Best Apple CarPlay Android Auto Head Unit 2021

Most of my readers know that each year I usually post an in depth review and breakdown on the best Apple CarPlay and Android Auto head units available. Before I dive into the Best Apple CarPlay Android Auto head unit 2021, let me step back a moment. I skipped this review last year for a variety of reasons.

Number one – I was short staffed at the shop due to the Orwellian dystopia that fell upon our world. I had no time to write.

Number two – it was like 2020 never arrived. New products announced at CES 2020 didn’t roll out until the end of 2020 or early 2021 if they did get rolled out at all. Manufacturers shut down due to COVID-19. Shortly after that inventory quickly became backordered across all brands.

Car Stereo Chick Inventory Image

Finding a CD player or amp wiring kit was like trying to find Bounty paper towels at Costco last spring. If a pallet showed up at a wholesaler, it vanished sometimes in as little as a few hours. Our industry has not been exempt from the ongoing wrath and absolute shit show of 2020 and there are additional contributing factors that imply 2021 is going to be even worse when it comes to product availability for consumers.

Why is everything backordered right now?

A lot of consumers don’t realize this or understand why everything is backordered so let me explain. Many businesses and industries were hurt by draconian and unconstitutional COVID-19 mandates. When businesses were forced to shut down last spring, products didn’t get made. When they were allowed to re-open, they usually had to do so with fewer staff with reduced output. When people were forced to stay home, consumer electronics manufacturers assumed the economy would tank and consumer demand would be zilch. Fortunately for our business and our industry they were wrong.

Many consumers were able to retain their livelihoods by working remotely. Unable to go out to eat or go on vacation, they suddenly had extra time and money on their hands. This disposable income shifted from the hospitality industry into other sectors like automotive, consumer electronics and home improvement. The biggest problem that all of these industries faced (and are still facing) is lack of product. Raw materials have become hard to source and products are often getting held up at the ports in LA.

To add insult to injury, the main semiconductor supplier in our industry – AKM in Japan – experienced a devastating fire last Fall. I find the whole thing bizarre and suspicious as there really aren’t a lot of details about the incident available and still no details on the cause of the blaze. The fire broke out at their Nobuoka semiconductor plant October 21, 2020 and burned for 82 hours. Rebuilding this facility is expected to take a year. As if that wasn’t weird enough, there was another fire just recently at a different semiconductor facility in Japan. But wait! There’s more. To top it off, another semiconductor supplier to our industry based in Texas had to shut down recently due to the deep freeze. The semiconductor shortage means consumers will see product shortages not only for things like car stereos, but also for new vehicles, cell phones and all sorts of consumer electronics. Manufacturers and vendors are already rationing out products to their dealers. Perhaps this is what war time rationing looks like in the 21st century. Hey look at the bright side – at least we’re just rationing consumer electronics and not food, right?

So unlike my typical blog post where I break down all the various options and models on the market for the year, I am going to write about models that I know are currently available or coming soon. The best Apple CarPlay Android Auto head unit 2021 may just be the one you can find in stock. Let’s break it down.

What does iDatalink Maestro compatible mean?

This Best Apple CarPlay Android Auto Head Unit 2021 blog post is going to be broken down into two double head unit categories: Non-Maestro compatible and Maestro compatible double din. If time allows, I will write a separate post dedicated to floating style screen models as this is a new and growing category.

I have explained this in previous posts, but for anyone unfamiliar with the iDatalink Maestro, let me recap. In many newer vehicles, like a 2016 Toyota Highlander for example, the stock stereo is basically part of the network in the car. When you remove the stock head unit in a car like this, you are basically breaking the network. You need to have the right parts to retain the flow of information or you may wind up with various features in your vehicle no longer operational.

In this particular vehicle, the iDatalink Maestro will retain:

  • Steering wheel controls
  • OEM reverse camera
  • JBL amp if equipped (which has a digital turn on)
  • Secondary vehicle information display
  • Access to vehicle settings

If I use a non Maestro compatible radio in this vehicle, the client will no longer have access the vehicle settings menu which is how you can change various options in the car related to door locks, turning on/off the notification beep when locking, etc. Additionally they would lose their secondary information display above the stock radio. I don’t know about you, but I can tell you most of my clients don’t like to lose features when “upgrading”. If you fall into that category, be sure to look up your vehicle info on maestro.idatalink.com.

