Sony XAV-AX6000 vs XAV-AX4000 Review

Recently Sony released 2 new Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto models, the XAV-AX6000 and XAV-AX4000. I’ve always been a huge fan of Sony. John and I have had a few different Sony models in both our vehicles throughout the 20+ years we’ve been working together. Sony has always been big on quality and value which is a hard combo to find – especially these days! I recently took the time to break it all down in this Sony XAV-AX6000 vs XAV-AX4000 review on YouTube. But some people, myself included, prefer to read about these things. If that includes you this is your post!

Sony XAV-AX6000 vs XAV-AX4000 – Similar features

Let’s start by reviewing what these models have in common.

  • Wireless Apple CarPlay
  • Wireless Android Auto
  • iDatalink Maestro Compatible
  • SiriusXM Ready
  • Reverse Camera input
  • AM/FM Radio (no HD)
  • USB C input (extension cable included) with 3 amp charging
  • 6.95″ touch screen
  • 14 Band EQ
  • Digital Time Alignment – either preset or manually adjust
  • Built in crossover adjustments up to 48 dB per octave
  • Subwoofer phase adjustment – love that!

Finally – iDatalink Maestro Compatibility

I was really happy to see this feature finally added into the Sony line up. Now, it may not be the prettiest integration, but if you’re mainly using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto that aspect looks the same regardless of what head unit you have.

XAV-AX6000 vs XAV-AX4000 review
2016 Jeep Cherokee with factory 8.4″ UConnect – OEM HVAC display can be maintained when using an iDatalink Maestro compatible radio.

Previously if you wanted wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and you had a car that needed an iDatalink Maestro like a 2016 Jeep Cherokee, you were spending beaucoup bucks to get both features with Kenwood or Alpine ($750 – $800). Now with the XAV-AX4000 (with a regular retail price $599.99) you can get into these features at a much more reasonable price.

XAV-AX6000 vs XAV-AX4000 review
Sony XAV-AX6000 vs XAV-AX4000 Review – iDatalink Maestro HVAC display for select models such as the 2016 Jeep Cherokee

As mentioned, it’s not the most esthetically pleasing graphic user interface – I think Alpine does a better job with their Maestro HVAC graphics, BUT this is definitely practical. It gets the job done and you’re able to retain features and functions which is the main point of the Maestro.

XAV-AX6000 vs XAV-AX4000 – What’s missing from both?

I was surprised to see that neither of these models features HD Radio. However, that could be considered a luxury feature and these are value priced models. Besides – who needs FM/AM Radio anyways when you have wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto? Exactly. If you are the type of person who still listens to FM/AM radio you will be pleased to know the reception in both models is quite impressive which is typical of Sony. However, they do have scrolling presets. Not a fan of scrolling presets!

XAV-AX6000 vs XAV-AX4000 review
Sony XAV-AX6000 vs XAV-AX4000 Review – XAV-AX4000 pictured

Aside from missing HD Radio, the other potential drawback to be aware of on both of these models is this – reverse camera input only. I find that most clients are totally fine with this. They’re usually just looking to retain their factory reverse camera and not necessarily add a front park assist camera. However, there are those clients out there. You know the kind with young new drivers behind the wheel for the first time. Deep down in their hearts if they could, they would wrap their kid in bubble wrap and strap a helmet on their head before they leave the house. These parents want every possible safety feature added to their older cars such as a front camera, park sensors, blind spot sensors, etc. Alas – there is no front camera input on either the XAV-AX6000 or XAV-AX4000 so if you are that parent, consider an Alpine or Kenwood receiver instead.

So what’s the difference?

I thought you’d never ask. For one, there is a subtle difference in the screens. The XAV-AX4000 has a resistive touch screen whereas the XAV-AX6000 uses a capacitive touch screen. From a functionality standpoint (which you can see in the YouTube video here), they are both similarly responsive and accurate to touch.

XAV-AX6000 vs XAV-AX4000 review
Sony XAV-AX4000 – Resistive touch screen

I find that the XAV-AX6000 is only slightly more vibrant and saturated in color. I expected a more dramatic difference in the contrast, vibrancy and saturation. Perhaps due to the matte finish, it’s a bit muted.

XAV-AX6000 vs XAV-AX4000 review
Sony XAV-AX6000 Capacitive touch screen

Other than the actual difference in screen type, the XAV-AX6000 has what they call an edge to edge bezel-less screen whereas the XAV-AX4000 has a small frame/trim around the screen. See below.

XAV-AX6000 on the left with Bezel-less screen – XAV-AX4000 on the right with traditional trim around the screen.

What else?

There are 3 other major differences between these two models. One of which I consider kind of a bonus feature, but some clients will really appreciate it. The XAV-AX6000 features an HDMI input. Keep in mind, it is a micro HDMI input so there is a little bit of cable adapting to actually mirror your iPhone or Android, but it can be done. To learn more about that, check out the short video below where I wrestle with an Android to get mirroring working thru a nice flush mount HDMI adapter. Turns out I needed to turn off Bluetooth on the Android in order to get the HDMI working properly.

As for the other 2 major differences? A whopping 3 year warranty is included on the XAV-AX6000. The XAV-AX4000 includes a standard 1 year warranty. Lastly, the XAV-AX6000 boasts 5 volt pre-amp outputs for front, rear and subwoofer – perfect for building your hi-fidelity aftermarket sound system. The XAV-AX4000 on the other hand features a standard 2 volt pre-amp outputs, also for front, rear and subwoofer.

But is the XAV-AX6000 really 5 volt?

I’m about to find out this weekend when I break out the old Fluke 123B Oscilloscope, but you’ll have to check out my YouTube channel for that. I am curious to see how it performs! With most head units, when rated at 4 volt for example, I expect to see a measurement of 4 volts on each side: 4 volts on the front left RCA pre-out and 4 volts on the front right RCA pre-out. Since the XAV-AX6000 has a mono RCA pre-out – should I expect to see 10 volts when I measure the single mono pre-out? You’ll have to tune in to find out.

Wireless Sound Quality

The other really interesting tidbit I discovered during this Sony XAV-AX6000 vs XAV-AX4000 review is the fact that the Apple CarPlay connection is done entirely wirelessly! That USB C is just there for charging (3 amps) and establishing the initial connection. Sony has implemented their proprietary LDAC technology in both of these receivers enabling high resolution audio streaming up to 990 kbps at 24 bit/96 kHz.

14 Band EQ included on both the XAV-AX4000 and XAV-AX6000

I did spend some time listening to the XAV-AX6000 and I must say, I was quite impressed with the sound quality. For this listening test I used a couple tracks: “Old Man” by Neil Young and “2 Be Loved” by Lizzo. The audio was piped thru some Focal Flax series components running off an older Alpine PDX-F4 amplifier.

Sony XAV-AX6000 vs XAV-AX4000 Review

I used Apple Hi-Res Lossless for this A/B comparison. The audio coming from the Sony XAV-AX6000 was almost indistinguishable to the audio coming from the Kenwood eXcelon DMX709s which features a wired connection and is capable up processing audio files at 24 bit/192 kHz.

Value That is Hard to Beat

The value on both of these wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto iDatalink Maestro compatible head units is pretty phenomenal. We’ve sold quite a few of both and so far all clients are happy. You really can’t go wrong with either model, but the XAV-AX6000 clearly has a few perks that are worth the extra $100. Many clients opt for the XAV-AX6000 just for that 3-year warranty. What do you think? Which wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto model stereo are you putting in your car?

Alpine iLX-507 Review

Alpine iLX-507 Review

It’s been a few months since we received our first shipment of the Alpine iLX-507. Now that we’ve sold and installed a few, I feel I’ve gotten to really know it intimately. It’s time to share my thoughts! For those not familiar, the 507 is essentially the direct replacement for the iLX-207 which we used to have in our old 2013 Wrangler.

Alpine iLX-507 Review - Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
Alpine iLX-507 Review – Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

Where is it made?

One of the first things I always like to look at when a new product arrives at the shop is the outside of the box. Where’s it made? It’s predecessor, the iLX-207, was made in Japan. For comparison, the wildly popular iLX-W650 and subsequent iLX-407 are both made in Korea and the previous Halo models, iLX-F409 and F411, were made in China. I was intrigued to see the Alpine iLX-507 is made in Thailand. Fun fact. I recently had a client ask me where every radio we sold was made. He based his purchase off of the country of origin. As I rattled off the names when I finally got to Indonesia (Kenwood) he stopped me and said, “I ain’t got no problem with them, that works”.

Alpine iLX-507 - Made in Thailand
Alpine iLX-507 – Made in Thailand

HD Screen Quality – But is it really?

Once I got the unit unboxed and wired up, the HD quality of the screen immediately stood out to me. The Alpine iLX-507 features a 1280 x 720 HD screen with a 2,764,800 pixel count. Not bad. Check it out against this Kenwood DMX1057XR on display right next to it. Keep in mind, the Kenwood is physically closer to the camera because it’s floating away from the display board.

