Once you fire up the ignition, your eyes will be drawn to the Sony CDX-F7715X's black aluminum faceplate with backlit buttons, where you'll find the unit's main attraction: a full-motion fluorescent display. The blue-lit display panel does more than show track numbers, song titles, MP3 ID3 tag data, and radio station frequencies; it provides an electronic light show of sorts. Using the Image button, you can choose between three types of wallpaper, five spectrum analyzer screens that move to the beat of the music, or three movie screens that show quick clips, one of which is a car driving through what appears to be a European city. Needless to say, movie mode can be distracting, especially for the driver, and it gets old quickly, but the spectrum analyzer screens are cool.
Our only real gripes with the Sony CDX-F7715X have to do with the flip-down style detachable faceplate and the lack of a front-panel auxiliary jack. Although this sort of faceplate is becoming more popular, having to flip it open to insert and remove discs is annoying. Additionally, the faceplate is susceptible to being knocked off by an errant elbow when it's open; it's also somewhat difficult to install and remove. Without a 1/8-inch auxiliary jack in front, an MP3 player can't be quickly hooked into the system. The unit has auxiliary input RCA jacks on the back, so an adapter could be wired through to be accessible from the dashboard. The unit does not include native iPod support, either.
We wish the tiny function buttons were easier to identify, but thankfully, the unit comes with a credit card-size remote so that you won't have to fumble around looking for the right button to push. Another option is to spend an extra $35 for Sony's RM-X4S wired rotary control and mount it on your steering column for easy access to the player's control features.
Set for surround sound
Below the brightly lit display are six numbered buttons used for storing preset radio stations (18 FM and 12 AM) and for activating repeat, shuffle, and pause functions when playing CDs. There's also a Source button for switching between radio, CD, and auxiliary devices, as well as a display button for toggling items to be shown on the screen. In CD mode, one of the numbered buttons is used to activate the BBE MP function, which restores and enhances the quality of compressed MP3 music. In addition to a customizable equalizer with six preset tone characteristics, the Sony CDX-F7715X has a DSO (Dynamic Soundstage Organizer) function button that produces a wider sound, similar to a virtual surround-sound effect. Of course, you can manually set bass, treble, balance, and front/rear fader levels, as well as adjust the subwoofer volume if you have one. A loudness button enhances bass response when listening to music at lower volumes.
The ability to create labels for your favorite radio stations is a nice touch. Rather than displaying the station call letters or frequency, you can use up to eight characters to name the channel and use the List Up function to select it by name. This also works with CD changers that support Sony's Custom File programming feature.
We were impressed with the power and audio quality of the Sony CDX-F7715X and its ability to lock on to distant FM radio signals. Equally impressive was the BBE MP compression-enhancement feature when playing MP3 files. Our MP3 version of the Who's Quadrophenia album never sounded better.
Despite our complaints about the faceplate and the auxiliary input, we think Sony's CDX-F7715X is a top-notch CD/receiver that will add pizzazz to your dash and fill your vehicle with a rich wall of sound.