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 maestro.idatalink.com.

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

Non-Maestro Double Din Models:

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

Maestro Double Din Models:

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

Non Maestro Apple CarPlay Android Auto Models 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maestro Apple CarPlay Android Auto Models 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kenwood DDX9707s – Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with CD

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

Kenwood DDX9907XR – High resolution screen

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

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

Why no Pioneer models?

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

Conclusion

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

Audi TT Subwoofer Install – Stealth Style

Audi TT Stealth subwoofer install

Using JBL Basspro Hub and false floor technique

Recently we had a client inquire about adding a stealth and secure subwoofer to their 2008 Audi TT. Prior to tackling the Audi TT subwoofer install, we previously upgraded the in dash head unit with a Pioneer that is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible.

Stealth subwoofer install Audi TT
Audi TT – CarPlay Android Auto

Upgrading the sound? Start with a good head unit and the right installation parts.

Whenever you are looking to upgrade the sound in your vehicle, it’s always a good idea to start with a good solid source unit and build it up from there. In this particular vehicle we used a Pioneer AVH-4201NEX with Metra 95-9108 dash kit. We used a head unit that was Android Auto compatible (and worked well with the client’s phone – we tested prior to selling and installing) and it also had to be iDatalink Maestro compatible in order to retain key vehicle features like steering wheel controls.

Stealth subwoofer install Audi TT
Audi TT – iDatalink Maestro

In addition to retaining steering wheel controls, the Maestro provides access to vehicle information on screen like battery voltage and the ability read and reset basic check engine errors. With this particular vehicle and radio, it was even able to retain the OEM cluster radio display seen below.

Stealth subwoofer install Audi TT - iDatalink Maestro
Audi TT – iDatalink Maestro Cluster Display

Looks great – but where’s the bass?

Despite having an upgraded aftermarket head unit and speakers, this car was definitely missing some bass. A traditional subwoofer enclosure just wouldn’t cut it, especially on track days. The client needed the space and was concerned about taking it in and out of the vehicle on track days. We definitely had to think outside the box for this Audi TT subwoofer install.

Stealth subwoofer install Audi TT - JBL Basspro Hub
JBL Basspro Hub

Having sold and installed the JBL Basspro Hub in a few vehicles, I thought this would be the perfect product solution for the Audi TT subwoofer install. For anyone not familiar with the Bass Hub Pro, it’s a phenomenal product. It’s a self contained 11″ subwoofer with 200 watt amp designed to fit inside the spare tire.

What if you don’t have a spare tire?

There was a slight problem with installing this subwoofer in the 2008 Audi TT. It didn’t exactly fit. The client had already removed their spare tire and wasn’t planning on putting it back in. Our solution? Build a false rear floor and make room for it under the new rear floor.

Audi TT Stealth subwoofer install
Audi TT subwoofer install by John Sounds Incredible Mobile

John made a 3 part removable panel. He even included a hidden storage compartment behind the rear seat backs (only accessible when the seats are down).

Audi TT Stealth subwoofer install
Audi TT subwoofer install by John Sounds Incredible Mobile

He added an easy grab handle allowing access to the vehicle battery underneath.

Audi TT Stealth subwoofer install
Audi TT subwoofer install by John Sounds Incredible Mobile

The result for this Audi TT subwoofer install was clean, tight, deep punch bass that didn’t sacrifice any space.

Add the bass without taking up space

For anyone interested in adding a quality subwoofer that is truly stealth to their sedan, coupe or hatchback, consider the JBL Basspro Hub. This sub does a great job of filling out and adding the depth, kick and snap that is naturally missing from most stock sound systems. No spare tire? No problem. As you see, it’s possible to can get a little creative in your install process to come with a solution. Perhaps a false floor design would be the best way to incorporate a stealth subwoofer in your vehicle.

Apple CarPlay upgrade for Lamborghini Performante Spyder

Apple CarPlay Upgrade Lamborghini - Kenwood DMX7706s

2014 Lamborghini Performante Spyder gets a Kenwood Apple CarPlay DMX7706s installed

This week in the shop we had the chance to do an Apple CarPlay upgrade for a 2014 Lamborghini Performante Spyder. Previously we had installed Focal Flax series component speakers and a JL Audio amp. However, the technology of the stock head unit in this vehicle was seriously lacking.

Apple CarPlay upgrade for Lamborghini Performante Spyder
Apple CarPlay upgrade for Lamborghini Performante Spyder

Customers who spotted the vehicle in our garage were surprised and commented, “Such a nice car like that and it doesn’t come with a good stereo??” Sadly the answer is no, no, it doesn’t. These vehicles come with an older style, Audi looking radio, suspiciously similar to the RNS-E model used in select Audi A4 B6 body style 2005-2008. I can clearly envision the conversation between the Lamborghini designers:

Designer #1: “What are we going to do for the stereo?”

Designer #2: “Stereo? The only music any true driver will want to listen to is the melody of the glorious engine.”

Designer #1: “I agree, but upper management is telling me we have to include one or the people will complain.”

Designer #2: “Well, I think we have some extra RNS-E radios lying around somewhere. We can get re-branded for Lamborghini.”

Designer #1: “Yes, that will work.”

