Waiting for the Jensen VM9312's whirring, motorized faceplate to emerge, the first-time user is not immediately reassured that this is going to be a device compatible with the digital age. After all, there are car stereos out there nowadays without any moving parts at all. But with the 7-inch touch screen fully deployed, the Jensen VM9312 proves itself more than capable of the task of handling most in-car media sources.
With the faceplate stowed away, the Jensen VM9312 looks like any garden-variety single-DIN-size stereo head unit. Two rotary knobs at either end of the faceplate control volume (left) and skip/search (right), although for any sources other then AM/FM radio, the screen is essential for selecting and controlling the media.
Two prominent, backlit blue buttons give drivers the ability to change source and mute the current audio on the fly. Dedicated hard buttons for opening and closing the screen, as well as for adjusting display settings, are a nice addition to the very simple faceplate design.
Less visible is the VM9312's Eject button, which is tucked up in the top right-hand corner of the faceplate, on the far side of the driver, making it a stretch to access. Moreover, when the fold-out display is open, the Eject button is all but hidden from view by the bottom of the screen, adding to the travails of those who wish to change discs quickly.
For most sources, users have to make use of soft buttons on the touch screen. We are big fans of the sensitivity of the touch screen on the VM9312 and making selections requires only the slightest of contacts. Another positive feature of the VM9312's touch screen menus is the way in which option icons change color when pressed--without the tactile feedback of a hard button, this is a very useful means of letting you know that a selection has been made.
For a sub-$400 system, the Jensen VM9312 packs in a lot of features. For audio choices, the device plays CDs (including CD-Rs and CD-RWs) and other compressed disc-based digital audio including MP3 and WMA. With Jensen's optional J-link iPod cable connected to its MediaLink3 underdash connection port, the VM9312 can be hooked up to iPods for audio and video playback. And for visual media, the system supports DVDs (including DVD-Rs/RWs, and DVD+Rs/RWs), VCD video, and picture CDs in JPEG format. With add-on modules (not included), the system can also be used to play XM and Sirius satellite radio.
The main source menu is very intuitive, giving clear, simple, color pictures for each of the unit's available sources (disc, radio, iPod, rearview camera, satellite radio, and two auxiliary inputs).
Like the Jensen VMTS1195 that we reviewed last year, the VM9312 has an impressive range of audio-tweaking features. In addition to individual settings for standard EQ levels (including bass and treble), the system features dynamic range control (for enhanced playback at lower volumes); settings for subwoofer phasing; and a subfilter, enabling users to fine-tune the audio output by setting a crossover frequency for low-range sound.
We are generally impressed with the VM9312's iPod control interface: like other aftermarket screen-based in-car media players, it features a virtual wheel control based on the design of the iPod player itself. This is the only way to select or control songs once an iPod is connected as the player itself is disabled. The touchable circular dial enables users to pause and play tracks, skip tracks, and call up an iPod-inspired menu (playlists, artists, albums, songs, etc.).
For digital audio disc playback, the system shows folder and track information in an easily digestible format. ID3-tag information for individual tracks is displayed in a list on the left-hand side of the screen, while folder (or directory) information is shown on the title bar. When playing disc-based audio, the Jensen VM9312 displays an adapted version of the iPod wheel control, providing a straightforward means of playing and pausing tracks as well as skipping through tracks either one or six at a time. However, as with the iPod, there is no one-touch scroll feature available, meaning that discs containing lots of tracks have to be navigated with multiple button pushes.
We do like the VM9312's ability to bring up the source menu with a touch of the upper left-hand corner of the screen, but the system takes too long to switch between sources. Drivers who are looking to adjust the media source in those precious 10 seconds at the stoplight may find themselves frustrated with the Jensen VM9312, as it can take up to 15 seconds after selecting a source from the main menu for it to show up on the screen and start playing.