our customers have work hard to earn their money, and when it comes down to spending their saving on luxury items, after paying their ever incresing cost of living expenses, being mislead by these awards is a sham.

We need a comparison table for the above groups like there used to be in the back pages of old specialist Car Audio magazines
Bring on the TA awards - 100% open and voted by real enthusiasts and dealers with product knowledge and experience /wink.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=';)' />
"Wherein the most voluble fat bastard you ever met was actually, momentarily, totally lost for words."

I simply don't believe that. There are many true words spoken by your good self (and I do mean 'many')but without evidence I can't believe that you actually couldn't find one or two words. /laugh.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':lol:' />

Congrats again for well deserved recognition for an ambassador for all things car audio (and so much more).
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