Clarion NX606AU

While ‘trending’ may be a term commonplace in today’s vocabulary, if you’re of my generation (or earlier), then you’d likely not heard of it, were it not for social media. As a descriptor for something that’s common and popular, in audio design terminology ‘trending’ means something that’s becoming accepted as the norm. And when you’re been reviewing receivers as long as I have you see trends aplenty.

This is because to stay in the race you need to stay with the lead peloton, right? Is this not the mark of experience? Remain with the winners and keep your head down. And on the surface this approach seems to have worked for many companies hitherto. However moving forward we’re witnessing expert designers like Clarion now doing the exact opposite. Rather than conforming to trends when designing new receivers, Clarion instead has thrown some of these ‘trends’ out the window. It has forged its own new path.

Expanding horizons
Apologies for imposing design philosophy so early on in our review section, but it’s important to flesh this out. Because initial feedback for Clarion’s new NX606AU receiver has tended to focus on what it can not do, rather than what it can. And this is as much an indictment on the critics as the head unit. You mean the NX606AU cannot do 80 pages of tricks? No it can’t. Nor was it designed to.

But once you see your way clear to expanding your horizons a little, you’ll discover, as I did, that it actually handles 99 percent of what the population requires, and despite being Clarion’s prize receiver, it’s approaching the fiscal market at almost half the price of some of its competitors. In a world where many serious flagship navigation equipped receivers are pushing up into the $1999 to $2999 region, the NX606AU enters the market at a modest $1399. And things start to make more sense once the fiscal blinkers are removed!

Because despite the omission of encyclopaedic features, the NX606AU is hardly devoid of a trick or two. It should easily keep all but the most hectic of tech heads content, starting off with a neatly-designed new disc mechanism which does away with skipping thanks to its rigorous suspension system suspending it in place. This mechanism actually handles all primary types of plastic software including CD, VCD and DVD, while on the filetype front it handles MP3, WMA, Xvid, AAC, MP4 and FLAC up to 192kHz/24-bit resolution.

From the rear protrude twin high speed version 2.0 USB inputs and via these cables you can interface all manner of digital storage devices, be it a smartphone or hard drives right down to the humble USB stick. The unit doesn’t just handle audio either; you can also input limited visual information from your devices via the USB ports. I say limited because a USB can only transfer so much information – if you want the true high-definition experience then there’s also a HDMI port present, via which you can import vastly more information, including mirroring your device.

Other analogue inputs are also present, such as a 3.5mm jack, multiple audio-visual inputs, reverse camera input and steering-wheel control inputs. The unit can run in dual zone mode providing seamless entertainment for passengers behind you.

The version 2.1+EDR Bluetooth chipset is able to support version 3.0 also, and not only allows for telephony and musical streaming but it also features iAP support for full iPod control in addition to AVRCP1.4 for wireless music browsing and control. You can even ask Siri something while driving and expect a response, all wirelessly. Also present is Pandora, a platform which may end up responsible for a substantial portion of your entertainment.

Last, and yes probably least, analogue radio hasn’t been forgotten. The NX606AU provides quite a powerful tuner amplifier, offering you18 FM and 12 AM presets.

With your sound imported, naturally, you’ll want to tailor it to suit your acoustic environment and listening tastes. Although Clarion hasn’t included a titanic processor, there’s fader and balance control, and a parametric 3-band equaliser with frequency centres set on 50Hz/100Hz/200Hz for bass, 500Hz/1kHz/2kHz for midrange and 5kHz/10kHz/15kHz for treble, with all three possessing a logarithm width adjustment (or Q) of 0.7/1.0/1.4/2.0. Boost or attenuation is adjustable out to 7dB and there are numerous preset curves, in addition to a custom position for your own tuning preferences. The satellite channels feature high-pass crossovers settable at 60Hz/90Hz/120Hz, while the subwoofer section features similar frequency points as low-pass though, and includes a 0- or 180 degree phase switch.

Inputs sorted, you have the choice of using the front, rear and subwoofer 2-volts RCA pre-outs, or the powerful internal MOSFET amplifier which outputs 18 watts continuously or 45 watts maximum at 4-ohms, with quite a respectable total harmonic distortion while doing so. This being a multimedia receiver, there’s also a plethora of auxiliary audio and visual outputs.

