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Review and Measurements of Sony MEX-XB120BT and Dual AM505BT Car Stereos

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed comparison of two car head units: the Sony MEX-XB120BT and Dual AM505BT. Yes, you read that right: car stereos! I needed to replace the Pioneer car stereo in my boat with something that had bluetooth and much more power to play over the loud engine noise. I was pleasantly surprised to see both of these models sport much higher power/more efficient class-D amplification. This allowed me to get more volume without having to mess with an external amplifier.

The Sony MEX-XB120BT retails for $200 with Prime shipping on Amazon. The Dual costs more at $253, again with Prime shipping from Amazon.

Searching I was surprised to see that there is no measurements or detailed review of either unit. Specs are wild in car stereo and is hard to know what is real, and what is fantasy when it comes to power and such. So I decided to buy both from Amazon and return the one that didn't perform as well.

The Sony is a traditional CD player plus new formats such as bluetooth and USB drive playback. The Dual is part of the newer generation that does away with the CD drive since it gets used so little these days. I have no need for the CD drive so that was not a factor in my decision. Deletion of the CD drive makes the units less deep which is nice bonus. Here is what the two look like (the Sony is powered down):
Sony MEX-XB120BT and Dual AM505BT review and measurements.jpg


The Sony has the traditional light pipes and teenage styling which is a big turn off for me. That said, they have really nailed the RGB LED light pipes with the unit softly changing its color all the time. The display is dot-matrix and while OK to navigate, is still a pain given the single line LED display.

The Dual as you see, has a full color LCD. It is not an OLED display like your phone but it is attractively designed and a joy to navigate. Menus show up and as you navigate between them, you can always see what is before or after unlike the single line in the Sony. I suspect the extra $50 has gone to pay for this fancier display and processor to drive it.

The volume control is a rotary encoder and rather loose on the Dual. The Sony has a tighter feel but I got used to both so no differentiation there.

I love the Bluetooth pairing on Dual. It is always in "auto-connect" mode meaning if you set up your phone the same way, it auto-pairs automatically all the time. In a boat environment, you shut down the power completely to the head unit so having it wake up cold and pair is wonderful.

The Sony is fancier with NFC pairing and such, but requires manual intervention every time you power it on to pair.

Alas, whoever designed the Bluetooth in Dual goofed as it has a range of 8 to 10 feet at best. In a boat (which is the target market for the thing), you want to walk around the boat with the phone in your pocket and this just doesn't work in that scenario. Amazon reviews are horrid due to this. The Sony has an amazing range up to 30+ feet. Luckily our boat is small and I will likely just put my phone on the dash near the unit so not a major barrier for me.

As noted, the Dual is made for boats so it comes with conformal coating on the PC board. And has all of its outside enclosure shrouded in clear plastic. The efficiency of class D amplification allows it to work without venting.

Sony makes a high-power version of this series for boats just the same. But the new iteration I am testing here has not made it there so has no protection against moisture ingress. I have had a normal car-stereo in my boat and it has been fine since the cabin is enclosed. So not a big deal either way but is nice to have the extra protection.

All in all, it was agonizing to choose between ease of use of Dual versus the longer range of bluetooth on Sony. The former won out, pending measurements.

From installation point of view, the older version of the Sony had a beefy block where you powered it with heavy gauge wiring. That is gone now, replaced with super thin wiring. I was surprised to see this. The Dual on the other hand, has the dedicated terminal for heavy gauge wiring.

The manual for Dual is horrid when it comes to installation. If you have done such installs, then you are good but otherwise, have someone else do the work. The rest of the manual is just a few pages but seeing how easy it is to use the device, it is adequate. The Sony manual on the other hand, is much more extensive.

