Hands on review, the best single din head unit for 2012

Best Single Din Head Unit 2012

Update – Check out the 2014 review here

Recently my sales staff and I had a chance to do an A, B, C listening comparison between what I thought would be the top three single din head units for 2012. We carefully listened to a few different tracks over and over again between Alpine’s CDE-HD138BT, Kenwood’s KDC-X996 and Pioneer’s DEH-80PRS.

In our opinion, the Kenwood KDC-X996 wins hands down. The top of the line Kenwood Excelon head unit proved to have the best sound quality, best mix of features and best audio control. For the full review, complete with hands on demonstration, watch the video below.

Best Double Din Car Stereo Head units for 2012

Best Double Din Car Stereos

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.

Update – To read about the best double din head unit for 2014 – Click Here

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 your money 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 CD-IU51V  iPod cable, you can use your iPhone for advanced apps. Enjoy Pandora radio on your iPhone? Simply use this optional cable 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 is an additional cost. 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)

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 Stree 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 cash 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. 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.

So the DDX419 gives you a few features over the AVH-P2400BT

  • 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 the additional cost? Probably not. The advanced app mode however probably is worth it.

Advanced app mode on the Pioneer AVH-P8400BH

Using the optional CD-IU201S iPod/iPhone cable 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 quite a bit more for just a few 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.

JL Audio introduces Stealthmod for Chevy Camaro Convertible, Kia Soul and BMW X5

JL Audio Stealthmod

Looking for an easy OEM upgrade?  Take a look at JL Audio’s all new Stealthmod.

JL Audio Stealthmod for Chevy Camaro includes a Stealthbox with two 10″ W1 Subwoofers

In my last JL Audio post, I briefly mentioned a new product from JL Audio, called the Stealthmod.  For all you car audio enthusiasts out there that own a Kia Soul, Chevy Camaro Convertible or a BMW X5, read on.  Don’t own one of these cars?  That’s okay, keep reading, JL will be adding more models soon.

JL Audio is no stranger to OEM system upgrades.  They’ve been offering easy OEM sound upgrades for over 15 years.  Their first Stealthbox hit the market in 1996.  9 years later, JL Audio released the CleanSweep, a sophisticated DSP processor that eliminates frequency errors that occur in factory audio systems. This brings us to the newest integration breakthrough from JL Audio, the Stealthmod.

The Stealthmod is what lies between simply adding a Stealthbox to an OEM audio system and doing a complete overhaul with the CleanSweep.  Currently the Stealthmod is available for the Chevy Camaro Convertible, Kia Soul and (very soon) the BMW X5.  JL Audio has taken the guess work out of upgrading your stock system.

JL Audio Stealth Mod Camaro Convertible

After months of research and development, JL Audio is proud to offer a complete OEM upgrade kit that will include:

-Component speaker upgrades

-System amplifier with remote level control

-Wiring (power, speaker and signal)

-Brackets, adaptors and hardware

-Detailed installation and setup instructions


JL Audio has thought of everything with these kits.  I was shocked at CES to see that these kits are shipped with every wire you need for the installation, pre-cut, down to the exact length of wire required for the application.  They also include every nut, bolt, screw, fastener and bracket you will need.  JL Audio has always offered excellent quality products at extremely reasonable prices and I think you will agree that these Stealthmods, like most JL Audio products, are a great value.

Prices and equipment will range from vehicle to vehicle.  The Kia Soul Stealthmod includes a pair of C2-650x’s, the 3 channel XD 500/3 and a vehicle specific Stealthbox housing a 12″ W0.  This system can be yours for $1449.95.

If you own a Chevy Camaro Convertble, your Stealthmod will include a pair of C3-650 convertible speakers, the 5 channel XD 700/5 and a custom Stealthbox enclosure housing two 10″ W1 subwoofers for only $2399.95.

For the BMW X5 drivers out there, your Stealthmod (with stock premium audio system) will include a set of C5 tweeters and passive crossovers, the 5 channel XD 700/5 and a Stealthbox housing a 10″ W3.  The BMW X5 Stealthmod is offered for X5’s with the Harman Kardon Logic 7 system and will be sold for only $1899.95.