Apple CarPlay Upgrade for Lamborghini – Parts Required: a mix of VW/Audi parts, custom dash kit and some custom wiring

Apple CarPlay Upgrade Lamborghini Performante Spyder
Apple CarPlay Upgrade Lamborghini Performante Spyder – OEM head unit removed

All joking aside, we did use a few key install parts commonly used in VW and Audi that made our installation of our Apple CarPlay upgrade in this Lamborghini Performante Spyder relatively straight forward. One of these parts was the Metra XSVI-9003-NAV shown below.

Apple CarPlay upgrade for Lamborghini Performante Spyder
Apple CarPlay upgrade for Lamborghini Performante Spyder – Metra stereo wire harness.

In addition to the Axxess interface, we also used a Metra 40-EU56 antenna adapter and this CNC machined custom stereo dash kit by Audio Designs & Custom Graphics seen here.

Apple CarPlay upgrade for Lamborghini Performante Spyder
Apple CarPlay upgrade for Lamborghini Performante Spyder – Stereo dash kit.

Apple CarPlay Upgrade for Lamborghini – Retaining the OEM reverse camera

The tricky part of this install was tying into the factory reverse camera. In most vehicles, if there are no plug and play adapters available, we simply look up the vehicle wire schematic in our mechanic software (Pro Demand), identify the video positive and negative shield and cut and splice to retain. However, our mechanic software does not cover exotics. Additionally, there was very little wiring information on these vehicles that I could find online. In general, if no diagram is available, we examine the camera wiring from the camera itself and use a multimeter to attempt to identify the connections.

If we couldn’t identify the proper wires, our only other option would be to install an aftermarket reverse camera. I started to recall a similar situation we ran into with a 2013 VW Passat. There was no method we could find (back in 2013) to retain the OEM camera in that car because it wasn’t just a standard video positive/negative set up. Although we were using an iDatalink Maestro to retain many OEM features, the camera was one thing it could not tie into and even iDatalink advised installing an aftermarket one at the time. We ended up doing just that which is not really such a big deal in a VW Passat, but have you seen where the reverse camera is in this Lamborghini? It is located below the 3rd brake light inside the spoiler which appears to be made entirely of carbon fiber.

The thought of taking that apart to replace it with an aftermarket camera gave me heart palpitations, yet it didn’t appear to faze my installer husband John. Luckily, I found a thread on a forum online somewhere stating that the reverse camera wires were under the center console. What was missing in those forums were pictures and wire colors so I will post that here.

Apple CarPlay Upgrade Lamborghini
Apple CarPlay Upgrade Lamborghini – Reverse camera connections under center console

The top black connector houses the wires we needed to tap into – the lighter white/gray wire was video positive and the black right next to it was the video negative shield. The white connector below actually needed to be plugged back into the box it was originally connected to. That box is what controls the camera. Using a standard video cable connector, we spliced into these wires and routed to our aftermarket head unit.

Apple CarPlay Upgrade Lamborghini - OEM reverse camera retained
Apple CarPlay Upgrade Lamborghini – OEM reverse camera retained

With the OEM camera retained, my heart palpitations subsided and I was able to show the client his new Apple CarPlay radio, the Kenwood DMX7706s.

Apple CarPlay Upgrade Lamborghini – Kenwood DMX7706s

Just another week at our shop Sounds Incredible Mobile, in Brookfield, CT. Please let me know what you think in the comments below.

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - Kenwood DDX5706S

What is the best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019?

When Apple CarPlay first came out in October 2014, we only had two models available to choose from. The Alpine iLX-007 and the Pioneer App Radio 4 SPH-DA120. Having only two models to pick from made the decision process a lot easier. Fast forward to 2019 and there are easily over 50 different Apple CarPlay stereos on the market to choose from. How on earth is the average Joe supposed to know the difference? As a car audio specialist, I have spent quite a bit of time thoroughly learning the subtle differences and nuances from the major brands I carry: Alpine, Kenwood, Pioneer and Sony. This blog post is going to break it all down in order to help you select the best Apple CarPlay stereo 2019 to fit your unique needs, budget and vehicle application. I go over the pro’s, the con’s and the minor differences that only an anal retentive type-A person like myself picks up on. So let’s do this, shall we?

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – Where to start?

Apple CarPlay is one of the most highly requested technologies our clients ask for. There are a series of questions I ask my customers to determine the best CarPlay stereo for their needs. Let’s go through them:

  • Do you need a CD player?
  • Are you interested in SiriusXM?
  • Do you care about HD Radio?
  • What is the year, make and model of your vehicle?
  • Is your vehicle equipped with steering wheel controls?
  • Is your vehicle equipped with OEM reverse camera?
  • Is your vehicle equipped with OEM reverse park assist sensors?
  • Is your vehicle equipped with OEM Rear seat entertainment?
  • Is your vehicle equipped with premium sound (JBL, Bose or Harman Kardon depending on vehicle brand)?

I ask all these questions because depending on the vehicle and existing OEM features, sometimes you are better off going with a CarPlay radio that is iDatalink Maestro compatible.

What is the iDatalink Maestro and what does it have to do with the Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019?

