Looking for the best double din car stereo head unit for your car?

Every customer is unique and their needs are all very different.  My customers come into my shop looking for double din head units for a variety of reasons.  They often feel that double din car stereos:

  • Have a cleaner look, fit and finish
  • Are easier to use thanks to a nice large touch screen
  • Have attractive features like Bluetooth handsfree, Bluetooth audio streaming, USB, Aux, Nav capabilities, DVD playback, App integration, easy iPod integration, large bright controls, customizable displays and more.

So what makes one double din head unit better than another?

Simply put, the answer is features.  For the purposes of familiarity, I will focus on the models that I sell in my store so that I can give you honest, tried and true information as if you were with me in my showroom.  First up, Pioneer.

The Pioneer AVH-P2400BT is a nice entry level, but full featured, double din head unit.
The Pioneer AVH-P2400BT is a nice entry level, but full featured, double din head unit.


So what do you get for $329.99 with the Pioneer AVH-P2400BT?  Quite a bit actually.

This head unit is a great option for people looking for a nice large touch screen that will make it easy to access the music in their iPod/iPhone  or other USB based MP3 player.  It also has Bluetooth Audio streaming.  So if you have an Android, Blackberry, iPhone or other smart phone you can pair your phone to the stereo and wirelessly stream music from your cell phone to the stereo.  This is a great feature if you like to listen to a lot of music apps.

I often suggest to customers to use their cell phone apps for things like their favorite radio stations that may not come in clear in the area that they drive in.  Using a cell phone app, you can listen to virtually any radio station in the world!  As long as you have cell coverage, you will have 100 percent clear sound quality.  Imagine that.  No static on your favorite AM talk radio station.  Of course you would need a smart phone, a pretty good data plan and good cell service for this to work.

With Pioneer’s CDIU51v iPod cable, you can use your iPhone for advanced apps.  Enjoy Pandora radio on your iPhone?  Simply use this optional cable ($49.99) and connect it to the front USB/Aux on the stereo and connect your iPhone.  Then launch Pandora from your iPhone.  Your stations and all artist and song title information will appear on screen along with a thumbs up and thumbs down icon.  Full Pandora radio control from your iPhone on screen!  How cool is that?

Additional cool features include a backup camera input, it’s satellite radio ready (although who really needs that if you have a smart phone), an 8 Band equalizer and 3 preouts (2 volt).  This stereo also has a wired remote input for steering wheel control integration and a wireless remote control.

One additional cost to be aware of with all Pioneer double din head units is that they do not come with a mounting sleeve or trim ring.  Most installation kits will not require this, but some cars will and this additional part costs $49.99.  If your vehicle requires a mounting sleeve and trim ring, you will need to buy the ADT-VA133 in addition to any installation kit, wiring harness or antenna adapter.

Who is this stereo NOT for?

For anyone looking to build a high fidelity audio system.  The low voltage on the RCA preouts will effect your sound quality should you ever decide to add additional amplifiers.  If you are planning on upgrading speakers, adding and amplifier and/or subwoofer.  Check out the Pioneer AVH-P4400BH or the Kenwood DDX419.

Pioneer's AVH-P4400BH gives you a nice large easy to use touch screen
Pioneer's AVH-P4400BH gives you a nice large easy to use touch screen.


So what does the Pioneer AVH-P4400BH offer?

Additional features over the AVH-P2400BT include:

  • A larger touch screen 7″ vs 5.8″
  • The screen is also motorized and offers 5 different viewing angles.
  • Higher voltage preouts 4 Volt over 2 Volt
  • Build in HD Radio
  • Rear USB (cleaner look, no cables dangling from the front of the stereo)
  • App mode using the CD-IU201V (launch and control select apps from iPhone)

Not a fan of Pioneer?  Check out Kenwood’s DDX419 for a nice double din car stereo head unit.


Kenwood's DDX419 is a great option for a Double Din Car Stereo
Kenwood's DDX419 is a great option for a Double Din Car Stereo.


So what does the Kenwood DDX419 have to offer?

For one, they look awesome in European cars.  Check out the matte black finish.  The Pioneer’s have a shiny black.  The illumination options also really capture the Red, Blue and Amber lighting of the European cars very well.