Although this new style screen is much more vibrant and aesthetically pleasing than previous models, sadly, I don’t think it’s as accurate/responsive to touch. For example, just playing around with the iLX-W650 and iLX-407 on display, I find their touch screen is more accurate and responsive than the iLX-507. The Kenwood right next to it blows it out of the water in terms of touch reactivity and exactness .

Screen Sensitivity

Check out the drop down tab on the top of the screen. This is supposed to be a quick and easy short cut to get to basic audio controls – which I do appreciate! The Alpine iLX-507 features an incredible amount of audio control such as a 13 band parametric EQ (per channel), BUT there are a lot of clients out there that just want a quick easy bass/treble adjustment.

The manual says to simply tap the blue tab on the top of the screen to display this easy sound set up menu. Sounds simple enough, right? Unfortunately it usually takes me 2-3 tries to get it to actually show up. Super frustrating. Especially when I’m trying to show a client how easy it is to use. Imagine trying to do that while you’re driving and hitting bumps and potholes.

Wireless Apple CarPlay & Android Auto plus iDatalink Maestro compatiblity

The most attractive feature of the Alpine iLX-507 for most clients is the wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. On top of that, this receiver is also iDatalink Maestro compatible which is a critical feature for a lot of different vehicles. Although not required for every car, even something like a 2012 Ford Escape will benefit from the iDatalink Maestro ADS-MRR which can retain OEM features like audio controls on the steering wheel, factory amplifier if equipped, park distance sensors and even the separate radio display that is mounted above the factory radio.

Alpine iLX-507 - Wireless Android Auto
Alpine iLX-507 – Wireless Android Auto

Two USB ports – Optional GPS Navigation

In addition to wireless Apple Carplay and Android Auto, there are TWO USB ports for this receiver. Bonus points – the main USB features 2.4 amp charging. That is huge. I was super surprised this wasn’t covered in an earlier product training when the question was asked, but I’m happy to report the main USB finally has a decent charging rate.

Another super attractive feature is the secondary USB port. This can be used for an additional device such as music files on a thumb drive or for future unit expansion. Eventually Alpine plans to release an optional satellite based GPS navigation add-on (release date TBD – keeps getting pushed back).

Optional GPS

I think optional GPS is a no brainer for radio manufacturers and I really don’t get why more companies don’t offer it. Although the Alpine iLX-507 includes a GPS antenna, which helps to improve accuracy on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you can still run into coverage issues in dead zones. And trust me, there are still plenty of areas especially in New England with zero cell service. That is the drawback of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. No cell service? No GPS. For many clients driving in more densely populated areas, this isn’t a concern, but for folks still out in the country, it’s nice to have satellite based GPS navigation. Keep in mind if/when you decide to add that optional GPS when it becomes available, it will occupy that secondary USB input.

Optional Volume Knob

Speaking of options, would you like to add volume knob? Well luckily you can and the best part about it is you can stick it wherever you want on your dash. The Alpine RUX-H02 is an optional Volume/Subwoofer control knob that works via Bluetooth with the iLX-507. By pushing the knob in you can toggle between master volume control and subwoofer level control. How clever!

Alpine iLX-507 - Optional Volume Knob/Remote Bass Knob
Alpine iLX-507 – Optional Volume Knob/Remote Bass Knob

I do love this accessory. It is such an awesome add-on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a clients car to show them how to use their new stereo and they immediately start reaching for the volume knob that is no longer there. People like knobs, what else can I say?

HD Radio – Scrolling presets

Personally I am not a fan of FM/AM radio, but there are some clients that still like to listen to local radio for music, news, traffic and weather. If you’re in an area with a lot of coverage, you may appreciate the added benefit of HD Radio compatibility. What might peeve you however, is how you access those presets.

Alpine iLX-507 - Scrolling presets
Alpine iLX-507 – Scrolling presets

This is another design aspect I don’t understand. Scrolling presets! Fixed presets 1 thru 6 on the bottom of the screen with a clear band button (like the iLX-W650) is the way to go IMO. It’s just difficult to scroll and select while driving especially if the screen responsiveness isn’t 100%.

Hi-Res audio playback

You may have noticed that the Alpine iLX-507 features Hi-Res audio playback. It’s compatible with higher resolution audio apps like Apple Music, Tidal, Amazon HD or tracks downloaded from HD Tracks and capable of playback at 96kHz/24Bit. This may be a very important feature to a lot of you out there. You might be surprised I haven’t made a bigger deal out of this feature. Practically speaking, most of the clients that have bought this unit are not purchasing it for this reason. Hi-Res audio isn’t even on their radar.

Alpine iLX-507 - capable of Hi-Res Audio
Alpine iLX-507 – capable of Hi-Res Audio

In general, many of my clients don’t really understand that the music they are streaming from Pandora, Spotify and SiriusXM is wildly compressed. Whenever possible, I take the time to let them hear a track off their playlist from their phone using their preferred app and then I let them hear the same track from my phone using Apple lossless. They’re usually blown away by what they’ve been missing. If you are using high res audio apps, you will totally appreciate this feature. If you’re still rockin’ with a free Pandora subscription, it’s time to upgrade and try a higher quality app.

Control up the Wazoo

As nitpicky as I am, one thing I really love about this unit is all of the control it has. There are SO many settings. You can get lost in the settings for days. Telephone/Notification volume settings. Mic gain and echo cancellation/noise reduction settings. Key feedback tone settings. Camera image settings. Source volume settings. Background image/color settings. 13 Band parametric EQ adjustable per channel. In depth crossover settings.

Alpine iLX-507 - Various menu settings
Alpine iLX-507 – Various menu settings

Just look at this. Not only can you adjust Low Pass Filter and High Pass Filter separately for front, rear and subwoofer, look at the frequencies you can choose from. LPF: 4k, 5k, 6.3k, 8k, 10k, 12.5k, 16k & 20k. HPF: 80 Hz, 100 Hz, 125 Hz, 160 Hz, 200 Hz or 250 Hz. Slope: 0, 6, 12, 18 or 24 db per octave plus level adjustment from -12 to 0 dB. Holy crossover control Batman!

In addition to your standard time alignment controls, you can even select whether you want to enter that information based on milliseconds, inches or centimeters! I’m telling you, the Alpine iLX-507 has settings and options galore. They are seriously giving Kenwood a run for their money with all the audio control tools.

But don’t let all that control overwhelm you. For those that find these kinds of options and settings far too advanced, Alpine does include a basic preset EQ section shown here:

What can’t you control?

Unfortunately there are a few things you cannot control such as the blue color on the buttons. You can change the screen color, but not the button color. Go figure. The other thing that kind of drives me batty is automatic front camera control. There isn’t any. Even though the iDatalink Maestro supports automatic front camera control, Alpine does not offer this feature on any of their models right now. You want to use the front camera input, hit the camera button and tap the screen to alternate between the rear camera input and front camera input. On some higher end Kenwood models, the front camera can be automatically triggered for 10 seconds when shifting from reverse to drive. This is what clients expect when they see a stereo features front camera input.

But wait – there’s another catch!

I remember being really excited about this model when I found out it would support a front and rear camera. It’s about time. It always blew my mind that the more basic iLX-W650 supported 2 cameras, but yet the higher end models did not. Unless of course you dropped bank spent more than the cost of the receiver on their HD cameras: HCE-C2100RD, HCE-C2600FD and don’t forget the fancy camera switcher control module KCX-C2600B.

Alpine iLX-507 Review - Camera connections
Alpine iLX-507 Review – Camera connections

Alright, so the Alpine iLX-507 supports a front and rear camera and it doesn’t have to be a proprietary Alpine direct camera. You can use a composite camera using the included adapter in the box. Great! Except they only supply you one adapter. So let’s say you are like my client here the other day with your daughter’s 2017 Subaru Forester that has a factory reverse camera and you want to add wireless Apple CarPlay, retain the steering wheel controls, factory reverse camera and add a basic front camera. Guess what – you will need to buy another part! Available from – 82076-85781C78. I must say that kind of shit drives me crazy. Clients don’t want to be nickel and dimed or surprised to find out they need another part mid install.

Chassis Design

It’s also important to note the chassis design. Unlike Alpine’s other mechless models iLX-W650 and iLX-407, the iLX-507 does not have a shallow chassis. Full single DIN on bottom with a double DIN screen. For most installs that will still leave you some extra space for wire management. All things being equal, I prefer the chassis design of the iLX-W650 and iLX-407 because quite honestly they will fit a larger variety of vehicles. There are some Ford’s on the market (2014 Ford Explorer, I’m looking at you) that simply will not accommodate a full depth chassis like this unfortunately. So just be aware of any depth limitations, if any, in your particular application.

Alpine iLX-507 Review - Single DIN chassis
Alpine iLX-507 Review – Single DIN chassis

Overall – Amazing value and feature packed

I know I can be real nit picky on certain features and aspects, but it’s largely because of feedback from clients. I’ve learned what they like, what they don’t like and what they absolutely can’t stand because let’s face it. If I sold it and they don’t like it, I’m the one that’s going to hear about it.