Please don’t skip this part, I know it’s long, but it’s worth the read! Understand what the Maestro is and why it matters so you don’t buy the wrong CarPlay stereo for your vehicle. The Maestro flawlessly retains many OEM features in a wide variety of vehicles – GM, Toyota, Subaru, Ford, RAM, Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and VW. In fact, there are many popular vehicles out there which require a Maestro compatible radio in order to retain access to vehicle settings and climate control displays. Examples of popular vehicles that will require the iDatalink Maestro include:

  • 2014-up GM pickups (Sierra, Silverado)
  • 2013-up RAM pickups
  • 2014-up RAM Promaster
  • 2014-up Jeep Cherokee
  • 2015-up Ford F-150
  • 2017-up Ford F-350
  • 2012-up Ford Focus
  • 2010-2014 Ford Mustang

This is not an all inclusive list by the way, just a small sampling. What happens if you buy a non Maestro radio for your Maestro compatible car?

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - Ugly Axxess Display
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – Ugly Axxess Display

You’ll have to use an inferior Metra Axxess radio replacement interface that probably has some type of ugly aftermarket climate controls integrated into their dash kit or you may have to find a spot to mount an unsightly control module in order to access vehicle settings. Ugh. Who wants that on their dash just so they can change their dash lighting or set their door locks to unlock all doors on one press of the unlock button? These are functions that can be handled through the Maestro when used with a Maestro compatible radio for certain vehicles.

So how do you know if you need to go with a radio that is iDatalink Maestro compatible?

Head over to iDatalink’s demo flash page where you can enter your vehicles year, make and model and select any brand radio and model number from the drop down list. If by chance you have a vehicle that requires the Maestro for installation, you will find that drop down list is limited. Only iDatalink Maestro compatible radios will be listed. This is when you are using what’s called the iDatalink Serial Cable connection.

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - iDatalink Maestro Kenwood DDX5706S
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – iDatalink Maestro Kenwood DDX5706S

Although the Maestro is not necessary for installation in every vehicle, you will find there are some vehicles that will have more features and perks available when you install a Maestro and Maestro compatible radio. Additionally, one thing to note – in some vehicles, you can use the iDatalink Maestro with a non Maesto compatible radio via the wired remote input. I did that in my 2014 Wrangler once with a Sony XAV-AX100. It just meant I had less options and features on my radio. The only thing the Maesto did in that install was retain my steering wheel controls. I could have done that with a Pac or Metra steering wheel control adapter too, but the Maestro is pretty easy to flash and set up.

So to recap – some vehicles really need the Maestro in order to retain OEM features such as access to vehicle settings, climate display, reverse camera retention, rear park assist retention and rear seat entertainment retention. In those instances you must use a Maestro compatible radio and the serial data cable connection. In vehicles without all those fancy options to retain, the Maestro can also be used as a steering wheel control module with non Maestro compatible radios. To better understand, take a look at the demo flash below for a non Maestro radio, the Sony XAV-AX1000 (first to be reviewed in the list) and a Maestro compatible vehicle like my 2014 Jeep Wrangler:

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - iDatalink Maestro Sony XAV-AX1000 Jeep Wrangler
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – iDatalink Maestro Sony XAV-AX1000 Jeep Wrangler

Notice in the demo flash above the only thing the Maesto will do with the Sony XAV-AX1000 in my 2014 Jeep Wrangler is retain my steering wheel controls and stock premium amp if equipped. In this example, we are using the Maestro really just a steering wheel control adapter and via the stereo’s wired remote input. However, with my Kenwood DMX7704, I have my Maestro connected via the serial data cable connection and therefore I have a lot more features and options for flashing. Check it out. Same vehicle, same Maestro module, but with a Maestro compatible radio:

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - iDatalink Maestro Kenwood DMX7704s Jeep Wrangler
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – iDatalink Maestro Kenwood DMX7704s Jeep Wrangler

Determining whether or not you have a Maestro compatible vehicle or a vehicle that requires the Maestro is really the first place to start in your best Apple CarPlay stereo 2019 search. Depending on the year, make and model vehicle, you may find that you are limited to a Maestro compatible radio OR, like me, you may prefer the added features gained with a Maestro compatible radio vs a non Maestro compatible radio.

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – Value CarPlay options that are NOT iDatalink Maestro compatible

I know I probably went overboard on the iDatalink Maestro info, but I felt it necessary to explain as this is a key difference between many models on the market. Most of the great entry level options on the market are not iDatalink Maestro compatible, but they are still very solid contenders. Two extremely popular entry level models I really like are the Sony XAV-AX1000 and Alpine iLX-W650.

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

Sony XAV-AX1000 – Awesome value CarPlay stereo for non iDatalink Maestro vehicles

The Sony XAV-AX1000 is an awesome option for anyone looking for an easy to use, easy to install Apple CarPlay radio. It doesn’t have a ton of bells and whistles, but what it does do, it does very well. Very much like it’s predecessor the XAV-AX100, but with a few key differences. The Sony XAV-AX1000 features:

  • AM/FM Radio – Sony is pretty strong in the tuner section so if reception is important, consider Sony (Kenwood also very good)
  • Bluetooth
  • Front USB
  • Front AUX input
  • SiriusXM ready (SXV300 tuner required)
  • 6.2″ touch screen
  • Reverse camera capable (one camera input)
  • Adjustable park guidance lines (also on/off)
  • 5 different background colors to choose from (cannot upload your own)
  • 10 band EQ
  • Front, Rear and Subwoofer pre-amp output (2 Volt)
  • Built in crossovers
  • Volume knob (kind of rare in this category)

Sony XAV-AX1000 Pro’s

This is a very easy to use radio, yet still has a ton of great features. Since it is a mechless unit (no CD) it can make install a bit easier too since it doesn’t have a full double din chassis behind the screen. There is a single din chassis behind the upper half of the screen and this makes for an easier install if you own an E46 BMW and are looking to convert to a double din. Additionally, the volume knob is a desirable feature for many of my customers and worth pointing out.