If you have a vehicle that doesn’t need the iDatalink Maestro, you can still use a Maestro compatible radio, you just won’t benefit from any of the Maestro features. Things like vehicle info, tire pressure monitoring, battery voltage, track pack gauges, HVAC display, etc. are all vehicle dependent features and may not be applicable to your vehicle.

Non-Maestro Double Din Models:

  • Kenwood DMX4707s/DMX47s
  • Sony XAV-AX1000
  • Alpine iLX-W650
  • Kenwood DDX5707s/DDX57s
  • Sony XAV-AX5000
  • Sony XAV-AX7000

Maestro Double Din Models:

  • iLX-407
  • iLX-207
  • DMX907s
  • DDX9707s
  • DDX9907XR

Non Maestro Apple CarPlay Android Auto Models 2021

One of our best value Apple CarPlay stereos is the Sony XAV-AX1000. This mechless AM/FM Radio is the only double din Apple CarPlay model available with a volume knob, although it is a pretty small knob. You may notice this model has the USB input right on the front of the radio. This helps to cut down on installation related costs because there is no separate USB pigtail that needs to be flushed in anywhere. It’s extremely easy to use, nice large icons. However, you can’t really personalize or rearrange these icons. You can choose from several different background colors, but you cannot upload your own background image or splash screen.

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - Sony XAV-AX1000 home screen
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2021 – Sony XAV-AX1000 home screen

Priced at just $299.99, this is a great value for anyone looking for a basic, easy to use, CarPlay stereo without a lot of bells and whistles that will be an easy, straight forward install. Features include:

  • Resistive touch screen 6.4″
  • Bluetooth
  • Wired Apple CarPlay (no Android Auto)
  • AM/FM Radio
  • SiriusXM Ready (SXV300 tuner required)
  • Front, rear and subwoofer pre-amp output (2 volt)
  • Built in crossovers
  • 10 Band EQ
  • Multicolor background display
  • Front USB
  • Front AUX input
  • Reverse camera input

One thing to note about the Sony XAV-AX1000 is that it is CarPlay compatible only. It is not Android Auto compatible. If you need a radio that is also Android Auto compatible, but at a great price, check out the Kenwood DMX4707s aka DMX47s.

Best Apple CarPlay Android Auto Head Unit 2021
Best Apple CarPlay Android Auto Head Unit 2021 – Kenwood DMX4707s aka DMX47s

Also priced at $299.99, this mechless CarPlay/Android Auto radio features a responsive glass capacitive touch screen. In addition, there is a few more customization controls on this model. You can easily re-arrange the source icons so the ones you use most always show up on the home screen. Additionally, there are several displays to pick from or you can upload your own image using a thumb drive. Features include:

  • Glass Capacitive touch screen 6.8″
  • Bluetooth
  • Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • AM/FM Radio
  • SiriusXM Ready (SXV300 tuner required)
  • Front, rear and mono subwoofer pre-amp output (2 volt)
  • Built in crossovers
  • 13 Band EQ
  • Various background display (or upload your own)
  • Rear USB
  • Rear A/V input (requires 3.5 A/V adapter)
  • Reverse camera input

Like the Sony XAV-AX1000, the DMX4707s and DMX47s lack a CD player. If you’re not quite ready to give you up your CD’s just yet, check out the Kenwood DDX5707s aka DDX57s. For just $70 more you can have all the features of the DMX4707s or DDX47s plus the added benefit of a CD player.

Best Apple CarPlay Android Auto Head Unit 2021
Best Apple CarPlay Android Auto Head Unit 2021 – Kenwood DDX5707s aka DDX57s

With the sleak piano black finish, I will say these Kenwoods are sharp looking radios in VW’s and Subaru WRX’s when paired with the proper piano black finish dash kit. If you like that finish for your car, but need Maestro compatibility, consider the Kenwood eXcelon DMX907s or DDX9907XR.

