Simply Resplendent.

This is hopefully not offensive but as an amateur track racer I tend to view Japanese giant Sony a little like Honda’s DC2R Integra in that many pay them little attention – until one goes flying past you mid-corner!

Sony is not dissimilar; if you ask any serious car audio punter about the best audio visual head units they’ll spout a number of the usual suspects, completely overlooking humble Sony. This is despite the fact that Sony is a far larger company with richer R&D resources and a larger pool of engineering expertise. Just a quick glance over its stable of impressive products will tell you this 68 year old veteran is not only capable of staying with the electronic peloton, but in many aspects it far exceeds it.

Just take a look at its latest flagship head unit; the mighty XAV712NAV. It’s designed as a complete audio visual source unit incorporating music, navigation, Bluetooth and an absolute abundance of wireless interfacing abilities into one neatly-finished package.

Ye ole’ radio
Let’s not waste time and let’s get started with the radio. In an advantageous harp back to its old-school roots, the XAV712NAV is equipped with a superb analogue radio tuner, offering you 18 FM presets and 12 AM presets, all with noise free clarity that comes with a signal-to-noise ratio of 80dB.

The disc mechanism is well designed and despite having far less internal room for suspension, Sony has designed it to hold everything in a far more stable environment. It’ll handle all primary types of plastic hardware including CD, VCD and DVD and has little trouble with any standard software format including MP3, WMA, Xvid, AAC, DivX and MP4 just to mention a few. There are also twin analogue audio visual inputs on the rear in addition to a rear camera input.

Starting at the tip of the digital iceberg; there’s a mountain of input methodology starting with the twin high speed USB inputs which can be interfaced with all manner of storage devices provided they’re formatted within the standard FAT protocols. In addition to this, one of the USB connectors is a high-voltage interface meaning is can charge an iPad (which charges via a higher 10W/1.2A charging system as opposed to the 5W/1A system used on iPods and iPhones).

Also on board is a Bluetooth 2.1+EDR chipset which not only allows for usage as a phone kit but for seamless audio streaming as well. Upping the digital ante somewhat, the XAV712NAV also includes both AppRemote and MirrorLink technology.

Simplistically speaking; MirrorLink is a communication technology that allows certain smartphones to integrate with the XAV-712NAV, giving you access to various applications and allowing you to interact via the head unit. Everything from music and video streaming through to navigation from your phone can be accessed. MirrorLink is the brainchild of the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), a group comprised of various automotive and electronic manufacturers which together have established an industry standard for certifying the safest and most useful apps for consumers – a concept they have aptly named MirrorLink.

Naturally with Apple trying to use itself as a jug handle it hasn’t jumped on board so if you own an iDevice; sorry you’re out of luck here. MirrorLink is primarily designed for Nokia phones operating the Symbian operating system and selected Android phones running a 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system.

Also included is AppRemote version 2.0 and although it’s designed along the same vein as MirrorLink it differs slightly. AppRemote is a technology whereby the XAV712NAV first synchronises with your smartphone and then allows you to control various aspects of each from the other, including via spoken voice which is far safer than fiddling with the phone while driving. If you have an iDevice it’ll need to be hardwired via the USB port however Android platforms run completely wirelessly. You simply download and install the AppRemote app onto your smartphone and then away you go; you can navigate around your smartphone, controlling and interacting with various aspects of it from the head unit.

However what’s important to appreciate is how this system differentiates from the other similar systems in that it’s a two way operation, meaning you can also use the phone to control the deck. As you play music on the deck the album artwork is displayed on your smartphone screen. The spoken aspect is also two-way so it can read aloud your messaging, such as SMS, Facebook, Twitter, RSS and so on.

Open the box…
As if that isn’t enough source related functionality, the XAV712NAV also comes equipped with the ability to operate Pandora. Pandora is an internet radio application; which basically allows you to select a genre, song, album and the artist you prefer and it will automatically select and play others along a similar vein, with you approving or disapproving tracks as it plays them, allowing the system to build a comprehensive and accurate database of songs you like.