Sony XAV-AX1000 Con’s

One thing I always forget about Sony is their subwoofer pre-amp output is mono, so you’ll need a Y adapter if you plan on using it. Probably not a deal breaker, but something to note so you don’t get caught missing installation parts. Additionally, even if you are using this with an iDatalink Maestro, Sony maps out their steering wheel control commands on this model in kind of a funky way. I guess they assume this will be installed in an older vehicle with only a few buttons on the steering wheel like Volume up/down, Track up/down and Source. Sony assumed people would only want to put this in a vehicle that lacks individual Answer, Hang up or Voice buttons. As a result, they have lumped all those commands together. See the mock flash below to better understand the combined commands.

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - Sony XAV-AX1000 Steering Wheel Control Functions
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – Sony XAV-AX1000 Steering Wheel Control Functions

With the Sony XAV-AX1000 – “Source” doubles up as your hang up or reject call button. “Voice” (Siri) also functions as answer and hang up call. For some this is no big deal. For others, you may find this annoying. If you find it annoying, consider the Alpine iLX-W650.

Alpine iLX-W650 – Equally awesome value CarPlay stereo for non iDatalink Maestro vehicles

The Alpine iLX-W650 is a very attractive radio. It features a 7″ glass capacitive touch screen (like the touch screen on your smart phone). It is vibrant and responsive. The icons on this radio are large and the user interface is quite easy to navigate.

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

Unlike Sony’s XAV-AX1000, the Alpine iLX-W650 does support separate buttons on the steering wheel for mapping Voice, Answer, Hangup/Reject and more.

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - Alpine iLX-W650 Steering Wheel Control Functions
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – Alpine iLX-W650 Steering Wheel Control Functions

The Alpine iLX-W650 is another mechless unit and utilizes a very shallow chassis. This kills me because it would be ideal for the newer GM trucks and RAM trucks that require some major modification in order to accommodate a standard double din, but this model is not Maestro compatible so if used in a vehicle like that you would lose access to modify vehicle settings, climate display, reverse camera, etc. However, it still makes installation in most vehicles easier since there is more room to work with behind the dash and it definitely makes for an easier double din install in BMW E46 body style.

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

This cute little baby radio has a lot of features packed into its shallow chassis, including, but not limited to:

  • 7″ Glass capacitive touch screen
  • AM/FM Radio (haven’t installed in a car yet, not sure how reception is – will update soon, have two installs already scheduled)
  • SiriusXM Ready (SXV300 tuner required)
  • Rear USB (I like to use PAC Audio’s USB-DMA1 to flush mount)
  • Bluetooth
  • Front, Rear and Subwoofer pre-amp output (4 Volt)
  • Reverse camera capable (2 camera inputs)
  • Adjustable park guidance lines (also on/off)
  • Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible
  • 9 Band parametric EQ
  • Also includes easy 3 band EQ for less tech savvy
  • Digital time alignment
  • Built in crossovers

Alpine iLX-W650 Pro’s

I love the vibrant and responsive touch screen of this radio and easy to navigate menu’s and options. Additionally, this is a great sounding stereo. Very clean, detailed and nuanced. Slightly smoother tonal quality over Sony. The other things I love that Alpine offers is the advanced or simple EQ. If you’re an audiophile, you can take full advantage of the 9 band parametric EQ with Q factor adjustment and digital time alignment. If you need an easy EQ option switch to the simple mode and easily access options for Bass, Midrange, Treble, Balance/Fader and Sub level control. Another very cool feature is Alpine offers an easy add-on power pack 4 channel amp for this radio called the KTA-450. It’s an easy way to tack on a 100 watts x 4 RMS amp and it can actually bolt on to the back of the chassis.

Alpine iLX-W650 Con’s

Although this model does not feature a video player of any kind, there is still a switched parking brake wire that needs to be wired up properly in order to access settings on the radio. I use the PAC Audio TR1 in order to simulate that on our display board. Lastly, there are no display customization options other than the fact that the opening splash screen image can be changed. All in all, if this model was iDatalink Maestro compatible, I doubt Alpine would be able to keep these in stock.That is the one feature I really wish Alpine snuck in as that would make this a no brainer option for many newer GM and Jeep/RAM models. But don’t worry, I have an options for those vehicles in the shallow mount/iDatalink Maestro compatible category towards the end of the post.

Pioneer AVH-1500NEX – Value CarPlay stereo with CD player for non iDatalink Maestro vehicles

The last two models from Alpine and Sony were mechless models in the entry level category, however there are still plenty of consumers out there not ready to give up their CD’s just yet. If you are looking for a nice easy to use CarPlay stereo with a CD player, consider the Pioneer AVH-1500NEX.