Alpine iLX-507 Review -  Home screen
Alpine iLX-507 Review – Home screen

At the end of the day, the Alpine iLX-507 has a ton of fantastic features and very few drawbacks which is why it’s such a popular choice amongst our clients. Alpine, let me count the ways I appreciate you:

  • Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • iDatalink Maestro compatible
  • TWO USB ports
  • Main USB 2.4 amp charge
  • Secondary USB 1.5 amp charge
  • Optional GPS navigation (connects to USB 2)
  • Included GPS antenna
  • Bluetooth settings galore – regarding notification volume, GPS volume, echo cancellation, noise reductions, mic gain, etc.
  • An extravaganza of audio control – 13 band parametric EQ per channel, digital time alignment and a plethora of crossover adjustments
  • Simple preset EQ option along with basic bass/treble, balance/fader controls
  • Hi-Res audio compatible – playback up to 96kHz/24Bit
  • 4 Volt pre-amp
  • HDMI input
  • HDMI output (great for rear seat entertainment systems that accept HDMI input)
  • AUX input
  • SiriusXM compatible
  • HD Radio
  • Front and Rear camera input – includes one composite adapter – a second one can be purchased from
  • Compatible with optional Alpine dash cameras
  • Direct connection for optional HD Cameras – HCE-C2100RD & HCE-C2600FD – no switcher required – on screen control for various views – top down, panoramic, corner, etc.
  • Optional Volume Knob RUX-H02

Did you install the Alpine iLX-507 in your vehicle? What has your experience with this stereo been like? Let me know in the comments below. And as always – thank you for visiting and reading!

Alpine iLX-507 Review
Alpine iLX-507 Review

Sony XAV-AX150 Review

Sony XAV-AX150

Is the Sony XAV-AX150 the best value Apple CarPlay and Android Auto radio for 2022?

Now more than ever, consumers can appreciate the great value of the Sony XAV-AX150. As we hurtle towards a dystopian new normal, consumers are waking up to the greater effects of high gas prices, limited resources compounded by the weakening dollar. Inflation has entangled its tentacles into nearly every facet of our lives. Car stereo is in no way immune to this ugly beast. In 2019, the best value Apple CarPlay and Android Auto stereo that I sold was the Alpine iLX-W650. Just 3 years ago, you got a lot for your money with the iLX-W650: 4 Volt pre-amp, glass capacitive touch screen, 9 band parametric EQ and more. That deck is a work horse and is still a staple product at our shop. Yet, in the past few years, we have seen the price of that model climb from $299.99 to $349.99 and then to $399.99. Next week it will be $449.99. Yikes!

Sony XAV AX150
Sony XAV-AX150 – Best value Apple CarPlay Android Auto 2022

In this day and age, deals are harder and harder to come by which is why I love the Sony XAV-AX150. When consumers are getting hammered by inflation everywhere in their lives, I love seeing a quality brand like Sony hang in there and continue to offer consumers an awesome value.

This deck is perfect for someone who has purchased an older vehicle and looking to upgrade the tech features. It’s extremely difficult to buy a new vehicle right now. So many of our clients are buying used (and paying dearly for it I might add). On top of the inflated used car price, they are spending additional cash up-fitting to add Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Sony XAV-AX150 won’t be right for everyone, but it’s a perfect fit for anyone with a basic used vehicle simply looking to add modern features.

Why the Sony XAV-AX150 is awesome

This deck has a ton of great features for the money. It’s super easy to use and super reliable. What you see is what you get. You’re not paying extra for features you don’t want or need.

  • AM/FM Radio (NO SiriusXM compatibility)
  • Resistive touch screen
  • Bluetooth
  • Wired connection for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (rear USB)
  • Reverse camera compatible
  • Steering wheel control compatible
  • 10 Band EQ
  • Front, rear and subwoofer pre-amp (2 Volt – not the cleanest on the sub channel though)
  • Built in crossovers – adjustable HPF and LPF

This unit is mechless so no CD player. Although it is meant for double DIN ISO mount installation, the rear chassis is only single DIN which leaves you some room to work with in the dash in case your installation involves a large module to retain things like Onstar/Bose or steering wheel controls.

Sony XAV-AX150 - buttons on the lower lip.
Sony XAV-AX150 – mostly touch screen but with hard buttons on the lower lip

In addition to the 6.95″ touch screen, this unit also has a small lower lip with hard buttons. Here you find functions like Volume up/down, Track up/down, Home screen and an Option button which doubles up as a shortcut to source/audio settings OR as a voice activation button (press and hold to prompt Siri or Google Voice). You cannot rearrange the icons on the home screen, but I don’t see a need to – they are laid out in a nice logical, easy to see manner.

Sony XAV-AX150 background color options.
Sony XAV-AX150 different wallpaper options.

The bottom lip buttons will always illuminate in a neutral white tone. The background color can be changed, but you cannot upload your own. I don’t think the background color will matter for most clients as they are purchasing this unit for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. These interfaces appear exactly the same regardless of what model radio you are using.

Sony XAV AX150 - Apple CarPlay Android Auto
Sony XAV AX150 – Apple CarPlay Android Auto

Who this deck is for

The Sony XAV-AX150 is perfect for anyone looking to upgrade an older basic vehicle with a name brand Apple CarPlay/Android Auto stereo that won’t break the bank. Examples of vehicles this would work well with include 2012 Honda Civic, 2013 Toyota Corolla, 2011 Subaru Legacy or a 2014 Chevy Express Van. Mostly older Japanese vehicles without integrated electronics or basic GM or Ford models without things like a rear seat entertainment system.

Sony XAV AX150 EQ section
Sony XAV AX150 EQ section

Who this deck is NOT for

I wouldn’t recommend the Sony XAV-AX150 for anyone looking to build a full aftermarket audio system with amplifiers. It does have a front, rear and subwoofer pre-amp, but it’s low voltage. Plus the signal on the sub channel is not clean. I measured it with an oscilloscope which you can see in the video. Regardless of volume level or sub level, the signal was not a uniform wave. There is definitely some distortion there, perhaps just harmonic distortion. Either way, between the low voltage pre-amp and funky sub level signal, it’s not an ideal deck to build a system with. It’s perfect for clients looking for a great value, easy to use, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto head unit for their older, used vehicle.

Additionally, I would not use this in any vehicle that would benefit from an iDatalink Maestro compatible radio. For example, I wouldn’t use it in a 2015 Silverado or 2016 Ford Edge or 2018 Ram Promaster. All of these vehicles have data flowing through the factory radio. In other words, the radio is part of the operating network in the car. In situations like that you’re best off using an ADS-MRR and iDatalink Maestro compatible radio to retain vehicle features, access to vehicle settings and in general keep information flowing through the network in the car. To check iDatalink Maestro compatibility, check out this product feature look up page where you can plug in your vehicle info and radio info to see what features would be lost or retained.

My only complaint

The only thing that is a bit quirky about the Sony XAV-AX150 is the way that Sony maps their steering wheel control functions. They sort of lump functions together. Although there is an option in the radio to remap these functions, I’ve had hit or miss results with that.

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - Sony XAV-AX1000 Steering Wheel Control Functions
Example of Sony steering wheel control functions mapped out for a 2014 Wrangler

The default option for the “Source” button is a double function. Tap “Source” (or “Mode” on your steering wheel) to cycle between sources like Bluetooth, AM/FM Radio or CarPlay/Android Auto. If a call comes in, pressing “Source” rejects the call. If you have a “Phone” button that button does 3 functions: Voice activation or if a call is coming in it will be “Answer call” and when you want to end the call, you press the same button again. This means if your vehicle has a separate “Phone”, “Answer” and “Hang up” button, they will not function that way anymore. The “Phone” button, would do everything. Which is not a big deal, but it’s just something to keep in mind for finicky type A people like myself.

Sony XAV-AX150 Best Value CarPlay Android Auto stereo 2022

Current pricing on the XAV-AX150 ranges between $248.99 – $299.99 which is a great deal IF you can get your hands on one. No telling how long Sony will keep this model at that price. If you can find one and you’ve got an older, basic vehicle, this is a great option for anyone looking to upgrade their vehicle with modern technology at an uninflated price. Do you have the Sony XAV-AX150 in your vehicle? Let us know what you think of it in the comments below.

Sony XAV-AX150 - Best value Apple CarPlay Android Auto stereo 2022
Sony XAV-AX150 – Best value Apple CarPlay Android Auto stereo 2022

Best Apple CarPlay Android Auto Head Unit 2021

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

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.


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.

Alpine iLX-W650 Review

Alpine iLX-W650 Review - Home screen pic

Alpine iLX-W650 – Tremendous value in a tiny package

Update 7-1-19 – I do think the Alpine iLX-W650 is the best value Apple CarPlay and Android Auto head unit on the market for 2019 (without iDatalink Maestro compatibility). For an updated video review including my best value Apple CarPlay and Android Auto head unit with iDatalink Maestro compatibility, simply scroll down to the embedded YouTube video.

