Edmunds Tech Test: Sony DSX-S100 Digital Media Receiver

Edmunds Tech Test: Sony DSX-S100 Digital Media Receiver

Sony's DSX-S100 Takes iPods for a Ride in Its "Tune Tray"

Pros: Low cost, easily interfaces with iPods and MP3 players, direct wired connection provides excellent sound.
Cons: Inconvenient to plug and unplug your MP3 player, drab LCD display, manually operated Tune Tray lacks the polish that a motorized tray would provide.
MSRP: $150

If you're still listening to CDs in your car, then you must really like Culture Club, Pet Shop Boys and Wham! The '80s are ancient history and the venerable CD is heading for the same dustbin. Not to be left behind, formerly CD-centric car stereo head units are transforming themselves into discless players (also called "mechless").

The Sony DSX-S100 Digital Media Receiver, for example, doesn't play CDs, DVDs or any type of disc. Instead, it is designed to hook up with MP3 players — iPods in particular. It has a unique integration feature for portable media players called Tune Tray.

From the outside, the DSX-S100 looks quite traditional. It has the usual set of buttons and a knob. Its blue backlighting is attractive, but the mono-color, two-line fluorescent LCD display is a bit drab. The DSX-S100 sports an assortment of basic features such as an AM/FM tuner (with RDS), and it's ready for Sirius and XM Satellite Radio and HD Radio. It includes a remote and has a front panel analog aux input. The amplifier's maximum power is optimistically rated at 52 watts x 4 channels.

Installation was straightforward. If you've ever installed a single-DIN head, this one is no different and no huge hassle. A word of caution: Before you run out and buy the DSX-S100, make sure your dashboard has a single-DIN opening; in many cars, the audio system is integrated with other vehicle functions and it can be difficult to install a single-DIN aftermarket head unit such as the DSX-S100.

On the Road
The DSX-S100 operates just like any other car stereo. As with many head units, the detachable front panel flips down. But instead of revealing a disc slot, you'll see the Tune Tray tucked inside. It occupies the space that traditional head units use for disc (or tape) mechanisms. Omitting those frees up enough room for an MP3 player or iPod.

The tray is a fairly tight fit, but it should accommodate most players; as a reference, an iPod Touch fits just fine. Sony does not recommend placing an iPhone or other smartphone in the tray because phone reception may be compromised. And since the head unit does not have Bluetooth, you couldn't answer phone calls anyway. Using a music player as a source, the DSX-S100 can play AAC, MP3 or WMA files. You cannot play copyright-protected files and files using lossless compression, however.

Operating the Tune Tray is easy, but it's probably unlike anything you've done with a head unit. Press the left side of the unmotorized tray and it pivots forward on an arc to expose a padded semicircular tray, along with a USB port at the end of a short cable. Plug in your MP3 player or iPod (using a supplied USB adapter), lay the player on the tray, close the tray and then close the front panel.

That procedure is not a big deal, but it's certainly more awkward than the old routine of inserting a disc. And it is perhaps not as easy as just hooking up an MP3 player to a USB port on a car stereo or in a car. Sony also cautions against leaving an MP3 player in the head (mainly because of potentially damaging heat). So you'll have to insert the player each time you want to use it. That becomes a chore.

On the bright side, once your iPod is in the Tune Tray, it's easy to control it from the front panel of the DSX-S100. You can browse by playlist, artist, album, song and genre, with all the track metadata displayed. Likewise, you can jump from one selection to another using the track-skip buttons. You can also search for files using Sony's exclusive Zappin feature to play short music clips. Another perk is that the unit charges your player while it's plugged in.

Why You Want It
The Sony DSX-S100 does a fairly good job of mating a car stereo with a portable media player, but there's some work involved. The Tune Tray works as advertised, but it's a hassle to have to manually fold down the front panel, release the tray, plug in the player and then put the tray and panel back again.

Still, the DSX-S100 provides a solution that will satisfy many customers. The low-cost head unit eliminates the clutter of loose wires strung across your car interior and gives you a handy dashboard display of a player's contents. It also hides your player from potential thieves. On short drives, it may be easier to just listen to the radio. But if you can stand the 10 seconds of inconvenience needed to plug in, the DSX-S100 will put your iPod's music at your fingertips for hours.

Others To Consider: Alpine iDA-X303, Clarion FZ409, Kenwood KIV-BT900, Pioneer MVH-P8200BT.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this product for the purposes of evaluation.

To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.

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