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - Pioneer AVH-1500NEX
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – Pioneer AVH-1500NEX

The Pioneer AVH-1500NEX includes features such as:

  • CD/DVD Player
  • Nice alternate Album Art display over drab Apple CarPlay display (scroll down to Pioneer DMH-1500NEX to see Pioneer’s artwork display)
  • AM/FM Radio (Pioneer tends to be the weakest in my experience with FM/AM signal)
  • Bluetooth
  • Rear USB
  • Rear AUX input
  • SiriusXM ready (SXV300 tuner required)
  • 6.2″ touch screen
  • Reverse camera capable (one camera input)
  • Adjustable park guidance lines (also on/off)
  • 5 different background colors to choose from and various background images (can upload your own)
  • Customizable home screen and icon layout (organize most used sources on your home screen)
  • 13 band EQ
  • Front, Rear and Subwoofer pre-amp output (4 Volt)
  • Digital time alignment
  • Built in crossovers

Pioneer AVH-1500NEX Pro’s

The Pioneer AVH-1500NEX packs in a ton of features at a competitive price. The user interface is very attractive and intuitive and highly customizable. There are two different screen layouts to choose from and you can easily organize the sources and icons in order that you will use most often. Not only can the screen colors and themes be customized, but the button color is also customizable so you can get nearly an exact match to your vehicle’s dash illumination. Additionally, Pioneer allows you to view the music playing from your iPhone as an iPod. When you select the iPod/music icon source for USB 1 vs the Apple CarPlay icon, you are met with nice album art icons and an alternate way to search your artists, playlists and podcasts. This feature is standard on all Pioneer models.

Pioneer AVH-1500NEX Con’s

Although Pioneer has all the great sound quality specs on paper, in practice, I find their tonal quality to be a bit tinny/sharp compared to Alpine, Sony and Kenwood. It would be nice if this model was iDatalink Maestro compatible or had a second camera input. If you step up to the limited distribution model, the Pioneer AVH-1550NEX, you will gain those two features.

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – iDatalink Maestro Compatible Models

Moving on from the Sony XAV-AX1000, Alpine iLX-W650 and Pioneer AVH-1500NEX we step up into the iDatalink Maestro compatible models that we sell and install at our shop, starting with the Pioneer DMH-1500NEX.

Pioneer DMH-1500NEX – Best value mechless Apple CarPlay stereo with iDatalink Maestro compatibility

The Pioneer DMH-1500NEX features both Apple CarPlay compatibility and Android Auto connectivity. More importantly, this is kind of where it starts for an Apple CarPlay stereo with iDatalink Maestro compatibility.

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - Pioneer DMH-1500NEX home screen
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – Pioneer DMH-1500NEX home screen

Another desirable feature included with the Pioneer DMH-1500NEX (and most Pioneer touch screen models) is its customizable home screen. Not only do you have two different style home screens to choose from, you have various background images to choose from or you can upload your own image. You can even re-arrange the source icons to a configuration that best suits your needs. There are a lot of personalization options for button color and screen color so you can really tweak the appearance to your vehicle interior and personal preferences. Another nice perk about Pioneer CarPlay models is their iPod view mode.

If you get bored with Apple’s plain jane “Now Playing” screen in CarPlay, you can switch to the USB 1 iPod source screen on Pioneer and enjoy Pioneer’s album art display.

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - Pioneer DMH-1500NEX iPod Screen
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – Pioneer DMH-1500NEX iPod Screen

The Pioneer DMH-1500NEX is almost identical to the previous model discussed, the AVH-1500NEX except for three key differences:

  • The Pioneer DMH-1500NEX lacks a CD player
  • Has Android Auto capability
  • Is iDatalink Maestro compatible

Other than that, they are pretty much the same unit. If you are looking for something with better than average AM/FM reception and smoother tonal quality, consider the Kenwood DDX5706s.

Kenwood DDX5706s – Best value Apple CarPlay stereo 2019 with CD player and iDatalink Maestro compatibility

I really like this stereo. It has so many great features at such a great price point, it’s pretty hard to beat it when it comes to bang for your buck.

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - Kenwood DDX5706S
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – Kenwood DDX5706S

The Kenwood DDX5706s might just be the best value Apple CarPlay stereo 2019 with iDatalink Maestro compatibility. Take a look at the long list of attractive features in this awesome head unit:

  • iDatalink Maestro Compatible
  • CD/DVD Player
  • Nice alternate Album Art display on home screen over drab Apple CarPlay display
  • AM/FM Radio (tends to be strong in the reception category)
  • Bluetooth
  • Rear USB
  • Rear AUX input
  • A/V out (3.5MM style – will need an adapter)
  • SiriusXM ready (SXV300 tuner required)
  • 6.2″ Touch screen
  • Reverse camera capable (dual camera inputs with dedicated front camera input which can be triggered automatically when shifting out of reverse for 10, 15 or 20 seconds)
  • Adjustable park guidance lines
  • Various background images and colors to choose from or you can upload your own
  • Customizable home screen layout – various widgets can be displayed and source icons can be re-arranged
  • 13 Band EQ
  • Digital time alignment
  • Front, Rear and Subwoofer pre-amp outputs (4 Volt)
  • Built in crossovers
  • Volume knob
  • Dual Zone (awesome feature for vehicles with rear seat entertainment)

Kenwood DDX5706S Pro’s

Kenwood was the first company to partner with iDatalink Maestro so they tend to have the most featured retained/integrated. I have a Kenwood in my own vehicle, so I may be partial, but I have also had Sony and Alpine as well (Pioneer is a bit too bright for my ears). One of the things I really love about Kenwood is the audio control features. They have this nice menu where you can make some quick changes and really improve the sound.