The Alpine iLX-W650 just arrived at our shop last week and I was so impressed with its cute and tiny packaging, its long list of features, attractive user interface and ridiculous price point that I actually got excited enough about it to get out of my winter funk and finally write a new blog post. Winters are long and depressing in New England – sometimes it takes an exciting and innovative new product to thaw me out. My interest perked up the moment I un-boxed it. Check this thing out.

Alpine iLX-W650 Review - Un-boxing Shallow Mount Design
Alpine iLX-W650 Review – Un-boxing Shallow Mount Design

Don’t let the size of this cute little baby radio fool you, it is packed with quality features at a price that is hard to beat (as of this writing – $299.99). Aside from its attractive shallow mount design, the Alpine iLX-W650 features a gorgeous and responsive 7″ capactive touch screen with large icons, easy to navigate menus, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Alpine iLX-W650 Review - Apple CarPlay pic
Alpine iLX-W650 Review – Apple CarPlay pic

iLX-W650 Review – Shallow mount eases install

The shallow mount install is ideal for a lot of vehicles owners out there with limited sub dash space who are interested in upgrading to newer technology such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Some vehicles, such as BMW 3 series 1999 – 2006 E46 body style, normally require major surgery behind the dash to accommodate a traditional double din sized radio. With the super shallow mounting depth (just under 3″ including the face) you can shave off some of your install time and the headaches involved in sub dash modification installs.

Alpine iLX-W650 Review - Back of radio Pic
Alpine iLX-W650 Review – Back of radio made in Korea

Un-boxing this new Alpine model, I immediately noticed the the design and construction of this radio is unlike any other models in their line up. It has a distinct backside appearance reminiscent of what we see in OEM equipment. Curious, I decided to check the box to see where this particular radio is manufactured. I was surprised to see it is made in Korea. I think that’s a first for Alpine (as far as I can remember). Alpine also has radio models that are manufactured in Japan (ilX-107 and iLX-207), China (Halo 9) and Thailand (most of their single din units).

Alpine iLX-W650 Review - Right angle USB
Alpine iLX-W650 Review – Right angle USB

There is a level of attention to detail that I don’t normally see in Alpine that is apparent on the iLX-W650. For example, even the USB cable included has a right angle design to help in tight space installations. And despite it’s small footprint, the Alpine iLX-W650 still feels substantial in my hands. It doesn’t feel like a cheap radio although it has an aggressively cheap price tag. Just look at the beautiful touch screen display and easy to navigate home screen. Keep in mind, I still have the protective cover on the display.

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

Alpine iLX-W650 Review – Featured packed

The iLX-W650 has a long list of desirable features:

  • 7″ Capacitive Anti-Glare Touch Screen
  • Apple CarPlay
  • Android Auto
  • Bluetooth
  • AM/FM Radio (not HD)
  • Dual Camera Inputs (can be assigned – front – rear – left – right – other)
  • Adjustable park guidance lines (also on/off)
  • Separate picture quality screen for camera
  • SiriusXM Ready (requires SXV300 tuner)
  • 4 Volt Pre-Amp Outputs
  • 9 Band Parametric EQ
  • Time Alignment
  • Built-in crossovers
  • Steering wheel control compatible
  • KTA-450 power pack compatible stack-on 45 watts x 4 RMS amp (EDIT 5-22-19 – originally I thought this was 100 x 4 RMS because Alpine advertised it 100×4. That was a Dynamic Peak Powering rating whatever the hell that is. Alpine has always used RMS ratings so I did not realize their deceptive labeling. Either way, it does sound great – recently installed one with this head unit and Morel Maximo Ultra speakers in a 2-door Wrangler JK and it was an awesome sounding system on a budget, plenty of kick even without a sub, customer was quite happy.)

I was thoroughly impressed with not only the sound quality of this radio, but the ease of sound control. There are a variety of sound adjustment menus in this radio from basic to advanced.

Alpine iLX-W650 Review - Simple Preset EQ pic
Alpine iLX-W650 Review – Simple Preset EQ pic

Alpine iLX-W650 Review – EQ tools basic and advanced

One feature of the iLX-W650 that I really like is this dual audio control functionality. Not everyone knows how to set up a 9 band parametric EQ, time alignment and crossovers. For a more basic tweaking, there is a simple audio menu where you can adjust things like Bass, Mid Range, Treble, Balance/Fader, Sub level control or choose from a variety of preset EQ curves such as Flat, Classical, Jazz, Pop, Rock or Custom.

Alpine iLX-W650 Review -Simple Audio Controls pic
Alpine iLX-W650 Review -Simple Audio Controls pic

For the folks that do know how to fine tune an audio system, they can appreciate the advanced audio controls. You can easily switch back and forth between the two screens by tapping the Simple or Advanced button on the top right. Another great benefit is you can quickly save various EQ curves to different presets which I always like to do for customers. We typically save one preset for them and if they want to play around with it, they can easily revert back to our original tuning by simply tapping the preset to recall our audio settings.

Alpine iLX-W650 Review - Advanced Parametric EQ pic
Alpine iLX-W650 Review – Advanced Parametric EQ pic

Alpine iLX-W650 Review – Camera inputs and adjustments galore

For a $300 radio I was surprised to have more than one camera input and equally surprised at the variety of adjustments that can be made to them. This radio has two camera inputs that can easily be assigned as a front and rear camera, a left or right camera or other type of camera (rock crawling camera maybe?). Not only can you assign the different camera functions, you can easily turn on/off the park guidance line feature and adjust it to your particular vehicle and camera angle.

Alpine iLX-W650 Review - Reverse Camera Guidance Lines Menu
Alpine iLX-W650 Review – Reverse Camera Guidance Lines Menu

One particular camera feature I have not seen before is a separate picture quality adjustment menu just for the cameras. I cannot recall seeing another radio with this feature. Even in Alpine’s line up, their higher end Halo 9 and iLX-207 appear to lack this particular feature.

Alpine iLX-W650 Review - Camera Pic Quality Adjustment Menu
Alpine iLX-W650 Review – Camera Pic Quality Adjustment Menu

Alpine iLX-W650 Review – Okay so what is it missing?

At $300 we can’t expect this radio to have everything, it is missing a couple minor features and there is one feature that is kind of a let down:

  • No CD player – this is a mechless unit, but who uses CD’s anymore really?
  • No HD Radio – not sure if this is really a make/break feature
  • No background image or color adjustment
  • Highly touted swipe feature does not appear to work on Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (supposed to be able to use a two finger swipe to adjust volume/change tracks, but best I can tell that only appears to work on sources like Bluetooth, Radio, USB storage device)
  • Not iDatalink Maestro compatible

That last one is really important. There are certain vehicles on the market where if you really want to upgrade your radio, to do it properly in a nice seamless fashion, you need a radio that supports iDatalink Maestro with serial data connection. For example, vehicles such as a 13-up Ram 1500 or 14- up Chevy Silverado have a lot of info piped through the factory radio such as climate control display, vehicle settings, OEM reverse camera/park sensor display and more. In these particular vehicles, a Maestro compatible radio along with the iDatalink Maestro RR will allow you to retain all those important OEM functions.

However, in some vehicles you can still use the Maestro RR simply to retain your steering wheel controls using the wired steering wheel input of this radio (such as in a 2014 Jeep Wrangler), but that isn’t true for every vehicle. If you’re not sure what you need, be sure to check out iDatalink’s flash simulator. Click on the right where it says “Start Weblink Demo” and you can punch in your vehicle info and radio info and see what options are lost/retained and see how it varies depending on what radio you select and what type of connection you select (serial port or wired remote).

Additional install notes to keep in mind. This unit has a single rear USB port so you may want to route and flush mount the USB in a convenient location. To do that, you want to use a high speed USB C compatible adapter. We use the Pac Audio USB-DMA1 (also available in different lengths: USB-DMA3 or USB-DMA6). Additionally, although this is not a video player, there is a parking brake wire connection that needs to be made in your installation (in order to install these units on display, I use the Pac TR1 relay).

Alpine iLX-W650 Review – Best value Apple CarPlay and Android Auto radio 2019

Although it’s still early in the year in terms of car audio, I think it’s safe to say the Alpine iLX-W650 is the best value Apple CarPlay and Android Auto radio on the market at this time. Not only is it packed with a ton of features, it has an intuitive interface, responsive touch screen, great sound quality and it’s easily expandable into a full high fidelity sound system. As a car audio specialist, I can easily see myself selling many of these radios. It’s too easy to combine the iLX-W650 with the KTA-450 power pack (which retails for $199), quality aftermarket speakers (their new Type X are pretty awesome by the way) and Alpine’s little under seat amplified subwoofer (PWE-S8) and whamo – I’ve just created a full system audio overall for a client at a fantastic price.

Alpine iLX-W650 Review - AM-FM Radio screen pic
Alpine iLX-W650 Review – AM-FM Radio screen pic

For anyone looking to build a quality sound system on a budget, Alpine definitely has the products to do it with. Whether you’re looking to create a full system or just looking to upgrade your car radio with newer tech like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Alpine iLX-W650 has what it takes to get the job done at a very fair price.

