Sony MEX-GS600BT Bluetooth audio receiver review: Great car stereo adds a questionable new trick

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MSRP: $199.99

The Good The Sony MEX-GS600BT Bluetooth audio receiver rolls hands-free calling and a full array of digital audio sources into one low-profile box in your dashboard. App Remote allows users to quickly jump between listening to on-receiver sources and on-smartphone apps at the touch of a button.

The Bad The multiple level-deep menu can be difficult to interact with on the single-line display. App Remote still requires that drivers touch their smartphones to interact with selected apps.

The Bottom Line The Sony MEX-GS600BT's App Remote function is not very useful without a dashboard mount for your phone, but everything else about this full-featured car stereo makes it easily recommendable.

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8.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9

Back in the days of the Car Tech Live podcast, I was often (ahem, every week) asked, "What's the best way to add a lot of tech to my car without spending a lot of money?"

The answer I most often gave was, "Check out Sony's MEX line of single-DIN car stereos. For about two Benjamins, you'll add Bluetooth hands-free calling, wireless audio streaming, and USB and auxiliary inputs, and upgrade the audio quality of your car's wimpy car stereo."

The Sony MEX-GS600BT is one of the latest units in the MEX line, keeping intact everything that I love about its family. This new receiver also brings an interesting, but rudimentary sort of two-way smartphone app integration to the table that had me ooh-ing and ahh-ing, even as I scratched my head over the usefulness of this new feature.

The Sony MEX-GS600BT uses the familiar and basic single-DIN design and proportions. The unit features a removable faceplate on which you'll find a control knob, a bunch of buttons, and an LCD.

Sony MEX-GS600BT
The Sony MEX-GS600BT doesn't deviate from the standard volume-knob-on-the-left, single-DIN design. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The control knob wears many hats. Usually, it is a volume control knob that twists freely with nice, bumpy detents along its rotation that give low-tech haptic feedback on how quickly you're cranking the volume. Tapping the center of the knob like a button enters the Sony MEX-GS600BT's menu system where the various options and settings can be accessed by, again, twisting the control knob and tapping to make selections.

To the left of the control knob are buttons for phone controls, audio source selection, and track skipping. In the extreme lower-left corner is the tiny button to detach the faceplate.

A largish monochrome LCD occupies most of the faceplate. This display is larger than, for example, the display on the Pioneer DEH-X9500BHS that I reviewed recently, but it is less sophisticated, possessing only the resolution of a large desk calculator. Consequently, the unit is able to display only a single, large line of text with up to 12 visible characters at a time. Small icons at the extreme right edge of the screen relay additional information about the Bluetooth phone connection, paired phone's battery life and signal strength, and so on.

Below the display is a bank of eight multifunction keys that vary in operation depending on the source. For example, they can be preset radio station shortcuts when you're listening to the radio or they can be folder navigation and playback mode selectors when playing back MP3s from a USB.

Inputs and installation
On the unit's faceplate you'll find a single-slot CD player that can accept store-bought discs and home-burned CD-R/RW discs encoded with Red Book audio, or MP3, WMA, or AAC digital audio files. The faceplate is also home to the unit's 3.5mm analog auxiliary input.

Sony MEX-GS600BT
This 3.5mm analog auxiliary input is the only connection point on the unit's faceplate. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

To find the rest of the inputs and outputs, you'll have to spin the deck around to check out the back panel. Here, you'll find the standard car antenna connection point, as well as the wire harness connection with leads for 12-volt power and the speaker-level connections for the internal amplifier that outputs a maximum of 52 watts (17 watts RMS) through its four channels. The harness also features amp remote turn-on and illumination sensor connections. It's all standard stuff, if you've installed a car stereo within the last 20 years.

There's a single USB input on the end of a long extension cable that you can route through your vehicle's glove compartment or center console for easy access when the deck is installed in your dashboard. Additionally, you'll find a 2.5mm input for the included microphone that is used with the hands-free calling function.

A SiriusXM input makes it possible to add a satellite radio tuner (sold separately) for an additional audio source. A bank of three stereo RCA outputs send pre-amplified, line-level audio to external amplifiers should you decide to add them. Two of the outputs send full-range audio; the third is a dedicated subwoofer output that passes only low-frequency audio.

Sony MEX-GS600BT
An array of pre-amp outputs, including a dedicated subwoofer connection, makes it easy to add external amplifiers. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming
One of the biggest selling points of the MEX line of Sony receivers is their built-in Bluetooth wireless connections.

The Sony MEX-GS600BT features fast Bluetooth pairing with phones that support the feature. There's no need to input a PIN, simply initiate the pairing and confirm that the numbers on the receiver and your handset match. Upon pairing, the MEX-GS600BT will attempt to sync your phone's contacts and address book. When you're ready to make a hands-free call, you'll be able to quickly search throughyour contacts by spinning the control knob.

Those who prefer voice command can access the phone's voice dialer or voice-search function via a menu option. I'd have liked for Sony to include a voice-dial button for faster access to what should be an eyes-free process.

Call quality largely depends on your paired phone, the network that you're connected to, and the quality of the speakers that you connect to the Sony MEX-GS600BT, but callers that I spoke with during my testing said I could be heard clearly.