  • 6.1″ touch screen (entry level Pioneer had a 5.8″)
  • Bluetooth handsfree and audio streaming
  • 4 Volt preouts (good for aftermarket amps!)
  • Front USB/Aux
  • App mode with Pandora control for iPhone, launch any audio/video app from your iPhone and hear and view playback with the including Garmin Street Pilot App with optional KCA-ip22F
  • SiriusXM Ready
  • Back up camera input
  • Wired remote input for steering wheel remote integration
  • Multicolor illumination
  • Volume Knob (as opposed to Volume Rocker with Pioneer)
  • Comes with mounting sleeve and trim ring
  • 3 Band EQ (Pioneer had an 8 band)

So for the $430 this will set you back (if you were to also purchase the app integration iPhone cable), you get a LOT of features for the money.  Remember, this head unit comes with the mounting sleeve and trim ring and their app cable is only $30.  The entry level Pioneer had a more advanced EQ, but a lower voltage preout.  When you add in the trim ring, mounting sleeve and App cable with the entry level Pioneer, you’d be spending about the same amount of money ($330 + $40 + $50 = $420).

So for $10 more than the Pioneer AVH-P2400BT, the DDX419 gives you

  • Higher voltage preouts
  • A volume knob
  • Larger screen

Going for the latest and greatest in cool features?  Then you have to check out Pioneer’s AVH-P8400BH.


Pioneer's AVH-P8400BH offers Mixtrax and Advanced App Mode
Pioneer's AVH-P8400BH offers MIXTRAX and Advanced App Mode.


MIXTRAX was all the rave at the Pioneer booth during CES2012.  What the hell is MIXTRAX?  Besides being a great excuse for Pioneer’s CES organizers to hire a hot girl in short shorts and give her her very own DJ stage to entertain CES attendees and Pioneer employees, I’m not really sure who MIXTRAX would appeal to and why they would want it.  You don’t get the cute girl in the short shorts when you buy the AVH-P8400BH and I certainly don’t think it will attract any cute girls in short shorts volunteering to be your own personal DJ while you drive around town listening to your car stereo.

It’s kind of like Pandora in that you tell it that you like what it’s playing and it will continue to search your music to play music with similar beats per minute.  I think you can even select the beats per minute and it will find songs that match.  It’s definitely geared towards customers that are into the club scene.  According to Pioneer’s website:

“MIXTRAX is an innovative Pioneer technology that creates a non-stop mix of your music library complete with a range of DJ-inspired effects. Drawing from Pioneer’s rich DJ heritage with our passion for music, MIXTRAX delivers a unique DJ infused listening experience to listeners in the car. MIXTRAX takes the music from an iPod, iPhone, or USB device and plays it back with added transitions and effects, creating a virtual DJ inside the AVH-P8400BH.

MIXTRAX works by first having the MIXTRAX PC software automatically analyze a track’s BPM, bar, beat position, vocal position and mood, then adds the analyzed data to the music file. The AVH-P8400BH reads the embedded MIXTRAX data from your audio device as you enjoy precise, full featured non-stop mixes in your vehicle complete with album art that dances to the beat!  You can also experience MIXTRAX as an app for the iPhone 4/4S or iPod Touch (4th Gen) and using Advanced App Mode to control the MIXTRAX app through the receiver’s touchscreen display.”

So, yeah, it’s a cool feature.  Worth another $150?  Probably not.  The advanced app mode however probably is worth another $150 bucks.

Advanced app mode on the Pioneer AVH-P8400BH

Using the optional CD-IU201S iPod/iPhone cable ($75) you can essentially turn your double din head unit into a double din navigation unit.  The advanced app mode is advanced control over select apps like MotionX GPS Drive, INRIX traffic, Rdio, and hopefully many more as developers turn out more apps.

The major difference with the preceding models app mode is the control feature.  With the AVH-P4400 and the AVH-P2400BT you are launching the app from your iPhone and still controlling and entering information on your iPhone.  Whatever your iPhone is doing is then reflected on screen and the audio is heard throughout the speakers in your car.  Advanced mode means you’ll actually be able to control the navigation (using a specific app such as Motion X GPS).