Sony XAV-AX200 Review

Sony XAV-AX200 Review

Sony XAV-AX200 expected to ship soon – in depth review coming soon

My regular readers probably already know this, but I am a huge fan of Sony. So it’s no surprise that I am super excited about the new Sony XAV-AX200. Like the current XAV-AX100, the XAV-AX200 is both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible.

Sony XAV-AX200 Review
Sony XAV-AX200 Review – Image courtesy of Sony

I already have the XAV-AX100 in my Jeep Wrangler and have been loving it. It’s easy to use, sounds great and has a very clean, minimalistic appearance – yet it still has a volume knob – which I totally love and use all the time even though I have steering wheel controls. Despite that, as soon we receive these at our shop, I will be upgrading to the XAV-AX200.

Sony XAV-AX200 Review
My Sony XAV-AX100 in my Jeep Wrangler displaying the two people I love and miss most.

Sony XAV-AX100 and XAV-AX200 – Clean matte black finish, simple and easy to use

At the showroom in our shop, most of our customers naturally gravitate toward the Sony XAV-AX100. They like the clean look and they really like the volume knob. However, there are a few key features missing that are certainly deal breakers for some of my customers. This inevitably leads me to steer them away from Sony over to a Kenwood, Alpine or a Pioneer. The Sony XAV-AX200 addresses these deal breaker features and I gotta say, they’re being really clever about it from a marketing standpoint.

Sony understands value

When the XAV-AX100 first came out, it sold for $499.95 and we sold quite a few at that price. At the time, that was the entry level price for a head unit that was both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible. Not too long after it came out, Sony got a bit more aggressive and put it on sale to $449.95 and then $399.95. Finally they just decided to keep it at that new lower price. With an expected retail price of $499.95, the Sony XAV-AX200 has a lot more features for only $100 more. Features that will steal market share away from Kenwood, Alpine and Pioneer. Let’s review.

Sony XAV-AX200 review – Features that were missing from the Sony XAV-AX100 that will be in the Sony XAV-AX200

  • Higher Voltage Pre-amp Outputs – Sony’s website says the new XAV-AX200 has a 4 volt pre-amp. I wanted to check the owner’s guide to confirm that, but it’s not on their website yet. Usually Sony has 5 volt on their premium models, I’d be surprised if it was only 4 volt.
  • CD/DVD Player – Yes, believe it or not, there are quite a few consumers out there not willing to let go yet and now they don’t have to.
  • SiriusXM Compatibility – You all know how I feel about SiriusXM, but I get it, some of you have it have it. Not only is this unit SiriusXM compatible, it even comes with a free SXV300 tuner.
  • Mass Storage Device Control for Audio and Video – The XAV-AX100 USB could only read software updates and upload a background photo image from mass storage devices (despite it also being compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – that always seemed odd to me how they limited this).The Sony XAV-AX200 supports audio codecs like PCM, MP3, WMA, AAC and FLAC from mass storage devices. It also supports video codecs like MPEG4-SP/AVC (H.264 Baseline), WMV, FLV and MKV/XviD.
  • 3 Camera Inputs – Although the XAV-AX100 has a reverse camera input, some of us like to have a front camera, blind spot cameras or even rock crawling cameras. Sony makes it easy to add those additional cameras and select which input you want to view directly on screen.
  • Tom Tom GPS Navigation Compatible – if you feel more comfortable with a dedicated GPS receiver, rather than relying on your cell phone, you can add the Sony XA-NV200 navigation module with GPS antenna.

It appears that once again, Sony is nailing it when it comes to features, sound quality and value. I expect to sell a lot more Sony once the XAV-AX200 arrives and I expect my Jeep Wrangler to look more like the one below very soon.

Sony XAV-AX200 Jeep Wrangler
Sony XAV-AX200 Jeep Wrangler – image courtesy of Sony

Alpine i209-WRA and x209-WRA – Alpine finally gets all the features right for Jeep Wrangler owners

Alpine X209-WRA - Jeep Wrangler Head Unit 2017

Meet the Alpine i209-WRA – combining the perfect mix of features and value

Although I couldn’t make it to CES 2017, I was excited to see that Alpine finally appears to have the right combination of features and price point with at least one of their two brand new 2011 and up Jeep Wrangler dedicated head units. The Alpine i209-WRA and X209-WRA are both scheduled for release April 2017.

**Edit – 9/27/17 – Don’t forget to check out my new post Alpine i209-WRA installed.

Alpine X209-WRA - Jeep Wrangler Head Unit 2017
Alpine X209-WRA – Jeep Wrangler Head Unit 2017

I think the bigger seller here, by far, will be the Alpine i209-WRA which is their new mechless 9″ stereo featuring Apple Carplay and Android Auto. Aside from being water resistant and dustproof*, this model adds a ton of features that were lacking in last year’s model i109-WRA such as:

  • iDatalink Maestro integration
  • SiriusXM capability (requires SXV300 tuner and possibly an iDatalink SAT1)
  • New high visibility WVGA capacitive touch screen
  • Bluetooth for handsfree calling and audio streaming
  • HD Radio
  • HDMI input**

*A note about the IP54 rating which is defined in two parts according to Wikipedia: Ingress of dust is not entirely prevented, but it must not enter in sufficient quantity to interfere with the satisfactory operation of the equipment; Water splashing against the enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effect. Having said that, it’s kind of like dropping your iPhone in the snow – pick it up, dry it off and it will survive, but you probably wouldn’t have the same luck if you submerged it in water for an extended period of time. It’s not entirely infallible to the elements, but can withstand a decent bout of dust and rain which is inevitable for Jeep Wrangler owners.

**Correction 2/8/17 – a previous publication of this article stated this model lacked an HDMI input. After receiving some conflicting information, Alpine has clarified and confirmed HDMI input is a feature of the i209-WRA.

So what’s the Alpine i209-WRA going to cost you?

All this can be yours at a retail price of $1999.95**. Keep in mind, Alpine wants that price to be a fully installed price. So let’s compare that to a fully installed price on something like Pioneer’s AVH-4200NEX or Kenwood’s DDX9703s.

Both models feature a 7″ touch screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, SiriusXM capability, HD radio, Bluetooth plus an on board DVD/CD Player (which the Alpine i209-WRA lacks). Both models come with a 1 year warranty when purchased from an authorized retailer.

When you add the iDatalink Maestro module, the Maestro harness, the FM/AM antenna adapter, the dash kit, the USB flush mount/retention adapter and installation you’re looking close to $1150 installed for either one.

Alpine i209-WRA Jeep Wrangler Head Unit 2017
Alpine i209-WRA Jeep Wrangler Head Unit 2017

Spend an extra $850 on the Alpine i209-WRA you’ll get:

  • A much larger 9″ screen
  • A water resistant and dust proof WGVA high visibility capacitive touch screen that is designed to be visible even in bright sun (a screen designed for the Jeep Wrangler environment)
  • 3 year warranty (I’m assuming on this one – that was a feature of previous models, I don’t see why they wouldn’t carry that forward)
  • Bragging rights

Want an on board GPS navigation and a DVD player too?  That’ll cost you.

Alpine takes it one step further with the next model up, the Alpine X209-WRA. With a suggested retail price of $3499.95***, the Alpine X209-WRA adds:

  • On board GPS navigation
  • CD/DVD Player
  • Dual Zone – (DVD output from in dash unit to rear seat entertainment option like headrest screens with wireless headphones for example)
  • Alpine Connect infotainment service and companion smartphone app featuring in-dash content from iHeartRadio, Yelp, Glympse, and Spotify

How well these models sell will certainly depend on the market. I can tell you in our area, I can see Jeep Wrangler owners making the $850 leap from a 7″ Kenwood or Pioneer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto head unit to the Alpine i209-WRA. I’m not so sure about the X209-WRA, but time will tell.

What do the Jeep Wrangler owner’s out there think? Which model would you be more inclined to install in your Jeep Wrangler? The i209-WRA or X209-WRA?

***I corrected this article 2/3/17 to reflect the minimum advertised price. The original article stated the price of the i209-WRA was $2200 and the price for the X209-WRA was $4000. Despite obtaining those prices from Alpine’s CES press release, the minimum advertised price for the i209-WRA is actually only $1999.95 and the minimum advertised price for the X209-WRA is $3499.95.

Sony XAV-AX100 Review – Best Value for CarPlay and Android Auto

Sony XAV-AX100 Review - Home screen.

Meet the value packed Sony XAV-AX100

I’m so happy Sony finally made an Apple CarPlay and Android Compatible head unit. For at least the last couple of years, Sony has definitely had an edge over its competitors in terms of sound quality and value and this model is no different in that regard. Retailing at only $499*, this is the lowest priced Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible head unit that I’ve carried and based on the features and ease of use, I think it’s a phenomenal value.

*Update 10-8-17 – Sony has lowered the retail price on the XAV-AX100 to $399.95 in anticipation of the XAV-AX200.

Sony XAV-AX100 Review - Home screen.
Sony XAV-AX100 Review – Home screen.

So what do you get for the money?