Measurements
Both units come with line-in AUX input which I used for my testing. For amplifier load, I used a 4 ohm dummy load. Here is the dashboard view of Sony MEX-XB120BT:
Sony MEX-XB120BT Dashboard Measurement.png


Coming from testing a ton of desktop audio products, these measurements are sure depressing. Just 62 dB of signal above noise and distortion (SINAD)? Distortion of -.08% while outputting just 2 volts (1 watt)? I need to test other units to see how typical these are or whether performance is degraded due to use of class D amplifiers.

Things looked up a bit when testing the Dual AM505BT:
Dual AM505BT Dashboard Measurement.png


It was nice to see my power supply noise not bleeding to the output of this unit.

Let's push them units and see how they do going to full power:

Sony MEX-XB120BT vs Dual AM505BT Distortion vs Power Measurement.png


Please ignore the jagged response. The high frequency carrier noise in class D amps is confusing my analyzer auto-scalar. I need to build a filter for it for more accurate measurements.

Relative data though is accurate showing the Dual to be much quieter than the Sony. At clipping point, the Sony produced 40 watts driving both channels simultaneously at 0.2% distortion. The Dual produces 42 watts at 0.1% distortion.

CEA allows distortion of 1% for power ratings. Eyeballing that, both units produced over 50 watts while driving both channels which is impressive for such small units.

During the testing, the Sony got slightly warm but the Dual stayed cool at room temp!

Subjective Listening Test
I have a pair of sealed outdoor Niles OS6 speakers in my boat. The Dual had no trouble blowing the cobwebs off the drivers. :) It played very loud and very clear. It definitely had everything I needed there.

The Sony didn't sound as good to me. It just sounded distorted but this may just be imagination as I had no ability to do a level matched AB test. It too got quite loud.

Conclusions
It was nice to have some "me time" with my analyzer solving a personal problem of which stereo to pick for my boat. :) On usability front, the Dual wins easily over the Sony. In a car situation where the range for Bluetooth is not an issue, it would work quite well and not cheesy looking. In a larger boat where you want to roam with the phone in your pocket, streaming via bluetooth, not so much.

Measured performance of both units is poor compared to home units. Fortunately in a boat or car the ambient noise is quite high so I don't think this is a major issue. The much, much higher power output is a delight, simplifying wiring, brining efficiency (big deal in smaller boats), and simplicity compared to using traditional head units with outboard amps.

If you need an aftermarket unit, I highly recommend looking into these two units. For me, I decided to keep the Dual AM505BT and sending the Sony back to Amazon.

Hope you found this little side trip into car audio useful. If you like to see more reviews in this domain, let me know.

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As always, questions, comments, corrections, etc. are all welcome.

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Blumlein 88

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#2
The Sony met its specs almost exactly. 45 watts RMS (which as Don said isn't really a thing), and 100 watts MAX which is obviously at 10% distortion. Typical car specs. Oh, and at least they didn't boast about 1200 watts music power or some such. Well I guess the Dual sort of did. Is that 600 watts on the sticker? Must be at like 1 ohm for 1 millisecond at unlimited distortion.
 

RayDunzl

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#4
How many electron-volts is that?
 

Thomas savage

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This could be a intresting new market both in terms of products and the potential new members this testing would bring to the fold.

Could car Audio have it’s own forum area ? Could we do more of this ? Not sure folks would send in head units but maybe they would
 

RayDunzl

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#6
You know, I'm about ready to replace what's left of the sounds in my old car.

One speaker kinda works for sure, AM isn't too bad if it can find a station, FM is way distorted.

It's a Bose. Got amps in the speakers. Should be a real pain to replace things.
 
OP
amirm

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Thread Starter #7
Could car Audio have it’s own forum area ? Could we do more of this ? Not sure folks would send in head units but maybe they would
The big demand seems to be in testing amplifiers. There are countless numbers of them with all kinds of empty specs.

I would have to create a special setup with high-current supply/batteries and dummy loads to test the larger amps. But maybe it is good to test smaller units.
 

Thomas savage

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The big demand seems to be in testing amplifiers. There are countless numbers of them with all kinds of empty specs.