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - Kenwood DDX5706s easy sound menu
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – Kenwood DDX5706s easy sound menu

Here are a couple quick tweaks that I do in most cars with Kenwood models to really improve the sound quality:

  • Bass Boost Off
  • Loudness Off
  • Drive EQ On
  • Space Enhancer (depends on the car – sometimes yes – sometimes no)
  • Supreme On
  • Realizer 1
  • Stage EQ (depends on car – sometimes off, sometimes low).

These couple minor changes in the sound effect menu can make a major impact in your total sound quality. Unlike a typical EQ with “Powerful” EQ curve, these changes are smooth, never boomy or distorted and I highly recommend trying it if you go for a Kenwood model like the DDX5706S.

Other awesome sound quality control features are the 13 band EQ, digital time alignment, built in crossovers and memory recall option. I love, love this feature. Although this has always been a Kenwood feature, I should mention, Pioneer is finally offering this too. You can memorize your settings in the special menu and if you ever have your battery disconnected for service, you can easily recall all those stored settings. Sounds simple enough, but believe it or not, that is not a standard feature in most radios. I was happy to see Pioneer recently added this feature to their radios.

Dual Zone – this is an important feature for some – especially in GM vehicles where you are replacing the OEM navigation radio which also acts as the DVD player for the OEM rear seat entertainment system. What this feature means is you can load a DVD in the head unit and output the audio and video to a rear monitor. When dual zone is on, the audio for the rear speakers is cut out. Your kids can listen on headphones and quietly watch their DVD play on the rear monitor (assuming your rear monitor has IR capability). At the same time you can then switch back over to Apple CarPlay and play what you want to listen to on the front speakers. Neat!

Lastly, I like the fact that you can see the album art on the home screen as an alternative view to the very boring and drab Apple CarPlay now playing screen. This is not an option on any Sony model or the Alpine iLX-W650 for example.

Kenwood DDX5706S Con’s

Honestly hard to think of any. No HD radio. Regular resistive touch screen vs glass touch screen which is an option in some other models. Apple CarPlay is a wired feature meaning you have to connect your phone to the USB via an Apple USB to lightning charging cable. This is true for all Kenwood models, however some of them offer wireless Android Auto with the Google Pixel. The Kenwood DDX5706s probably is hands down the best value Apple CarPlay stereo 2019. The combination of features and price point is hard to beat. So what do you get when you step up from this model?

Within the Kenwood line up, we have a few other models to choose from with subtle differences and features added. The next model up from the DDX5706s is the DDX6706s.

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - Kenwood DDX6706s
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – Kenwood DDX6706s

The main difference between the DDX5706s and DDX6706s is the slightly larger screen – 6.8″ vs 6.2″ – and added Android Auto compatibility. However, there is one feature you loose with the DDX6706s: the volume knob. 

Comparatively priced and also worth considering is the Kenwood eXcelon version, the DDX6906s. The eXcelon version adds 2 year warranty and 5 volt pre-amp over its sister model DDX6706s. If you like the idea of having Android Auto compatibility and a volume knob, we can shift over to the Sony XAV-AX210SXM which is the only Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible radio I’m aware of that still includes a good old fashioned knob.

Sony XAV-AX210SXM – Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, iDatalink Maestro compatible with a volume knob

The Sony XAV-AX210SXM is a great option for anyone looking for an easy to use, AM/FM CD player with Maestro compatibility, SiriusXM, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a volume knob. Sony actually bundles the SXV300 tuner with this radio which is an added bonus.

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - Sony XAV-AX210SXM iDatalink Maestro features
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – Sony XAV-AX210SXM iDatalink Maestro features

The Sony XAV-AX210SXM features:

  • iDatalink Maestro Compatible
  • CD/DVD Player
  • AM/FM tuner (Sony is pretty strong in reception)
  • 6.4″ touch screen
  • Bluetooth
  • Rear USB
  • Video output (video only, no audio so this is not the same as Dual zone – you’d have to play the audio over all the speakers in the car if you used this feature)
  • SiriusXM included
  • Reverse camera capable (3 camera inputs)
  • Adjustable park guidance lines
  • Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible
  • Various background images and colors to choose from or you can upload your own
  • 10 Band EQ
  • Front, Rear and Subwoofer pre-amp outputs (4 Volt)
  • Built in crossovers
  • Volume knob

Sony XAV-AX210SXM Pro’s

My less tech savvy customers seem attracted to Sony’s simple, easy to understand icon layout. What you see is what you get. Additionally, they are usually attracted to the volume knob. The included SiriusXM tuner and antenna is a nice touch. The other point I will make is it has a flat matte black finish which works well in a lot of vehicle dashes. Sometimes the shiny gloss black finish typical of an aftermarket radio can stick out and scream aftermarket.

Sony XAV-AX210SXM Con’s

There are a couple things I wish the Sony had such as the ability to rearrange icons on the screen. You can’t, they will always appear in the the order they appear. Secondly, although their entry level XAV-AX1000 has a front AUX input, the XAV-AX210SXM does not have any AUX input at all, front or rear. Sometimes the AUX input is one of those features you want to have *just in case* you ever need it. Two models that have this option are the Alpine iLX-107 and iLX207.