Once you add in the additional cost of the advanced app mode cable (and don’t forget your mounting sleeve and trim ring if you need it), this stereo ends up costing another $225 for a few gimmicky features.  That’s just my opinion anyways.  I don’t ever go anywhere where I really need GPS and I don’t listen to the type of music you would hear playing in a club.  For customers that own an iPhone and can appreciate the GPS app feature (or for those that listen to a lot of dance, dub step, house, etc.) it’s probably well worth it to spend the extra dough.

Now that you know what your choices are and what each model has to offer, it’s up to you to weigh what features are most important and decide what is the best double din car stereo for YOU.

Need more help making your decision?  Please make a comment or email me with any questions.  I’ll do my best to guide you in the exact same personalized manner that I do with my customers at my shop every day.

Thinking about getting a double din with navigation?  Check out the Best Double Din Navigation section here.


  1. Welp, After 20 years of being totally biased about head units, I decided to break out of my Alpine realm and buy the Kenwood DDX419. I chose the Kenwood over another Alpine due in part to your review of the Kenwood Excelon X996. I figured if you thought it had better SQ then the comparible Alpine model, then mabey the same could be said for a Double-Din Touchscreen unit for which I have yet to experience.

    I installed the DDX419 to replace my Alpine CDA-117 with the IMPRINT processor (Yes, I tried the IMPRINT even after your recommendation/opinion of how you don’t care for it), and to say the least, I was “blown away” by the sound quality improvement. I never realized how bad my Alpine sounded compared to the new Kenwood (Yes, even with the IMPRINT). It was like night and day! All of the sudden my music sounded more defined. My sub sounded smoother and more realistic. The stereo seperation sounded much better. And, my tweeters really came alive. I simply could not believe the SQ difference.

    Other cool features about the DDX419 are the pure ease of operation (especially the bluetooth/phone peature), the sound shaping functions, and the fact that I got it on sale at a Best Buy for $300. This was due to a price matching after it went on sale at Crutchfield for the same price.

    On the negatives side, the front panel ipod jacks and HUGE ipod cable are very annoying. I have no idea why the wouldn’t put the ipod jacks on the back of the unit. Also the fact that during ipod track navigation, the search screen always returns to the top of a playlist whenever you return to it from an individual song screen.

    Other then those minor annoyances, this is a GREAT touchscreen Head Unit. The picture quality during DVD playback is incredible.

    So Thank You Kindly Annie for you time and dedication with this website. The information you provide us with is greatly helpful. I trust you opinions due to your (and John’s)experience and hands-on research with this hobby!

    • Not quite the same processor in the DDX419 to the KDC-X996, but I’m glad to hear you were happy with it!

  2. Hi Annie, awesome site and awesome write ups.. Im looking at the pioneer appradio 2 but have some reservations as it does not support xm except thru yur phone. My cell service is in and out on back roads so i would rather not depend on it for xm radio. I like all the other features but cant find any other double dins that support the android platform. any suggestions??

    • Hi Carl,
      I’m glad you appreciate the site! I feel your pain. There are solutions on the way. I have had several manufacturers from overseas contact me regarding testing true mirror link head units that will support Android platform. It looks pretty promising, but I don’t know when they’ll be readily available and shipping. In the mean time, you could always go for a more basic head unit solution that supports a dedicated SiriusXM tuner and Bluetooth. You could use the bluetooth to stream any audio from your phone. That paired with a nice holder for your cell phone in your car may serve as a temporary solution until a truly functional mirror link product that supports Android hits the market.

  3. Thanks for sharing your opinions in your research and write-ups, as well as who would and who would not like certain head unit – too many sites provide specs with little insight. I’m researching double-din units – I want a touchscreen with DVD and quick USB thumb drive recongnition/response time. I thought I settled on the Pioneer AVH-P4400BH, but read somewhere else that it took 30 seconds to recognize the USB content…..Is that true? Are there other DD units with a quicker USB recognition time?

    • I wouldn’t say that’s true. I think our instant gratification and technology craved & dependent culture has developed extreme impatience. To these impatient people what feels like 30 seconds to them is really like 6 or 8 seconds. I have not witnessed that in any of the models I sell from Pioneer, Kenwood or Alpine.