Ease of use – One thing I love about this unit is how simplistic it is. Because this unit lacks a lot of bells and whistles, the Sony XAV-AX100 is relatively easy to use and has an easy to understand layout. What you see is what you get. Other than Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, this unit features:

  • AM/FM Radio
  • Bluetooth audio streaming and handsfree functionality
  • Reverse camera input
  • Front, rear and subwoofer preamp outputs (Sony says rated at 2 volt, but it sounds slightly higher, I have not measured it)
  • 10 Band EQ, built in crossovers, sub level control
  • 5 wallpaper options, plus option for custom display (uploaded via USB drive)
  • Remote steering wheel control input*

Sony XAV-AX100 Review - backside of the head unit
Sony XAV-AX100 Review – backside of the head unit has a single din chassis

*Sony typically does not support phone functionality through their steering wheel control inputs, however when test flashing either the iDatalink Maestro RR or Maestro SW module I found that this model will support some phone functionality although it’s kind of weird because it gets all lumped in under one button. Phone related flashing options (listed as function per button) look like:

  • Start Voice (Android Auto & Apple CarPlay) & Answer/Hang up call
  • Source & Hang up or Reject Call & Power On
  • Source off & Hang up & Power Off

Perhaps they configure it this way in case you don’t have voice control or phone buttons on your steering wheel.

Sometimes it’s the little things that matter

I’ve had quite a few customers comment on the volume knob. They like it, they find it easy to use. If you appreciate volume knobs you will appreciate the nice rotary volume knob on this head unit. It has a stiffer and more rigid feel to it compared to the volume knobs on other head units and it’s backlit.

Sony XAV-AX100 Review - Display panel options.
Sony XAV-AX100 Review – Display panel options.

Sony XAV-AX100 review – sound quality counts

Aside from the basic features of this model, the sound quality of Sony receivers is something I need to talk about in this Sony XAV-AX100 review. Sony head units, in general just sound great. My customers are always surprised when I play a basic Sony receiver like the MEX-GS610BT or MEX-XB100BT and let them hear that compared to an Alpine CDE-164BT or Pioneer DEH-X6900BT. It is a noticeable difference even for a car audio novice.

Sony XAV-AX100 Review - EQ screen.
Sony XAV-AX100 Review – EQ screen.

Right off the bat, the Sony units just sound smoother, richer and more natural in tone. Once you hear it, it’s hard to buy anything else. Except maybe Kenwood, they’re pretty close. And even though this unit is only rated at 2 volts on the preamp output, I have a feeling if I measured it, I’d find it was slightly higher. It’s definitely punchier than the other 2 volt preamp output models I have on display.

Sony also provides plenty of audio control tools such as a 10 band EQ, built in crossovers and sub level control. Internal amplification on this bad boy is rated at 20 watts x 4 RMS which is slightly higher than your average head unit (most are 18 watts x 4 RMS).

Sony XAV-AX100 review – radio reception

Radio reception in general is a tricky thing because it’s so susceptible to interference coming from every angle – power lines on the road and even power lines in the car itself can cause static and interference. With evolving technology and many consumers turning to streaming services from their mobile devices, most car stereo manufacturers are not dumping a ton of money into their tuners.

Despite that, I have been impressed with the reception of Sony head units, this model included. We recently installed this in an older Subaru with one of those terrible amplified windshield antennas and this thing was definitely pulling in more stations than the customer’s previous Pioneer double din head unit (which was equipped with the Pioneer supertuner).

Sony XAV-AX100 Review - FM radio screen.
Sony XAV-AX100 Review – FM radio screen.

What’s missing from the Sony XAV-AX100?

Although Sony packs a lot of popular features into the XAV-AX100, it is missing a few items some consumers may still be interested in.

Buyer beware, the Sony XAV-AX100 lacks the following popular features:

  • CD/DVD Player**
  • HDMI input
  • AUX input
  • SiriusXM Capability**
  • HD Radio
  • Mounting sleeve and trim ring*

*For most vehicles you will not need a mounting sleeve and trim ring as most installation kits these days support iso mount, however, if you have happened to have a vehicle that does not support iso mount and requires a mounting sleeve and trim ring you can use Pioneer’s ADT-VA133 – that is what I used to mount this in my display board.

**Check out the Sony XAV-AX200 if these features are important to you.

Remember the old saying you get what you pay for? Well, if these features are truly important to you, you’ll have to fork over a bit more money and go for something like either the Kenwood DDX9703s or the Pioneer AVH-4200NEX (soon to be replaced by the 2017 model AVH-4201NEX which I believe is the same as AVH-4200NEX, but is bundled with a reverse camera).

Sony XAV-AX100 review conclusion

Although the Sony XAV-AX100 lacks a couple features, I find for most customers it ticks off all the key boxes. If you are looking for an easy to use, great sounding Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatible head unit, you should seriously consider the Sony XAV-AX100. This model has that whole less is more approach and won’t overwhelm you with bells and whistles -aka features you don’t need or won’t use.

Sony XAV-AX100 Review - CarPlay display
Sony XAV-AX100 Review – CarPlay display

In conclusion, Sony did a great job with the XAV-AX100 focusing on the key features consumers are interested in:

  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Ease of use
  • Bluetooth
  • Reverse camera input
  • Steering wheel control input

Do you really need anything more?


Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Kenwood DNX893s, Alpine INE-W967HD or Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX?

Best Double Din Navigation 2016

Looking for the Best Double Din Navigation for 2016?

Car Stereo Chick reviews and compares the Kenwood DNX893s, Alpine INE-W967HD and Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX

Double din touch screen navigation stereos are one of the most popular selling products in our showroom. Who wouldn’t want:

  • On board GPS Navigation (that doesn’t use your data)
  • Better sound quality
  • Bluetooth
  • USB input
  • Reverse camera capability?

There are a lot of reasons to upgrade your factory radio to a brand name aftermarket double din navigation, but who really makes the best double din navigation for 2016? Well, as I explain to my customers in my showroom, that answer all really depends on what features are most important to you and how you plan to use your new stereo. Each brand has its own strengths and weaknesses as you will see. Get ready for an in depth review on all the Kenwood DNX893s, Alpine INE-W967HD and Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX!

Attention – Please note this is first draft – revisions and additional details to come shortly. Forgive me for any grammar or spelling errors, I usually proofread and revise my posts 30 times before publishing, but I know a lot of you have been waiting a long time for this.

Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX – I’m popular

Like the Nada Surf song, the AVIC-8200NEX is a bit of a catch and when it comes to the choosing the best double din navigation, it is never last picked. The nice thing about the AVIC-8200NEX is the operating platform has been around for a couple years so it is a proven, reliable system. Alpine and Kenwood on the other hand just unveiled brand new operating systems for their units so I’m sure we will see a quirk or two reveal itself over the next coming months. I find the user interface of the Pioneer one of the easiest ones to use and personally one of the most pleasing to the eye, but hey, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX features a user friendly and intuitive interface.

From the home screen you have several easy shortcuts to:

  • Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
  • GPS navigation by Here Maps
  • Bluetooth Telephone
  • Your 3 favorite sources
  • What’s currently playing
  • Settings

The theme colors and button colors can all be personalized to match your vehicle interior and preference.  You can make it as colorful or as dull in appearance as you like.

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX Map
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX navigation map screen

Pioneer uses Here Maps for their on board GPS navigation system. Compared to Kenwood’s Garmin navigation, you might find the roads to be skinny and the icons rather small. However, you could just as easily say the icons on the Garmin are too large and take up vital real estate on the 7″ screen. I’ve had 97% positive feedback from customers regarding the navigation, however I do have two complaints I think are worth noting.

I had one customer find it maddening during a long trip from Maine to Connecticut that the system would not automatically re-route to the new route he had decided to take. He had taken the trip numerous times and knew of a couple routes/highways he could use. Although he allowed the system to pick the fastest route, he continued on another route that he knew. However, at every exit the Pioneer navigation (Here Maps) wanted him to get off the highway and get back onto the original route that had previously been calculated and selected. FYI, there is a way around this – you can select an alternative route from the navigation screen, but the navigation couldn’t figure it out on its own. I guess we’re so used to Google reading our minds all the time that we find it annoying when our electronics don’t, you know, just KNOW what we’re thinking.

I had another customer tell me how it wanted them to go the wrong way down a one way street and additionally, it also seemed to think she lived on a one way street because it always wanted her to loop around the block to get to her home address (which was not on a one way street).

One thing worth mentioning is the Pioneer features a latest maps guarantee which is a feature of Here Maps. You will notice these units come shipped with 2014 Maps, but it’s pretty easy to download the latest maps.

Overall the Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX is a full featured and well rounded GPS navigation stereo that ticks off a lot of boxes for users. Aside from on board GPS, the AVIC-8200NEX also features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX features a responsive glass capacitive touch screen.

The Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX features a glass capacitive touch screen which is very bright and responsive. I get asked a lot what that means and basically, a glass capacitive touch screen is like the screen on your smart phone. They are brighter, more saturated in color and more responsive than a traditional TFT resistive touch screen (found on the other Pioneer models AVIC-5200NEX, AVIC-6200NEX and AVIC-7200NEX). The Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX also has all the standard audio features for a sweet aftermarket sound system including:

  • Three 4 volt pre-amp outputs
  • 13 band EQ
  • Digital time alignment

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX features digital time alignment, three 4 volt preouts and 13 band EQ
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX features digital time alignment, three 4 volt preouts and 13 band EQ

Overall, the Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX packs in most of the features consumers are looking for these days in a nice easy to use product at what I think is a fair price. I would say my customers think so too because they tend to gravitate towards Pioneer over Alpine or Kenwood (after seeing them in our showroom and checking them out in person).

So where is the Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX lacking?

There are only a few things that annoy me about this model. When it comes to Bluetooth, you cannot have more than one device connected at a time. You can have multiple devices paired, but only one connected at a time. Not ideal if you have a work phone and personal phone, but I would say this probably only effects a small percentage of people.

The only other drawback is sound quality. When it comes to building a high fidelity car audio system, for the true audiophile, the sound quality could be better.  It’s by no means, bad, but where Pioneer lacks, Kenwood prevails.

Kenwood DNX893s – The overachiever

Traditionally, Kenwood’s Excelon series head units have always been known for their superior sound quality and thankfully the DNX893s remains true to the Kenwood Excelon sound quality legacy.

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Kenwood DNX893s features superior sound quality and sound control
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Kenwood DNX893s features superior sound quality and sound control

Featuring a 5 volt pre-amp output, the Kenwood DNX893s sounds smoother, more detailed and slightly more natural in tone when compared to Pioneer and Alpine (with everything set flat). Certain tones and frequencies are simply less harsh and more pleasing to the ears. I also have to give some serious bonus points to Kenwood for this additional feature:

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Kenwood DNX893s settings memory recall!
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Kenwood DNX893s settings memory recall!

Memory Recall – I LOVE this feature of the Kenwood DNX893s

This might seem like such a minor detail, but it can save you time, hassle and a headache. Imagine spending an hour sitting in your car and setting the equalizer for each individual audio source, painstakingly taking the time to measure and set the time correction settings only to find all your hard work has been lost after bringing your car in for routine mechanical service.

If the battery is disconnected, even for a short period of time, both Alpine and Pioneer will lose all audio settings. Kenwood has always had this recall feature for as long as I can remember. You can memorize all your hard work and save it and if you ever need to recall it, you simply hit the recall button. I absolutely LOVE this feature. If you go with Alpine or Pioneer, do yourself a favor and take a couple pictures of your audio settings so you can redo them if you ever lose them. Or just buy the Kenwood DNX893s and hit the recall button.

Bigger Must be Better

The user interface of Kenwood is all about big icons. I think the engineers at Kenwood got tired of hearing me and other dealers complain about the small icons, small clock and difficult user interface. They decided to shut us all up with huge icons, huge text and an intuitive user interface. Cool.

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Kenwood DNX893s home screen features big easy to see icons and text
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Kenwood DNX893s home screen features big easy to see icons and text

As you can see from the home screen on the Kenwood you have easy shortcuts to:

  • Navigation
  • What’s now playing
  • Two favorite sources (easily selectable)
  • Telephone
  • Settings (quick tap of the menu button brings up settings)

The icon on the top right is selectable as well – you could either display GPS directional info, bouncy EQ or the clock.

What’s not cool about this screen? Well, if you don’t have anything playing with album art information, the top left icon will show a silly blue splash screen and I don’t think there’s a way to change it. Not that I’ve figured out anyways.

Garmin GPS Navigation – I think it’s better than Here Maps

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Kenwood DNX893S Garmin Navigation
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Kenwood DNX893S features Garmin GPS Navigation

Everyone has heard of Garmin. They debuted their first automotive GPS system, the Street Pilot, back in 1998 and they have become a household name in the years since. Some find the map layout to be a bit cartoonish, but for those of us that are past that age of, let’s call it having youthful eyesight, the larger icons are well received.

Remember the client I mentioned with the Pioneer navigation that was telling her to loop around her block every time she wanted to go home? I eventually installed this unit instead and she has told the me the GPS has worked flawlessly for her. She found the maps a lot easier to see (she has a Jeep Wrangler by the way, so a convertible) and she found the actual navigation was more accurate. I will mention the unit comes shipped with 2015 maps and I did check to see if there was a free map update, but there isn’t.

Speaking of convertibles and glare – have you ever heard of reverse tilt?

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Reverse Tilt Kenwood DNX893s
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Reverse Tilt Kenwood DNX893s

Most 7″ touch screen navigation stereos have a motorized face that will allow you to tilt or angle the screen back. Kenwood is the only one I am aware of that offers reverse tilt. This is such an awesome feature. So many vehicle dashes these days have an angle to them that really places the vehicle stereo screen in just the worst angle for sun glare. The reverse tilt feature really helps to cut down on that tremendously. I think because of that feature alone, this would be the navigation radio I would encourage all my Jeep Wrangler customers to purchase.

DNX893s – Bonus Features and Pet Peeves

There are a few other really stand out features of this unit worth mentioning. All of these units are iDatalink Maestro compatible, however the DNX893s features some advanced integration such as the soon to be released K40 radar detector integration on screen.

Kenwood DNX893S K40 Radar Integration
Kenwood DNX893S K40 Radar Integration – Feature coming soon from K40 and iDatalink

Additionally, I was blown away by how good the FM/AM reception is on this head unit. When installing it on my sound board I noticed a ferrite bead on the antenna connection cable. I don’t know if they did anything other than that to improve it, but seriously, I have been blown away by the stations this thing pulls in in cars that don’t usually have great reception to begin with (Jeep Wrangler for one and Mercury Mountaineer for another example).

Okay, now for the surprising and the irritating – no remote control included. Oh and no paper owner’s manual. I was pretty shocked, I really thought the units I got shipped were missing parts. I mean for a $1300 stereo, you would think it would include a remote control or at least a paper manual.

And as for the dual USB inputs, I think the second one is kind of worthless.

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Kenwood DNX893S Dual USB inputs
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Kenwood DNX893S Dual USB inputs

Notice one is labeled iPod/iPhone? That’s your main USB input. Aside from an iPod or iPhone, you would also connect Android Auto to that USB port. So what can you do with USB 2? Well, you can’t connect an iPod to it, that’s for sure. You’ll get an error on the screen. When I think back on the Kenwood training, I’m pretty sure they said that second USB input would be for like a memory stick with music on it. So that’s kind of annoying if you’re the kind of person that likes to be able to use their cell phone (either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto) and also have an iPod connected to a secondary USB as a back up music source. My husband John and I do this in our Jeep because we often go into areas of Connecticut without cell service on our Sunday drives and it’s just nice to be able to switch your source on the stereo rather than having to try and disconnect your phone while you’re driving and connect your iPod instead. Just sayin, they could have made it play an iPod.

 Alpine INE-W967HD – The underperformer

Best Double DIn Navigation 2016 - Alpine INE-W967HD
Best Double DIn Navigation 2016 – Alpine INE-W967HD featuring Here Maps

Oh, Alpine – why do we have such a love hate relationship? I love Alpine’s ease of use and their sleek OEM appearance. I love that you can eliminate redundant or unused sources from your source screen. Sometimes all you want to see is all that is available!

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Alpine INE-W967HD
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Alpine INE-W967HD customized uncluttered source screen

I even love the easy to use swiping menus which you can view in this quick video I made for a customer of an X109-WRA in a Jeep Wrangler.

Alpine, where’s the value?

I hate that it feels like you’re really not getting a lot for your money. For a $1500 navigation Bluetooth radio, you would think it would at least come with a CD/DVD player or maybe Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (no, it doesn’t). But wait, there’s more.

Check out this craziness – I sold and installed one of these in a 2008 Porsche Boxster and it looked beautiful. And I meant to take pictures on the install, but after seeing this model came equipped with 2014 maps, I did what I always do for my customers I started to work on downloading the latest maps – thanks to the Here Maps latest maps guarantee. However, 3 hours later, after 3 different attempts, using 3 different computers and 3 different USB drives, I started to lose it. Half way through each attempted download I kept getting the error “There is not enough memory on your device”. I thought maybe that was not enough memory on my computer or not enough memory on my USB drive. Finally I called Alpine tech support to see what was up (yeah, I’m stubborn, I prefer to try and figure things out on my own before calling someone for help). So get this – it wasn’t me or my computer or my USB drives – Alpine didn’t put enough memory in the stereo! Alpine’s solution? Uncheck the update box for Canada. Really, who goes there anyways? Just joking Canada 🙂

If you can get past the high price, the lack of Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, CD/DVD Player and updated Canadian Maps you might really enjoy some of the cooler aspects of the Alpine INE-W967HD.

One thing I found pretty neat is the built in microphone for the Bluetooth. It actually works quite well and that’s one less thing you have to worry about wiring and mounting. Another feature, pointed out to me by one of my well informed customers (Thanks Ryan!), is the parametric EQ. While Kenwood and Pioneer feature a graphic equalizer, Alpine has a parametric EQ which allows you to adjust the center point of the frequency you’re adjusting and the width of the frequency (also known as Q factor).

