AVIC-Z120BT Audio & Video Playback
WARNING: THIS UNIT IS MEANT AS A DRIVING AID…. Right, so I skipped past this warning so I could inspect the audio portion of the unit, which was my main curiosity. The AVIC-Z120BT has three main modes: Navigation, Phone, and Media. All of the inputs currently available to be played back are listed as icons on the left-hand side of the media homepage, including an “off" button for disabling media playback. The unit supports all the inputs you'd expect: CD of course, CD-ROM (MP3, AAC, WMA), AM/FM tuner, USB and SD playback. With the use of external devices the unit also supports HD Radio (tuner sold separately), almost all iPod models except for the earliest generations, Pandora, XM/Sirius Tuner, two AV inputs, two external unit inputs, and Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR.
Tuner playback is the first place we started. Radio stations seemed to come in just fine, including AM and FM which I listen to on occasion. I liked that the unit displays the station and song/program data if it is being transmitted. CD playback is smooth and displays the track, time, etc. and also gives a list of all the tracks before and after the one you're listening to so you can quickly flip to the next song or the one after that. Album art is displayed when available from CD-ROM sources, USB, SD or iPod. The iPod playback experience, however, is really where this unit shines. It streamlines all your music and media into a sort of Cover Flow (Apple-esque) experience (minus the album art) where you scroll through artists, songs, albums , etc. just by flicking your finger across the screen. Once you've made a selection, the album art appears and while listening to the song, you can press the artist, album or genre to see more selections or quickly navigate back to the root menu to make a whole new selection. And while Bluetooth playback does not transmit album art, the sound quality was great in most of my testing. While using Bluetooth audio you can pause, rewind, fast-forward, and skip tracks from the unit's controls. I did notice that if my device was playing via Bluetooth at full volume that the tracks would be a bit distorted - a factor of the output of my iPod's Bluetooth and not the Pioneer. To prevent this I simply turned my iPhone playback volume down and turned up the output volume of the unit. I like my music loud and found the volume level to be very comfortable at 13/20 on this unit's scale. Your choice of speakers, vehicle acoustics, and any use of external amps will serve to change the dynamics in a way that will be unique to your vehicle, so this volume level and scale will be different for each person.
In the configuration menu there are a few ways to customize the listening experience, including an equalizer that comes with presets and two custom slots for creating an individualized sound. The presets allow you to increase and also decrease the amount of differentiation from the original mix by adding or subtracting from the “Nuance" control by up to 6 steps backward and forward. I did find it funny that one preset is called “Natural" - and here I thought that natural would be what the song sounded like in the first place! I suppose not. The unit also allows the listener to select from four distinct “stagings", each of which simulate various sound stages (the relative "width" of what you are hearing). These stages can also be positioned center, left or right in the speakers. One appreciated feature of the unit is the ability to adjust source levels so that, as you're switching between sound sources, one isn't drastically louder or softer than the rest. The unit also includes an adjustable high-pass filter for directing bass audio to the subwoofer and eliminating it from the rest of the speakers.
If I have any complaints about the device it is certainly not in the configurability of the unit or the way it outputs sound. The one annoying feature that I've run into is the navigation through the content on my iPod. Scrolling through artists, albums, etc while driving is just not that safe (and hence, not recommended). The screen is plenty big but it's just difficult to make sure you're pressing the right song. Furthermore, when you're scrolling through content, let's say you come to the end of a list. The unit automatically starts over again, creating a never-ending list of content. This is great if I were sitting in one place and could carefully scroll down to the one I wanted. But when I'm driving if I know that I want to get to the end of a list and I quickly flick up on the screen to scroll down, if I don't stop it I will find myself back where I started from. Other than this minor complaint, I love the experience and the many options provided by the AVIC-Z120BT.
In addition to audio playback, Pioneer's AVIC-Z120BT also supports a number of video formats including DVD, DivX, and iPod media playback via the optional iPod cable, as well as two A/V inputs and the ability to play back files from a USB drive or SD card. I found the picture quality to be very enjoyable for a car unit. Indeed, the screen resolution is actually quite a bit higher than most 7- or 8-inch portable DVD players. Menu navigation is accomplished via the touch screen and includes the norm for a standard DVD player. What pleased me most is the ability to play back media from my connected iPod as this is the way that I transport all of my videos and movies. Rarely would I opt for having a DVD collection in my car if I could have it stored on a USB drive or preloaded on my phone or iPod, so this unit fits my needs perfectly.