The most popular Android Auto/Apple CarPlay compatible radio at our shop has been the Alpine iLX-W650. This model is extremely hard to get right now. Shortly after the fire at AKM, Alpine announced they would no longer be accepting new orders for this model. Thankfully they have been focused on fulfilling all outstanding backorders. Expect to see this model phased out over the next couple months until the newer, and slightly more expensive Maestro compatible iLX-407 hits the market.

Alpine iLX-W650 Review - Home screen pic
Alpine iLX-W650 – Home screen pic

If you can manage to snag one of these, it’s a great value, feature packed head unit. Aside from all the standard features, the iLX-W650 has a few unique features. Standard features include:

  • Glass Capacitive touch screen 7″
  • Bluetooth
  • Wired Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
  • AM/FM Radio
  • SiriusXM Ready (SXV300 tuner required)
  • Front, rear and subwoofer pre-amp output (4 volt)
  • Built in crossovers
  • 9 Band Parametric EQ plus easy EQ (Bass – Mid – Treble)
  • Digital time alignment
  • Rear USB
  • Reverse camera input
  • Secondary camera input
  • Power pack ready – either KTA-450 or KTA-200M
Alpine iLX-W650 Review - Un-boxing Shallow Mount Design
Alpine iLX-W650 – Shallow Mount Design

Because of the mechless design, Alpine created a super shallow chassis and made a complementary series of amplifiers that can bolt right to the back of this head unit. This cuts down on installation time and parts tremendously. Choose from a compact high powered 4 channel amp, the KTA-450 boasting 50 watts x 4 RMS or add their new mini mono amp KTA-200M to send 200 watts RMS to your sub. This clever product design has saved our clients hundreds of dollars in parts and labor costs. You can easily create a value packed kick ass sound system using this head unit and complementing power pack amp.

If you like the idea of a capacitive touch screen for its vibrant and saturated color, but you have concerns about glare, check out the Sony XAV-AX5000. Check out how vibrant that screen looks compared to the Kenwood DDX57s above. They are mounted right next to each other on our showroom display and I took these photos one right after the next. Although they both use a capacitive touch screen, the Sony does not have a glass finish so it’s less likely to have glare on the surface.

Best Apple CarPlay Android Auto Head Unit 2021
Best Apple CarPlay Android Auto Head Unit 2021 – Sony XAV-AX5000

Unlike the Kenwood and Alpine models already discussed, this model also features a row on hard buttons on the bottom of the screen. Although the Kenwood and Alpine are very clean, sleek and minimalist in appearance due to the lack of hard buttons, touch controls might not be the easiest thing to use while you’re driving. If you have to take your eyes off the road and look down at the road to change tracks or volume, it might be a better idea to have a row of hard buttons that you can feel your way around and access without having to take your eyes off the road. If your car has steering wheel controls, this probably won’t matter anyways, but a design feature worth pointing out for consumers without steering wheel controls. Standard features include:

  • Anti-glare Capacitive touch screen 7″
  • Bluetooth
  • Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • AM/FM Radio
  • SiriusXM Ready (SXV300 tuner required)
  • Front, rear and mono subwoofer pre-amp output (2 volt)
  • Built in crossovers
  • 10 Band EQ
  • Various background display(or upload your own)
  • Dual Rear USB
  • Rear AUX input
  • Reverse camera input
  • Secondary camera input

If you like the idea of the Alpine power pack amps, but prefer the anti-glare touch screen and hard buttons of Sony, consider the Sony XAV-AX7000 which adds a high powered built in amp boasting 50 watts x 4 RMS. Additionally, the XAV-AX7000 steps up the pre-amp voltage from 2 volt to 5 volt which is great if you plan on adding a secondary amp to power a subwoofer with your system.

Maestro Apple CarPlay Android Auto Models 2021

Once the iLX-407 becomes available, game over. I think that will be the best value, best selling Apple CarPlay/Android Auto head unit for 2021. It might also be the only new model we see shipped.

Alpine iLX-407 Review
Best Apple CarPlay Android Auto Head Unit 2021 – Alpine iLX-407

The Alpine iLX-407 looks exactly like its predecessor the iLX-W650. The main features that have been added include iDatalink Maestro compatibility (thank you Alpine!) HDMI input and HD Radio. This radio is expected to sell for $399.99 and I have a feeling they will be going like hotcakes. If you can’t wait for this model to ship (there is currently no ETA due to the chip shortage) consider the Alpine iLX-207.

