The Sony CMT-GPX9DAB micro hi-fi is a curious mix of innovation and anachronistic nostalgia. On the one hand there are some nice touches to this system -- the CD is slot-loading, you can set the timer to turn the system both on and off, and you can lock the CD mechanism when moving it, for example. On the other hand there is a cassette deck, which seems irrelevant, and the setup procedures are overly complicated.
If you want to record radio programmes or anything from a CD, you have to either use the tape deck or take a line out of the headphone socket, which we found restrictive. It seems curious to have an analogue recording facility when the whole point of digital playback is clarity of sound. Retailing at around £160, this micro component system is fine for everyday use, though.
The looks of this micro system are what you'd expect from Sony -- functional and understated. The front fascia has been diagonally tiered in three sections, making the front of the stereo look like a flat, silver armadillo. From a distance the silver plastic passes muster, and could easily sit unnoticed on a shelf. Up close, however, the front no longer looks so much like brushed metal -- this isn't a stereo for poseurs. The style of the system is nothing new -- the front fascia is faux-separate in the long (and naff) tradition of micro systems. It's tasteful from a distance, but looks cheap up close.
On the top of the stereo is a single cassette deck, with the buttons to operate it located on the top section of the front of the machine. The display is located in the middle of the top section as a darkened, rounded oblong. At 90 by 25mm, the primitive LCD is large enough to be viewed from a distance, and is more than adequate for its purpose while being unobtrusive. The middle section contains the volume controls and the function buttons for the tuner. The lower section contains the CD slot and its associated buttons.
There are three connections for aerials on the back of the stereo -- AM, FM and DAB. All the aerials are provided, although Sony recommends buying an external DAB aerial for higher broadcast sound quality. Two speakers are provided, tastefully veneered in wood-finish plastic. The thin stereo wires (bell wire) are integrated into the back of the speakers, which would make it difficult to replace them with anything thicker. The connections at the back of the stereo do the job, and are handily sprung for ease of connection. Again, it would be difficult to connect thicker wire, which is restrictive if you wanted to try to improve the sound quality by changing the speakers. There is a headphone socket underneath the CD slot, near the bottom left-hand corner.
Setting up the DAB is not very easy or intuitive. When you first switch it on, the machine automatically scans for UK Band III DAB stations and puts them in alphanumeric order. It then plays the first station on the list (probably 1Xtra). This initial setup took 52 seconds.
Once the stations are scanned in, they are stored in the stereo, so you needn't scan for stations every time you switch on the CMT-GPX9DAB. However, it still takes five seconds to find the station and to get music playing. This is frustrating if you're flicking through various different stations to see what's on them. You scroll through the stations by using the Tuning +/- bar located underneath the volume control. The location of this bar did not feel right to us -- it would have felt more natural underneath the display. We kept reaching for the tape controls, which are located there.
To save DAB presets you need to use the remote. This is fine, as long as you haven't lost it down the back of the sofa. We would have appreciated the option of saving presets on the stereo without having to use the remote, as again this seems more intuitive.
Even if you haven't lost the remote, you'll probably have to keep hold of the instruction manual to remember how to save presets. With instructions such as "Press TUNER BAND repeatedly to select 'DAB', 'FM' or 'AM'" followed by "Press TUNING MODE repeatedly until 'AUTO' appears in the display", it's a long old haul (eight steps initially) until you finally store the presets. Once they are stored, you have to fiddle around between the tuner band and tuning mode buttons until the tuning mode flicks onto preset mode. This is unnecessarily complicated. It is also a three-step procedure to access the saved presets, which is a pain. You also cannot tune manually in DAB mode.
On the plus side you can store up to 20 DAB and FM stations and ten AM stations. This is a good allowance for a low-end stereo, and was much appreciated.