JL Audio Black BMW X5 Stealthmod Subwoofer Upgrade – 94518/ Contains One 10W3v3-2 Subwoofer/ Five-Channel Amplifier To Power The Front Speaker System And Filter Its Frequency Ranges For Increased Performance/ Stealthbox Installs Beneath The Cargo Area Floor In The Passenger-Side Rear Corner Of The Spare Tire Well/ Offers Dramatic Improvements In Low-Frequency Extension And Quality/ Black Finish

Due to the nature of these all inclusive kits, the installation will take a fraction of the time that a traditional custom OEM audio upgrade would take.  Without the need to plan and/or fabricate anything, the installation of these kits will be a breeze and thus cut down on installation costs as well.

Always thinking ahead, JL Audio is making great strides in OEM integration.  For more information on your Stealthmod, along with specific application details, visit JL Audio’s website.  Have you installed a JL Audio Stealthmod yet?  If so, please tell us your experience.

JL Audio revamps their line of car audio subwoofers and amplifiers for 2012

Newest JL Audio subwoofers

During CES 2012, I had a chance to check out some of the great improvements and new additions JL Audio made to their car audio line up.  Some of these additions include 10″ and 12″ W3 shallow mount subwoofers, a new line of Slash series amps as well as redesigns of their W1, W3 and W6 line of subwoofers.

JL Audio has always been a tried and true American car audio company.  In fact, they’re the only car audio company I’m aware of that still manufacturers products in the USA.  Their quality is reminiscent of the days of great American car audio.  While other brands like Rockford, ADS, Orion, PPI, Phoenix Gold and others sold out and shipped manufacturing overseas, JL did what they could to stay as close to their values as possible, despite changing economies and market shifts.  That’s why I have a W6 in my car; it’s the best sounding subwoofer I’ve heard and it’s part of the line of subwoofers JL Audio offers that are made in the USA.

JL’s 13TW5 was our first introduction to JL’s family of flat line subwoofers.

During 2008, while other companies were implementing layoffs and cutting costs, JL Audio was busy at work engineering new products and spending their time and money redesigning their future line of car audio equipment.  When the market your business operates in changes and business drops as a result of that, you may see your competition struggling, cutting back costs or they may fail and bow out (unless you’re lucky enough to be a bank, insurance company or automobile manufacturer, instead of bowing out, you get bailed out).  For the rest of us, that’s the best time to reinvest in your company and JL Audio knows this.  They assumed the economy and market would turn around eventually, and that when it did, they were going to be years ahead of their competitors.  Based on the record breaking attendance at CES 2012 (153,000 and still tallying), I’d say the economy is turning around and JL Audio is now poised to own their market.

JL Audio TW3, new shallow mount sub revealed at CES 2012
JL Audio TW3, new shallow mount sub revealed at CES 2012

One of the revolutionary products JL Audio developed during that time, was their shallow mount subwoofer.  We all know, or should know by now, the 13-TW5.  JL Audio owns the patents on this fantastic subwoofer design Let me just say this.  There are a lot of shallow subs on the market these days.  Pioneer has one, Alpine has one, Kenwood has one too.  I’ve tried those brands and I believe, this is, by far, the best sounding shallow mount subwoofer out of all of them.

JL Audio knows that space is an issue in all vehicles, probably more so than any other car audio company on the market.  JL Audio introduced their line of space saving Stealth Boxes 15 years ago.  Even back in 1997, these guys were well aware of space constraints in vehicle subwoofer applications.  They were creating effective solutions way ahead of their competitors and they continue to do so to this day.  By the way, have you seen their line of powersports audio equipment?  Talk about an audio system in a tight space; try doing it in a Can-AM or a Polaris.

Magnet view of the new JL Audio Shallow mount W3

Expanding on their strength of creating high fidelity with substantial bass response in tight spaces, JL introduces two new shallow mount subwoofers within their W3 line up.

With a mounting depth of just 3.25″ for the 10″ TW3, only 3.5″ for the 12″ TW3, the TW3 lineup is poised for various tight space vehicle applications.  Enclosure requirements are only .5 cubic feet for the 10″ and .75 cubic feet for the 12″.

Don’t let the shallow look fool you, unlike other manufacturer’s making shallow mount subwoofers simply by utilizing smaller magnets, these subs have a real magnet and some serious weight to them (about 18 lbs on the 13-TW5).  Leave it to the resourceful engineers at JL Audio, using their patented concentric tube suspension design and floating cone attach method, they’ve been able to produce 3 different shallow mount subwoofers with excursion ratings exceeding that of their traditional W3.

Available in 10″ and 12″ with a dual 4 ohm voice coil and rated at 400 watts RMS, the TW3 shallow mount subwoofers will be reasonably priced at $299.95 for the 10″ and $349.95 for the 12″.

