The Sony CDX-GT610UI is the first car stereo we have reviewed with a generic USB port, enabling drivers to take their digital music on the road without the need for a separate MP3 player. It also comes with a built-in iPod dock connector and a generic auxiliary-input jack, making it one of the most adaptable single-DIN in-car stereo receivers currently on the market. The CDX-GT610UI plays a range of disc-based digital audio formats, including MP3, WMA, and ATRAC discs, as well as regular Red Book CDs. And, of course, it picks up AM and FM radio signals. To control all this functionality, the CDX-GT610UI features a very intuitive interface for navigating music from both built-in and external sources and from an accessible EQ-control system. Like the Sony MEX-BT5000 that we reviewed recently, the CDX-GT610UI is a member of the Xplod line of Sony stereos. Unlike the MEX unit, however, the CDX-GT610UI has a more sober design, eschewing the bold X control cluster for a more conventional rotary dial and a selection of hard buttons. Neon-blue backlighting for its trim and buttons, and a blue-on-black dot-matrix LCD screen complete the simple, but stylish design.
Made for iPod
The Sony CDX-GT610UI car stereo demonstrates its compatibility with the digital-audio age in a number of ways, starting with its dedicated "intelligent" iPod dock connector, which transfers all control of the iPod to the head unit. Many of the double-DIN sized audio visual units we have reviewed, including the Alpine IVA-W200 and the Dual XDVD8182 have featured iPod connectivity with varying degrees of usability. With an iPod connected to the CDX-GT610UI, we found navigation of iPod files and albums very easy.
When an iPod is connected to the stereo, the controls on the iPod itself are disabled with all search, playback, and sound-adjustment inputs transferred to the buttons on the front of the stereo faceplate. With the iPod selected as a source, songs can be streamed according to artist, album, or playlist. Selections are made with the Source button, which also acts as the On button in the absence of a dedicated means of turning the stereo on. This was one of our only complaints with its usability.
Jumping between different albums, artists, or playlists is done with the press of the hard buttons numbered 1 and 2, which skip back and forward between tracks, albums, or playlists, depending on the playback mode selected. Browsing can be done quickly by holding down the 2 button, which gives you the chance to preview information on the eight-digit LCD display. When browsing, the current track remains playing until you make your selection, which is a thoughtful design feature.
In iPod mode, the stereo's single-line LCD display shows information on artist and album, track name, or track number, according to the user's preference selected using the DSPL button on the bottom left of the display. Although the display shows only eight characters of each information tag, a dedicated SCRL button scrolls the information enabling the curious driver to get all the relevant info. An option in the setup menu also enables users to configure the display to automatically scroll tag information when a new source, album, or track is selected.
In iPod mode, the CDX-GT610UI can be programmed with one of several playback settings for repeat and shuffle play, including repeat/shuffle track, repeat/shuffle album, repeat/shuffle artist, and repeat/shuffle playlist. We particularly like the resume function that enables drivers to disconnect or navigate away from the iPod to select another source, and then return to the same spot when reconnecting (this doesn't apply if the stereo is turned off before reconnection, however).
USB and CD support for music files
Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of the Sony CDX-GT610UI is its ability to play MP3, WMA, and AAC digital-audio files from mass-storage class USB devices. To test out this function, we plugged a USB flash drive into our PC and dragged and dropped a bunch of (non-DRM-protected) audio files onto it. We then disconnected and plugged the flash drive into the front of the car stereo, which proceeded to play the tracks in order without any further encouragement.
With audio tracks playing from a USB drive, the track's title and artist name are displayed on the single-line LCD display. As with iPod tracks, the unit will resume from where it left off if you change sources and then change back again to USB. Tracks can be skipped through by using the forward seek buttons, but the browsing function that we like so much when playing iPod tracks is not available for files playing from the USB drive.
In addition to its compatibility with external sources, the CDX-GT610UI acts as a capable standalone CD receiver, having the ability to play store-bought CDs as well as MP3, WMA, AAC, and ATRAC discs (no DVD-Audio discs, though) via its single disc slot. With MP3 and WMA discs playing, tag information can be accessed by pressing the DSPL button, which gives users the chance to switch between the folder, track, album, and artist names; track number and elapsed playing time; and a clock. As with the iPod function, CD audio tracks resume from where they left off when users navigate away from them and then back.
The CDX-GT610UI switches between sources with impressive speed: The switch from AUX to iPod is almost instantaneous; from AM/ FM to disc takes a couple of seconds, from disc to USB is about three seconds; from USB to auxiliary is about one second.
Having established the usability of its broad range of audio sources, the next question is how does the CDX-GT610UI sound? To help users tweak audio output to their own preferences, the system features a range of preconfigured EQ settings, which can be accessed and adjusted by the EQ3 button at the top right of the main volume dial. Preset EQ categories range from Space, which is tinny and airy sounding, to Gravity, which accentuates low bass notes. A very intuitive three-bar graphic on the right of the LCD display gives a visual representation of the current EQ curve configuration, and users can tweak the low, medium, and high output levels by pushing in the main volume knob.
The Sony CDX-GT610UI has an output of 23.2 watts x 4 channels (52W x 4 maximum output) and a selectable sub-out for those who want to add a separate subwoofer to their in-car audio setup. It is also prewired for satellite radio.
The Sony CDX-GT610Ui is a multisource in-car stereo at a great value. Its range of external audio source support makes it attractive to digital audiophiles, while its user-friendly interface makes it simple enough to program on the fly.