FEEL THE DIF­FER­ENCE.

InCar Entertainment  - - AUDITION -

I’m not kid­ding with this head­line — you can ac­tu­ally feel, as well as hear the qual­ity, from the very first time you play this beauty.

As far as head units go, to­day’s ne­ces­sity for a big touch-screen has meant that they’re all start­ing to look the same, to a de­gree. They all fea­ture the lat­est and great­est func­tions, mul­ti­ple con­nec­tions in and out, Ap­ple Car Play along with An­droid con­nec­tiv­ity and ‘app’-style op­er­a­tion. So what’s left to sep­a­rate one model from the next, apart from cost? In fact, that’s a sim­ple ques­tion to an­swer.

Qual­ity. Qual­ity of man­u­fac­ture, qual­ity of op­er­a­tion. Most im­por­tantly, qual­ity of sound. CRYS­TAL-CLEAR SCREEN So from the fas­cia at least, the Clarion VX807AU doesn’t ap­pear much dif­fer­ent to many an­other mul­ti­me­dia head unit. A large 7inch screen dom­i­nates the fas­cia; it flips down at the touch of a but­ton to re­veal the CD sisc slot. There’s a row of small but­tons along the lower front edge, be­low the screen and th­ese “touch points”, to bor­row a phrase from the car manufacturers, have re­ceived some at­ten­tion. They are smoothly tac­tile and very ‘def­i­nite’ in their op­er­a­tion. They don’t rock from side to side in their sock­ets like some ex­am­ples. They are clearly il­lu­mi­nated and you can eas­ily iden­tify them by feel — that’s im­por­tant while driv­ing, par­tic­u­larly at night. But of course, you re­ally don’t even need to use the but­tons a lot of the time. The large screen is also touch-en­abled and, even bet­ter, it has a “Flick” or swipe func­tion with much the same feel to it as on your smart­phone. Func­tion­al­ity (of which there is plenty) is log­i­cal and clear, with no weird menu lay­outs or op­tions. It took me all of about 10 min­utes to be­come fa­mil­iar with it. The graph­ics qual­ity of this screen de­serves a men­tion here also, with colours rich and vi­brant and icons that are easy to recog­nise and clear even in di­rect sun­light. The 800 x 480 pixel res­o­lu­tion aside, video play­back is as good as any­thing you’ll get on your smart­phone or tablet.

Con­nec­tions — brother, have we got some con­nec­tions here! All the usual sus­pects are in place with three sep­a­rate RCA out­puts for ad­di­tional am­pli­fier/processor con­nec­tions, plus there’s an op­ti­cal out­put to go straight to your DSP de­vice, or to Clarion’s own Full Dig­i­tal Sound Sys­tem. (This al­le­vi­ates the need for an ex­ter­nal DAC and means the sig­nal stays com­pletely in the dig­i­tal do­main.) USB is equally well catered for, with 2 x rear USB fly leads (in­cluded) and HDMI for video in­puts, which will play H.264 video, while from USB you can play MP4 and AVI video files and MP3, WMA AAC, and FLAC au­dio. There’s a handy op­tion to split mul­ti­ple sources be­tween front and rear pas­sen­ger zones, which may save you from hear­ing The Wig­gles play­ing on the rear screen video out­put!

The Clarion VX807AU fea­tures sev­eral op­tions for sound tai­lor­ing, with both Hi-Pass and Low-Pass fil­ter op­tions, very use­ful for ad­just­ing ad­di­tional sources to work with ex­ter­nal am­pli­fi­ca­tion and driv­ers. A built-in

15-band equaliser means you can tune each in­di­vid­ual source to your lik­ing, and then save the set­tings so they’re ap­plied au­to­mat­i­cally when you switch to that source.

The nav­i­ga­tion func­tion does re­quire an ad­di­tional cost op­tion, but this then al­lows 3D map­ping, which of­ten seems eas­ier to read and com­pre­hend when try­ing to find your way.

Given the sheer num­ber of op­tions on of­fer here, along with such a broad range of ad­just­ments and func­tion­al­ity, the VX807AU is a cham­pion in a crowded seg­ment. Even the most “tech savvy” of users will be hard pressed to run out of things to do with this one! But con­versely, it can be con­fig­ured to fo­cus on the most of­ten used fea­tures for con­ve­nience and play­back.

SOUNDS GREAT

You’d be for­given for think­ing the VX807AU was all about the tech, but you’d be wrong. You can hear it’s a Clarion; in­deed this is where the VX807AU re­ally shines. In­stalled in the test ve­hi­cle, a 2002 Nis­san Stagea wagon, it was paired with the res­i­dent Alpine DLX-F17S splits, which should need no in­tro­duc­tion for reg­u­lar read­ers (re­viewed right here in Aus­tralian

In-Car is­sue 3-2017). While the VX807AU was only tem­po­rar­ily mounted for this re­view, the Alpines are well and truly locked in, with 500+ hours of run time. No ex­ter­nal am­pli­fiers or subs were used in this re­view and all tracks were played from CD or via Blue­tooth from an iPhone 5S. Blue­tooth should be cho­sen only for con­ve­nience — in fact a wired in­put via the USB re­sulted in su­pe­rior qual­ity of sound. (Clarion’s Blue­tooth spec notes only A2DP, so pre­sum­ably de­faults to the SBC codec, which would ex­plain the su­pe­rior wired re­sults.)

