The faceplate layout of the CDX-GT410U is standard Sony fare: a large control dial gives drivers a means of adjusting volume and navigating menus and is surrounded by a cluster of hard buttons that provide one-touch access to most of the system's features. The most notable of these controls--a magnifying-glass button and Back button--are associated with the system's "Quick BrowZer" system, which Sony designed to help drivers navigate digital audio files easily. On the other side of the chassis, a USB port shows off the system's star feature, beneath which a generic auxiliary input jack adds compatibility for a non-USB media player. The system's single CD slot shows that it is capable of playing more traditional portable audio formats.
To make use of the limited real estate, the CDX-GT410U's station preset buttons double as controls for activating the shuffle, repeat, and album skip features while playing back digital audio. A choice of either red or green backlighting for the buttons and the dial gives drivers a (limited) option to match the stereo to their car's interior, but if you don't have a luminous neon dash, you might find the system's color scheme a bit too bright for your liking. Being an entry-level stereo in Sony's new lineup, the CDX-GT410U gets a simple single-line monochrome LCD display showing a maximum of 12 characters at one time. A scrolling function allows longer track titles to be viewed in full.
Features and performance
The "U" designation on the CDX-GT410U is an indication that the system can play audio from USB-enabled mass storage devices. This includes digital audio players with USB connections (such as the iPod) as well as music files stored on thumbdrives. One of the remarkable features with the latter is the stereo's capability to play music tracks from thumbdrives containing a mixture of audio and nonaudio files. The CDX-GT410U can also play disc-based audio including Red Book CDs, and discs with MP3, WMA, AAC, and ATRAC files.
In contrast to a number of USB-enabled stereos we've seen, the CDX-GT410U has a very useful browse function, which provides an intuitive means of navigating large libraries of compressed audio files from both USB drives and compressed audio discs. Pressing the Browse button brings up an alphabetized list of artists, which you can browse by rotating the volume knob and--importantly--without interrupting the currently playing song. To make a selection, users push in the control knob taking them to a submenu of track titles, which can be browsed and selected in a similar way. We also like the dedicated Back button, which can be used to take the user back by one menu level; and the DISP button, which cycles between information (where available) on track name and number, album name, and artist name.
Using a combination of these three buttons, drivers can quickly navigate to and get information on exactly what they want to hear--a vast improvement on the digital-audio interface we saw on the more expensive Sony MEX-BT5100. For those who prefer a more leisurely approach to listening to their digital audio tracks, the CDX-GT410U has a very useful shuffle feature. The CDX-GT410U can be expanded with the aid of a variety of add-on modules for iPod, and XM or Sirius Satellite radio.
The CDX-GT410U's built-in amp produces 4x17 Watts (RMS) of output, and a number of methods for tweaking the audio, including a three-band equalizer with seven presets. Drivers can also create their own custom EQ curve by adjusting the decibel settings for low-, mid-, and high-range output.
While the CDX-GT410U advertises the fact that it is capable of "100dB+", in our experience, the audio output--especially at the low end--became distorted at any level above half volume when playing compressed digital audio sources. To improve the quality of compressed audio sources, the stereo features a digital media plus (DM+) function that is designed to improve digitally compressed sound, such as MP3s, by restoring lost samples. While there was a notable improvement between the sound of compressed digital-audio sources with the DM feature activated compared with playback with it off, we noticed the same difference when playing regular CDs. This leads us to believe that the DM function may be less of a "restoring" feature and more of an EQ manipulation setting. Unsurprisingly, sound quality when playing Red Book CDs is better than with MP3 discs or audio from USB drives, but we were underwhelmed with the system's dynamic range, particularly at the high end.
Propping up Sony's 2008 range of single-DIN car stereos, the CDX-GT420U retails for about $130. For that very reasonable price, drivers get a system with a good range of features including a USB interface, support for digital audio discs, and a useful navigation feature for browsing large libraries. On the downside, audio quality, while loud, is nothing special, and the system's two luminous color schemes may induce some buyers to go for something a bit more understated.