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by Bill Braun

Reviewer Extraordinaire

on January 6, 2014
Fact 1: At last count, the latest iPhone fell into the “unbelievably popular” category, selling over 9.2 million units.

Fact 2: There are over 20 million subscribers to SiriusXM satellite radio.

These 2 industry pioneers (pardon the pun) provide something so cool, so popular and so fun that the sheer size of their customer base could fill the population of New York City. Twice.

The recently released DEH-X3600S CD Receiver is among their introductory models, and sports iPhone and SiriusXM compatibility. The receiver carries a number of additional features like Pandora compatibility, front facing USB/AUX inputs and Pioneer’s staggeringly large number of backlighting options – over 200,000 colors.

Other manufacturers have taken similar approaches, and all with very similar price tags. Alpine offers the CDE-141, Kenwood has the KDC-355U and Sony offers the CDX-GT660UP. None of these receivers break the $150 MSRP barrier, making them all a good mixture of value and features.

Design

The Pioneer OS (Operating System) Design is understandably on the basic side, so one would assume a lack of a large feature set would make for a simple OS.

The features of the system not withstanding, you are going to do 90% of the functionality with the volume control. Without a doubt, it’s the reason why the knob has been re-dubbed the “multi-control.” Marketing people of the world rejoice - the name has stuck.

The trim ring is a spot-on match with the receivers face, making for a smooth look when installed. Were not talking the stiffest, most durable material I’ve ever seen, but given the price of the unit Pioneer has done a good job here. The gap around the face is also a little on the large side, but barely so.

The buttons to the right of the knob (sorry – “multi-control”) are on the small side, and completely unlit, relying instead on colorful numbers and arrows sitting above the buttons, but I consider this a mistake, as there are additional functions that each button can perform. I’m surprised that Pioneer - with it's emphasis on cool lighting – didn’t just make the buttons light up. Unfortunately they are unlit, small, and hard to read on their own without light directly on them.

Build Quality

The knob on the X3600S is quite good. Moving the knob up or down – even quickly – didn’t prevent the operations I attempted, like volume or various setup selections. It was always smooth, and the knob itself felt solid as I turned it.

The larger buttons surrounding the knob are equally efficient. They are large, backlit and easily manipulated. The feedback when you press them has enough resistance and solidity to give you the feel of being well built.

The buttons to the right of the knob have an acceptably small amount of play in them, making me believe they will last a good long time. Like the other buttons on the deck, the feedback is well done as well. Overall, I’m pretty happy with the buttons quality-wise.

The material is the standard glossy black plastic I have come to expect from Pioneer. The plastic does a reasonably good job from an aesthetic standpoint, but could stand to be a bit thicker and tougher all the way round. The thin bar of plastic above the CD’s entrance is quite flexible when manipulated.

The screen resolution is almost never an issue I have with Pioneer. The LCD display is as bright as it is clear, and well above average qualitatively. In a nutshell, you could probably read this display all the way from the back of an SUV if you wanted to.

Features

The DEH-X3600S supports these media types:

  • CD Audio
    • MP3
    • WAV   
    • AAC

There are 18 FM presets available as well as 6 AM. Adding satellite radio will create additional sources.

The receiver supports these CD types:

  • CD
  • CD-R
  • CD-RW

Note that the CD+R and CD+RW may not work in this receiver, but this format seems to be rare at this point.

Satellite radio is possible with the addition of a Sirius SXV200 tuner. To connect an iPhone 4S or prior, you need the CD-IU51, for the iPhone 5 and above the CD-IU52 is the correct cable.

Usability

If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, then you know this next part – I hate reading the instruction book. Not to go off on a rant, but in a perfect world the OS would be so simple, so self-explanatory that most people would just “get it.” No additional explanation required. Ultimately my hope is that this seemingly necessary evil may one day become less of a necessity and more of a rare reference.

That’s not quite the case here, but reasonably close and certainly no worse than most other manufacturers offer in comparable receivers. Without reading the instructions, I attempted to customize the display, including the clock, audio features like bass and treble, and a few others.

Once I read the instructions – I have to admit – I was still a little confused. The instructions are multi-purpose in this case. This one instruction booklet has been created for no less than five models, so you do have to read carefully to ensure the directions are actually meant for your specific model.

This is proof positive that when you rely on the instructions for the salient details instead of the receiver itself, those instructions need to be easily understood. These instructions weren’t, and it took a bit of time to figure everything out.

Selecting a source is logical enough once you figure out the big “S” is for that purpose. I loved that useless data is disposed of when not available. A pet peeve of mine is seeing unavailable sources when they don’t even exist.

When using Pandora, just allow the application to be controlled by the receiver (involves pressing the “allow” button on the phone) after you plug it into the USB plug and off you go. To randomize channels you have to press the magnifying glass, which is also how you see the available channels. One down side is the lack of a thumbs up/thumbs down option, but you can still pause and skip songs.

Using an iPod or iPhone with the deck is easy, as is using a USB stick. In either case you have to plug the media directly into the receivers USB slot in the front. Searching is a little clunky, as I was expecting to just touch the magnifying glass by the knob. Reading the instructions revealed that you then have to use the knob to choose how you want to search (artist/album/genre are your choices.) The search may be an exhaustive one with just text, so make sure you use the alphabetical search for longer lists.

Mixtrax is Pioneer’s way of creating some musical variety, as well as infusing some video effects into the receiver at the same time. There’s lots of cool audio and video effects while transitioning from one song to another.

I have to say it's fun to play with, but you need you understand this is meant to simulate a club environment. My concern is not for the receivers performance - it’s for yours. If you feel you are distracted by the changing lights while driving, please consider turning them off. You can retain the audio effects either way, which is plenty of fun by itself.

The screen resolution was detailed, and has no shortage of colors available. Regardless of the color (and there are over 200,000 of them) it would be nearly impossible not to have a nearly a perfect match with your interior lighting. You do have to figure out that holding down the Media Controller in the Illumination menu with the Custom setting is how you adjust those colors. Normally the number of settings and button pushes needed to get the color the way I wanted it would drive me nuts, but I’m willing to “work with them” on this, given it will likely be very rare that I need to change it.

The included remote is very basic, and lacks a degree of heft to it. While not quite as thin or flimsy as other credit card sized remotes, it's lack of simple things like a “play” button are noticeable. The remote has some basic functionality, but I would likely not use the remote much, given that I drive alone for the most part and can easily reach the receiver. If I had kids and/or an SUV (with passengers, obviously), perhaps it would get some use, but like most remotes this one would likely find it's way into the black hole that is my glove box.

Value

The DEH-X3600S has some pros and cons.

Here are the setbacks:

  • You will have to read the manual.
  • The buttons to the right of the knob are small and unlit.
  • The plastic is a little flexible on the body of the receiver.

Conversely, there are a number of features I truly fell in love with:

  • When using a USB device, searchability is quite good.
  • The number of button and screen colors available is truly staggering.
  • The front facing USB port and AUX plug make it very easy to play nearly any external audio source.

The instruction book has to be read in depth to use some of the more creative functions like Mixtrax, and overall could have been written with a bit more user-friendliness in mind.

That said, in the sub $150 CD receiver category the Pioneer DEH-X3600S delivers most of what I’d expect from a practical standpoint. For some of the most basic functions like changing sources and altering the volume while driving, the X3600S works without much thought, which is definitely a step in the right direction, and like some of the competition I appreciate Pioneers efforts to actually be fun. Overall, for the money, the receiver lives up to expectations.

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