May 2008: The Sony XAV-W1 AV Center review

I chose this Sony to replace the standard Toyota Prado stereo system.

The XAV-W1 was the only double DIN DVD stereo being made by Sony for this year – at least.  It was the best overall model for my needs. In standard specifications it is not as feature packed as models by other car audio manufacturers but it had other features that convinced me to get it. 

– The Sony XAV-W1 was physically was the best looking model compared to others. The design and quality of materials was excellent.
– The Sony XAV-W1  screen and image quality was better than the competition.
– The Sony had a small 4 channel power amplifier built in.
– The unit also allows for plenty or plug in audio visual and audio only pre-amplified inputs. These include rear camera and GPS inputs. Other additional hardware such as satellite radio or GPS system can also be added

In terms of sound quality the Sony XAV was pretty good (with the standard speakers).  Left in default setting the sound re-production was very flat with little processing. Badly converted CDs such as older tracks on ‘cheap CDs’ sounded just like that while those with higher production quality.  SACDs format CDs sounded excellent. This was even more noticeable when the higher quality speakers were installed. MP3 music played through the system via CD was also good. Unfortunately when I tried the DVD, the sound was muted although was very good when turned up.

The Sony XAV also has DSP or sound field controls for positioning the sound according to where you are seated, a built in 7 band graphic equalizer with preset and a customizable EQ setting, it even has a low pass filter for the sub-woofer and high-pass control.  It can decode Dolby Digital signals so you can have 5.1 surround sound in the car.  You can use it on normal CDs and MP3s too. As a novelty you can also plug in a microphone and set the XAV-W1 to Karaoke mode!

The radio is the other standout function.  The sound reproduction is excellent.  Very clear no equalization or turning up the volume to hear what the announcer said on the program.  It seems to to pull in the signals as well as the standard unit at least around town.  I was impressed immediately.

The picture reproduction form DVD is the best there is – for the moment.  Remember only comparing with other AV centers like this one. We did not need to adjust any settings from the default!  The main reason why the picture is clearly better is that the screen has 1,152,000 pixels as opposed to the usual resolution of 339,000 pixels in other units!  So about 3 times more definition than the others.

The unit has Dolby Digital Pro Logic II that can also simulate a virtual center speakers and together with the sound field processing works rather well in differentiating where each movies sound effects come from.  It can also play Super Audio CDs which if you’ve ever heard do sound better than normal CDs. Note the the XAV’s default sound settings for SACDs is Doubly Surround.  You can change the settings for a more direct comparison.

Unfortunately connecting an iPod to the Sony is not as easy as you would assume or as it should be.  That’s the reason why I wrote a complete new page in an attempt to explain the various issues.  The issue applies to all in-car stereo system not just the Sony.  But for this page YES – you can connect an iPod to the Sony XAV-W1 via the AUX inputs.

Sound from the AUX using RCA connectors wasn’t the best I’ve heard but acceptable.  The sound was the same for all AUX connected iPods since I tried connecting it to every iPod I get my hands on.  It’ s probably because of the cables rather than hardware issues. Overall, regardless of iPod or any other MP3 player it sounds good but the XAV’s inbuilt FM tuner sounded better for comparison sake.

BUT if you use the the ‘universal’ iPod dock connector (the one at the bottom) and the appropriate cable you will hear a noticeable and improved sound quality.  Yes even via a composite AV cable.
This unit can play Dual layer DVD’s so if you burn your MP3s to DVD you can have up to 8 GIG of songs to play with. It can also play JPGs pictures and various movie formats from a DVD or CD. 6 CDs @ 640MEG x 6 = 3.8 GIG. So that’s equivalent to 12 regular CDs!  Personally I prefer the iPod option it’s much easy to manage and no need for a space taking multi stack taking up car space. I’ll go more into detail when the problems with connecting the iPod in another post.

The touch screen controls and menu navigation are easy to use compared to AV units from other manufacturers.  The screen does not attract every finger print so not too many smudges. 

So what are the problems with the Sony XAV?

Although the basic unit has all the features you consider standard it needs the additional Unlink modules to be able to use Bluetooth, iPod controls, TV and navigation features.  The modular approach is good in the sense that you’re not paying for things you don’t want.  More to the point if you read my issues with using the iPod you’ll appreciate why a modular approach is the best long term solution. So this is not strictly a bad point.

There is also a fan in the back of the unit that can be heard when the unit gets hot.  Some older CDs can be heard spinning in the case.

The system interface is sluggish when compared to the latest touch screen devices.  However every model we tested including from other brands where just as sluggish.

Sony should have included more customization options in terms of animated wallpapers and of course spectrum analyzers and so forth.  The only way to add your own is via taking screen shots of what ever you are playing.

It’s a nice AV stereo system that works really well. Recommended if priced right and or if you want the best screen quality.  Sound quality is subjective – and it does sound nice and clear.  Sound volume is great with distortion free sound from the built in amplifier – more than ample for a comfortable driving  environment.

I have not replace the OEM or standard speakers yet – since they actually sound OK with the new Sony. They clearly have limited head room or frequency range but I can live with quality for the time being but will replace them within 12 months as the budget allows!

Overall the RRP price is steep compared to other more featured models BUT you can get a good deal these days and I got mine for under $800 with extras I was happy with the deal. (2008)

More in the next post!

Toyota LandCruiser Prado stereo upgrade – Part 1
Toyota LandCruiser Prado stereo upgrade – Part 2
Toyota LandCruiser Prado stereo upgrade – Part 3
Toyota LandCruiser Prado stereo upgrade – Part 4 – iPod/iPhone/iPad connectivity
Toyota LandCruiser Prado stereo upgrade – Part 5 – Speakers
Toyota LandCruiser Prado stereo upgrade – Part 6 – Conclusion