I would have to create a special setup with high-current supply/batteries and dummy loads to test the larger amps. But maybe it is good to test smaller units.
Maybe when your snowed in later in the year and the adventures in the boat ( assuming it hits the water) are a distant memory.

I’d come and clean your boat but alas I’m in too much demand for my drywalling mastery . Picked up a new contract that’s totally ruined my summer ( and it’s been a record breaking summer so far, damn it).
 

Soniclife

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Interesting stuff.

Are you able to test using files on a usb stick to see how the digital side works?
 

Timbo2

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#10
You know, I'm about ready to replace what's left of the sounds in my old car.

One speaker kinda works for sure, AM isn't too bad if it can find a station, FM is way distorted.

It's a Bose. Got amps in the speakers. Should be a real pain to replace things.
In the old days they used to make special adapters to de-Bose factory head units. This would let you use an aftermarket head unit and keep the stock external amps and speakers. Still an issue if the drivers and amps are bad, however.

But it has been a decade or more since I did any car stereo work. The exception being replacing a cassette head unit on a 1998 BMW with a new Kenwood to add CD and Bluetooth about 3 years ago.

Similar to Amir half my selection criteria was avoiding as many LEDs as possible.

Relatively easy job, but cramped interior of the Z3 made it a PITA.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #11
Interesting stuff.

Are you able to test using files on a usb stick to see how the digital side works?
I can but it is a painful process because the generator in Audio Precision is no longer being used and the analyzer has to guess as to what is being played, etc. So it winds up being a manual process.

For now, I think the distortions of the amplifier will be far dominant over anything the DAC does.
 

Jimster480

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#12
The big demand seems to be in testing amplifiers. There are countless numbers of them with all kinds of empty specs.

I would have to create a special setup with high-current supply/batteries and dummy loads to test the larger amps. But maybe it is good to test smaller units.
I would love a section for this. Personally car stereos sound pretty terrible to me, and I have heard alot of them.
Only one that sounds good is the 13 speaker setup in my QX80 when being driven by my iPod.
 

restorer-john

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#13
That's a really cool review of a product category that gets away with little or no specs and inflated power claims.

I like the idea of the 'Dual' unit- it looks way more 'boaty' with the white case and no CD drive to get salt air inside.

Do you have one of those clear covers that hinge out of the way to protect the unit?

The girls told me they like your boat... ;)

amirs boat.JPG
 

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#14
This could be a intresting new market both in terms of products and the potential new members this testing would bring to the fold.

Could car Audio have it’s own forum area ? Could we do more of this ? Not sure folks would send in head units but maybe they would
as a revisit to this post, I have approached a guy from the U.K. who is the rep for the Audio precision analyser to see about getting some very nice U.K. based car audio kits tested

I have the following to hand

alpine 178bt headunit £180
Ground zero gzuw 150.4sq - plus amplifier £660
Ground zero gzuw 250.2sq - plus amplifier £660
Helix dsp pro 2 dsp with usb direct input £750 + 120 for the usb hec input card
Zapco 150.6ap £1600 (this will be arriving shortly)

I will let you guys know the results, I am very curious as to what I am working with, and if he says it’s doable I have a fair few other headunits from friends cars I can take also
 

Dumdum

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A bit about the guy I’ve contacted...


About James Kelly
James Kelly is a British test and measurement engineer with over 20 years’ experience of designing custom automated test solutions for a variety of manufacturers in the audio industry, mainly using AP audio analysers.
Before joining Audio Precision, James worked for companies including ARCAM (where he helped to develop the first ever functional ‘bed of nails’ testing facilities using AP analysers), TAG McLaren Audio, and International Audio Group (IAG) where he served as Head of Engineering in both Cambridgeshire and Shenzhen, China. Prior to leaving IAG, he designed automated test facilities for the manufacturing groups of Quad, Wharfedale, Mission and AudioLab.

