Jensen has a hit on its hands with the MP6612i. This inexpensive and visually plain car stereo has more features that far more pricey systems, and gives drivers an easy-to-use means of controlling them all when on the road. While its monochrome display is a little low-rent for our liking, the MP6612i is a compelling option for those wanting to play all kinds of digital audio formats in the car.
At first glance, the Jensen MP6612i looks like it could have been designed ten years ago. With none of the backlit lighting found in Sony models and lacking the ergonomic D-pads of recent JVC stereos, it relies instead on an old-fashioned combination of a single rotary dial surrounded by function buttons and complemented by a row of hard buttons underneath the display. Beneath the dial, two phone buttons (one red, one green) provide a clue to the system's built-in Bluetooth hands free calling capability. The display on the Jensen MP6612i its most basic feature: a monochrome black-on-green LCD screen, it suffers from a lack of contrast at the best of times, and particularly in direct sunlight.
The MP6612i relies on a motorized fold-down faceplate, which opens briskly with a push of the eject button to reveal its single disc slot. We like the space economy that motorized faceplates provide, as they allow for more room on the front of the stereo for buttons and a larger display. Less well-integrated is the MP6612i's external Medialink media module, through which its external media sources must be connected. Unlike some other add-on media modules, the Medialink box cannot be hidden out of sight behind the dash, as the ports for connecting iPods, USB drives, and SD cards are integrated into the module itself rather than into the stereo faceplate. This design arrangement means that the Medialink module must be accessible from the cabin, and its design suggests that it is intended to be screwed to the underside of the car's glove compartment.
This section is the Jensen MP6612i's strong suit. Few sub-$200 stereos come with the ability to play any sources other than AM/FM radio, CDs and MP3-encoded discs and perhaps digital audio players via a generic auxiliary input jack. The MP6612i can handle all of the above, and adds as-standard support for audio on USB storage devices and SD cards via the Medialink module. iPod owners can turn the MP6612i into a "full-speed" iPod interface with the addition of a Jensen J-Link cable for about $20.
In addition to its Medialink-connected sources, the MP6612i comes with built-in Bluetooth hands-free calling as standard. Like the Sony MEX-BT2500, the MP6612i also supports the advanced audio distribution profile (A2DP) for wireless audio streaming of tracks from certain A2DP-enabled cell phones such as the Nokia 5700. All of the MP6612i's audio sources play out via its built-in amp, good for 18 watts per channel (RMS), and can be tweaked to the driver's preference using a surprisingly sophisticated series of EQ settings. External amps can also be connected via its three sets of external preouts.
With a digital audio disc inserted, the MP6612i takes a couple of seconds to read and then display the full ID3 tag information on folder name, artist name, and song title. In a nice visual touch, the different tags are accompanied by small graphical icons to the left of the text. We like the fact that the display can show around 20 characters for each information tag, which makes a change from many other single-DIN sized stereos that manage to show only six or eight characters leaving the driver guessing at the identity of the song. With a USB thumb drive or SD card connected to the Medialink hub, the screen displays similar characters for song names. In our tests with the system, we found SD card playback to be sometimes inconsistent, as the stereo played some of the MP3 tracks on our card but not others.
iPod playback is more reliable, and the MP6612i offers a useful interface for selecting and controlling iPod tracks. With an iPod connected to the Medialink module via an optional J-Link cable (around $20), all control of the player is transferred to the stereo itself. Pushing and holding the number 6 preset button brings up a menu on the stereo's display that mimics that of iPod itself with options to select music according to artist, genre, song, and album. The MP6632i makes use of its rotary volume dial as a proxy for the iPod control wheel, a design that works quite well in practice.