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In a market dominated by established speaker and media player manufacturers, Sony’s entry to the car stereo system market sounds promising.
With a design that enables the driver to continue everyday duties without looking at the receiver for long periods, Sony is aiming to reshape people’s perception on receivers.
This is also consistent with their products, offering a sleek finish all while not sacrificing great ergonomics. The Sony XAV-AX100 is no exception to this.
Sony XAV-AX100 is Sony’s entry to the midrange car stereo market. It is a Double-DIN head unit that delivers competitive features and specifications for its price.
The XAV-AX100 sports a 6.4 inch (5.63 inch by 3.02 inch) Active Matrix touchscreen display, coupled with a rotary knob that may act as volume control, a shortcut to the quick access menu, or as a voice assistant through Siri or Google Assistant.
Other buttons such as Home, Next, and Previous are present as well to provide controls for the driver without focusing too much attention on the screen.
Despite being marketed as a smart audio system, the simplicity of the XAV-AX100 is what stands out the most. That is because other than the features that define a smart system, the Sony XAC-AX100 is simply an AM/FM receiver with Bluetooth functionality and a smartphone-like UI.
It does not have the full functionality of an Android tablet or an iPad.
Its minimalistic design and black panel surface finish blends well with any surface. Also, the white key illumination helps the buttons stand out for easier accessibility. This ergonomic design is excellent as it enables the receiver to function without having to deviate your eyesight from the road - a design catered for people who are always on-the-go.
In addition to the basic functionalities, the XAV-AX100 also offers MP3, WMA and FLAC playback via USB. A rear view camera input port is also available.
However, it does not feature a CD player or an analog auxiliary input for direct wired connection from a phone to the player itself. This may come as a deal breaker for many people who may not yet be ready for a transition to wireless technology.
There is also no video output plug to enable viewing on an external display, although this may seem unnecessary for typical usage considering that its target demographic is for drivers who are always on-the-go.
As a car stereo system, the XAV-AX100 offers four amplifier channels with output power rated at 55 watts each, labeled as the Dynamic Reality Amp 2. The systems could be expanded using the three pre-out slots and one slot for a sub out.
The frequencies could be managed using a 10-Band Graphic Equalizer.
It is worth noting that the XAV-AX100 does not feature Time Alignment, a technology that delays the output of one speaker that is presumably the nearest to a person, to accommodate for the time it takes for the sound wave of the farther speaker to reach the ears.
In effect, the sound waves will reach the ears at the same time, creating a more balanced sound. This may come as a downside when connected to a subwoofer system as the difference in the frequencies produced from the pre amps and sub may feel weird especially when driving fast.
To compensate for this, the XAV-AX100 features the Dynamic Stage Organizer (DSO) technology.
DSO calibrates the frequency output of the system whenever the speakers are placed in a space that alters the sound it produces, creating an effect that mimics how something would naturally sound.
This enables each speaker to work with each other to produce sounds that are as natural as possible. Other features for audio included in the XAV-AX100 are the high and low pass filters and the adjustable audio balance which spans from front to back and left to right.
The Bluetooth audio supports SDC codec, which is quite average compared to other high-quality codecs which are unfortunately unsupported by the XAV-AX100.
Standard Bluetooth audio features including the ability to play or pause, play on repeat, and play on shuffle are also available.
In order to cut costs, Sony opted to equip the XAV-AX100 with a full-color resistive TFT Active Matrix touchscreen display with a resolution of 800 x 480 that comes with an adjustable dimmer.
While not entirely bad, the said display may get mixed reactions as it may not provide the same response time of a smartphone screen nor does it even feel like the screen of a smartphone, which is mostly equipped with a capacitive touchscreen display.
One might argue that this provides the Sony XAV-AX100 a rugged feel, but that is totally up to the buyer. However, this does not affect the quality of the screen as it is still vibrant and shows a relatively good amount of contrast, with a contrast ratio rated at 600. This coincides with most other receivers having a resistive touchscreen.
The Sony XAV-AX100 is compatible with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
There is generally not much difference between the two, and the likeability of either software depends on which ecosystem one has been exposed to.
Regarding interface, Apple CarPlay looks like a stripped-down version of iOS, with enlarged icons that resemble that of the apps in iOS. Meanwhile, Android Auto looks more like a full-fledged Android Operating System, except for the fact that it is not a standalone version of Android.
It is worth noting that when an iPhone is connected to the XAV-AX100, the iPhone is still operational. However, an Android phone will change to the Android Auto screen.
That said, the XAV-AX100 features either Siri Eyes-Free or Google Assistant. The voice assistant functionality is essential to the system as much of its features, including but not limited to messaging, music playback, getting directions, and making calls are enabled only through voice activation. For instance, the only way to reply to a text is to tell the message through voice assistant.
