Best CarPlay Head Unit Review 2017 – Sony, Kenwood, Pioneer and Alpine – Where to start?

Update – make sure to check out my Best CarPlay Head Unit 2018 Review here for the latest and greatest.

Shopping for an Apple CarPlay compatible head unit can be super confusing since there are so many models out there to choose from.  If you’re not sure where to start, I’ll simplify and explain all of the current CarPlay compatible models from 4 major brands – Kenwood, Pioneer, Sony and Alpine.  They all have their own unique pro’s and con’s and the best one will vary depending on your unique needs. This CarPlay head unit review will help you break down the features and find the best one for your particular application.

It’s all about the features:

Are you interested in SiriusXM, HD Radio, CD player, HDMI input, iDatalink Maestro?  No?  Then consider the Sony XAV-AX100.  The Sony XAV-AX100 is a great little Apple CarPlay compatible head unit and it’s one of the most reasonably priced out there. That’s largely because it lacks all those other features that some of us refer to as bells and whistles.

Sony CarPlay XAV-AX100
Sony CarPlay XAV-AX100 – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

I plan on putting this in my own Jeep once we get some free time at the shop. Why would I choose this model since I work in this industry and could put any in my car? Well, I hate SiriusXM, I have no desire to listen to regular radio or CD for that matter and I have no need for an HDMI input. I can also live without iDatalink Maestro Car Portal features such as resetting a check engine light or checking vehicle battery voltage on screen. I’m also a little, um, frugal to put it nicely and if you are too, you might want to consider this model as well. Aside from Apple CarPlay, the Sony XAV-AX100 features:

  • 6.4″ touch screen
  • Volume knob (I point this out because the models with a slightly smaller screen have this feature and that is something some people like to have vs one of those little tiny volume rocker bars we see on 7″ models)
  • AM/FM Radio (no HD radio)
  • Bluetooth
  • Reverse camera input
  • Front, Rear and Subwoofer preouts (they say rated at 2 volt, but I swear sounds more like 4 volt)
  • 10 band EQ
  • Built in steering wheel control interface – compatible with mostly older Toyota, Nissan, Mazda and Subaru vehicles.

The Sony is simple – what you see is what you get. Because it lacks so many features, it’s really pretty easy to use. The home screen has a few simple icons and the settings menu is easy to navigate. This model has a few options for background display screens or you can upload your own.

Sony XAV-AX100 Home Screen
Sony XAV-AX100 Home Screen – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

So what’s the catch with the Sony XAV-AX100?

I have two complaints about this model. Number one – you cannot connect an iPod through the USB. The USB port on this stereo is specifically for either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, however – you can have your iPhone connected for CarPlay and also have an iPod connected to Bluetooth at the same time so if you want the option to play an iPod through this stereo, that’s really the only way to do it.  Kenwood on the other hand will allow you to connect an iPod to the USB port, however, you cannot have an iPhone and iPod connected at the same time because they use the same USB port (even on models that feature dual USB ports!). Pioneer by the way, does let you use an iPod on the secondary USB port while having CarPlay connected via USB 1.

Complaint number two – Sony’s steering wheel control mapping is bizarre, it’s just a bit redundant and seems odd how they’ve doubled up functions on buttons. Source doesn’t just change source, it will also allow you to hang up or reject a phone call. My guess is they mapped it this way for the older Japanese vehicles that only have 5 basic functions on the existing steering wheel controls. However, if you have a newer vehicle with dedicated answer/hang up and voice button, it will seem a little odd.  So for example, in my 2014 Wrangler, here is how my steering wheel controls will be mapped out using an iDatalink Maestro RR:

Sony XAV-AX100 Jeep Wrangler SWC
Sony XAV-AX100 Jeep Wrangler SWC

However, if you can get over these quirks and don’t need all the bells and whistles, the Sony XAV-AX100 may be the best CarPlay head unit for you.

So you want SiriusXM? Not ready to give up CD’s?

Consider the Kenwood DDX6703s or DDX6903s. These two models are so similar I’ve lumped them together. The DDX6703s is part of Kenwood’s regular line and the DDX6903s is part of their premier eXcelon line up. The DDX6903s has two USB ports, DDX6703s has one USB port. The DDX6903s has a 5 volt pre-amp output, the DDX6703s has a 4 volt pre-amp output. When purchased from an authorized eXcelon dealer, the DDX6903s comes with a 2 year warranty and the DDX6703s has a 1 year warranty.

