JVC KD-DB56 DAB+ CD Tuner
JVC has stolen a march on their opposition by being the first on the market with an affordable DAB+ radio equipped CD tuner. At $349RRP the KD-DB56 is a well featured unit that really brings radio to life! Given JVC’s track record of pricing compared to their rivals I’d bet that this will still be one of the most affordable ways to access DAB+ in your car, at least for the next year or two until it becomes standard fitment.
- Wednesday 3rd August, 2011
DAB+ sounds fantastic, great standard features given the price, variable colour illumination, dual auxiliary inputs, 24 Bit DAC.
$150 premium attached to DAB+ aspect, requires extra DAB+ antenna installation, no pre-set buttons, ‘App Mode’ needs sorting
I’ve got a confession to make. I’ve been reviewing source units for the better part of twenty years now, and not once in all that time have I paid any attention to the radio aspects of any unit I’ve reviewed. You see, I loathe Australian radio. I loathe the music they play. I loathe the DJs they have. I loathe the commercial nature and all the insipid commercials themselves. Most of all though, I loathe the rubbish quality of the reception.
On that final point I no longer have an argument now that DAB+ radio is here, and with JVC’s KD-DB56 it's an even more affordable proposition. From a specifications standpoint the KD-DB56 is more or less equivalent to JVC’s $199 RRP KD-R526 CD tuner, which means you’re essentially paying $150 for DAB+. That’s a little pricey in my view since the associated gubbins and antenna required don’t actually sum to very much at all. Sony, for example, will sell you a standalone portable DAB+ radio for under $150. Consider it the price of the privilege of being the first on your block with integrated DAB+ in your car.
Besides that, given JVC’s track record of pricing compared to their rivals I’d bet that this will still be one of the most affordable ways to access DAB+ in your car, at least for the next year or two until it becomes standard fitment. It's worth stating that for now the only other aftermarket unit available that’s equipped with DAB+ is Orion’s AVR6.1 double DIN unit, and this route will cost you a couple of grand.
Even though the KD-DB56 is based upon one of JVC’s entry level source units you still get a decent selection of inputs and output options. Kicking off we have the USB port that supports playback of all the latest Apple devices up to and including iPads, though unlike the more pricier JVC CD tuners that offer dual USB ports this single port does not provide charging for iPads. The USB is located behind a sliding cover on the front face of the unit, but I’m not a fan of front mounted USBs as they are unsightly in your dash – especially when you just want to leave you iPod connected to it 100% of the time. A rear mounted USB would be better but that's my own personal preference.
Dual 3.5mm auxiliary inputs are provided, with one on the front face plate and a second on the rear of the chassis. The rear input doubles as the input for an optional Bluetooth module called the KSA-BT100 that retails for $129.
One thing I did notice while scanning through the unit’s functions was that these inputs and the inclusion of both analog and DAB+ radio meant that cycling through the sources took ages. Fortunately, JVC have done the decent thing and allow you to switch off the rear or front aux inputs as well as the AM radio – which removes them from the source list when changing sources. Nice touch guys.
For outputs you get the obligatory four channels of power, with JVC claiming a solid 20WRMSx4 with less than 1%THD. Two pairs of 2.5VRMS capable RCA outputs are provided, and the rear set can be switched to operate as a subwoofer output with an independent level control. This way you can feasibly have a front/rear/sub arrangement and keep the fader control so long as your rear speakers are powered by the KD-DB56’s rear powered channels.
Since the KD-RD56 is an all-new model it is endowed with JVC’s latest iPod control system, which means you get the choice of ‘App Mode’ whereby you can access and control Applications on your Apple iPhone, iTouch or iPad while the sound is played through the system. As wonderful as ‘App Mode’ promises to be, the JVC system still has a few glitches that need ironing out before it can be considered a user friendly system.
When in ‘App Mode’ the system gets confused when you turn the unit off and back on again, like every time you leave and return to your car. It insists on reverting to the music loaded onto the iTunes based storage system, so if you’re playing a video from an alternative Application like OPlayer HD and get out of your car to fill it with fuel, when you return and switch the car back on again you’ll hear the start of the first song in the system’s hierarchy instead. Now you have to pause this, exit the iPod mode, find the App you were using, and find the same video or song again to resume.