Alpine iLX-207 and Alpine iLX-107 – Similar models numbers, but two very different CarPlay stereos

Both of these models are a slight step up in price compared to the Sony XAV-AX210SXM. They are quite different in layout, appearance and features from Sony and also from each other. Yet, there are four things that these two Alpine units have in common:

  • They both lack a CD player
  • They’re both iDatalink Maestro compatible
  • They both include a GPS antenna for better accuracy using Apple Maps, Waze of Google Maps.
  • Both are made in Japan

That’s probably where the similarities end. Let’s look at the iLX-207 first.

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

From a sound quality perspective, Alpine is definitely smoother and more refined compared to Sony. I didn’t always feel this way about Alpine. I think it may have something to do with the made in Japan thing (some of their radios are made in China or Thailand, not these two).

The iLX-207 features many of the popular features already covered, but adds a couple key features. Unlike previous models discussed, the Alpine iLX-207 features HD Radio and an HDMI input. Additionally, Alpine does have a nice album artwork display when using an iPod or iPhone in iPod mode rather than CarPlay. It’s similar to what you see in the photo above displaying SiriusXM playing.

Here is a long list of features included on the iLX-207:

  • iDatalink Maestro Compatible
  • HDMI input and HDMI output
  • 7″ touch screen
  • HD AM/FM Radio (although in general, this particular model is not the strongest in reception)
  • SiriusXM Ready (SXV300 tuner required)
  • Rear USB
  • Rear AUX input
  • Bluetooth
  • Front, Rear and Subwoofer pre-amp output (4 Volt)
  • Reverse camera capable (1 camera input unless you use Alpine specific multi-camera kit)
  • Adjustable park guidance lines (also on/off)
  • Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible
  • 9 Band parametric EQ
  • Also includes easy bass/treble, balance/fader adjustment menu
  • Digital time alignment
  • Built in crossovers
  • Included GPS antenna for better accuracy when using Apple Maps, Waze or Google Maps
  • Compatible with Alpine’s KAC-001 accessory control module

You may be wondering, why do you need an HDMI input on a radio? I wonder that too and try not to even tell customers about it. Seriously, you do not need to be watching YouTube videos and driving at the same time. Please, don’t do it. If you’re sitting in a parking lot with the e-brake engaged watching Cobra Kai waiting for your kid to get out of his/her karate class, then I can see the point, but please folks – be smart with this feature.

Alpine iLX-207 Pro’s

Alpine has a clean, user interface with easy swipe up/swipe down shortcuts to menu’s and audio settings. I love the flexibility of having both the 9 band parametric eq and then an easy bass/treble, balance/fader/subwoofer menu for customers to access. Alpine’s album artwork display is very pleasing to the eyes too. The Alpine iLX-207 is one of the few Apple CarPlay stereos that offers an HDMI input, (not that I think you should use that while you’re driving). Lastly, as far I’m aware, this is one of the only CarPlay radio’s that still includes a GPS antenna for better accuracy when using Apple Maps, Waze or Google Maps through CarPlay (Pioneer and Kenwood used to offer this, but no longer do). A bonus feature is the ability to add Alpine’s KAC-001 accessory control module which adds the ability to control accessories like lighting or a winch.

Alpine iLX-207 Con’s

For the price of this unit, you would think it would include a CD player – yet it does not. Additionally, I think it’s pretty lame that Alpine only provided one camera input and you have to buy their camera kit if you want to do a multi camera set up. Especially when you consider their new entry level iLX-W650 has two camera inputs. Like most Alpine units, there is a parking brake wire that you can’t just ground out to bypass – it needs to be wired up even if you are only trying to access settings.

Alpine iLX-107 – Wireless Apple CarPlay with iDatalink Maestro compatibility

The main selling point of the Alpine iLX-107 is its ability to do Apple CarPlay Wirelessly.

Alpine iLX-107 Apple CarPlay for Porsche 991
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – Alpine iLX-107 Apple CarPlay installed in Porsche 991

The Alpine iLX-107 has a very clean, minimalist appearance with only two hard buttons featuring a sleek glass capacitive touch screen. For those seeking a wireless Apple CarPlay interface, the Alpine iLX-107 is definitely up for consideration. When compared to other wireless options on the market (Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX) I feel the sound quality of this unit is superior. Features include:

  • iDatalink Maestro Compatible
  • 7″ glass capacitive touch screen
  • AM/FM Radio (no HD and no SiriusXM capability)
  • Rear USB
  • Rear AUX input
  • Bluetooth
  • Front, Rear and Subwoofer pre-amp output (2 Volt)
  • Reverse camera capable (1 camera input)
  • Adjustable park guidance lines
  • 9 Band parametric EQ
  • Also includes easy bass/treble, balance/fader adjustment menu
  • Digital time alignment
  • Built in crossovers
  • Included GPS antenna for better accuracy when using Apple Maps, Waze or Google Maps
  • Compatible with Alpine’s Tuneit App for easy EQ set up

Alpine iLX-107 Pro’s

The Alpine iLX-107’s clean, minimalist design is reminiscent of Apple design and any diehard Apple enthusiast will appreciate its esthetics. It is one of the few Apple CarPlay models on the market that features wireless Apple CarPlay, and although it has a slightly lower pre-amp voltage, it’s still a great sounding head unit. However, when you consider the price tag, it’s hard to believe it is lacking some key features.

Alpine iLX-107 Con’s

The Alpine iLX-107 leaves out some popular features such as:

  • Multi camera inputs
  • CD/DVD player
  • HD Radio
  • SiriusXM capability
  • higher voltage pre-amp (iLX-107 has three 2 volt pre-amp outputs).

