When putting receivers through their paces we try to remain objective, ever mindful of the delicate balance between price tag and functionality. This can pose quite the conundrum given that some are rather austere, nevertheless every so often one arrives giving causation to ditch the aforesaid philosophy altogether. Take Pioneer’s latest behemoth, the mighty AVIC-F80DAB for example. If ever there was a receiver that could truly be described as all-encompassing this is it. Whether you’re critiquing its physical appearance, its features and abilities or its aural and visual performance, this latest incarnation of the AVIC platform is a beast in every sense of the term.

Monster Inc

Although colloquially known as the techno-monsters of the mobile receiver world, Pioneer’s AVIC units are in actuality its flagship platforms, annually showcasing how far technology has progressed in the 12 months prior. Continually impressing, the successful amalgamation of hardware and software makes the AVIC units arguably the greatest receivers in the world. Big call I concur, nonetheless one I’m prepared to stand by.

Despite the chassis’ retaining the same dimensions Pioneer continues to pack an abundance of functionality into these AVICs, beginning with the robust disc mechanism able to handle all primary types of plastic including CD, VCD and DVD. Immediately adjacent to the disc slot is a version 2.0 SD card reader in conjunction with a 3.5mm jack which accommodates the auto-EQ microphone. On the rear resides the remainder of the digital inputs. These include twin high speed version 2.0 USB inputs, serial BUS connector that allows the AVIC to work in conjunction with an external adaptor to present information regarding the cars particulars and a HDMI port for transmission of high-resolution information. Digital files supported include MP3, WMA, Xvid, AAC, DivX, MP4, ASF, FLV, VOB, FLAC and just about every other acronym you can imagine provided the file structure falls within the standard FAT or NTFS protocols. Also present are a multitude of analogue connections including audio visual composite inputs, a 3.5mm jack, twin camera inputs of which one can be triggered by reverse and display guidelines, an external microphone input for improved Bluetooth interaction and an input for a steering wheel control interface.

Moving to non-physical inputs; at the first tier there’s analogue radio, digital radio and Bluetooth chipsets. Analogue radio provides 18 FM and six AM presets while the DAB system can store multitudes of stations within each of the three DAB bands. Bluetooth version is 3.0+EDR and happily handles everything from telephonic duties through streaming entertainment. The next tier features the more advanced digital interfacing starting with AppRadio for iPhone or Android, one of which you select when initially configuring the unit. Once the corresponding app is installed on your smartphone you’re then able to select a host of secondary apps which can be manipulated through your phone via the head unit. Although not exhaustive the list of apps available is suitably impressive and is forever expanding, and thus far covers most of the important prerequisites such as hospitality, entertainment and navigation.

Interactive apps also feature heavily, of which Pandora would be the most commonly employed. In this vein we also find Android Auto and CarPlay, operating system-specific technologies that are similar to AppRadio but faster and far vaster in their inherent complexity. As suggested by its name Android Auto was developed by Google to serve Android devices, and is the evolutionary step post MirrorLink which was developed by the Car Connectivity Consortium. CarPlay on the other hand accommodates all iDevices and was designed by Apple. One of the most common questions asked pertains to which is superior. While you’ll find fanboys on both sides of the equation, in reality they’re both quite magnanimous in their operative abilities, and both suffer their own idiosyncratic annoyances too.

Being a flagship unit dictates the processing be a little more in-depth than simple bass and treble and, although rudimentary controls such as fader, balance and loudness are present, Pioneer has incorporated an advanced digital sound processing suite which not only boasts numerous preloaded presets but can also auto-tune if you so desire. If you’d rather perform your own tuning it includes a 13-band graphic equaliser with frequency centres set at 50Hz/80Hz/125Hz/200Hz/315Hz/500Hz/800Hz/1.25kHz/2kHz/3.15kHz/5kHz/8kHz/2.5kHz with a gain of ± 12dB. All satellite channels feature a high-pass crossover settable at 50Hz/63Hz/80Hz/100Hz/125Hz/160Hz/200Hz with first, second or third order slopes. The subwoofer channels feature the same frequency points but as a low-pass, in addition to a 0- or 180-degree phase control. Time alignment offers up to 500cm distance delay for each channel and also the ability to adjust individual channel levels between +10dB and -24dB.

Now your information is in the unit and processed, let’s turn our attention to the exportation of said entertainment. This can be undertaken via numerous means, starting with three sets of 4-volts pre-outs for front, rear and subwoofer. If you’re not running external amplifiers Pioneer has seen its way to installing a powerful MOSFET unit internally capable of outputting 22 watts continuously or 50 watts maximum at 4-ohms while concurrently returning minimal total harmonic distortion. For ancillary infotainment there’s an additional set of audio visual outputs, ergo allowing for your rear passengers to enjoy their own experience.

Let’s navigate

The navigation package installed improves upon previous offerings by way of superior map software, smoother operation and quicker interfacing with end users. Employing NaviExtras navigation software incorporating 4WD off-road mapping and real time traffic updates, it’s positioning system remains extremely accurate thanks to the situating software employing not only the vehicle’s speed pulse but also multiple satellite channels to fixate its position, up to 50 where possible. Text to speech and voice guidance are included as standard, as are high-resolution 2- or 3-dimensional maps with landmarks displayed. It’ll alert you to school zones, fixed red light and speed camera locations and offers a widespread point of interest database that encompasses just about every facet you can imagine, searchable by name or distance from your current position.

Appearance-wise the AVIC-F80DAB is quite a smart looking unit and, although the fundamental layout of the AVIC receivers hasn’t changed significantly in years, it remains one superbly clean design. Finished with a gloss black surround encircling its large 7-inch anti-reflective TFT active matrix touch screen, this panel presents 16:9 in ratio with a WVGA resolution of 1,152,000 pixels or 2400 x 480. It’ll handle NTSC or PAL and is backlit with super bright LEDs. These attributes work in close quarters with highly effective anti-aliasing software in order to provide a visually superior representation that’s far sharper, more detailed and significantly brighter than many competitors’. Beneath the screen reside the primary control buttons whose illumination can be adjusted to better suit your car’s theme, as can the wallpaper on the screen.

Backend related hardware required for installation is included ranging from colour coded and labelled loom through to various aerials and an IR remote control. Installing it presents the standard problems intrinsic to a receiver of this nature, headed up by the not so inconsiderable task of finding real estate for all those cables. That said, Pioneer has been quite smart in this aspect, designing a system that allows for redundant cables to be unplugged and omitted.

It’d be somewhat remiss not to take time out to set the system up with a real time analyser given that Pioneer has included that processing chipset, and in doing so was rewarded with sound far superior to what have eventuated had I not employed it. With it installed and tuned it was time to listen. Just how would this latest manifestation of battle-proven AVIC measure up?

Well as Lloyd Bridges once said in Flying High; “I’ll sum it up in just one word – clean, precise, powerful, sharp, accurate, impressive and gutsy.” Quips aside, the output is very linear and possesses little deviation, and regardless of what point you’re at volumetrically it introduces very little hiss or artefacts into the aural reproduction. The navigation and display also appear superior to those past despite sharing similar specs on paper – a fitting tribute to Pioneer’s technical savvy and experience.

Conclusion

So without further ado I’ve nailed my colours to the mast, boldly proclaiming the new AVIC-F80DAB to be arguably the best navigation equipped receiver on the market hitherto. I welcome all challengers?