First track up was from Bruce Cock­burn’s “Slice of Life”, his live solo al­bum recorded in 2008. Now, this al­bum was recorded for me by a longterm friend in Tas­ma­nia, copied from a mas­ter in his home stu­dio, then dig­i­tally cleaned and re-burned onto a spe­cially-treated blank disc. I’ve found th­ese record­ings are among the clean­est, most dy­namic and purest I’ve ever come across. (Just ex­actly what he does is a closely guarded se­cret; I have but the barest idea of the process. And I should note he only gives them away to a few friends.)

Any­way, the track in ques­tion, num­ber 3, is Lovers in a Dan­ger­ous Time. Cock­burn’s voice ranges from gut­tural to soar­ing, and is a dif­fi­cult one to cap­ture ac­cu­rately. Hav­ing heard it nu­mer­ous times on high-end do­mes­tic sys­tems, I had my doubts as to what to ex­pect from an in-car en­vi­ron­ment. “Pleas­antly sur­prised”, my notes say, along with “dy­namic” and “re­al­is­tic”. The VX807AU cap­tured the main essence of the per­for­mance, in­clud­ing, sur­pris­ingly, a lot of the spa­cial cues of the record­ing venue. Th­ese are not some­thing I’ve come to ex­pect from in-car sys­tems, be­ing hard to re­pro­duce in a ve­hi­cle, es­pe­cially a wagon, and es­pe­cially on the move. The track had great rhythm and very, very lit­tle dis­tor­tion or com­pres­sion I could hear, even at higher vol­umes. Speak­ing of level, the VX807AU seems to punch well above its rat­ing, which is vari­ably quoted as 4 x 25W (web­site), 4 x 50W (max­i­mum into 4 ohms, in the man­ual); what­ever the mea­sure­ment stan­dard, I never felt that the Clarion came close to its lim­its in my use with the Alpines. And of course the line out­puts al­low am­pli­fi­ca­tion up­grad­ing if you do need more.

Ray Wylie Hub­bard’s 1994 al­bum “Loco Gringo’s La­ment” has one par­tic­u­lar track on it that gets reg­u­lar play chez Campbell and that’s Num­ber 4, Lit­tle An­gel Comes a Walkin’. It’s well recorded, well mixed and re­ally gets along with great pace and tim­ing. Hub­bard’s voice can be both raw and soul­ful ,and while I’m not a huge fan of Pro­gres­sive Coun­try mu­sic, this is a par­tic­u­larly en­joy­able track. Driv­ing with the VX807AU, this song had me toe-tap­ping and drum­ming fin­gers on the wheel.

Lift­ing things sev­eral notches, I’ve long been a fan of the Foo’ies and re­cently picked up their “One by One” al­bum, their 2002 fourth stu­dio re­lease and the first to fea­ture new gui­tarist Chris Shi­flett. Come Back is a dark and brood­ing la­ment, pos­si­bly re­flect­ing the band’s in­ter­nal trou­bles of the pe­riod, but a a sat­is­fy­ing song nonethe­less, with real balls in the record­ing. It needs to be played loudly to sound its best! The VX807AU obliged hand­somely. All the growl­ing angst of the track was cap­tured and pumped out nicely, prov­ing be­yond doubt that this Clarion unit has what it takes, across a wide range of gen­res and mu­si­cal tastes. THE FI­NAL COUNT­DOWN Has Clarion ever made a ter­ri­ble sound­ing head unit? I can’t re­ally think of one — per­haps some that didn’t grab you quite as much as oth­ers. But they’ve all sounded good in most ways. The Clarion VX807AU proves no ex­cep­tion to this rule, and in some ar­eas is a dif­fer­ent beast to the other of­fer­ings cur­rently vy­ing for your hard-earned pay check. Fea­tures and func­tions to the nth de­gree, yet, but with­out Clarion los­ing sight of what’s re­ally im­por­tant for a head unit — qual­ity of sound re­pro­duc­tion. Whether it be via Blue­tooth, USB, CD or any other for­mat, the VX807 im­pressed with its sound qual­ity across a wide range of ma­te­rial. Even play­ing AM talk­back ra­dio while work­ing on the bench, I found my­self im­pressed with the vo­cal clar­ity on of­fer via my junky old work­shop speak­ers.

It’s not a cheap de­vice. But we reckon it’ll last you. Even come the day we’re all stream­ing wire­lessly via sur­gi­cal im­plants, the Clarion VX807AU will be re­mem­bered for the qual­ity of its build and the qual­ity of its sound re­pro­duc­tion.

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