Sony Listening Tests, Comparisons and Conclusion
If you remember, our intent was to compare this system against the stock head unit amplification and speakers. That meant that we had to remember the "before" to compare against the "after". This is more than a little hard as our brains are truly fickle and tend to remember less than we think they do. I used a few key tracks and took ample notes to help, as much as possible, my recall as I plodded forward with my experiment.
For starters, the head unit was acceptable and not the $5 stock unit that came with the vehicle, so we weren't exactly starting with a poor source device. The factory speakers, however, were—as you might expect—atrocious. When we started out listening tests we used the JVC KW-R500 to drive the factory speakers. On Dire Straits "Money for Nothing", the tone of the guitars (pre-upgrade) had none of the crispness that I've heard on more equipped systems. The stereo effect of the guitars following the intro was also not nearly as impressive. It wasn't mono, but it was close. When we went back with the installed and upgraded Sony system the difference was palpable—literally, we felt it. The snare had a much more "sure" strike and the stereo separation was pristine. While the placement of your head in the vehicle affected the separation (as you might expect) the effect was much more authentic and lifelike—almost as if you were listening to an intimate presentation by the band.
We also want to displease that we did some tweaking of the system post-installation. For one, it was a tad bright. As with many car audio systems, the difference between what you are used to and what you get following an upgrade can be quite startling. You don't want to assume a system is "bright" simply because you're finally hearing all those frequencies you thought never actually existed! In this case, however, we used the head unit's Pro EQ (a parametric equalizer) to dial down the output around 10kHz just slightly so as to smooth out the response a little bit and remove some of the perceived harshness.
Turning to the bass response, we queued up Seal's "Waiting for You" from his Seal IV album. Right off the bat there is a steady, punchy synthetic bass line that doesn't let up for the entire track. The Sony XS-GTX speakers handled it with an impressive dynamic range. While a subwoofer would have made this track all that much more impressive, it was far more dynamic than we experienced pre-upgrade. Bass was tactile enough to be impressive and it wasn't overblown. And with this track, you can instantly tell if a system has a ridiculous bass emphasis—because the bass line is already naturally bloated just a bit (if it tips the scale, you know it's the system).
We did a ton more listening, but one of our final tests was James Taylor's "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight". James' vocals played through with a very natural and authentic tone—which is how you WANT James to sound (anything else is just plain wrong). His guitar was equally well-presented as was the accompaniment. Stereo separation was excellent, and the bass guitar was both smooth and punctuated, and it conveyed a very natural decay. James' tenor voice really pushed the midrange on this system and it performed admirably. This is an album that, to me, epitomizes the male tenor vocal range. Get this right and you've got a pretty decent speaker.
For a grand total of around $350, this is a system that will provide an incredible upgrade for your vehicle. As a fellow audioholic I feel it my duty to ensure that our readers at least consider extending their hobby to their cars. I have gotten to a place now where I absolutely hate getting into a car and continuing a song I was listening to in the home—on a much more equipped system—only to encounter a distorted mess in my vehicle. It doesn't need to be that way, particularly with affordable audio systems like this from Sony and other companies. Sony and others update their systems pretty regularly, so don't be surprised if the model numbers in this review become obsolete or change over time. We'll try to keep up when possible, but while the feature sets might change it's more than a little likely that speakers and amplifiers in the same series and made with similar materials will carry a very similar tone and performance. As always, we recommend you demo these products at a local dealer whenever possible. As for me, I'm going to go listen to some music...this time in my own car.
The Score Card
The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:
Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating
Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.
Audioholics Rating Scale
- — Excellent
- — Very Good
- — Good
- — Fair
- — Poor
|Fit and Finish|
Confused about what AV Gear to buy or how to set it up? Join our Exclusive Audioholics E-Book Membership Program!