Being a regular reviewer dictates there are some terms I employ commonly. Sure, I like to mix things up in order to differentiate reviews and maintain uniqueness; however there are some terms I just cannot get rid of. Saddling receivers with the moniker ‘brain’ is perhaps one we’ll need to give more consideration to now we’ve had a chance to audition Pioneer’s new flagship receiver. Because while the term ‘brain’ is often bartered around haphazardly; it denotes serious responsibility and remains an insinuation seldom expanded upon.
Pioneer’s new AVIC-F60DAB is the anatomical definition of what an audio system’s ‘brain’ should be. It not only handles nearly all formats of both hardware and software; but also controls, manipulates and exports information the likes of which the car audio world has never before witnessed.
Let’s start with the input methodology. The unit features the latest slim profile disc mechanism, refined to the point of suspended perfection. It deals with all primary types of the plastic hardware short of Blu-ray and softwarewise can handle just about everything including MP3, WMA, Xvid, AAC, DivX, MP4 and even FLAC. Software based files need to be formatted within standard FAT protocols and are imported via a version 2.0 SD card reader, twin high speed version 2.0 USB inputs, serial BUS connector or HDMI port which is utilised when you’re accessing information via your smartphone.
Turning back to the analogue inputs, there are the standard auxiliary audio visual inputs, mini-jack, twin camera inputs where the reverse can be configured to auto trigger and display guiding lines, a microphone input and fully programmable steering wheel controls.
Regarding wireless formats, the foray starts with the latest Bluetooth 3.0+EDR chipset with the primary improvement over previous models being the improved speed in which it interacts with external devices. Also included is an improved digital audio broadcast chipset which, once programmed, will provide wonderfully clear digital radio.
And on the subject of radio you’ll be happy to know that, of course, Pioneer has retained the analogue tuner offering 18 FM and six AM presets.
Additional digital input abilities stem from your smartphone. First up there’s AppRadio and when initially confi guring the unit you’ll be asked whether you’re suffering from iDevice or Android infl iction. From here you commence installing the initial AppRadio app on your smartphone, then all the second tier apps.
These are manipulated though your phone via the head unit, with its screen mirroring your smartphone. The list of apps that function with this technology is ever-expanding and now includes everything from hospitality and entertainment through to performance and navigation, with the most popular apps by far being Aha and Pandora.
Aha allows you to interact with the receiver; organising your favourite content into personalised groupings such as music, radio, podcasts, traffic, weather, e-books, Twitter, SMS, Facebook, et al – with much of the resulting information able to be relayed to you verbally. These are operated in real time using the GPS and your phone’s locater.
Pandora is an internet radio application allowing you to select genres, songs, albums, artists, etc, whatever your preference. It’ll henceforth select further information of similar ilk; and with you either approving or disapproving tracks it builds a comprehensive and accurate database of entertainment tailormade to your tastes.
Last but not least Pioneer has also included both MirrorLink and CarPlay, because you needed more interconnectivity, hey? Developed by the Car Connectivity Consortium and Apple respectively, these technologies are similar to AppRadio but vastly superior in both complexity and speed insofar as communicating between devices. Via their employment you gain unprecedented access to a greater portion of your phone’s abilities, with many being controllable through spoken command systems such as Siri. Besides the standard issue apps there are also additional new ones specifically designed for these systems being released regularly, with the list growing more resplendent by the day.
With such an extensive list of sources you’ll be relieved to learn that the outputs, while still plentiful; are not quite as exhaustive. They start with 4-volts front, rear and subwoofer RCA pre-outs or an internally mounted MOSFET amplifier which can output 22 watts continuous or 50 watts maximum at 4-ohms. For extra flexibility you can select one pair to run bridged, the 2-ohms load being presented to each channel causing them to effectively double their output despite still holding their total harmonic distortion at less than five percent. The uppity among us might object stating that it’s not impressive compared to an external amplifier, however research will reveal that five percent is around half the THD of its competition. There’s also a plethora of additional audio visual outputs, including the option of plumbing entertainment through to rear passengers’ entertainment devices.
