When I inherited my Fiat Marea (see other review) from my girlfriend, the first thing I needed was to get a CD player in the car. The factory fitted fiat unit was a cassette/radio affair, and whilst it had the option to add a cd changer, the price was unrealistic (£350+vat for a new one, and no 2nd hand one's around for love nor money!). I am used to having a good hifi setup in my car, having had top of the range ford, sony, kenwood & clarion setups in all my previous cars. But, having said that, I was only going to have the fiat as an interim car while I wait for delivery of my ford focus rs, and so, I didn't want to shell out much cash for anything too flash. On the flip side, I also didn't want anything naff like a goodmans or longmill or anything. So I had a look around, and the sony took my eye. At £140, it was the entry-level unit, and since it has now been superceeded, it is even cheaper as ex-display and 2nd hand models become available. It is a beautifully crafted unit, with a nice ergonomic control, and a flip-down front which hides away the cd slot. It looks suitably understated to match most car dashboards, and sony resisted the temptation (on this model at least) to put stupid futuristic wizz-bang buttons and mult-colour displays which appeal only to saddo spammed up Nova/Corsa boy-racers, in which the stereo still looks stupidly out of place, amongst the 1980's brown plastic dashboard.... Sadly the latest Sony range has degenerated mostly into saddo-city, and I have yet to see a car which has one of these units in that really does indeed look smart... Anyway, I digress..... Spec wise, it also has a good array of features, including 3 stage dynamic-bass, loudness, cd-text display, a great high-intensity display, and a powerful inbuilt 4x50w amplifier, as well as the stuff you come to expect from major manufacturers such as rds etc. The other great thing about modern sony units is that halfords
sell a range of interfaces to allow them to work with most car's factory fitted steering wheel controls. I bought the fiat/sony interface for £29 and it works a treat, allowing me to control volume, mute, tuning, and source selection from the steering wheel! The radio has great levels of reception. There is only a couple of small gripes here, in that it doesn't have the facility to record traffic announcements when you're out of the car (my old Ford unit did that, and it was a fantastic feature), and when you turn the traffic annoucement rds feature on, it will tend to tune into one station only, and misses out on traffic broadcasts from other stations - again, in the past, my Ford & Kenwood units were much better at this. The most remarkable part of the package is that the sony sounds simply brilliant. Even with the standard fiat speakers (which I am loathed to change due to the impending arrival of my new motor) it sounds rather excellent, and a damn side better than the vastly more expensive fiat unit that is fitted. The bass is excellent (although I can't use the d-bass facility on more than one bar without the speakers grating!), and the mid and trebble ranges are supremely well controlled, with a nice level of detail. The power of the unit means that an off-board amplifier is probably not warrented unless you want a high-end setup, or a subwoofer, in which case, the pre-amp outputs will be invaluable. When my new car arrives, unless the Ford stereo is a good one (and they have been in the past), then this cheap Sony unit may well find it's way into the dashboard of my new motor, and will be hooked up to my hibernating pioneer subwoofer (powered by an alpine amp), and a nice set of custom fit speakers, then we will really know what £140 entry-level kit is capeable of... Watch this space!
Sony's new head units are all very similar this year. The 4000 is a nice entry level CD tuner, and with a whopping 4*50watts output produces a solid sound, which added together with Sony's deafening D-Bass will complement any car stereo setup. In terms of looks, this unit isn't exactly a looker, but pretty much all of the Sony's look the same at the moment, and anyway, it's the sound you are after....right? If you are looking to build a large, amplified system, then you should probably look towards the 5000 model, as it has 2 pre outs for amps, and is still reasonable value. Back to the 4000, it has all the normal features, eg. RDS, PTY, 30 presets, so it is a solid unit. It has a nice layout, which makes it very easy to use when driving, which is always a bonus.