What you can sell when you have to be above-board is limited. It’s not as impressive as when you can just print stuff on a box and never fear being sued. China is legendary for making everything, but there’s a swathe of knock offs and bad stuff that we know about. Safety markings like the CE one are meaningless if you just abuse them! So far, only the mighty Jaguar Land Rover company has ever successfully sued the Chinese for copying whole cars. So a lot of unlicensed software use and dodgy safety labelling still exists in many imported electronics products. But SONY are a major brand and offer warranty, pukka websites, help lines and more. They just don’t just make free with licenses. All of which helps explain why £65 is the 2023 price of a proper, branded entry-level car media player. But what does £65 truly get you in terms of tech? This SONY DSX-A212Ui review shall reveal all.

This is a simple device – an analogue radio with a USB reader and a front aux socket on the panel. The panel is removable and as seems normal these days, there’s no case to tuck it in.

RRP: £64.99. Buy it here. (Not available in the US, try the DSX-A415BT instead, RRP: $99.99.)

back of SONY DSX-A212Ui

Setup and operation

It was a quick job to plug in the FM aerial, the Aux and my chewy USB stick of tunes. The KENWOOD marked one, it has FLAC16 and 32 files, as well as m4a and mp3. Not having a DAB tuner means that you must set the clock yourself. It doesn’t have any little volatile memory like things like the Blaupunkt. So if you disconnect the battery, you will lose any presets. You get three banks of FM presets and one each for MW and LW. You can hit the little “mode” button under the volume knob and pick your chosen band. Then, you auto store the stations with a shove and twist of said knob, which is a digital control.

SONY DSX-A212Ui reading FLAC file.

I admit that I quite liked the big EXTRA BASS button in the middle. Compressed digital files are often lacking in phatness and tinkle. While the DSX-A212Ui doesn’t have the clever high-frequency interpolation to add highs back in, (like JVC’s KD-DB922BT) this really helps.

Another cute feature is the display button. Hold it to scroll through titles. But if you keep bopping it, you will get to your battery voltage displayed. There was one unit in this group that shows you the battery level of your Bluetooth connected devices. That one even has a low battery alarm for your phone, but this shows the car battery voltage. Dead clever and something that the lunatic big systems guys usually have to fit aftermarket.

SONY DSX-A212Ui tuned into FM radio

How well does it work?

The radio was a bit weedy at pulling in stations but the aerial was indoors. An old story about the Queen Mother about car hifi – she once asked the car radio fitter to the royal cars, why her radio cut out under bridges? He explained about the radio shadow of a bridge. For me, it’s a useful test for the tuners. I am on a hill and the abilities of FM tuners to grab the aether really does vary. This one was OK but not terribly sensitive, I thought.

SONY DSX-A212Ui karaoke mode

The USB stick was read rapidly and delivered music good and clearly, with titles scrolling. The EQ section was fun and the Karaoke EQ hilarious. It literally lowers the vocal range so you can sing along with the rest as your backing. I always say that singing badly at the top of your lungs is one of the greatest car audio pleasures. After all, the neighbors can’t hear you. This head unit is lots of fun but again, like them all, could do with a case for the face. And it is a pity about Bluetooth. Would you pay a tenner more if it had that? Or are you an owner of a Parrot/Pure/Alpine/NextBase (all the same product) DAB/handsfree system? This is one cheap way to replace the underlying audio system it needs to be audible.

All in all, SONY’s DSX-A212Ui is ridiculous value for money and easy to just get on a whim. And all for less than the price of a tank of fuel.

Tech Specs:

  • 1-DIN mech-free face-off FM/AM/LW radio with USB & Aux
  • One pair of RCA output sockets, steering wheel remote output socket
  • Reads MP3, WMA, FLAC via the 1.0A front mounted USB
  • Extra Bass, dynamic low end boost
  • Configurable remote steering wheel input
  • Vertical alignment LCD screen for 5x better contrast in bright light conditions
  • EQ10 equaliser with R&B, ROCK, POP, Hip-Hop, EDM, Jazz, Soul, Country, Karaoke presets and 1 custom
  • Karaoke setting reduces vocal levels for singing along!

Looking for something different? Try our single-DIN car stereo group test.