AND PROCESSING POWER
Previously some have audaciously suggested Pioneer’s flagship receivers were a little lighton in the processing department. Pioneer is not one to take criticism of its high end products lightly, so it proactively redesigned the DSP chip with apace, in order to silence those critics.
Processing abilities begin with the basic fader, balance and loudness, from there expanding to a 13-band, graphic equaliser with frequency centres set on 50Hz, 80Hz, 125Hz, 200Hz, 315Hz, 500Hz, 800kHz, 1.25kHz, 2kHz, 3.15kHz, 5kHz, 8kHz and 12.5kHz with gain of +/- 12dB. As far as crossover, the satellite channels feature a high-pass settable at 50Hz, 63Hz, 80Hz, 100Hz, 125Hz, 160Hz and 200Hz with 6dB, 12dB, 18dB slopes while the subwoofer channels feature the same frequency points but as a low-pass; also within this section is a 0 or 180 degree phase control.
Next up there is dedicated time alignment providing for up to 500cm distance delay on each channel and for a little extra fine tuning you can also adjust speakers’ individual levels between -24dB and +10dB. There are numerous preloaded presets in addition to two custom slots for your own tuning preferences, and it’ll also auto-tune each of these facets if you so desire.
The navigation package installed on board is vastly more sophisticated than any app you can get via your smartphone and utilises Navteq navigation software including 4WD offroad mapping and SUNA live traffic updates. Its positioning system is extremely accurate thanks to the situating software employing not only the car’s speed pulse but also up to 12 different channels at any one time to fixate its position. Voice guidance and text to speech ability is standard fare as is high resolution 2- or 3-D maps with landmarks included in the display, school zones, fixed red light and speed camera locations and an extensive point of interest database containing the better part of one million items; searchab by name or distance from your current position.
The face may look similar to its brethren however, due to material advancements it’s slightly superior in almost every way, from detail and sharpness through to anti-aliasing, contrast and brightness. It all starts with a matt black surround encircling a 7-inch anti-reflective TFT touch screen which is coated to resist fingerprints. It offers a superior 16:9 ratio and WVGA resolution of 1,152,000 pixels or 2400 x 480 which is backlit with seriously bright LEDs. It is able to handle both NTSC and PAL. The primary buttons are arranged along the bottom, the illumination of which can be tailored to suit your car’s dash colour, as can the wallpapers.
Unit installed, it was a matter of setting everything up; a not-inconsiderable task it must be stated. Starting with the obligatory look and feel, I then moved to the aural arena before finally downloading all the various apps. Settling back to audition is akin to building a jigsaw puzzle in that you know it won’t be an altogether unconquerable task, nevertheless it’s still going to consume the whole weekend.
Put simply, what the AVIC-F60DAB cannot do is not worth mentioning. It’s an audio visual behemoth to behold, able to overwhelm with its impressive repertoire. I started out checking what is considered to be the primary aspect no matter how exotic a receiver is; the aural output. Checking first for ambient noise and excessive hiss, I progressed to the actual quality and precision of the sound; noting big ticks for both departments. Not only are there very little artifacts in the sound output, when using the pre-outs in conjunction with a quality external amplifier the output is perhaps the cleanest I’ve ever heard short of the mammoth PRS units. Even the speaker level outputs are virtually noiseless. Switching through various sources to test interface speed results in impressive performance yet again; it’s a fast operating system and getting it to slow down, let alone crash, is not easy.
Navigation’s not dissimilar; and for those who raise the specter of why you’d want this navigation when the phone has an app for it, try using it just once and you’ll never go back. Visually, the deck is a delight offering dazzling imagery that’s bright, articulate and clean.
So awesome that we awarded it with the Multimedia Head Unit of the Year Award at the 2015 InCar Awards, Pioneer’s stunning new AVIC-F60DAB is the philosophical characterisation of what a true source unit should be. It encompasses all aspects of entertainment, ranging from interconnectivity and manipulation through to interpretation and projection; not only better than its competition but a whole lot hastier too.