One way to solve this if using an iTouch or iPad for a video source is to remove all the songs from it altogether, but this forces the LED display on the KD-RD56 to flash ‘CANNOT PLAY’ constantly on its screen – which you simply cannot remove no matter what you do. Also, don’t expect auto pause and resume from sources other than Apple’s embedded player, while often times the audio feed from Applications like OPlayer HD won’t work until you’ve unplugged and re-plugged the cable.
In the mean time I suggest converting any videos you’ve downloaded into a native format to Apple and play them back via a direct sync with iTunes. This way it’ll at least act somewhat predictably. Here’s a short video from JVC about how ‘App Mode’ works:
The CD transport is endowed with 24 Bit DACs, and can support all manner of modern and popular codecs for compressed music. Still, with the cheapness of flash based media why bother burning CDRs with just 700mb of music when 8Gb of flash storage is just a few dollars these days?
JVC state that the KD-R56 comes with a 3-band parametric EQ, but in truth only two of the bands (BASS and MID) actually feature variable ‘Q’ factor. The TREBLE band has a fixed ‘Q’ and has variable centre frequencies of 10, 12.5, 15 or 17.5kHz and therefore is strictly considered ‘Quasi-parametric’. I can kind of understand that simply calling is a 3-band parametric EQ from a marketing perspective is nice a simple, but then again that’s like saying a car comes with four wheel disc brakes when one wheel actually has a drum…
Even though this is the case, the EQ system employed can still be considered an excellent system, allowing great tailoring of the EQ curve to seek out and remedy frequency response irregularities in such a good manner that for most systems it will prove more than adequate.
When setting the rear RCA outputs to subwoofer mode you get a variable low pass filter offering 55, 85 or 120Hz cut off frequencies, though the filter slope is not stated. Likewise, the high pass filter that can be engaged to protect your main speakers from low frequency information is not stated for either frequency cut off or filter slope.
There’s only one aspect of the KD-DB56’s installation procedure that is in any way challenging, and that’s the unique secondary antenna that’s required to receive the DAB+ broadcasts. This plugs into a dedicated input on the rear of the chassis and has a flying lead that terminates in a small black box that then connects to a window mounted stick-on antenna. It isn’t a hard task to install but is a little fiddly. JVC has been kind enough to provide a clear and concise installation guide on their website here: http://www.jvc.com.au/how-to-install-dab-antenna-kd-db56
Once you’ve got the KD-DB56 snuggly ensconced into your dashboard you can now set the screen display colours to match that of your car. There are a whopping 31 different colours to choose from, plus you can set the button zone and display zones to different colours to contrast if you prefer.
Now, a direct blind A/B comparison between DAB+ radio and CD is nigh on impossible for the obvious reason that I can’t foretell which songs will be broadcast. Even if I did have foreknowledge of the playlists I doubt highly that Australian radio tastes match that of my own. So, all I could do was give the DAB+ a solid audition, and from this standpoint I was more than impressed by what I heard.
Listening to radio broadcasts free of static, hiss and both limited frequency response and bandwidth was a total revelation. Sure, John Laws’ voice booming through my speakers in 100% clarity isn’t exactly my cup of tea but he sure sounded like he was right there in the car with me. What’s more, a few days scanning through random radio stations revealed that I was actually quite happy to listen to a wider variety of music than I used to now just because it sounded so much better all of the sudden. While I can’t state categorically that DAB+ is ‘CD quality’ I can state that it sounded fabulous, and was dynamic while also extending the frequency response markedly high and lower than analog radio was ever able to reproduce.
One notable omission from the KD-DB56 is a row of buttons along its lower leading edge to allow quick access to your pre-set radio stations, which seems crazy given its main sales pitch is the DAB+ radio aspect itself. Instead you need to use the UP/DOWN buttons to access pre-sets, but this is never as intuitive and fast as the good old 6-button pre set system.
As a user interface the KD-DB56 does a pretty darn good job otherwise, and everything is clearly marked and intuitive enough to use. Its also worth mentioning that JVC have used a large dual line LED display on the JD-DB56, which is particularly helpful for displaying artist, album and track info.
I’m a fussy bugger when it comes to reviewing products, which is why when I thoroughly test a unit I invariably find a few irregularities like those I’ve highlighted during this review. Don’t let these things dissuade you from the overall excellent package offered by the KD-DB56. At $349 it still comes equipped with a wonderful array of features that make it a great source irrespective of the DAB+ radio’s obvious benefits.