Last but not least is the navigation system. Sony now includes the XA-NV300T navigation module as part of the overall package and it has a far more comprehensive features suite than any standard mobile phone App. It starts with TomTom’s latest software which includes voice guidance, high resolution two or three dimensional map with landmarks included in the display. It knows school zones and speed zones, and possesses an extensive point of interest (POI) database which is searchable by name or location. It even has an eco-footprint system whereby it can plan routes in order to reduce your carbon footprint.

Shuffling from the input connectivity to the various ways of getting your music and images out of the unit; there are front, rear and subwoofer 5-volts pre-outs, independent audio visual outputs for rear zone or, if you’re omitting an aftermarket amplifier, the XAV712NAV offers a powerful internal MOSFET amplifier which can output 23 watts continuously or 52 watts maximum.

Other interconnectivity ancillaries include a steering wheel control port, Bluetooth microphone input and an infrared remote control is included.

I wouldn’t say the sound manipulation abilities of the deck are simple however Sony’s suggestion of an ‘Advanced Sound Engine’ is stretching it a little. It’s not quite the comprehensive suite the name suggests, however it does go a fair way beyond the usual fader and balance.

Starting at the simple end; you have a rear bass enhancer that is in the main useless, before moving to the more sophisticated and useful functionality. This begins with a 7-band graphic equaliser with frequency centres set on 63Hz, 160Hz, 400Hz, 1kHz, 2.5kHz, 6.3kHz and 16kHz which offers boost or attenuation ability of up to 8dB. There are six preset curves in addition to a custom position for you.

The four main channels feature high pass crossovers settable at 50Hz, 60Hz, 80Hz, 100Hz, 120Hz with a 12dB slope while the subwoofer section features these same crossover frequencies as low-pass instead. Within this area is also a 0- or 180-degree phase control for the subwoofer.

Time alignment is also on board in the form of functionality termed ‘Position Selector’. This gives you various preset seating positions in addition to allowing you to custom set the delay timing from 0 cm to 400 cm to get the imaging just right. There are also abilities to customise many other aspects, from the order and perspective the icons are displayed in through to visual display settings such as key illumination colour.

The front face is a professional looking affair, thanks by and large to the 7-inch panel consuming the majority of the available real estate. The panel is a backlit transparent thin film liquid crystal unit offering a resolution of 1,152,000 pixels or 480 x 800 (WVGA) and beneath this are the main control buttons.

The disc slot is located behind the face which very quietly motors down to allow access. Surrounding the screen is a gloss piano black surround which undertakes two roles. The first is that it works in conjunction with the bright backlighting in providing a sharp and detailed image that is crystal clear. The other reason for the plain black surround is that it allows the deck to appear right at home in the vast majority of dash locales.

I’m an iPhone 5 user, so I had to borrow a co-worker’s phone in order to fully utilise the MirrorLink system. With the app installed and everything else plumbed in, the XAV712NAV was up, running and mirroring stuff in no time – and what a fascinating novelty it is, having the ability to control all your devices from one another. Now that’s what I call networking.

Sound wise, the unit’s aural output is very clean and devoid of external noise and artifacts. Even when using the speaker outputs there’s minimal hiss or distortion until you hit the nastier volume levels. And plenty of volume it’s got too; that internal amplifier can output plenty of grunt when angry.

Using the digital sound processor via either the deck or your phone, you can tailor the sound quite dramatically so you can get it just right. The screen’s image is crystal clear and very bright, with very little anti-aliasing edge highlighting.

Overall the XAV712NAV as an umbrella package is brilliant. It spans a broad range of requirements, bringing together a plethora of abilities to cover all of them without much ado – and with an asking price of $1299 including navigation it’s among the real value propositions out there.

Plus: Feature packed to the hilt, includes GPS navigation, excellent connectivity

Minus: We’ve come up trumps

Sony XAV712NAV Multimedia head unit

Type: Double-DIN 7-inch screen with standalone navigation module. Includes MirrorLink, AppRemote, Pandora and Bluetooth

Power Handling: 4 x 23 watts continuous, 4 x 52 watts maximum

Features: Navigation (via included XA-NV300T module), DVD, VCD, CD, MP3, WMA and AAC playback ability. Multiple inputs and outputs including USB and iDevice control. Digital sound processor and remote included. Camera and TV ready

Cost: $1299 for package including XA-NV300T navigation module

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