JL Audio’s newly designed W6 revealed at CES 2012

Other subwoofers that got a face lift include the W1 and the W6.  The W6 had it’s last redesign in 2002.  For a car audio subwoofer to go 10 years without a redesign is pretty unheard of, but the W6 is just that good.  Did I mention I have one in my car?  The newly redesigned W6 boasts a larger, more powerful motor system with the 12W6v3 motor system being 20% larger.  Also improved is the linear excursion capability, 14% more than W6v2.  More obvious improvements to the naked eye include an improved cooling circuit design (patented) and a more attractive satin black basket.  I know, I know…..You’re thinking “Who actually looks at that anyways, it’s going to be in a box?”.  Even so, you know it’s there and you know it’s cooler looking than your buddy’s classic 12W6V2.

We always knew JL Audio was great at manufacturing subwoofers that not only sounded good, but looked good. Perhaps you’re wondering what can we use to power these awesome new subwoofers?  Especially for those tight space applications?

JL Audio’s new JX 500/1D shown with an iPhone for size reference

Check out the newly redesigned JX 500/1D.  The new 500 watt RMS mono amplifier is 43% smaller over last year’s model.  Moving away from the class A/B amplifier design, the new JX 500/1D utilizes the far more efficient Class D amplifier technology.  Consistent with their line of space saving subwoofers, once again, JL Audio was able to pack a mighty punch in a tiny package.  Measuring at only 2.09″ x 7.68″ x 7.83″, you will have no excuse as to why you can’t fit a subwoofer in your car.

Not digging the size?  Maybe small just isn’t your thing.  Don’t worry, JL Audio has revamped their classic Slash series amplifiers.  The striking new look features an all-black finish that is a drastic change from their signature silver/titanium finished amps.  The distinct appearance of the new Slash series amps is reflective of the fact that the Slash series ARE distinctively different from JL’s JX, XD and HD amplifiers.  Underneath the attractive new cover you will find on-board signal processing that includes a parametric equalizer along with very adjustable and tweakable crossovers, making this amp an installer’s dream choice.

The new lineup of Slash series amps also includes the warm and sweet sounding, class A/B, four channel, the 300/4v3, rated at 75 x 4 RMS.

Look at the wide range of tuning adjustments on the new 300/4v3

With so many tuning options, make sure you read their detailed instruction manual.  If you don’t know what the adjustments do, you can really screw up your sound, or worse, damage your speakers or the amp.

One of the features that makes the Slash series amps so versatile is their R.I.P.S. (Regulated Intelligent Power Supply) technology.  The regulated intelligent power supply provides consistent power whether you have a 1.5 ohm load or a 4 ohm load, or anything in between.  In addition to the regulated power supply, the Slash series amps are equipped with Advanced Rollback Thermal protection which helps to maintain consistent playback even in demanding conditions.

The JL Audio Slash 1000/1v2 mono amp received a makeover along with a 200 watt upgrade

In the monoblock models you will find the output has been increased 20% over the previous Slash series amplifiers.  The 1200/1 v3 is replacing the classic 1000/1v2 mono amp from JL Audio, packing an extra 200 watts over it’s previous version.  Following a similar upgrade is the 600/1v3, replacing the 500/1 v2 with an extra 100 watts RMS power.

But wait, there’s more!  JL Audio is also releasing all new OEM upgrade packages.  Looking for an upgrade over your stock audio system, but don’t feel like overhauling and tearing out everything?  Introducing the Stealthmod.  The Stealthmod is sort of a spinoff from their line of stealthboxes.  JL is making it easier to do an upgrade one step above the basic amp and sub upgrade.  Currently available for the Kia Soul, the Chevy Camaro Convertible and the BMW X5 (with premium audio), JL has designed packages that will not only include a stealthbox, an amplifier and speaker upgrade, these kits will include everything you need to install it all.  And I mean EVERYTHING, including subwoofer control knob, all brackets, fasteners, adapters and every wire you will need pre-cut to the precise length you will need for your application.  These systems are designed to make an OEM upgrade easy and highly effective.  JL Audio will be expanding their list of vehicle applications for  Stealthmods throughout 2012.

With so many innovative quality products to offer, it’s no wonder this company has stood the test of time.  I look forward to sharing the new line up with my customers in 2012. I hope you enjoyed this preview of new products from JL Audio as much as I did.  To find a JL Audio dealer near you, click here.