The other Bluetooth function of the MEX-BT2600 is its capability to stream music via the A2DP Bluetooth audio profile. There are only a limited number of phones that come with built-in A2DP, and we had to search around the CNET offices to find our Sony Ericsson K790 test phone. To play Bluetooth audio via the MEX-BT2600, the phone must be paired in a similar way to that for Bluetooth hands-free calling. (A single pairing connection will suffice to connect the same phone for Bluetooth calling and music playback.) With our A2DP phone connected, we were able to stream music from the phone to the head unit and out through the car's speakers. While the phone handset must be used to start playback of a track or a playlist, but once started, the controls on the stereo can be used to skip forward and back, pause and restart tracks, and control volume level. During Bluetooth audio playback, no track information is transferred to the stereo's display, so drivers will have to either refer to the phone display for track information or select tunes by ear when on the road.
While A2DP is an impressive technology, it is still by no means a popular medium for in-car audio. More usefully, the MEX-BT2500 can play regular Red Book CDs as well as MP3/WMA digital audio discs. For the latter, the system's bright LCD display shows eight ID3 tag characters, which automatically scroll across the screen. Using the Display button, drivers can cycle through information on folders, files, and ID3 tags.
We also like the front-mounted auxiliary input jack, which can be used to play audio from portable audio players such as iPods. Audio-tweaking functions on the MEX-BT2500 are limited to a number of preset EQ configurations and a custom setting that lets the driver set high and low outputs. Like its predecessor, the MEX-BT2600 kicks out 52 watts (max) through four channels via a digital-to-analog converter. The system also features four-channel preamp outputs, including a selectable sub with its own level control. However, the entry-level unit lacks a number of the higher-end MEX-BT5100's more advanced audio capabilities, such as its EQ3 parametric leveler, and its BBE MP signal processing, which restores some of the sound quality lost through the compression of digital audio files by reamplifying acoustic details or "harmonics" that were reduced in the compression process.
In a major upgrade from the MEX-BT2500, the MEX-BT2600 gets a range of expandability options, making it compatible with external modules for connection to satellite and HD radio, as well as an optional intelligent iPod adapter.
With a price tag of $169.95, the Sony MEX-BT2600 represents a great value for those looking for an all-in-one hands-free calling and audio receiver. If you can live with its lack of phonebook transfer, the system provides an easy-to-use Bluetooth speakerphone with good calling quality and seamless integration. Its wide range of audio options--including support for Bluetooth audio--is an added bonus.