Pros: Good sound, neat to look at, cheap(ish), adjustability
Cons: Questionable user interface, CD sound could be better, lame remote
A Little Background
This CD deck was installed in 1999 Mitsubishi Galant using two Pioneer amplifiers to power the front JBL components and the JBL GTO-935 in the rear deck. The sub being used is a cheap but effective offering from Lightning audio. All the cabling used is premium or at least beefier than basic options. For a brief period previous to the install of the component amplifiers the unit did run off its own power, thus, at least I was able to effectively assess all of this units abilities. This unit is actually replacing another Sony ABP unit that was actually a cassette deck, so this is not just a step up in power and features, but media playback as well. The M730 installed is also controlling a previously installed Sony CDX-646 10 disc changer located in the trunk.
What Is An Active Black Panel?
An active black panel, or ABP for short, is one of the numerous new looks we have seen come down the pike in the last few years. The style was marketed originally by JVC as EL Kameleon, the EL standing for electro luminescent. Essentially what we are talking about is a luminescent matrix behind a smoked polycarbonate panel. It could look just like a normal display, but instead has a cover which makes it appear as if there is no stereo there at all, though a second look will tell a crook whats really there, as such this security feature of the player is limited.
What one will see when the unit is off is a simple, though glossy, black panel the size of the face of a standard head unit. When power is switched on, the whole face displays a variety of info (like time, track, station, or other CD text) as well as cute little display in the form of EQ displays, various random combinations of light shows (as it were) as well as some basic info, like power and source selection. The display on this unit is not that far from what was seen on the unit it replaced, a Sony XR-M550, except that it is slightly finer and more focused. The active displays are slightly more active and interesting than they used to be.
The install on this unit was amazingly straightforward. I had a distinct advantage because of the previous unit being a Sony as well. I slid the old one out and slid the new one in and with a few cosmetic mods, it was a ten minute job, not including the wire work. Even if this wasnt the case for you, install should still be less than an hour in most single DIN applications, which includes almost all Japanese and Korean cars as well as the vast majority from Europe and the US, though some cosmetic mods may be necessary in GMs and some Fords (late model Taurus owners know what Im talking about).
The longest part of the install will be the wiring unless you have Quik-Bus connects or other pre-cut connections. Most of the wiring is straightforward though as most directions necessary are well identified in the instruction manual. Manual is a kind term in this case, the directions for use (not install) are astoundingly vague. Once installed, fiddling for a couple of hours is strongly recommended, otherwise you may miss the full potential of some functions.
At the push of a button the face of this stereo will fold down to reveal a very good array of controls illuminated red on a sparkly silver base. There is also a small display underneath the disc slot to give keep the user aware of what they are doing as well as whats playing. The smaller display has a few modes too, so depending on what you are doing, you dont have to keep switching over from or to a shift menu, or a secondary menu. The panel will flip back up on its own after a period of non-use. This can get annoying when you are actively trying to set the proper soundstage, but its a small point once ones primary listening modes have been programmed.
This player does not play MP3 tracks. It does plays CDs, as well as Rs and RWs. I had no problem with the test discs I brought at install, and the client has had no burn issues at all, and considering I see him almost daily, Im sure Id know if he did as he burns 99% of his music. With a signal to noise ratio of only 90db, this unit is definitely on the low end of the spectrum as the really good decks out there are in the neighborhood of 98db-105db, but it plays pretty clear and ultimately thats whats important. During loading and unloading the face will fold forward allowing access to the disc slot. It is kinda neat and often a conversation piece. Excepting the potential failure rate, after several thousand loads and unloads (which would be less if it were MP3 compatible), its still a pretty cool feature.
Two of the primary features Sony pushes with this unit are DSO and EQ7. These features now appear on almost all of the Sony car audio line, though were there on some even before the demise of the beloved Mobile ES. DSO, or Dynamic Soundstage Organizer, electronically adjusts for (as Sony puts it) reduced efficiency due to poor speaker location. All this really means is that delay is induced on particular speakers to make it seem as if all the speakers are equivalent distances from the listeners ears. Does it work? Sort of, but most folks I know leave it off. EQ7 is the name Sony gives to its EQ set up. All it really comes down to is a seven point EQ adjustment that the user has control over as well as about 5 that Sony labels as Jazz, Rock, etc.
This unit features 30 radio presets in groups of 6, 18 to FM, 12 to AM. The radio reception is one thing that Sony has always done well. At 8dBf (same as my current Sony h/u, circa 1996) it is one of the most sensitive receivers out there, though with such finite tuning ability comes problems too. In large cities, where there can often be massive overlap in frequencies, Sonys adaptive reception really becomes useful. This is processing that will, when activated, increase potential dynamic range and reduce interference making the station clearer, but in the process will ignore weaker stations. The converse is also possible, though interference often makes it useless. Location has a lot to do with the usefulness of this feature.
Overall performance with this unit is relatively good. The sound quality, though not exceptional, is very good for the average consumer. Playback is for the most part very good, there is a wee bit of bulk noise, but again, for the average consumer moving up from a stock deck, this is sure to please. The display is a lot of fun. It is actually pretty darn cool, especially at night in full motion, and there are several preset display styles that are sure to excite even the most jaded user or installer.
The straight poop on the internal power source is this, it will do and is almost always better than stock, but it severely limited on bass. My aunt would think it more than enough, myself and many of my clients would call it anemic at best. That on top of the fact that if you push this deck hard on its own power it will get hotter than any deck I have ever laid my hands on. This isnt good for the rest of the electronics inside; heat bad! The bottom line is most folks using this decks own power supply wont be pushing it that hard, and if they are, will experience a shortened lifespan or degraded sound quality faster than necessary, so if you are they, get external amps (howya like that inglish?).
This decks has a pretty cool display, pretty decent sound, a good look when off, a detachable face (not found on the 630) for added security, decent power, and a relatively useful remote. For the price, and that is the key point here, this is a very good little stereo. It does have some serious downsides though
The remote is hard to use, IMO. I prefer the Sony wired and wireless (new) base mounted remotes, they are just easier to use and you dont have to worry about buttons, its just a twist or push or tilt. The face being closed all the time necessitates the use of the handheld wireless, this is annoying, especially when wanting to access the more advanced functions, short of opening the face and taking your eyes off the road if moving. Sound quality could be a lot better, but you get what you pay for. The display can be very hard to read in the summer (or winter!) Texas sun and there are no tilt options. As I said about the M550, the face scratches VERY easily. Use the case that comes with the unit, being sure to face the ABP towards the foam, when removing. The scratches stand out, again, be careful.
A Final Word on Connectivity
This unit is an XM controller, but if you plan to have a CD changer (MP3 or not) and XM radio, you will have to install an aux input device (Sony has a few depending on need) to allow the extra inputs. These generally will run about $100-$200 according to the need to daisy chain changers, regardless of media type. You may also be able to use a laptop with these as well. Not bad if you already have one on-board for engine diagnostics, nitrous, or boost control.
These specs are directly from the manual with this head unit.
23w/52w x 4 @ 4ohms power output (high yes, but a little dirty)
10Hz-20kHz CD response (what you would expect)
90db s/n (on the low end for sure)
Ultra-low access time (who knows )
2.0v average pre-out (average all right)
F, R, Sub pre-out leads (thats whats needed)
8 dBf tuner response (respectable)