Kenwood DDX6703s CarPlay Head Unit
Kenwood DDX6703s – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

So when you step up to either the DDX6703s or DDX6903s you gain a few key features over the Sony XAV-AX100 such as:

  • SiriusXM compatibility (requires SXV300 tuner and I recommend a higher quality satellite radio antenna than the garbage SiriusXM includes with this tuner such as the Mobile Spec MSUNIVSAT)
  • HD Radio on FM/AM
  • CD/DVD player
  • Dual camera input (and it’s real easy to switch to the front camera, when in reverse just tap the screen)
  • iDatalink Maestro compatibility with Car Portal features
  • GPS antenna

The iDatalink Maestro Car Portal features are pretty cool and an absolute must for certain vehicles. For example, let’s say you have a brand new Ram pick up with the Uconnect 5.0 radio and you want to upgrade to a CarPlay head unit.

iDatalink CH3 Screen Ram
iDatalink CH3 Screen Ram – Image courtesy of iDatalink

The stock head unit has a vehicle settings menu where you can change settings for the door locks, horn, lights, dimmer, etc. Once you change the radio, you can no longer access those options. Unless of course you go with an iDatalink Maestro compatible head unit with what’s called a serial data port connection. To see what features you would be able to retain and check compatibility, try out this iDatalink Maestro RR weblink demo.

Want a bigger screen too?

Well, why not, we’re already around $550 in price range, what’s a few bucks more? The next step up from the DDX6703s and DDX6903s is the brand new DMX7704s which features a 7″ touch screen (vs 6.2″), BUT you lose the CD/DVD player. And although this model has two USB ports, only one will work for iPhone or an iPod. The secondary USB port is for flash memory and all Kenwood’s that have the dual USB feature are like this.

Let’s think about this – do you really need a CD/DVD player? If not, but you want Apple CarPlay, iDatalink Maestro support and SiriusXM then this may be the best CarPlay head unit for you.  What else do you get when you step up again within the Kenwood line up? The DDX9703s and the eXcelon DDX9903s.

Kenwood DDX9703s Home Screen
Kenwood DDX9703s Home Screen – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

The DDX9703s and DDX9903s feature an HDMI input

To truly mirror the iPhone, you need a head unit with an HDMI input and you also need an HDMI cable and an Apple Lightning Digital A/V adapter. When I say mirror I mean it mirrors the audio and video of the phone on the screen, you still have to control everything from the phone itself.

HDMI mirroring - Best CarPlay Head Unit Review
HDMI mirroring – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

The only thing I can see safely using this for is if you wanted to have the GPS app Waze on screen, you could launch it from your phone and mirror it into the stereo screen.

The DDX9703s and DDX9903s also feature Dual Zone

What Dual Zone allows you to do is load a DVD into the in dash CarPlay head unit and feed the audio/video out into a rear monitor (ideally one that supports wireless IR headphones) while you can listen to your iPhone, SiriusXM or HD radio on the front two speakers. This is a cool feature if you’re looking to upgrade the family vehicle.

Like the previous eXcelon models, the DDX9903s has a 5 volt pre amp output (vs 4 volt on DDX9703s) and has a 2 year warranty when purchased from an authorized dealer (vs 1 year on the DDX9703s). Additionally, the DDX9903s has dual USB ports, but again, only supports an iPod or iPhone on the main USB port, the secondary USB will read flash memory. The DDX9903s also features a glass capacitive touch screen vs a regular resistive touch screen.

Page one of sources Kenwood DDX9703s
Page one of sources Kenwood DDX9703s

From an operational standpoint, the navigation menu’s on the Kenwood models are pretty easy to use. Icons are large and easy to see. There are 3 easy to swipe through pages that allow you access to all the various sources available.

Page two of sources Kenwood DDX9703s
Page two of sources Kenwood DDX9703s

You can easily drag and drop the icons in the order you prefer putting the ones you use most often on the home page and secondary page. Additionally, there is a clear menu button on every Kenwood radio and to access the settings you simply tap menu, then settings.