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - Alpine iLX-207 aka i207-WRA
Alpine iLX-207 aka i207-WRA

The Alpine iLX-207 is a great sounding stereo with a super clean pre-amp signal. Aside from Maestro compatibility, it also features a 9 band parametric EQ, built-in crossovers, digital time alignment and all the great sound quality features Alpine users expect. Unlike the iLX-W650 or iLX-407, the iLX-207 features an easily identifiable row of hard buttons on the bottom lip of the stereo. The Alpine iLX-207 includes feature such as:

  • Anti-Glare Capacitive touch screen 7″
  • Bluetooth
  • Wired Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
  • HD AM/FM Radio
  • SiriusXM Ready (SXV300 tuner required)
  • Front, rear and subwoofer pre-amp output (4 volt)
  • Built in crossovers
  • 9 Band Parametric EQ
  • Digital time alignment
  • Rear USB
  • HDMI input
  • Reverse camera input
  • Multi-color illumination
  • iDatalink Maestro compatible

What about Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto?

All of the models discussed so far feature a wired connection for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. If you prefer a wireless connection, there are a few models available that offer it – that is, if you can find them. Each of these Kenwood models feature wireless connection for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto plus iDatalink Maestro compatibility starting with the Kenwood DMX907s.

Kenwood DMX907s – Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – no CD

The Kenwood DMX907s is part of Kenwood’s premium eXcelon series models which carries a 2 year warranty, uses gold plated RCA pre-amp outputs and features gold plated RCA pre-amp outputs. From a sound quality stand point, I really am partial to Kenwood. Don’t get me wrong, Alpine is great too. My husband has an Alpine Restyle unit in his Jeep and I have a Kenwood in my Jeep and both vehicles sound amazing. But when it comes to the sound quality control, Kenwood has a few more perks over Alpine.

One of those features I really like Kenwood calls Supreme. It’s not like a bass boost or restoration processor for compression. From an older Kenwood manual, it is described as “Technology to extrapolate and supplement with proprietary algorithm, the high-frequency range that is cut off when encoding. This function works on DVD MEDIA, USB, SD and iPod sources.” Whatever it is and however it works, I can tell you it always makes every car sound better. Additional audio control tools include a 13 band EQ with source dependent memory, digital time alignment, crossovers, speaker size and location effects, spatial effects and more.

I also really like that they use a Linux based system in the background and the cache is cleared every time you cycle the ignition. If my Kenwood ever has a rare technical hiccup like CarPlay locking up because I can’t remember the last time I restarted my phone, simply cycling the ignition always corrects the issue. The Kenwood DMX907s features:

  • Glass Capacitive touch screen 7″
  • Bluetooth
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • HD AM/FM Radio
  • SiriusXM Ready (SXV300 tuner required)
  • Front, rear and subwoofer pre-amp outputs (5 volt gold plated)
  • Built in crossovers
  • 13 Band EQ with source dependent memory
  • Additional sound control features such as Supreme, speaker size and spatial enhancement
  • Various background display(or upload your own)
  • Dual Rear USB
  • Rear A/V input (requires 3.5 A/V adapter)
  • 3 camera inputs
  • iDatalink Maestro compatible

The Kenwood DMX907s does not have a CD player however. If you’re not ready to give up CD’s and you want wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you may want to consider the Kenwood DDX9707s.

Kenwood DDX9707s – Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with CD

Although this model is a step up in price because it adds the CD, it lacks HD Radio and the capacitive touch screen. However it does add one more camera input for a total for 4.

Kenwood DDX9907XR – High resolution screen

For the ultimate in high resolution display and features, check out the Kenwood eXcelon DDX9907XR. Although you wouldn’t know it from the stock image, this model has a much more vibrant and saturated picture quality thanks to the 2,764,800 pixel count which is substantially higher when compared to the standard 1,152,000 pixel count screens on the market.