  4. Hi Annie

    I need your help.

    I’m looking for the best double din head unit for making/taking calls. I would like a mic that’s integrated into the unit rather than having to mount externally…unless externally is better. Something with a very easy/quick interface for making calls. Doing some research, I’ve found that taking calls is the easy part, usually one button to punch on the head unit. It also seems that single din head units are slightly more cumbersome when making calls which has pointed me towards the doubles.

    Here is the priority list
    1. Very easy human-machine interface for making/taking calls; internal mic preferred
    2. Being able to use my iPhone apps…o.k. if adapter is required
    3. USB/AUX connection
    4. HD Radio/Pandora

    I’d really like to hear your recommendations. (I like what you had to say about the above Kenwood DDX419.)

    • Hi mlp,
      For best Bluetooth handsfree sound quality, you definitely want an external mic. I do think the Kenwood DDX419 is very easy to use and if you use an iPhone, the dialing is easy as there is a voice dial button in the telephone menu which prompts the voice dial of the iPhone. There are limited sound quality adjustments on this particular double din Kenwood. Based on your list I would actually suggest the Pioneer AVH-P4400BH or even the AVH-P8400. I think the 8400 has an easier to access phone menu and easier to see, much nicer screen resolution. But either one has a phone icon in the top right of the screen that will allow you quick access to your phone menu where you can access your phonebook or a keypad. I think these models may have a bit better sound quality/adjustments when it comes to the bluetooth handsfree mic sound quality.

      Another popular option that I offer to many customers is a dedicated phone dock like this one from Dice Electronics (you want the DCR300) along with a vehicle specific bracket from Panavise (search by vehicle). You can always see your phone and use the voice dial feature on your phone if you prefer. Once you initiate a call from the phone, the bluetooth automatically takes over. A lot of customers prefer this option with whatever model stereo we install.

  5. Awesome web site BTW

    What do you think of the Clarion CX501 Head Unit.

    Ever heard of Fusion Car Audio (New Zeland Company) Any good?

    I currently have a sub hooked up at 1 OHM and im gonna change it and make it a dual sub at 2 Ohm – my amp can handle the 2 even at 2Ohm

    • Hi Richard,
      I’m glad you enjoy the site! Thanks for checking it out and commenting. I don’t really sell Clarion, I kind of dabbled in a few pieces here and there over the years, but was never super impressed with it. I did check out that deck on Crutchfield and it seems like a good value. I have heard of Fusion Car Audio, checked them out a few times at CES. They’re hard too ignore, green aliens and all 🙂 I think they’re great at marketing, I wasn’t super impressed with the product. I have yet to find a company that exceeds the quality in JL Audio amps and subs. But I’m always open to hearing new speakers and amps from any company, currently I’m really digging Morel speakers.

  6. Hey I’m getting a stero set up in my ve and and have a ve , which means it needs the ve aftermarket dash kit to have a after market head unit. But they only compaterble with 2din alpine and pioneer head units, could you give me any adive on the better head unit for one around a $1000 cheers

    • Hi Anthony, very cool. We don’t have VE’s over in the US, so I did a bit of research on the forums regarding this. Based on what Alpine is offering in Australia, I would stick with Pioneer.

      They’re not nearly as glitchy and they have offerings without nav too which is nice if you don’t need navigation. I’ve owned the Pioneer AVIC-Z120BT, the Pioneer AVIC-Z130BT and the Alpine INAW900BT and I’ve sold plenty of the Alpine INAW910BT, and I prefer Pioneer when it comes to reliability, display quality/customization, app interfacing for iPhone (not sure if feature over there though, but don’t see why it wouldn’t be). The Alpine is easier to use (when it doesn’t freeze up on you), but I prefer the features and reliability of the Pioneer.

      Having the steering controls will make the Pioneer easier to use. The annoying thing about the Pioneer is the touch scroll feature for searching for radio preset stations or artist/album on iPod. I always ended up tapping the wrong selection and then would have to go back and reselect (hard to do sometimes when you’re driving and trying to tap a small area on the screen to make your selection).

      Now, did you mean $1000 US? Or $1000 AUD? If AUD I like this option.

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