Page 3 of sources Kenwood DDX9703s
Page 3 of sources Kenwood DDX9703s

One unique feature Kenwood has that no one else seems to offer is “Memory Recall”

Let’s say you or your installer spent a good amount of time setting up the audio features, perfecting the 13 band EQ settings and digital time alignment and then bam, without warning your battery goes dead and you lose all those settings. Well, if you memorized them in the head unit, all you have to do is recall them. I LOVE this feature and I seriously don’t get why Sony, Alpine and Pioneer don’t copy it (please engineers – take a hint!).

So what are the drawbacks on Kenwood?

Well, there’s a couple. For one, what’s the point of dual USB if you can only play an iPod on the same port that supports CarPlay? Number two – I’ve heard of a few people out there hearing a background hiss sound as soon as they connect their iPhone to the USB port. I’ve talked to Kenwood about it and as long as you purchased it from an authorized dealer, they’ll swap it out no questions asked. That’s in theory, in practice I had a customer buy a refurbished Kenwood model from an authorized online dealer (please stay away from refurbs!) and he experienced this issue. Unfortunately he still had the same issue after installing the replacement unit. It’s kind of like the hiss you hear on a record player and it’s only audible at near zero volume, but still, I can see how annoying it would be. Luckily, I haven’t had any issues with units we’ve sold. And lastly I’m not too keen on the blue splash screen for the Album art section. If you don’t have your iPhone or iPod connected you will see a blue splash screen and there is no way to change that.

If you can get over the Blue album art splash screen and the fact that you can only play an iPod over the main USB port, Kenwood may still be the best option for you. Especially if you want SiriusXM capability, iDatalink Maestro RR capability, HDMI input and Dual Zone. In that case, the DDX9703s or DDX9903s may be the best CarPlay head unit for you.

Want to be able to have CarPlay connected and an iPod at the same time?

This might sound like a silly feature to get hung up on, but here’s why you might want to consider having this option. Let’s say you have your iPhone connected for CarPlay and you’re listening to Pandora or Spotify and you end up driving into an area with spotty cell service. All of a sudden your music starts pausing or cutting in and out. I personally can’t stand when data streaming services get interrupted like that – really who likes listening to music cutting in and out? With the Pioneer AVH-4201NEX you could simply switch your source on the radio to USB 2 to your already connected 80 gig iPod loaded up with tunes for interruption free listening. It saves the hassle of trying to disconnect one device and connect another while you’re driving and if you want a safe and enjoyable listening experience, this is one feature to consider.

Pioneer AVH-4201NEX Best CarPlay Head Unit Review
Home Screen on Pioneer AVH-4201NEX – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

The AVH-4201NEX is essentially the same head unit as the last year’s AVH-4200NEX (and the 2015 model AVH-4100NEX), but they added a free reverse camera to the package. There are quite a few things to like about this model, it seems to have everything you could possibly need as far as features are concerned:

  • AM/FM – HD Radio
  • Bluetooth
  • Dual Zone
  • Dual camera inputs
  • SiriusXM ready
  • Dual USB ports and both support iPod’s and iPhone’s – CarPlay only functions on USB 1
  • HDMI input
  • CD/DVD player
  • iDatalink Maestro compatible
  • Detachable Face for security purposes

The menu and user interface is also quite intuitive. From the home screen you have access to your 5 most commonly used sources, telephone shortcut, settings shortcut and CarPlay shortcut. A quick tap of the A/V icon on the bottom right brings up all available sources. Some people prefer this layout over Kenwood’s larger source icons and several pages of sources to swipe through.

Pioneer AVH-4201NEX Best CarPlay Head Unit Review
Pioneer AVH-4201NEX Home Screen – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

Drawbacks on the Pioneer CarPlay models

One feature Pioneer lacks is a GPS antenna, so if you plan on using the Apple Maps often in your vehicle, that is one feature to keep in mind that both Kenwood and Alpine include, but Pioneer and Sony do not.

Speaking about Pioneer – Pioneer has three new CarPlay head units being released this summer including the first ever single din CarPlay head unit.

They’re not out yet, as of this writing, but coming soon and they will be more value oriented. There are two double dins and the first ever single din flip out CarPlay receiver. The two double dins are going to be the 6.2″ touch screen AVH-1300NEX and the 7″ touch screen AVH-2300NEX.  Both will feature:

  • AM/FM Radio (No HD Radio)
  • Bluetooth
  • SiriusXM capability
  • CD/DVD
  • 4 Volt preouts, 13 band EQ, built in crossovers
  • iDatalink Maestro capabaility
  • Single USB port

These models are similar to the Sony, less bells and whistles cuts the price way down. The 6.2″ AVH-1300NEX is expected to sell for $399.95 and the 7″ AVH-2300NEX is expected to sell for $499.95 (the AVH-2300NEX will also be Android Auto compatible).