I think he’s qualified, I will of course share the results with you guys even if it’s costs me a few quid
 
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#16
I have been into car audio since I could remember. That helix is a digital sound processor. The USB module allows you to plug in your phone to play music. I know the importer in USA based in NJ. It's the single best upgrade I have ever made in-car audio. German brand who posts all specs. Audiotec Fischer family... Brax, Helix, Match,
 

Dumdum

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I was going to explain what everything was, but I presumed people could google it if wanting more or ask, I own all the above equipment and have been lucky enough to go to a trade day not long back with Julian (mr Fischer) himself and I have spoke with doug Dobson who is the importer in the USA previously about technical stuff , I just think an independent measurement for all to see would be nice :) I too have been into car audio for 25 years and know my onions including doing very high end installs for myself and others

I am also slightly detail oriented and fancy finding out how good or bad the bits and bobs I have are

But I have bad news, the guy has just replied with an abrupt ‘sorry we don’t offer that service’ despite me asking if he knew of anyone in the U.K. who had an analyser and could perform such tests, yeah thanks pal, next time I’ll ask someone who performs good customer service, I guess it’s a niche market for some people, slightly disappointed if I’m honest :oops: I even offered to pay in the email, it’s not like I said I wanted it doing for nowt
 

JJB70

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#18
Is aftermarket car audio still a big market? In my youth when all cars used head units there was a really big market for replacement head units and also speakers, amplifiers. Now with modern infotainment systems and the old head unit system gone do people still upgrade? Most of the car companies now offer factory upgrade options, not that many of them seem to be much of an improvement. I had a car with a Bose upgraded stereo (I didn't spec it, but got a good deal on a car the dealer had pre-ordered from the factory which had included the stereo upgrade) and wasn't impressed. I had extended test drives of a Jaguar with a Meridian audio system, an E Class Merc and a BMW with expensive upgraded audio system (dealers seem to love spec'ing them for demo cars for some reason) and none of them seemed to be especially great.
 

Dumdum

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#19
Is aftermarket car audio still a big market? In my youth when all cars used head units there was a really big market for replacement head units and also speakers, amplifiers. Now with modern infotainment systems and the old head unit system gone do people still upgrade? Most of the car companies now offer factory upgrade options, not that many of them seem to be much of an improvement. I had a car with a Bose upgraded stereo (I didn't spec it, but got a good deal on a car the dealer had pre-ordered from the factory which had included the stereo upgrade) and wasn't impressed. I had extended test drives of a Jaguar with a Meridian audio system, an E Class Merc and a BMW with expensive upgraded audio system (dealers seem to love spec'ing them for demo cars for some reason) and none of them seemed to be especially great.
It’s evolved... it’s now about factory integration more than replacement of source units... and aftermarket players like fiio and the like into the vehicle also

the issue is as you say the ‘premium’ packages offered by the manufacturers are poor for the most part, there are some that do a decent job, however for the money charged you can do lots better with aftermarket speakers and solutions for integration

It’s a more niche market than ever, with the host of (internet born I think!) ‘experts’ who seem to know very little about sound quality, and also a handful of people who actually know how to make a car sound good

so the business is still going, not as strong as the nineties, and finding a good installer is golden (there’s maybe four or five I could name in the U.K. who I’d actually recommend

I learn from all of them as I pretty much know everyone from my years in dB drag racing which was generally run alongside the sq competitions so I know them, and often I just get left with some very expensive car setups to play with as I please as they all know I know my stuff and won’t abuse stuff, I’m quite lucky as a (in previous years at least) reasonably well known guy in the scene in the U.K., I’m still learning (and always will be!) about the more delicate sound quality side of the car audio game coming from the louder side of the competition scene, but I have tuned a couple of cars through this year, one won his league championship, the second came second as he won every event he went to but missed one.

im not taking my car to the EMMA European finals, but our two team cars will be attending, we shall see how good they do in Austria in March :)
 
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#20
Im sorry if I made it sound that I knew more than you, that wasn't the intent. I just wasn't sure if others knew what that piece of equipment was.
 
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