With its wide selection of media source compatibility, the Jensen VM9511TS is a high-water mark for aftermarket stereo head units. While it takes up a lot of space and has no removable faceplate, it is packed with an impressive array of features for its price.
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.
Using the touch screen's wheel, users can select play lists, artists, albums, or songs in a similar fashion to using the iPod itself. Using the remote control is a little less intuitive and requires reference to the manual to establish that the forward search button activates the iPod menu screen and the skip buttons scroll through the options.
One bug that we found with the iPod interface was that the unit sometimes failed to recognize our iPod when we plugged it in--a problem that we finally remedied by pushing the reset button on the side of the media module.
The video features on the VM9511TS are impressive. The unit has a versatile 16-position tilting screen, and it offers video playback in a range of aspect ratios, including standard 4 x 3, widescreen 16 x 9, and "cinema" configurations. Picture quality is good for DVDs, although we had difficult getting a clear TV picture with the 16-inch rabbit-ear antennae, despite being on the 5th floor in a static office building; getting a clear episode of Oprah will prove to be even more trouble when on the move. A secondary tuner module enables the VM9511TS to be hooked up to a cable or satellite signal. One surprising omission in the VM9511TS's arsenal is its lack of a USB port--perhaps there was just not enough room on Jensen's assembly line to add another function.
The principal drawbacks with the Jensen VM9511TS are logistical rather than related to its functionality. First, car owners will need a lot of spare real estate in their dashboards to accommodate this unit: The additional media module takes up nearly as much space as a standard single-DIN unit by itself. Second, the VM9511TS does not come with a removable faceplate, so all its megafunctionality is accessible to screwdriver-wielding car thieves. One redeeming point of security for the VM9511TS is that it will take any would-be thief at least 10 minutes to disconnect the dozens of wires and cables holding the unit in place, but that is not an adequate substitute for a removable faceplate.
Despite these gripes, the VM9511TS is a high-end media receiver that will open up a world of in-car media options for those willing to take the time to install it.