AVH-3300NEX - Best CarPlay Head Unit Review
Single Din CarPlay Head Unit Pioneer AVH-3300NEX – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

For those of you wanting CarPlay, but lack the double din opening, the AVH-3300NEX is the perfect solution. This model will have pretty much everything you could possibly need for a single din CarPlay receiver:

  • 7″ Touch screen
  • SiriusXM Capable
  • Detachable panel
  • Single USB
  • Bluetooth
  • 4 Volt preouts, 13 band EQ, digital time alignment
  • Single Reverse Camera Input

What about Alpine?

Alpine will eventually be shipping the first ever wireless CarPlay receiver which is pretty cool, but you definitely pay for that coolness factor. The iLX-107 will basically be replacing the iLX-007 which was essentially an Apple designed product. The iLX-107 will retain the clean design and user interface that we saw in the iLX-007, but it will add wireless CarPlay control and iDatalink Maestro capability.  This model is expected to sell for $699.95 and it simply features:

  • AM/FM Radio
  • USB (strictly for CarPlay compatible devices)
  • GPS antenna
  • Rear AUX input
  • Reverse Camera input
  • Front, Rear and Subwoofer preouts 2 volt

As I said, coolness comes at a price.

Alpine iLX-107 - Best CarPlay Head Unit Review
Alpine iLX-107 – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

The Alpine iLX-107 is not to be confused with the Alpine iLX-207 – but it’s easy to get them confused because they will be sold at the same price and have very different features.

Alpine iLX-207 - Best CarPlay Head Unit Review
Alpine iLX-207 – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

When you move over to the Alpine iLX-207 you lose the wireless CarPlay feature and rear aux input, but you gain quite a bit such as:

  • HD Radio
  • USB that is not strictly for CarPlay (also plays iPods and Android Auto)
  • SiriusXM Ready
  • HDMI Input

Still, at this price point, you’re really not getting a fantastic value with Alpine. With Pioneer or Kenwood, you’re getting a lot more features for your money. And there’s one more thing to keep in mind with Alpine – none of their CarPlay models include a CD or DVD player. So if that’s important to you, forget Alpine. If however, wireless CarPlay is a feature that’s important to you, then the Alpine iLX-107 may be the best CarPlay head unit for you.

Confused yet?  Let’s recap.

Sony XAV-AX100 – Good for a nice easy to use basic CarPlay stereo.  No frills.  Features:

  • USB strictly for CarPlay or Android Auto
  • 6.4″ touch screen with small volume knob
  • Bluetooth
  • Reverse camera input

New Pioneer CarPlay Models AVH-1300NEX and AVH-2300NEX add features like:

  • CD/DVD player
  • SiriusXM capability
  • Rear AUX input
  • iDatalink Maestro compatibility

Kenwood DDX6703s and DDX6903s add features like:

  • HD Radio
  • GPS antenna
  • Memory Recall
  • Dual camera inputs

The Kenwood DMX7704s adds features like:

  • Larger 7″ screen (however lacks a CD/DVD player)
  • Dual USB ports (but only one for CarPlay and iPod, secondary for flash memory)

The Kenwood DDX9703s and DDX9903s add features like:

  • HDMI input
  • Dual Zone
  • DDX9903s features glass capacitive touch screen
  • Plus you get the CD/DVD player back on these models

The Pioneer AVH-4201NEX adds features like:

  • Detachable face
  • Free reverse camera included
  • Both USB ports support iPod playback
  • However, this model lacks a GPS antenna

The Alpine iLX-107 is the only model to include:

  • Wireless CarPlay
  • However it lacks just about everything else: CD/DVD, USB is strictly for CarPlay, no SiriusXM, no HD Radio, no HDMI input, has just one camera input.

