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I recently installed a new Sony DSX-S200X in my car. This doesn't seem to be a very popular unit (except with the Harley Davidson guys for some reason) but I think it's a very good option in the budget category.

Summary

Basically, I'm satisfied with this unit, especially for the price I paid ($100 at Crutchfield after coupon). It does have some usability quirks, but overall the sound quality is decent and the iPod and USB integration is very fast and easy to use.

Installation/Prior Equipment

Vehicle is a 2000 Honda Accord LX sedan. The speakers are aftermarket Infinity Kappas (6 speakers). There is no external amp or subwoofer. Prior to this Sony, I had a Kenwood KMD-44 MiniDisc receiver and then an Alpine CDA-9885 receiver.

I've had the Alpine since 2007 and it has worked just fine except for two or three times the iPod locked up. My main reasons for replacing it were: I wanted a bigger screen with more text, I wanted faster iPod and USB response (the CDA-9885 always took 5 seconds to display the iPod song info) and I wanted a secondary USB.

Selection Criteria

My priorities were (from high to low):

1. Good display with multiple lines of text. Single line displays with segments were ruled out.
2. Seamless iPod and USB integration. Need extremely fast response in search, selection and info display. I'm stuck with iPods because I like making multiple playlists.
3. Rear USB is a must so I can hide the iPod in the car and just leave it there. I don't want wires on the outside or have to remove the iPod every time I leave the car. A secondary front USB would also be nice for passenger use.
4. Decent sound quality. I like and appreciate good sound quality (I run lossless when possible) but I'm not that critical of it within a vehicle environment. I also don't need a lot of volume or bass.
5. Moderate cost (was willing to go up to ~$200).
6. Nice, clean appearance. Nothing too flashy.
7. Don't need CD playback at all.

Competitors

I considered other units from Dual, Kenwood, JVC, Pioneer and Alpine. Many of them only had front USB so those were ruled out. The budget head units still had segmented displays from the 80's and I think that's just shameful. To get a nice multi-line pixel based display with the top brands like Pioneer or Alpine, you have to spend over $200 or even $300.

I eventually settled on the Sony because I was attracted to the OLED display which shows 5 lines of text in search mode. The font is a little small, but I can live with that. In YouTube videos it also seems very fast in iPod and USB modes. I think the TuneTray is clever, but I really just want a rear USB so I can hid the iPod somewhere else. I read all the Sony warnings about not leaving the device in the tray after parking and intuitively it's not a good idea to do that on a warm day. But I figured if I have to, I will hack open the unit and wire a USB pigtail out the back.

Appearance and Physical Controls

I'm okay with the way it looks. It's relatively un-flashy except for some bits of fake chrome and the angular design around the Multi Way Encoder knob. I don't mind not have radio preset buttons. This frees up the right side to have a nice, clean flat area for the display. I think the display could have been made bigger vertically but for some reason they didn't.

The buttons feel pretty good, considering the budget price of the receiver. There is some give in the faceplate when you push certain buttons, but my CDA-9885 also did that to some extent. The Multi Way Encoder knob take some getting use to, but it wasn't that bad for me. Pushing in the center can be tricky, but if you hold the knob with two fingers in the 9 and 3 o'clock positions, it's not a problem. The knob rotates through 30 detents for each revolution and it has a rubber piece around the diameter of the knob to give it some texture. This rubber piece not smooth, though. It has 8 equally spaced, raised "nubs" around it, which I would have rather done without but it's not a deal breaker.

The faceplate can only be removed and attached in the folded down position. Removing is easy, but it's very fiddly to get back on. I still haven't gotten use to it. On my previous Alpine, I could install the faceplate facing up and it was very quick and easy to do--much better than this Sony. The unit does not come with a faceplate case.

The receiver has a small fan in the back of the unit that draws air out of the Tune Tray compartment. It's on whenever the head unit is on. I could hear the fan in my quiet garage with the engine off and in between songs, but in practice when the car is on you can't here it.