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Alpine INE-W967HD Parametric EQ
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Alpine INE-W967HD Parametric EQ

Additionally, you still have basic audio adjustments like bass and treble under Tone Adjustment which is accessible with a quick swipe down on the top of the screen.

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Alpine INE-W967HD easy bass and treble adjustment.
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Alpine INE-W967HD easy bass and treble adjustment.

The screen itself is very responsive and intuitive. Kudos to Alpine on that. They call it a capacitive touch screen, but it does not have a glass finish like Pioneer or Kenwood does. In fact, that may be better in high glare situations. I haven’t installed enough to really see the difference in bright sunlight, but I imagine there would be less reflection.

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Alpine INE-W967HD preset EQ options
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Alpine INE-W967HD preset EQ options

I find the overall appearance and graphics to be less flashy than Pioneer and Kenwood and more OEM which really makes it look like it belongs in a vehicle, rather than appearing like an aftermarket product.

Alpine INE-W967HD Sound Quality

When it comes to sound quality, we have found that the built in Alpine amplifiers tend to sound bright and harsh when compared to Pioneer or Kenwood. However, when using an external amplifier, most of that tininess and harshness disappears. Interestingly enough, Alpine also happens to make what we think are some of the best sounding amps out there – their PDX series is our favorite. Yet even with an external amp, it is worth noting the Kenwood DNX893s has a more natural, smoother tone to it.

So who wins Best Double Din Navigation 2016?

I would have to declare Kenwood’s DNX893s the winner based on sound quality, GPS performance and bonus features like reverse tilt, memory recall and improved FM/AM reception. It’s a great balance of features at what I think is a fair price. However, determining which navigation system is right for you depends on what features are most important to you and what kind of user interface is most attractive to you. For a minimalistic, OEM appearance, you may have to cough up a few bucks and give up a few features and go with the Alpine INE-W967HD. If you prefer a less cartoonish navigation than Garmin, but you still want Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, then you should consider the Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX. They all have their pros and cons and I hope this in depth review has helped you select the right one for your particular tastes and needs. Thanks for reading!

Sneak peak at the Kenwood DNX893S

Kenwood DNX893S

Kenwood DNX893S – Looks awesome on paper and in person

I recently had the chance to go to a Kenwood product training where I got to check out a prototype of the new Kenwood DNX893S.

Kenwood DNX893S
Kenwood DNX893S

Just on paper alone, this model has my hopes up and has got me excited about Kenwood again. It definitely looks like it has the potential to be the best double din navigation system of 2016. The DNX893S is part of Kenwood’s eXcelon line and has some pretty desireable features:

  • Glass capacitive touch screen (like what is on your smartphone – so it is vibrant and responsive).
  • Onboard Garmin GPS navigation
  • Apple CarPlay
  • Android Auto
  • iDatalink Maestro RR compatible (featuring advanced iDatalink features)
  • 13 Band EQ with 5 volt preamp outputs
  • High Res Audio (supports up to 192kHz/24bit resolution in FLAC or WAV)
  • New user friendly graphic interface and menu system

User Friendly

“Simplicity” and “Ease of use” were two catch phrases strongly emphasized during the training. It appears the designers at Kenwood finally realized these are legitimate and desirable features and they really made an effort this year to make their products more user friendly. Thank you Kenwood!

Kenwood DNX893S GPS Widget
Kenwood DNX893S GPS Widget

Kenwood has incorporated customizable widgets into their screen making it easy to personalize the home screen and easily access the most used sources/features of the stereo. Easily swipe the top right corner of the screen to change the widget displayed.  Maybe you prefer to display basic GPS instruction while you listen to your tunes and have a few easy short cuts to radio, nav map or your phone menu.

Kenwood DNX893S Clock Widget
Kenwood DNX893S Clock Widget

Or maybe you want a big fat fancy clock on your widget screen. It seems like such a miniscule feature to some, but for someone like me with ADHD (constantly a victim of time warps!) that clock is the easiest and safest way for me to see how late I actually am as I race against the clock to get to my shop before it officially opens for business. Sure, I have a clock on my iPhone, but I don’t want to be fumbling for my phone while I’m speeding to work. It’s the small details that can make a big difference.

Kenwood DNX893S K40 Radar Integration

Speaking of speeding to work – finally! I have had countless customers ask for some type of integration of their radar detector to their stereo system. Most built in radar detectors do have an analog mute wire so you could potentially wire up your radar detector to the mute output of your aftermarket head unit, but this feature goes way beyond the basic mute function. The Kenwood DNX893S will be the first aftermarket touch screen head unit I’ve seen that can give you on screen alerts and information about the radar detector threat.

Kenwood DNX893S K40 Radar Integration
Kenwood DNX893S K40 Radar Integration

Not only does the Kenwood DNX893S interrupt and mute the audio (kind of like Bluetooth when you get a call coming in), but it will also show you the speed you were at when the initial threat was detected along with the posted speed limit. Depending on what vehicle you have, you can even use the steering wheel controls to mute the radar detector.

This very cool integration feature is not available just yet. At this point I’m not sure if this will be an add-on K40 accessory that will be able to be integrated with older models OR if this will only be a feature of new K40 systems moving forward. K40 was pretty mum about the exact details of their iDatalink partnership, but did say we can expect to see this integration available in the second half of the year.

More iDatalink Maestro Perks of the Kenwood DNX893S

Aside from K40 integration, iDatalink Maestro has added a few more perks to the Kenwood DNX893s over what was available in last year’s models. There are a few updates in particular that I’m really happy about. In previous Kenwood iDatalink Maestro installations, there was nothing we could do to eliminate unsupported sources on screen.

So for example, let’s say you had a 2012 F-150 without factory SiriusXM. In older Kenwood models with the iDatalink Maestro RR, under OEM features/sources, you might see the SiriusXM icon listed even though it might not be a compatible or available feature – just like what you see with this older DDX9902S in an F-150 below:

DDX9902s Ford iDatalink Integration Features
DDX9902s Ford iDatalink Integration Features

That was because in some vehicles it was an available integration feature, but not all (more so compatible in GM vehicles than Ford in my experience). So with this minor update, you don’t have any extra and sometimes confusing unused icons under this OEM features menu – it makes a lot more sense to only show the available/compatible features for the particular vehicle the radio is installed in.

Kenwood DNX893s iDatalink Maestro
Kenwood DNX893s iDatalink Maestro – Less clutter on the OEM screen as only available features are shown.

The Kenwood DNX893S is faster and more reliable than previous Kenwood models

This is probably one of the MOST exciting aspects about this stereo to me. Start-up and boot up time has always been a sore spot for customers with previous feature packed bogged down Kenwood models. Thankfully, the Kenwood DNX893s has a faster processor and more memory than previous models. Additionally, this new Kenwood model is linux based which is generally faster and more reliable.

Users can expect to see speedier boot up times and far fewer quirks/hang ups than seen in previous Kenwood models. With a new dual core processor and automatic cache clearing on start up/turn off, Kenwood has decided to eliminate the old red triangular reset button. What does all this really mean? No more waiting for your Kenwood to boot up in order to back out of the driveway! Kenwood claims their unit will power up and display the reverse camera screen in under 2 seconds.

Kenwood DNX893S Garmin
Kenwood DNX893S uses internal solid state device for Garmin GPS

To keep the Garmin GPS more stable and reliable, this portion of the unit is no longer SD card based and has been switched to a solid state device which has been deemed more reliable. I know I’ve had my share of Kenwood units where the radio itself was okay but the Garmin GPS failed. It’s nice to know Kenwood has addressed this issue.

Additional Cool Features of the Kenwood DNX893S

Additional cool features are the ability to have TWO Bluetooth telephone devices paired and functional at the same time. How many of you have a work cell phone and personal cell phone? Quite a few of my customers do. This feature has been added with you folks in mind. You can still only connect to one Bluetooth audio device at a time and I can see why – it wouldn’t really make sense to try and stream audio from two different Bluetooth audio devices at the same time. Adding to the Bluetooth updates, the Kenwood DNX893s is using HFP 1.6 (previous models were 1.5) which Kenwood says has twice the bandwidth as previous versions. Bottom line? Kenwood claims this is the best handsfree profile chipset they’ve ever used.

The EQ is source dependent – so if you’re still subscribing to SiriusXM you can EQ and boost the snot out of it independently of your cleaner audio sources so you’re not reminded of how crappy it sounds when you switch sources from your iPod to SiriusXM.

Kenwood DNX893S Tire Temp
Kenwood DNX893S Tire Temp Feature

And for those of you that really like to be in tune with what’s happening inside your ride, you will enjoy the newly added tire temperature feature under the vehicle info section available with the iDatalink Maestro integration.

Overall the Kenwood DNX893S looks like it could be the best double din navigation system of 2016. Only time will tell. This model is scheduled to ship this month (fingers crossed).

Kenwood DNX893S
Kenwood DNX893S Garmin Split Screen