The new Alpine iLX-207 doesn’t really fit well in the middle of the progression of these models because it has a mix of features that is not exactly priced competitively compared to Kenwood and Pioneer models (which is why I don’t plan on carrying this model).  For reference, the key features on this mechless CarPlay head unit are:

  • HD Radio
  • USB that is not strictly for CarPlay (also plays iPods and Android Auto)
  • SiriusXM capability
  • HDMI Input
  • iDatalink Maestro Support

So which model is the best CarPlay head unit for you? Simply focus on the features that are most important to you and you’ll find it a lot easier to select the best CarPlay head unit for your unique application. Enjoy!




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  1. I enjoyed this review and it was useful to help me understand the difference btw the Alpine 107 and 207. I did not know Apple helped design the 107. As an Android Pixel fan and very happy Alpine HU owner I’m dying to know how soon Alpine will release an Android Auto **wireless** unit (only JVC-Kenwood have compatible units).

    It’s true Alpine isn’t as price-competitive as the other brands when you only look at feature lists, however I’m surprised you didn’t mention the intangible reason why: Alpine are famous for having the best built-in amplifier and highest quality electronics by far (barring only Sony, which Alpine used to use for components).

    In fact, in my previous car I had planned to upgrade my whole stereo system piecemeal (2006 Hyundai Sonata with all the options, including premium factory audio), but I ended up stopping after only my HU: the Alpine CDE-W265BT. That head unit radically improved my speakers! I didn’t know they were capable of so much depth and clarity. For the Alpine HU costing maybe $70 more than comparable units from other brands, that was a great deal.

    • Hi Calvin – interesting experience! I agree Alpine has great sound quality, but spec per spec, Kenwood actually beats out Alpine and Pioneer when it comes to their RMS amplifier rating. I don’t think I posted that in the article and I’d have to pull out the owner’s manuals for the rating with the exact total harmonic distortion noted for each, but if you look at nearly the last page of the owner’s manual for any model it will list that RMS x 4 rating and I was surprised to see Pioneer was only 14 watts x 4 RMS, Alpine was 18 watts x RMS and Kenwood was a whopping 22 watts x 4 RMS. I’m glad you found the review enjoyable and I appreciate your comment!

  2. I enjoyed your review, though I guess we are one model year closer now. I have a question your scenario for having both an iphone for Carplay and and Ipod for music both through usbs not possible with Kenwood. If your Spotify or Pandora go out, can you not switch to your internal music stored on your iphone? Or is it setup to where you cannot access the music like you can an ipod?

    • Hi Bill,
      If you have your iPhone connected to USB 1 on Kenwood, you can have access to CarPlay and if you are in a dead zone, you always have access to the music you have stored in the phone under the music app icon. I prefer to store music on my phone for this very reason. And this is true for all CarPlay stereos really. Also – it appears the newer Kenwood models with two USB’s will support an iPod on the secondary USB now. My DMX7704s will play an iPod or iPhone on USB 2 (just no CarPlay).

  3. Hi Annie
    Its great article from you… Many thanks
    Wondering which unit in US model that support US & Europe frequency band.
    I have succeed flash firmware EU radio frequency on my SPH DA100.
    Which the model in your article will support both frequency band? ( from headunit or flash firmare)
    I need for prepare plan move outside US
    Many thanks

    • Unfortunately I have no idea. I’ve never run into that before so I don’t know. Sorry!

  4. Great write up. One feature you didn’t mention on the Alpine 207is the capacitive screen (vs resistive). Is the capacitive screen significantly better?

    • Hi Allan, my husband put that model in his Jeep and neither one of us really noticed a difference. Alpine’s capacitive screen looks and acts more like a resistive touch screen in my opinion. The Pioneer and Kenwood glass capacitive seem more responsive.

  5. Annie, thanks for the great, informative website! I’m upgrading the audio system in an early 90’s classic sports car, and I’m undecided between Kenwood’s DNX994S and Pioneer’s AVIC-8201NEX.

    I was leaning toward the Pioneer, but am concerned about the “bugs” in its GPS software when alternate routes are chosen. Do you know if this issue has been resolved?

    Secondly, I’m concerned about the effect on the value of the car if a standard GPS “mouse” type antenna is installed on the roof. Are there any good alternatives to these?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Hi John,
      I believe the mapping software still works the same way where if you want to go a different route you have to cancel and re-start guidance or it will keep wanting to get you back on the original. GPS antenna doesn’t have to go on the roof. In most cars it can be hidden under the dash – assuming it’s a plastic dash above the radio you can usually leave the GPS antenna on top of the radio or on a metal shelf under the dash near the radio. Alternatively if you want to place it on the dash in a corner you can, they come with a metallic stick pad for that purpose.