  • High resolution anti-glare Glass Capacitive touch screen 7″
  • Bluetooth
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • HD AM/FM Radio
  • CD player
  • SiriusXM Ready (SXV300 tuner required)
  • Front, rear and subwoofer pre-amp outputs (5 volt gold plated)
  • Built in crossovers
  • 13 Band EQ with source dependent memory
  • Additional sound control features such as Supreme, speaker size and spatial enhancement
  • Various background display(or upload your own)
  • Dual Rear USB
  • Rear A/V input (requires 3.5 A/V adapter)
  • 4 camera inputs including dedicated HD camera input for CMOS-740HD
  • iDatalink Maestro compatible

Why no Pioneer models?

You may have noticed I didn’t list any Pioneer models. I haven’t seen any Pioneer product available since August of 2020. My understanding is many of the aftermarket stereo manufacturers also have contracts with automakers and they have to fulfill those contracts before they can work on fulfilling orders for aftermarket products. Pioneer appears to be effected by this the most. The latest I heard from an industry insider is maybe we’ll begin to see Pioneer products available mid to late summer.

Conclusion

So what is the best Apple CarPlay Android Auto Head unit 2021? Truly it will be the one you can find in stock. Inventory is tighter than I have ever seen it my 21 years in the industry. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t even sell radios over the counter to customers anymore. We have to have discretion due to supply issues and what we do sell must come with professional installation only. Given the limited product availability, if 2021 is the year you want to upgrade to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, you may have to compromise on features or spend more than you anticipated. The alternate option is to wait until next year when hopefully the semiconductor shortage has been addressed.

4 comments for “Best Apple CarPlay Android Auto Head Unit 2021

  1. Thomas Pantazi
    May 10, 2021 at 8:48 pm

    Thank you for a review I can actually use. I want a head unit that will support Android auto well and have a decent display. I tried a cheap Chinese or Korean unit last year and it’s only good side was it’s low price. I’m glad I tried because I realized what I want most from a head unit.

    Unfortunately at this time none of the units you mentioned are available. I can wait so I will keep watching for the Alpine or Kenwood units to be I stock.

    • May 11, 2021 at 8:53 am

      Thanks, Thomas. I’m glad you found it helpful! I can’t believe how quickly things have been selling out. Out of all the major name brands, Kenwood has done the best job of shipping products and sounded most optimistic about its current situation. Sony might be in better shape mid to late summer and Alpine is really up in the air. If you don’t need Maestro control, there is a new model coming from Stinger (they do the HEIGH10 radio I reviewed in a previous post). It’s a mini version of that same operating system, standard 6.8″ double din and very reasonably priced. It’s called the GX-3800 – should be out some time in June.

  2. roy korbel
    April 17, 2021 at 2:12 pm

    Hypothetically, if all the latest and greatest were abundantly in stock, which would you pick and why?

    • April 17, 2021 at 5:21 pm

      Hi Roy – thanks for the great question. It really depends on the application and vehicle requirements. If we’re talking non iDatalink Maestro and we don’t need or care for wireless CarPlay/Android Auto or a CD player, the Alpine iLX-W650 would be my pick. Great value, easy to use, great sound quality – extremely low failure rate, I think I can remember having 1 defective unit and that was because the customer I sold it to tried to install it himself and blew it up by not grounding it properly. It still turned on, but no output so I think that really helps to show how reliable that model has been.

      For a vehicle that requires Maestro compatibility, I would go with anything Kenwood for similar reasons – excellent value, great sound quality and I love that they use linux as the operating system in the background. In the past year I can recall one problematic Kenwood unit but it was from a Jeep Wrangler client who left his top off and it got soaked. If you do need a Maestro compatible radio, on the more entry level side that would be the DMX7706s or DMX706s (mechless). I still have my DMX7704s which is a few years old and I love it, it’s really a great sounding unit with a nice 13 band EQ and other great sound quality features – more so than Alpine. If you need CD that would be the DDX6706s or DDX6906s. After that you just have to determine what other features are important – wireless CarPlay/Android Auto, HD Radio and quality of screen – capacitive or resistive or high resolution capacitive. Those are the features added as you go up in price and model within the Kenwood line up.

      If budget isn’t a factor then I would pick the DDX9907XR which gives you the highest resolution capacitive screen, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, HD Radio, gold plated pre-amp output, Maestro compatibility and a CD player. I hope that helps!

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