Easy on the eyes, the Sony Xplod CDX-GT920U sits close to the top of Sony's line of single DIN head units. The GT920U proves to be much more than just a pretty face, as it's packed with input options, including a rear USB input and a menu system that makes it a breeze to find the right song for the moment.
The CDX-GT920U is a very good looking single DIN head unit. The layout is similar to the rest of the Xplod line, such as the MEX-BT2600, but with fewer buttons. Most functions are controlled with a large chrome dial/joystick that dominates the left side of the faceplate. Surrounding the dial are four buttons (Mode, Source, Shuffle, and Display) and a chrome toggle. The layout is very simple and, because most operations are handled with the dial, very easy to use.
To the far right of the faceplate are the aux input jack and the Scroll, Off, and Open/Eject buttons, the latter of which operates the motorized faceplate. With a touch of the button, the faceplate rotates down, revealing the slot-loading CD player. When in the upright position, the faceplate can be adjusted between three viewing angles.
The rest of the faceplate is occupied by the single color dot-matrix display. The resolution is good enough to clearly display three lines of text information; however, the resolution fails to handle the background animations the CDX-GT920U is supposedly capable of displaying, but which simply don't look good. The image quality of these "movies" is comparable with the first-gen Nintendo Gameboy in terms of resolution and refresh rate. But the CDX-GT920U isn't a multimedia head unit and it looks better without the animations playing.
A menu option allows you to change the backlight color of the buttons from blue to red or green, but the display and the dial are backlit in blue regardless of the option chosen.
We did have a few minor issues with the CDX-GT920U's interface. Despite its large size, the mode button doesn't really do anything but toggle AM/FM bands and change the play mode of ATRAC audio devices, which makes it seem like a bit of a waste of faceplate real estate. Another minor annoyance is that the faceplate lacks a mute or attenuate button. Instead, Sony has chosen to put the mute button on the included IR remote. The whole point of the mute feature is to quickly silence the music, which would be useful if you need to suddenly take a phone call or order at a drive through; having to fumble with the remote defeats the purpose of having a mute button.
The main selling points of the CDX-GT920U are its digital audio features and the "Quick BrowZer" mode, which allows easy navigation of digital audio folders. The unit supports MP3, WMA, and AAC burned to CD or stored on a USB-compatible device (such as a USB stick or MP3 player). The unit also has an aux input on the faceplate, which is good if you own an iPod, because the CDX-GT920U doesn't natively support the iPod's proprietary file system. An external iPod adapter is available as a $50 add-on. Add-on modules are available for HD and satellite radio, as well.
Tapping on the List toggle puts the unit into "Quick BrowZer" mode. You navigate file folders by rotating the dial and pushing it like a button to select. Despite the silly name, the browser is actually quite easy to use and even works when selecting tracks on standard Redbook audio CDs or choosing radio stations.
Where sound processing is concerned, the CDX-GT920U has a few tricks up its sleeve to make your music sound better, such as a three-band EQ with seven presets. Digital Music Plus (DM+) improves the sound quality of digitally compressed sound, such as MP3. We tested the DM+ by listening to a song on audio CD and 128Kbps MP3. Predictably, the CD sounded better than the MP3, both with DM+ off and on, but DM+ did add clarity to the high end of the audio spectrum.
Dynamic Soundstage Organizer (DSO) creates a more ambient sound field and enhances the sound of the speakers. DSO creates a most dramatic improvement, lifting the sound up from the floorboards and making the high end of the sound spectrum clearer. Near top volume, DSO does contribute to low-end distortion, but at moderate levels it makes even OEM speakers sound good.
With 52 watts (max) pushing through four channels, the CDX-GT920U can get plenty loud. Sound quality is pretty clear at moderate volumes, but some distortion is introduced near the max. If that's not enough power for you, the Sony sports three 4-volt preamp outputs, one of which is a dedicated subwoofer out that has a built-in, adjustable low-pass filter.
Ultimately, while satisfactory in almost every way, the Sony Xplod CDX-GT920U doesn't really do much to wow us. There are no Bluetooth or multimedia options. Simply put, the CDX-GT920U does what it's supposed to do and does it well. Whether it's the single upgrade to an OEM audio system or the starting point for a larger setup, the Sony CDX-GT920U is a solid head unit. The good looking display and intuitive interface earn the CDX-GT920U a high design score. Sound quality was on par with what is to be expected at this price level, with little distortion at reasonable listening levels. Flexible input options, ample power, and multiple preamp outputs earn this head unit a moderate features score and make the unit an excellent value for the money spent.
That is, unless you're specifically looking to hook up an iPod. In that case, the Sony CDX-GT820IP is an even better deal. Designed specifically with the iPod in mind, this step down in Sony's Xplod lineup jettisons the motorized faceplate and USB input, but gains an iPod dock connector while maintaining many of the same features of the GT920U.