  6. I was wondering which pioneer unit is superior between the avh4100nex, avh4200nex, avh4201nex. I have and older pioneer and like it but it’s just out dated and time to upgrade. Just want/need a professional opinion before I decide on one

    • You’ve probably already made your choice (I’m late replying) but I would stick to at least the AVH-4200NEX or AVH-4201NEX (which is an AVH-4200NEX with a free reverse camera). If memory serves me correctly the AVH-4100NEX is not iDatalink Maestro compatible.

  7. Annie,

    Great blog! I discovered it a few weeks ago and I love it! I recently installed the AX100 in my mom’s car. She was debating trading it and had been having issues backing into my sister’s car when leaving the house. So as I said, I installed the AX100 with a Clarion backup camera and also installed backup sensors. Being older, she loves the simplicity of the unit! I must say, I was really impressed with it as well. As you stated, the sound quality is fantastic! It has prompted me to look deeper into Sony products. I’m typically a Kenwood guy, but I don’t need all the overwhelming features of the newer HUs. So I am def going to get the AX200 now that it is out for my 2017 Honda Accord. For me, all I need is my Apple music and my Maps app from time to time. Outside of that, I don’t need much.

  8. Thank you for the very insightful article. I really liked how you built up the options, layering on what folks may or may not want in their own car. Now that a few months have gone by, it looks like a the new Sony XAV-a200 is a great option adding a CD/DVD player. And then jumping way up in price, the Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX. I’m trying to find a head unit that has CD, carplay and android auto, wireless carplay would be great….but the Alpine doesn’t seem great without CD and data maestro support.

    • If you haven’t pulled the trigger yet we will see wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay later this year, probably by summer from Pioneer. Here’s a nice short blurb about it from CE Outlook blog from CES. I believe Kenwood will just have wireless Android Auto at first, not sure about wireless CarPlay for them however.

  9. HI!
    Read your reviews and I currently have a Kenwood DNX 8120 installed in my 2001 vet. The system is great but the sound I am told is tinny. Plus equilizer isdifficult to adjust. I wold like to upgrade the unit. My requiements are
    Bluetoth, CD, rear camera, Nav and Ipod, Andriiod capable wth Waze, and Sirus. the unit must be the same size as the DNX8120.

    • I’m surprised you’re getting tinny sound with that model – Kenwood is usually pretty smooth. Perhaps the tinniness is from other components (speaker quality? lack of sound dampening perhaps?). Any of these options are the same size. It’s pretty easy to access the EQ on the new Kenwood’s models. All of these models have multi band EQ’s (10 – 13 bands) so you do have to take some time to adjust it properly. Honestly, all of them will be easier to use than the dinosaur you have in there right now 😉

  10. Hi, I’m in the UK and I can’t find an Alpine ilx-107 anywhere – any idea when they will be released in the UK?

    Is there any other systems that offer wireless CarPlay? I am too lazy to start plugging in my phone every time I get in the car!

    If not, what system do you think would best suit me; I don’t need satellite radio, don’t need CD/DVD, will basically just require Apple CarPlay for music and maps and calls/texts. Jeep Patriot I am driving and was hoping to use the integrated microphone in the vehicles rear view mirror (works great with Jeeps uConnect).

    • No idea if/when wireless CarPlay will make it to the UK. I am still a big fan of the Sony XAV-AX100 for a nice solid easy to use CarPlay stereo (no CD/DVD). Not sure if your Patriot has this, but my Wrangler has nice little notches on the side of the center console where my USB resides so I can leave my charging cable connected the to USB, leave the console closed and just have the apple cable coming out the side of my console so it’s pretty quick and easy for me to just plug my phone in before I go. If you don’t have that option just have your installer flush mount a USB port in a convenient spot for you where you can leave your apple cable connected to.

  11. Hi Annie,

    Very nice review! I’ve been going through these same deliberations, and am leaning towards the Pioneer 2330NEX. It has all of the benefits you mention above for the 2300, but adds HD radio (which seems to be the only major difference).

    Any thoughts?

