The Jensen VM9511TS does about everything an in-car media receiver could possibly do. From its ability to play nearly every modern audio-format (including MP3, WMA, XM Satellite, and AM/FM radio and SD-card files), to its crisp DVD playback via a 7-inch widescreen monitor, to its TV reception and ability to act as a giant iPod, this is one heady head unit. Like the Jensen VM9510TS, its older sibling, the VM9511TS has two display interfaces. One is a blue, backlit dot-matrix LCD display, which is visible only when the unit is in stowed-away mode. The other is a pop-up TFT touch-screen that emerges from its single-DIN body with the whirr of a motor.In stowed-away mode, the unit looks like a fairly commonplace stereo receiver--the subtle presence of an SD card slot is the only clue to its uberfunctionality. Even in regular, single-DIN configuration, there is still little to point toward the VM9511TS's usability. Two joystick knobs on either end of the faceplate and six preset buttons can be used to control the tuner and to navigate CDs, but there are no markings for the standard audio controls (play/ pause/ skip/ search). Users will have to experiment with the right-hand joystick to work out how to skip or pause tracks. (We found that pushing it upwards sometimes had the effect of pausing the CD, and sometimes it didn't.) The backlit LCD display provides only track number and playing time for CDs, and no ID3 information is shown for MP3 or WMA CDs. But these gripes are mere bagatelles--with a press of the "open" button, the true character of the VM9511TS begins to emerge. A cluster of logos on the bottom of the touch screen reveals an array of features about this receiver. It can handle MP3s, WMAs, CDs, DVDs (video and R/W), and auxiliary inputs. It is "Made for iPod" and is XM-Satellite ready. It plays audio in Dolby Digital Pro-Logic II at 60 watts per each of its four channels. And that's not all. A glance at the VM9511TS's standalone media module (through which it outsources all its media connections) shows that it can be hooked up to a TV antenna (included with the unit), as well as Jensen's Nav 100 car navigation system (sold separately). Also compatible is Jensen's optional iAux-3 module, which enables the connection of any portable MP3 player via an auxiliary jack and ports for composite audio and video. Those who are going to invest in the Jensen VM9511TS multimedia receiver will have to set aside a day to install it. We connected the system to up to four main speakers, but there are also dedicated RCA cables to hook up an additional six speakers via an external amplifier, including a subwoofer and two rear surround-sound speakers. Other connections include provision for wireless headphones, two additional rear screens and a back-up camera connected via the reverse gear in the shifter. Perhaps the most innovative feature of the Jensen VM9511TS is its dedicated iPod interface, which allows all iPod models to be connected and played via the head unit while simultaneously being recharged. With our iPod Nano connected in audio mode, controls on the MP3 player itself were disabled. Control of all functions devolved to either a virtual iPod dial on the touch screen (our preferred interface) or one of two remote controllers.
The Good The Jensen VM9511TS is an all-singing, all-dancing head unit that gives myriad media-playback options, including MP3, WMA, DVD, satellite radio, and a cool dedicated iPod interface.
The Bad The VM9511TS's manifold capabilities don't include USB-compatibility, and users must deploy the screen for anything more complex than tuning the radio. The lack of a removable faceplate makes it more vulnerable to theft.
The Bottom Line With its wide selection of media source inputs, the Jensen VM9511TS is a high-water mark for aftermarket stereo head units. Its separate media module takes up a lot of space, and at $800, it's pricey for an off-the-shelf system. Still, it blows factory-installed options out of the water in terms of value.