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What's special about this car CD player is what else it can play: Regular audio CDs, complete with CD-Text for track titles. MP3 CDs, including ID3 tags for track titles. ATRAC3plus CDs, which give more music per disk and better quality than MP3 (of which more later). Any of the above can be rewritable disks which you can create, erase and re-use, as well as single-use CD-R disks.
Then you get a good RDS tuner with all the usual features, and a powerful audio output with line-out for a subwoofer.
And to top it all, an infra-red remote control so the kids can drive the stereo from the back seat. OK, that could have its downside too! The main buttons on the very slim remote control are of the green "glow in the dark" type, though not actually illuminated.
The CD eject mechanism is rather zany, you push down a cover in front of the CD slot and the disk ejects. However the slot is barely illuminated, and inserting a CD can be a hit-and-miss affair. Otherwise the unit is fairly well lit up, so this is surprising. There is a manual dimmer via a menu, but it does not dim the display with the car lights being switched on because there is no wiring for this.
Installation should be straightforward. If you car has ISO plugs then it will go straight in with little or no modification. Cars whose power wiring is non-standard (such as some VW models) can be catered for by some connectors supplied. In my case, the stereo was being fitted to replace an earlier Sony CDX-L400X which had expired, so I plugged straight into the Sony cable I had installed already in my 1972 Hillman Avenger. This being a slightly less than modern vehicle, any installation difficulties I had would not be relevant to a more recent car, but it was good to see that it is not oversized in depth nor difficult in any other aspect. A metal tray is first installed into the dash, then a plastic surround fitted to the stereo, connections made, and the whole lot slid into the slot with a click. Two metal slides are provided for releasing the stereo from the metal tray. Interestingly, the diagram in the instructions showing how to release the plastic surround with the same tools, is completely wrong and obviously for a different model.
After installation you will want to reprogram the defaults
of the unit, for which you will need the instructions. Mainly, you will want to switch off the Demo mode "I'm a Sony stereo" etc., and also enable the clock setting from RDS time so that you never have to set the clock again. If you have external amplifiers or sub woofer, you can also configure them at this time. No option is provided for driving a Sony CD or MD autochanger, you would require the CDX-R3550C version for that (the manual covers both).
The pop-off front is not quite the only anti-theft mechanism. The body of the stereo locks into the metal cage and requires the supplied metal levers to release it. The average car radio thief junkie would simply smash your dashboard to bits instead, but at least it would slow him down. There is also the option of mounting a bolt at the back of the unit which would make extracting the stereo even harder, but most cars won't have the required location for the bolt to fit. There is no radio coding facility in the event of power failure, probably because this causes legitimate owners more grief than it causes low-life anyway.
The pop-off front comes with a box, and is rather heavy compared to some other models, and with the box too can be a little bulky to slip into a pocket. Without the box, it looks as though it could easily suffer cosmetic damage. Popping off the front may be a bit fiddly for those with large fingers, and refitting it requires a certain knack to get right first time.
The display is pleasing whitish colour and of the "starburst" segment display rather than the dot matrix type. The latter would have been more flexible, as fitted to higher-end Sony units, so the CDX-R3350 cannot display lower-case characters in track titles for example. But for the most part it is fine.
The buttons are laid out in a way that will take a little getting used to. When fumbling for them in the dark, they don't feel terribly obvious. The volume up/down and track & program up/down buttons are slaves to fashion; they look pretty but really are not very tactile. Changing group (eg changing album) on a MP3 or Atrac CD involves pressing the 1 and 2 buttons, not terribly obvious or easy to find. The Radio/CD selector button is unhelpfully labelled SOURCE and is almost the same size as buttons which do much less significant operations. I'm already used to much of it from the previous Sony car stereo I had, but even so I find the whole thing a tactile disappointment. Never mind, it could be worse.
You may be wondering what an MP3 or Atrac3Plus CD is. These are CDs which you create yourself, usually using a computer, and allow much more than just on CD album to be put onto a single CD. To help sort all the tracks tidily, they can be put into folders representing each album, and the car stereo will navigate by individual track or by whole album. If you record the CD in MP3 format, you may well be able to play the disk on other equipment, such as most modern DVD players. But the MP3 standard is an old one, the quality at high compression is grim. Much better are WMA (Windows Media), AAC (used on Apple Ipod), and Atrac (used on Minidisc and Sony personal music players). This car stereo cannot support WMA, which is a shame, because this is reasonably common on DVD players too. It can't support AAC, but very little can so no great surprise there. But it can play Atrac3 CDs. You can use Sony SonicStage, which is Sony's response to Apple's Itunes, to create a CD full of high quality but very compressed music. You can get maybe 20 albums or more onto one CD, and still have great sound quality. MP3 can't do this, the sound quality is mushy at that kind of compression. However if you have ever used Sony SonicStage, you will find it is rather slow and cumbersome (not unlike Itunes actually) and it may take your computer several hours to actually create a whole CD full of Atrac3Plus tracks. Maybe select the music you want of an evening and leave the computer to get on with it overnight. That said, once it has done all this, the results are impressive and well worth the trouble. You can knock a MP3 CD together rather quicker using perhaps Nero to burn the CD, but you won't get so much music on the CD, and / or the quality will be rough.
Atrac is the generic name used on all Minidisc products, Atrac3 is a later version which includes more compression, and Atrac3Plus is the latest version which allows for even more compression whilst retaining a high sound quality. Do you want to know how? No, not really, but you can look it up on the Sony website, from where you can also download Sony SonicStage.
Pictures of Sony CDX-R 3350
Viewed in daylight
But one hidden bonus of this system is that it is buffered like Minidisc. This means that if you go over some serious bumps that would make a normal CD player skip, as my previous one would, this unit just carries on playing without interruption.
On the radio side, there are 6 preset channels per band, and 3 FM bands are provided. So you can program up your favourite stations at home and also at your relative's place many miles away. Or you can let the radio preset all the channels for you with the strongest signals. Radio station names, traffic announcements, network following, automatic clock setting (curiously off by default) and other standard RDS features are included. Reception is quite good, no better or worse than other Sony car stereo systems I have used.
The amplifier is more than powerful enough for most drivers, and allows for external amplifier amplified bass subwoofer connection (but not both). Sound quality is excellent, and a simple graphic equaliser tone control system allows you to tailor the sound slightly to the needs of your speakers and preferences.
The instructions are reasonable, but could be better. Now I've told you about Atrac3Plus, you can decide how to make your CDs and what you need to use. But the help in the manual on this subject is spartan. Installation instructions are fairly basic in places and not without the odd mistake. But the operation is explained reasonably well.
I've been very critical of any minor flaws, as is a reviewer's job of course, but wouldn't want you to think that I was anything but delighted with this stereo. It is stunning value for money and lets you put massive amounts of music onto a single CD, even more than many autochangers can handle, which is just great. I can heartily recommend this stereo to anyone, but particularly to those of us who have a computer with a CD writer, which is just about everyone who can read this, and is prepared to make the effort to create CD compilations for the car.
It's obviously a modestly priced unit, I bought mine for £84 from Amazon including post. But it looks quite classy, if slightly strange when a CD is changed, certainly more attractive than the Sony CDX-S2220 in my opinion. Sony have a real winner with this unit, I can't think why anyone would buy some £60 no-brand CD player when you can have this for a little more.