    • Hi Peter,
      That is a nice value CarPlay head unit. I will say that from my experience everything from the Pioneer AVH-1300NEX up to the AVH-3300NEX does not seem quite as fast/responsive as any of the other NEX models. I’m not sure what Pioneer has done differently as far as processing power or operating system, but I do prefer the AVH-4201NEX over that particular model and series. Interestingly enough, the new MVH-1400NEX (non CD – kind of looks like a newer App Radio 4) seems faster and more responsive, but appears to have same user interface and operating system. So again, not quite sure what the internal differences are that cause the slow down, but I do find the AVH-1300NEX up to the AVH-3300NEX to be a bit laggy in comparison to other Pioneer CarPlay models.

  12. Thanks for the great write-ups 🙂

    Currently have the option of either buying the Pioneer DA120 brand new or an ex-display X8700BT for quite a bit less from a UK retailer. Which would you recommend out of the 2?

    • Hi Luke, sorry for the delayed reply – they’re both good options. Personally I prefer the cleaner tablet look of the DA120. Feature and sound quality wise, they are very close so at that point it’s a matter of what looks better to you – unless you want/need a CD/DVD player, Android Auto ability and security detachable face – then you want the X8700BT, those would be the main feature differences between the two. I hope that helps!

  13. Great set of details in this. I’m wondering: does CarPlay allow for audio on apps that don’t support CarPlay? What I mean is, I would like to listen to YouTube. I have no interest in watching a video but am I able to select the YouTube app on my phone and have the audio play through the CarPlay feature? Or any other music app that’s not officially CarPlay, for that matter. Asking mostly for an Alpine ilx-107 setup.

    • Thanks Morgan and yes, with Apple CarPlay you can launch any other app and the audio will play through. You can select the “Now Playing” icon and it will usually display the text or title of what’s playing, but you just have to control what’s playing from the phone itself. Great question.

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  15. Excellent, thorough write up. I’m looking for one obscure feature in all of the units above… my cargo work van does not have any windows (total creeper mobile) but it does have a rear view camera, which in it’s stock config. activates when vehicle is in reverse. I would like to activate a rear view camera from the head unit at any time to use as a rear view mirror of sorts. Rear visibility on the freeway is nonexistent and dangerous without any windows, so if I could just hit a button on the head unit to fire up the rear camera as I’m driving along, it would enable me to maneuver in a slightly safer manner. Do any of these units accommodate that function?

    • Hi Wayne – yes and great question. Every model in this post supports that feature. All the Pioneer’s have a camera view icon on the head unit for that shortcut. Sony has it as well and I can confirm Alpine’s iLX-207 does too. All the Kenwood’s have the button labeled CAM on the face of the radio for that short cut.

      The only thing you is if you want to use that feature you have to make sure the camera is wired to ignition power (rather than using a reverse wire for trigger and power).

  16. Annie, great site! Wondering, do the new Kenwood products (dnx 574s & 874s) allow an ipod AND iphone on different usb ports? Has that limit been fixed? (otherwise I guess I’m stuck with pioneer).

    • Hi Matthew, nah, same old set up as far as I can tell. My understanding is the only difference between this year and last years is if you forgo a front camera, you can connect and control Kenwoods DVR camera through the new models. As far as I’m aware that’s really the only difference. Oh and the non motorized models have a screen angle adjust for viewing angle depending on how high/low the stereo is mounted in the dash and those models also do Android Auto now.

  17. Alpine iLX-207 is perfect unit for my Mechless install. I don’t need wireless CarPlay over Android Auto, HD and Sirius XM Radio. My Smart Car 2016 (453) doesn’t have normal room for true double DIN. However, Alpine makes import custom fit kit to fit Smart 453. So, I am a happy Alpine iLX-207 owner. 🙂

  18. Hello Annie
    Im about to purchase a touch screen unit for the first time and stuck between kenwood vs pioneer , in your experience which one sounds better and more reliable in the long run overall in your opinion all features aside

    • Hey Chris, well I put a Sony in my car for sound quality and reliability. The one we put in my husband’s 2013 Jeep has been rock solid and we leave the top off that car all summer long. If I had to pick between Pioneer and Kenwood, I would go with Kenwood for sound quality. Reliability I’d say they’re both pretty close, I can’t say I’ve had one brand be more reliable than the other when we’re talking strictly about the CarPlay compatible models. The more entry level Pioneer AVH-1300NEX is a bit too slow for my taste as far as responsiveness goes, if you wanted to be in the less expensive category, again I don’t think you can go wrong with the XAV-AX100 as long as you don’t need a CD player or sat radio. Sorry I know you asked about Kenwood vs Pioneer, but I had to throw the Sony into the mix for consideration!