Usability Review

I tested the unit with the following devices:

  • 5th Generation iPod Classic (hard drive based). Loaded with 1700 songs at 8 GB.
  • 2nd Generation iPod Nano (flash memory based). Loaded with 320 songs at 1.4 GB
  • Generic USB flash drive. Loaded with 800 songs at 4 GB in one folder.
  • SanDisk Class 10 SDHC card on USB card reader (read/writes at 18 MB/sec). Loaded with 1700 songs at 8 GB in one folder.
All devices were fast to read and initialize (around 4 sec or less) and all devices were fast to skip tracks and display song information. The fastest device to display song info was the Nano. It did this within about half a second. A close second was the Class 10 SD card. Third was the generic USB drive and finally the slowest was the hard drive based iPod Classic, which takes around 1 to 1.5 seconds to display song info.

Browsing and searching was fast on all devices. I never had to wait for it to think or read. This could be because I don't have a huge number of songs or because I don't have then separated into lots of different folders.

General notes:

  • If you hold down the SOURCE button for 1 sec, the unit turns off and displays the clock. The button illumination stays on and the fan continues to run.
  • If you hold down the SOURCE button for more then 2 sec, the unit turns off completely and the fan turns off after about 8 sec.
  • You can turn off the Device Inside warning, but there is no way to turn off the three beeps that warn you to remove the faceplate when you turn off vehicle power.
  • With the device off, you press the SOURCE button to turn it back on again. It will remember the previous source you were using prior to turning off.
  • Dimming only affects the display. The red/blue illumination stays the same. The blue is too bright to be usable at night. I use the red. Dimming with headlights on works in my car.
  • If you press Repeat or Shuffle on the remote, you have to wait 3 seconds for it to accept the command. Don't hit enter or it won't take.
  • There is only one fast forward speed when a track is playing.
  • Each of the EQ presents can be individually customized from the factory settings, plus there is a Custom preset. The EQ is parametric, so there are 7 bands, but within each of the 7 bands you can choose between 2 center frequencies to adjust the amplitude.
  • The time alignment settings are pretty extensive. You can choose from presets (Front-L, Front-R, Front, All, Off) or Custom. The custom allows you to set the five speakers (FL, FR, RL, RR, Sub) from 30 to 300 cm in 2 cm increments.
  • I'm not really into a lot of bass, but you can turn on the Rear Bass Enhancer which applies a low pass filter to the rear speakers to work as a subwoofer.
  • DM+Advance does seem to help, but I keep it turned off. It works on both iPod and USB.
Tuner notes:

  • RDS only displays 8 characters at time. There is a second or two delay before it shows the next set of text.
  • When switching from USB to tuner, there is a soft ramp up in volume. When switching from tuner to USB, the volume goes right to the set level.
  • The tuner seems more sensitive than my CDA-9885.
  • When you set a station preset, the unit automatically assigns a label to it in the preset list (the list that pulls up when press the Quick-Browser button) according to RDS data. This label doesn't stay constant. It keeps changing depending on the station's RDS data. On one station, it keeps showing parts of the song title. There is no way to change this, as far as I know.

iPod notes:

  • There are 5 lines of text when in search/browse mode. This is very nice. When you scroll down to a selection and stop, the text will scroll left if necessary.
  • The song information display shows Artist and Album on the first line and Track Title on the second line. There is no way to change what information is shown here. I wish I could just show the artist and track title. As it is now, it looks a little cluttered.
  • The Artist/Album/Track Title icons are also too close to the text. There is only one pixel of space between the two so aesthetically it looks too jumbled.
  • The Repeat function is not on by default, but it will remember this setting after you turn off the unit.
  • There is bug in the Repeat setting. When you select Repeat Album/Artist/Playlist/Genre it stops the current song and takes you back to the first song in your current list. This doesn't happen with a USB device.
  • The Repeat/Shuffle setting gets canceled every time you enter the Quick-Browser mode.
  • You can only search a playlist (or some other category) by going into the browse/search function. But again, as soon as do this, the repeat function gets canceled.
  • You can skip through tracks in a playlist by pushing the Multi Way Encoder knob to the right, release, then hold it to the right again quickly, but it advanced through the tracks at one speed: about 1/2 sec per track.
  • Fast forward in a track only has one speed.
  • It will play Apple Lossless (only if on an iPod). The iPod seems to take longer accessing these files so it takes slightly more time to skip tracks and display song information. RETESTED in 2nd Gen Nano and it loads almost instantaneously, maybe a tad slower than with regular files. Regular files are almost instantaneous--perhaps 1/2 sec at most.
  • When you press the browse/search button, it remembers what category you were in (Artist, Playlist, Track, etc.) but it default to the beginning of the list instead of where you are currently playing.
  • Direct iPod passenger control: display is extremely responsive. The song info is virtually instantaneous. Repeat and shuffle modes set by the iPod take precedence. You can still skip tracks using the head unit or the remote. You just can't browse from the head unit.
USB notes:

  • SenseMe works on both Sony and non-Sony USB flash drives.
  • SenseMe seemed like a gimmick at first, but I tried it and can how it might come in handy. It takes a while to do the tone analysis and file transfer on your computer. It took a little over an hour to analyze and transfer 539 songs (2.5 GB). The different categories do seem to mostly work.
  • It remembers what song you were last playing even if you remove the USB unit and plug it back in again.
  • You can repeat just a folder or shuffle a folder. Except the unit calls it "Repeat Album" and "Shuffle Album".
Pros:

  • Good display with lots of information
  • Fast iPod and USB interface
  • Lots of sound control options and features
  • Extremely good value for the money
Cons:

  • No option to choose what song info is displayed. It always displays Artist/Album/Track.
  • When browsing, it remembers what category you were in, but it takes you back to the beginning instead of the current list being played.
  • The Repeat/Shuffle setting gets canceled every time you enter the Quick-Browser mode.
  • iPod Repeat setting bug: setting Repeat Album/Artist/Playlist/Genre it takes you back to the first song in your current list. This doesn't happen with a USB device.
  • Dimming only affects the main display. The red/blue illumination does not dim. The blue illumination is too bright at night.
  • The radio station preset list has labels that are automatically assigned by RDS and these labels keep changing.
  • The faceplate is difficult to re-attach.
Suggestions for Improvement

  • Have options to allow user to select what song info fields are displayed.
  • Have a direct search mode for the current list you are in. Perhaps make this a long press of the Quick-Browse button.
  • Have the option to make the Repeat and Shuffle function permanent until changed by the user.
  • Fix the Repeat setting bug in iPod mode. When you select Repeat, it shouldn't go back to the first song in the list.
  • Include variable color illumination.
  • Include more dimming levels so users can tweak how low the illumination goes.
  • If you select "Enter" on the remote after selecting Repeat or Shuffle, it should accept the command. You shouldn't have to wait 3 seconds.
  • Make the display bigger. There is room to make the screen bigger vertically since there this no CD slot or preset buttons.
  • Make the display higher resolution for smoother fonts. I wish more companies would follow Apple's lead and make the user experience better by starting with the display.
  • Work on the graphic design of the display. The Artist/Album/Track icons should be inverted or somehow differentiated from the information text. Put some space between the two because right now the one pixel width space makes it look to jumbled up.
  • Improve the RDS to include RT (64 character) information instead of just PS (8 character information). Make the RDS font look better. Currently it looks squashed and unappealing.
  • Have a user option to show remaining track time. It currently only displays elapsed playing time.
  • Have option to manually label the radio station preset labels and don't let them change on their own.
  • Have more than one speed of fast forward during a song/podcast and have more than one speed of fast forward when skipping tracks in a playlist. Make it ramp up in speed the longer the user holds down the knob.
  • Have a third rear USB connector for those who want to use that option.
  • Have an option to turn off the fan if the Tune Tray USB is not connected.
  • Have option to change the source volume levels to match the tuner and USB.
  • Have even faster USB/iPod interface. Instantaneous would be great.
  • Redesign the faceplate mounting mechanism. It's not user friendly the way it is now.
If anyone has an questions about the unit, just let know.

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Bravo sir let me just say that was a well executed review. It made me want to buy this unit even though I have no need for it. You should write for a magazine. :)
 
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