Pretty much everything we do these days centers around some type of smartphone. It makes sense to develop the other important peripheral electronic devices in our lives to take advantage of everything said smartphones can do.
Your car's head unit is a perfect example of a great place to marry to your smartphone. I'm not just talking about Bluetooth hands-free and streaming audio. Thanks to a new technology called MirrorLink™, we now have the ability to bring smartphone apps directly to the screen(s) of our car's radio. And, the new Sony XAV-601BT is one of the first aftermarket head units to offer MirrorLink™ connectivity.
The Sony XAV-601BT is a double-DIN audio-video center for your dashboard. Equipped with not only the new MirrorLink™ technology but also Sirius XM ready, Pandora app control, iPod compatibility, Bluetooth, dual USB inputs and CD and DVD playback, the XAV-601BT comes standard with everything you could want – except perhaps GPS navigation, but even that is available as an option!
Because MirrorLink™ is a new technology, it's worth touching on it a little more detail. MirrorLink™ was created using an industry standardized system to allow compatibility and control of a wide range of smartphones from a wide range of stereo systems. The way it works is quite simple; you basically need only three elements to make it work. First, you need a compatible smartphone, a compatible head unit and an app that works with MirrorLink™. After downloading the app to your phone, you connect the phone to the head unit via USB cable and launch the app on your phone. From there, you simply select the MirrorLink™ icon on the head unit display. This procedure will cause the app's interface and graphics from your phone's display to become replicated on your head unit's screen.
As of this writing, there are between 40 and 50 electronics manufacturers of phones and vehicles that are part of a group called the Car Connectivity Consortium. Because of the wide array of companies involved, the future looks bright for the MirrorLink™ system. However, until everyone catches up, you should double check to make sure your smartphone is compatible with MirrorLink™.
The unit employs a 6.1-inch WVGA TFT touch screen, with 800x480 resolution and a very handy rotary volume encoder all combined on a fully removable faceplate. CDs and DVDs can be loaded through the slot in the faceplate, so no motorization is required. Other important features include Sony's ZAPPIN™ music search feature, advanced sound engine with seven-band equalizer, center speaker organizer (CSO), intelligent time alignment (ITA) and rear bass enhancer (RBE).
An on-board four-channel amplifier pumps out 17 watts per channel and there are front, rear and subwoofer preouts with five volts of output. Additional input signals can be connected to the front auxiliary input, dual rear A/V inputs as well as a rear camera input.
If you're an iPhone user, the XAV-601BT will control the Telenav GPS app, and the turn by turn directions will come through the audio system. If you want a more serious navigation system, the XAV-601BT is fully compatible with Sony's optional XA-NV100T TomTom® Navigation module.
CONTROLS AND ERGONOMICS
Of course, like most modern high-end head units, lots of personal customization is possible. Thanks to Sony's advanced response user interface, you can have 2D or3D screen icons and visualizers; and, the screen response is fast and smooth. Even the XAV-601BT's buttons can be set to any one of 12 preset colors or your own custom color to ensure a perfect match with any dashboard. Dual zones are also available providing simultaneous playback of different sources in the front and rear of the car.
In terms of sound quality, the XAV-601BT is very good. The head unit sounds great on all types of sources and the music sounds full and natural. The factory preset EQ settings range in usefulness from 'okay' to 'what were they thinking' but, when set to a flat response, the Sony can more than hold its own from a sonic perspective. The radio tuner works well and pulls in all the local stations, which sound good in my lab. DVDs load quickly and sound great as do regular CDs and MP3 tracks. I even stream some music via Bluetooth and once again the sound quality is good.
I listen to 40 or so tracks during my session and my most critical observation is it has slightly less brilliance and detail on the top end than my reference player. I find a touch of appropriately-applied EQ is all that's required to bring everything back to normal; and, I'm confident a proficient system installer/tuner will have no problems whatsoever in making this minor correction if necessary.
PERFORMANCE / BENCH MEASUREMENTS
After I'm done listening, it's time to connect the XAV-601BT to my trusty audio precision and pull out the numbers. As it turns out, everything looks good and the unit easily exceeds its published specs in the owners manual. The amplifier makes 19 watts per channel while the preouts actually deliver an impressive 5.3 volts of output with a good source impedance of 140 ohms. Detailed frequency response curves do confirm a slight roll-off in the top end, which is what I thought I'd heard. The top end of the response curve is about three decibels down at 18.5 kHz.
All said and done, I really like the Sony XAV-601BT. The unit has all the features I want in my car and, thanks to nice touches like the rotary volume control, easy-to-use and well laid out touchscreen plus really good audio performance, I could live with it on a daily basis for a long time. Couple all that goodness with a list price of only $549.99 and it could very well be one of the best values out there. Check it out for yourself at www.sony.com.
MEASURED TECH SPECS
CEA-2006A power per channel (all channels driven @ 4 ohms) 19.6 watts x 4 ch.
A Wtd S/N ratio (ref. to 2 V/1 W @ 4 ?) amplified output…....... -86.8 dBA (CD)
THD+N (ref. to 2 V/1 W @ 4 ? 1 kHz )………………………….. 0.06%
Frequency response (-3.0 dB) …………………………………. 20 Hz – 18 kHz (CD)
Max usable RCA output voltage ………………………………... 5.3 Vrms
A Wtd S/N ratio (ref. to full output voltage)……………………... -90.6 dBA (CD)
Output impedance ……………………………………………….. 140 ?
Frequency response (-3.0dB) ………………………………….. 20 Hz – 18.4 kHz (CD)