  19. Hi Annie,

    Awesome site! I had a quick question about boxes, since I got myself into a bit of a situation here. I recently had a Soundstream T7 1.122 (12″, 800 w rms). I was running it off an appropriate amp. My sound guys unfortunately sold out of the appropriate box, but I managed to get a very large SPL box (aerpro trwc-12), which is actually about 3.2 cubic ft tuned to 38 hertz.

    After some fiddling with the amp, they got it to sound fantastic, it was deep, loud, and hit hard which was quite surprising for a single 12. Unfortunately, the subwoofer developed a rattle due to being abused, especially with a crappy stock head unit (distortion most likely)… probably rattled the spider loose. I was curious, is this even appropriate for a single 12″? I was thinking about replacing it with a Sundown SA-12 since the specs have a slightly stronger motor, but it is almost pretty much equal with another T7.

    Once my head unit is changed, I’ll be in the market… just curious about your thoughts on such a large enclosure and what negative effects it has. It is not a competition setup, just something for the daily drive and an occasional thrashing outside with some friends since we are all dancers 🙂

    Thanks for your time!

    • Hi Joe,
      It’s important to match the enclosure size with the woofer so you’d definitely want to check out the specs on the Sundown and see what they recommend for ported. 3.2 is very large, off the top of my head I can’t think of any specific woofers that are designed for that size. It’s also helpful to have an amp with a subsonic filter. The filter cuts off lower frequencies that we can’t hear, but that can physically damage the woofer. If it’s adjustable set the subsonic filter to 19 Hz.

  20. Hi Annie,

    Thanks a lot for posting this nice review on head units.

    I just purchased a Pioneer AVH-4201NEX and I’m super excited to get it in my car.

    I would like to ask you about your comment regarding the unit’s lack of a GPS antenna.

    Since this unit does not have a built in GPS, how does the unit benefit from having a GPS antenna? If it does, in any way, will it use this antenna to navigate Carplay’s (Apple Maps) or Android Auto (Google Maps) navigation features?


    Ricky G.

    • Hi Ricky,
      The separate GPS antenna on some CarPlay models is to assist in directions when you’re navigating on little to no cell service. The Apple Maps app will be able to get you to your destination as long as you entered the information while you have cell service. In theory, the separate GPS antenna is there to improve GPS accuracy when you are in those low to no cell service spots along the route.

      It will still work using the phone’s GPS on the AVH-4201NEX. I can’t personally vouch for how much it really helps because I haven’t had the chance to really test a unit in the car that has the GPS antenna and compare it to my non GPS Sony XAV-AX100.

  21. Hi Annie-really helpful article! Will any of these units allow you to run waze with functionality on the screen so you don’t have to use your phone?

    • Possibly, I’ll know more tomorrow night when I get the new AVH-1300NEX up on display. They list the feature App Radio Mode on the website. If it’s like the App Radio One mode that works on the AVH-X390BS (non CarPlay) then there is a way to do it, but it’s a bit hokey to set up. And unlike Apple CarPlay which can be controlled/viewed even when the screen is locked/closed, with the App Radio One mode you do have to leave the screen on your phone open. If you lock it, you lose the visual on the head unit. I will try it and report back when I know more.

      • Hi Annie,
        Have you had a chance to avh1300nex let’s you run waze?

    • What would be a good head unit to put in the glove box of my 55 Chevy Bel Air I have a hard drive and iPhone I’d like to connect

      • Hi Hoby,
        I would recommend a Sony head unit with Bluetooth and USB. Sony has a cool app that lets you control the radio from your phone, you can switch source, change settings etc so that would be perfect for a hideaway stereo set up. They have quite a few different ones to choose from, but at our shop we sell a lot of the MEX-GS620BT (which has a 3 year warranty and rear USB which might be helpful if you want to route it closer to your side of the dash for plugging in your phone). Another popular one is the MEX-XB100BT which is very similar, but it does not have the rear USB port and has a higher powered amp built in. That one only has a 1 year warranty. I hope that helps!

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