Navigation-wise, this Clarion unit comes equipped with the latest Nextgen software on board, incorporating ‘Here’ mapping, an extensive package able to supply you with abundant information, bot only allowing you y to find your destination but hopefully to avoid traffic congestion and hassles while doing so. Besides address and city input options, an all-encompassing point of interest (POI) database contains a near immeasurable number of items to pinpoint the nearest of generic items (petrol, shopping, hospitals etc.), as well as specific venues and services.

The package also features ‘Here Off-road’ mapping, and includes three years of free map upgrades. We found the navigation itself to be extremely accurate – Clarion’s clever positioning system software detects and receives information from multiple channels at any one time to fix its location.

There’s also voice guidance and text-to-speech ability in 29 different languages, with high-resolution two- or three-dimension maps with landmarks, school zones, fixed red light and speed camera locations.

Not unlike most things Clarion, the NX606AU is quite the tidy looking affair. The gloss black surround features silver and flat black trimmings and the centre-right gives way to a 6-inch anti-reflective TFT touch screen, coated to resist fingerprints and boasting a WVGA resolution of 800 x 480 pixels. Adjacent to its left are the primary control buttons, navigation SD card port and analogue input while the disc slot resides above.

The Bluetooth microphone is also incorporated into the face or alternatively you have the option of plumbing in an external one via the employment of Clarion’s RCB199 item. Button illumination can be tailored to suit your car’s dash colour as can the wallpaper. The layout has changed somewhat, with Clarion adopting a horizontally lined layout where you simply scroll through them until you reach the source you desire. There’s also a global favourites menu along the bottom which will save plenty of time.

Getting the unit installed included the usual struggle for real estate within the confines of my dash, but once in, the unit appeared right at home. I spent the morning setting the unit up, performing all the usual adjustments and refinements in order to create the best-looking and sounding environment.

When it came to testing, I had one niggle in the back of my mind to wrestle with immediately: that 2-volt output. Call it what you will, that underpowered elephant was standing in the corner and it bothered me. Low voltage pre-outs equate to higher levels of hiss right? Well not always. Certainly if you start with a garbage source, you’ll continue with garbage. There’s nothing one can do to improve upon a bad source.

However, what if the source is ultra-clean, despite it providing a lower voltage? This is where system design proficiency comes into play, because when the NX606AU is married to a suitably powerful amplifier you won’t need to raise the gains through the roof. Basically you start with a low-level but clean signal and the amplifier, surprise, surprise, does what its name actually implies – it amplifies the sound instead of the receiver doing its job for it. The result is big volume, little hiss. It’s actually quite smart thinking by Clarion, even if it does turn an avowed rule on its head.

Turning to actual music (and again akin to standard Clarion fare) this unit proved very clear and most precise when playing from any source. I started out with CDs before switching primarily to FLAC files from my USB stick. From Pink Floyd through to Michael Jackson, the NX606AU offers impeccably detailed sound devoid of external artefacts.

The highs are crystal clear, the midrange frequencies articulate, and the lows thump just as they should. If my arm were twisted for a detractor, I might point at the speed of the interface, but this was not entirely unacceptable, and certainly visually the deck is pleasant to view; the slightly smaller size of screen actually delivers a higher pixel-per-inch level of resolution.

So, as you’re trekking through the endless navigator-receivers available on the market, ensure you compare all of the facets, from features through to functionality – and, crucially, their price. Because you’ll notice that while many of the NX606AU’s competitor’s may spruik big feature lists, they’re also rocking a massive price tag to go with it.

Clarion NX606AU

Clarion NX606AU multimedia head unit
Cost: $1399
+ Good features list, Solid audio performance, Well priced
- Interface a tad slow

Type: Double-DIN multimedia head unit

Features: CD/VCD/DVD/MP3/Xvid/WMV/AAC/FLAC, Bluetooth, Pandora, multiple audio visual inputs and outputs, analogue 3.5mm and twin USB inputs

Power handling: 4 x 18 watts continuous, 4 x 45 maximum (4-ohms)