Other features of the app may remain operational, but it may underperform without voice assistance. For instance, iMessage is used as the means to send the text to Apple CarPlay. On the other hand, Android Auto requires the use of third-party apps for messaging. This is Sony’s way of handling the likelihood of people texting while driving which is known to road accidents.
It is worth mentioning that other apps may or may not work on both software systems. For example, Spotify may not utilize the whole system as compared to Apple Music. The same applies to various apps that may seem to utilize the functions available for the Sony XAV-AX100.
Navigation apps are also available for both systems, with Apple Maps for Apple CarPlay and Google Maps for Android Auto. Once again, the preference for either navigation systems is subjective and may be dependent on the ecosystem one is exposed to, although Google Maps seem to be much more reliable due to various features that are not present in Apple maps.
Firmware upgrades are available for the Sony XAV-AX100. This means that Sony can correct some bugs from earlier releases, and even update or add some essential software features that may help the driver in one way or another. This comes as no surprise given that Sony has experience with the smartphone ecosystem, which regularly updates now and then.
For connectivity, the Bluetooth supports speed dial which is available for up to 6 phone number memories; recent calls that are stored for up to 20 total phone numbers; and the last dialed call is also available. NFC, however, is not available.
Other features include gesture command and parking control, and rear view camera-in marker setting.
The latter feature enables the driver to create guidelines to accurately pinpoint the location of the car through the rear view camera, though of course, this requires external accessories. Depending on the driver, this may come off as unnecessary, though it is a great addition in case needed.
In comparison to other car stereo receivers, the Sony XAV-AX100 proves to stand against competitors within the similar price range. The JVC KW-M730BT offers HD Radio, High-Resolution Audio, Time Alignment, a wider 6.8 inch screen (though having a slightly lower VGA resolution of 600 x 480), and a much wider 13-Band Equalizer compared to the 10-Band Equalizer of the XAV-AX100.
However, the KW-M730BT falls short in the ease of use department. Compared to the XAV-AX100, the KW-M730BT seems to be designed with less intention on being an eyes-free receiver especially with the lack of Siri Eyes Free, though it is apparent that it built for the audiophiles looking for relatively budget receivers. The same is the case for the Kenwood DDX9703S, although the DDX9703S offers features that are midway between the two previously mentioned receivers.
Although much pricier, the Kenwood eXcelon DNX694S offers the best from both receivers as mentioned above.
But you will have to pay twice the price which is generally not recommended especially that the upgrades are not that substantial. For an increase of $150 from the price of the Sony XAV-AX100, the Sony XAV-AX200 offers the same features but with a built-in DVD player.
This is good news for CD and DVD aficionados looking for a model that does not stray away from traditional media players, who would also like to try the XAV-AX100 experience.
But for those who are not necessarily interested in what the XAV-AX100 offers but would like to stick to traditional media, the Pioneer AVH-3300NEX offers the same features at a slightly higher price that the XAV-AX200.
In addition to Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Spotify, the AVH-3300NEX offers a wider 7 inch screen with a similar WVGA (800 x 480) resolution, Pandora, AppRadio, Satellite Radio, 13-Band Graphic Equalizer, and other features that may be necessary for those who are not yet ready for wireless technology but would like to try something modern without sacrificing traditional media.
Compiling all the listed features, it can be said that the Sony XAV-AX100 is a mid-tier smart car audio system.
It provides the essential features that a smart car audio system should provide, although it lacks a good amount of features that would set it apart from other high-quality receivers. Although there are products that offer great advantages feature-wise or specification-wise, the XAV-AX100 offers solid audio and tech experience for its price range.
For those seeking for more accessibility and customizability, a more top tier receiver is recommended as the Sony XAV-AX100 lacks some features that may be essential to some buyers such as time alignment, which is available pretty much on every non-Sony device mentioned earlier.
However, that is not was Sony was aiming for, especially since the market is dominated by top speaker manufacturers.
At the end of the day, the XAV-AX100 is perfect for those who are always on-the-go as the design enables for a continuous flow of everyday functions all while not disturbing the driver by looking away from the road.
Of course, Sony still offers features for audio customizability considering that it is also one of their specialties, but the main focus of the XAV-AX100 is on its operation- how a driver should react to a receiver without too many distractions.
All in all, the Sony XAV-AX100 offers a well rounded smart audio system that caters to the needs of first-timers in the market. With carefully refined small but essential features that make it stand out from the marker, it is a good system in its own right. It can definitely hold its own against its competitors.
In contrast to those feature-packed products that saturate the market, Sony excels in the ergonomics department. For the price range, it is one of a kind especially with the efficient and minimalistic design that caters to the needs of people who are always on-the-go.
Simon graduated with a Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Degree. He has over 20 years of servicing experience in both Japanese and German car dealerships. He now acts as a freelance mechanic's instructor for local schools.