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JVC KD-BT1 review: JVC KD-BT1


Kevin Massy

The JVC KD-BT1 is as much a communications device as a car stereo. Using a built-in Bluetooth receiver, the single-DIN sized system can be used for hands-free calling, and includes some advanced phone syncing features, including text message notification and automatic phonebook transfer. In addition to its support for a wide variety of digital audio sources (including MP3 and WMA discs, and audio files from USB drives), the KD-BT1 also supports audio streamed wirelessly via Bluetooth, which can be controlled using buttons on the faceplate.



The Good

The JVC KD-BT1 comes with a wealth of Bluetooth communications and audio capabilities, in addition to a good range of digital audio-playback support. Its text-reading function and USB connectivity are particular favorites.

The Bad

The KD-BT1's small buttons, complex menus, and relatively dull screen impede its usability while on the road.

The Bottom Line

The JVC KD-BT-1 offers a hatful of features for its price. However, it can be tricky to master all the controls, and you'll need a seriously tricked-out phone to make the most of it.

The JVC KD-BT1 features a basic single-DIN design with a mechanical fold-down faceplate and a backlit monochrome dot-matrix LCD display, which can be set to one of 1,728 colors. However, the LCD screen is not very bright, and in direct sunlight it can be difficult to see the digits and readouts especially when the text color is set to one of the darker shades (such as apple, grape, or rose). The KD BT-1 takes customization to a new level, as users can set separate colors for each source (CD, satellite radio, Bluetooth phone, Bluetooth audio, for example). Different disc-based media such as MP3 and WMA CDs can be given their own colors, and for those who can't decide, the screen can be set to scroll through every color in its memory.

The color scheme of the JVC-KD1's faceplate can be customized in thousands of ways.

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The simple faceplate masks a very complex series of menus beneath the surface, most of which are accessed via the M button the right of the dial. The menu interface on the KD-BT1 is not our favorite. Making a selection involves using four separate controls: calling up the menu screen with the M button; scrolling to the submenu category desired using the search buttons to the right of the presets, scrolling through the various options in the submenu once the desired category is reached; and finally pressing the 1 button to make a selection. This is the price of having so many features and such a small number of control interfaces.

Audio sources
Despite its broad range of Bluetooth functions (denoted by the "BT" in its name), the KD-BT1 is categorized as a CD receiver and a push of the eject button on the top right-hand side of the unit flips the faceplate open to reveal a single CD slot, which can handle regular CDs (including CD/R and CD/RW) as well as MP3-, WMA-, and AAC-encoded discs.

When playing compressed audio formats such as MP3, the screen displays the folder number, track number, and track time, and two lines of text showing the album/artist and the current track name. The display shows only 16 digits, but then scrolls the names of tracks/artists that are longer. When a USB mass storage device is connected, the KD BT-1 automatically finds the music files on the drive and starts to play them while displaying ID3 tag information in the same format as that for MP3 discs.

The LCD screen shows tag information for compressed digital audio files.

Playing audio via Bluetooth from our Sony-Ericsson K790a was also relatively straightforward (after we figured out we needed the phone to be set to "car" profile to be able to stream). The KD-BT1 supports both the A2DP audio streaming profile and the more sophisticated AVRCP profile, which enables control of the streamed audio from the receiver device. With a Bluetooth audio phone paired to the stereo, tracks can be played and stopped using the 1 and 3 preset buttons respectively, and skipped using regular skip buttons on the right hand side of the presets.

The BT-1 offers a good number of audio customization options: drivers who want to assign their own label to their favorite FM and AM radio stations can do so, and external components can also be given names of up to eight characters. For those who wish for more audio sources, the KD-BT1 can be hooked up to an iPod using an optional KS-PD100 adapter, which transfers control of the iPod and playback to the stereo faceplate. Separate adapters are also available for XM and Sirius satellite radio.

All audio sources play via a 24-bit Burr-Brown digital-to-analog converter and a built-in MOS-FET amp producing output of 50W x 4 channels. The system also features a dedicated subwoofer output.

Armed to the (blue) teeth
The star features of the KD-BT1 are its ability to assume nearly all cell phone functions. The system is compatible with no fewer than six Bluetooth profiles (HSP, HFP, A2DP, AVRPC, OPP, and SPP) giving it the ability to wirelessly handle everything from voice to music to text messages. To fully test the system, we had to use two phones with advanced Bluetooth capabilities, the Samsung SGH-D807, and the Sony-Ericsson K790a.

Pairing a cell phone with the KD-BT1 is a multistep process mostly controlled through the buttons on the faceplate. Having selected Bluetooth phone as the source and selected New to pair a new phone; the would-be phone pairer then has to enter a four-digit number, which puts the KD-BT1 in findable mode. The process is completed using the phone handset.

Making a call using the faceplate is straightforward: when in Bluetooth phone mode, just press M, then rotate the dial to either phone book or phone number. With a cell phone paired, the KD-BT1 automatically copies over the cell phone's address book and a press of the M button brings up the phonebook, with three entries shown at one time. Contacts can be browsed with the use of the up and down arrows on the right of the screen, and the down buttons will get you through the list three entries at a time--a nice feature, but it will still take you a long time to get to Zak's number if you have lots of friends. One niggle we have with the system is that the phone book disappears after about 30 seconds, and you have to repeat the two-step process to get it to show up again. We were able to make calls with the push of a single button, and then by speaking all subsequent commands into the microphone

Hands-free calling is just the start of the KD-BT1's Bluetooth capabilities.

Calling by phone number is more cumbersome than via the phonebook, as you have to rotate the dial to get to each individual number and then press the skip forward button to move to the next digit. This is not too much of a problem however--how many times do you call the specific number of a contact on your cell phone as opposed to searching for them by name? Once a call is underway, the driver has to speak into the stereo's microphone (included), and clarity from the other end of the line is good.

The KD-BT1 can also be used as a proxy for voice dialing if your cell phone supports it: holding down the M button when in Bluetooth phone mode provides a shortcut to voice dialing. We were able to make calls without the push of a single button, instead speaking a command into the microphone.

Auto answer
According to its specs, the KD-BT1 can also notify drivers of the arrival of a text message sent to a connected phone, and then display the message on its LCD screen. Alternatively, the system can be set to auto answer, notifying you of an incoming call by a single ring, and then answering the call for you, which is a useful feature, but one that has the potential to get you into trouble if you're not expecting an important call. Ending a call is performed by holding down any button other than the on/off switch, another nice touch.

According to its specs, the KD-BT1 can also notify drivers of the arrival of a text message sent to a connected phone. The instruction manual states that if the Message Info option in the settings menu is set to Auto, the stereo will sound a chime and display the phrase "MSG" on the screen at the receipt of a text message. In our experience with our trusty Sony Ericsson K790a, this feature did not work, possibly because our phones do not support the Bluetooth object push profile (OPP).

In sum
The JVC KD-BT1 is a very capable car stereo. Its wealth of Bluetooth features is complemented by a very useful USB interface and support for most digital audio formats. We're not great fans of the system's complex menu structure, but owners will probably get used to it after a while. The main concern among users should be having a phone that is sufficiently equipped to take advantage of all its features.



Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 10Performance 7