FEEL THE DIFFERENCE.
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.
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.