Depending on your needs and tastes, it may be well worth the trade off in order to gain a clean minimalist appearance with wireless Apple CarPlay capability. However, if you want the nice glass capacitive screen, the high voltage pre-amp, the CD player, the HD radio, the multi-camera inputs and SiriusXM compatibility, you may want to consider the Kenwood DDX9705s.

Kenwood DDX9705S – Wired Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto, Capacitive screen, HD Radio and iDatalink Maestro compatible

Okay, so you lose the wireless Apple CarPlay, but if it’s any consolation, this model is wireless Android Auto compatible. Although I’ve only ever seen that feature work with the Google Pixel. I think it’s a hardware issue on Android’s part, but I’m not positive about that so don’t quote me on it. The Kenwood DDX9705s almost has it all. Featuring:

  • Glass capacitive 7″ touch screen
  • iDatalink Maestro compatible
  • CD/DVD Player
  • Nice alternate Album Art display on the home screen over drab Apple CarPlay display
  • HD AM/FM (Kenwood tends to be strong in reception
  • Bluetooth
  • Dual rear USB ports
  • Rear AUX input
  • Dual Zone
  • SiriusXM ready (SXV300 tuner required)
  • Front and Rear camera inputs
  • Adjustable park guidance lines
  • Various background images and colors to choose from or you can upload your own
  • Customizable home screen layout – various widgets can be displayed and source icons can be re-arranged
  • 13 Band EQ
  • Digital time alignment
  • Front, Rear and Subwoofer pre-amp outputs (4 Volt)
  • Built in crossovers

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - Kenwood DDX9705s
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – Kenwood DDX9705s

Like most Kenwood models, their is an eXcelon version available, the DDX8905s which adds 2 year warranty and 5 volt pre-amp outputs. However, once you step it up to the DDX9905s, you get into a slightly different level in the Kenwood eXcelon family.

The DDX9905s includes everything the DDX9705s and DDX8905s plus two key features:

  • High resolution display with 2,764,800 pixels compared to 1,152,000 pixels
  • 5 Volt gold plated RCA pre-amp outputs
  • “Sound quality parts” defined by Kenwood as “custom-made and carefully selected parts, such as audio quality power supply capacitors, high quality coupling capacitors and cross-shaped panel structures”

One thing to note about the DDX9705s, DDX8905s and DDX9905s – these are carryover models from 2018 and will most likely be replaced late summer.

Kenwood did have some supply issues (and so did Alpine, Pioneer and Sony, but for some reason Kenwood seemed to be hit hardest by this). One of the key touch screen suppliers in our industry went out of business. Which kind of sort of boggles my mind. If you’re a key supplier for several name brand aftermarket head unit manufacturers, how do you just go out of business? They couldn’t just raise their prices? I guess not, it was probably more complicated than that. Either way, their absence has left some manufacturers scrambling to fill the gap and as a result Kenwood will probably have some late summer releases to replace these models with newer versions. My guess is they will be called the DDX9706s, DDX8906s and DDX9906s and have similar features.

Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX – the Apple CarPlay radio that pretty much has it all

If you are afraid of missing out on features, the Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX has almost everything you could possibly want in a CarPlay head unit expect one key feature. It does not have a capacitive touch screen, it’s just a regular resistive touch screen. However, it is the only detachable screen CarPlay stereo on this list which is cool if you’re worried about having some type of anti-theft feature.

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX wireless CarPlay
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX wireless CarPlay

One of the key features of the Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX is that it has both wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto. Additionally this unit is jam packed with all the sought after features:

  • iDatalink Maestro compatible
  • 7″ touch screen
  • CD/DVD Player
  • Nice alternate Album Art display on the home screen over drab Apple CarPlay display
  • HD AM/FM
  • HDMI input
  • SD card input (behind the face)
  • Bluetooth
  • Dual rear USB ports(one for Android and one for Apple devices)
  • Rear AUX input (A/V in)
  • Dual Zone (A/V out)
  • SiriusXM ready (SXV300 tuner required)
  • Front and Rear camera inputs
  • Adjustable park guidance lines
  • Various background images and colors to choose from or you can upload your own
  • Customizable home screen layout – various widgets can be displayed and source icons can be re-arranged
  • 13 Band EQ
  • Digital time alignment
  • Front, Rear and Subwoofer pre-amp outputs (4 Volt)
  • Detachable face

Unique Apple CarPlay models that are iDatalink compatible and outside of the double din box

If you are in the need of something slightly different, I have two alternate Apple CarPlay stereos to consider. If you want to go big, consider the Alpine Halo 9, iLX-F309.

Alpine iLX-F309 aka Halo 9 – floating 9″ CarPlay stereo with single din chassis

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - Alpine iLX-F309 Halo 9
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – Alpine iLX-F309 Halo 9

Built on nearly the same platform of features as the iLX-207, the Halo 9 features an oversized 9″ capacitive touch screen with a single din chassis. It’s not for every vehicle, but it does look very nice in certain cars. The screen can be mounted in a variety of positions and angles to suit your specific vehicle and dash.

If you like the idea of the Halo9, but don’t need the iDatalink Maestro compatibility, you could consider the new Halo lite version, the iLX-F259. The iLX-F259 features the same exact look and appearance of the iLX-F309 minus the iDatalink Maestro compatibility, HD Radio and HDMI input along with a slightly more palatable price tag.

Pioneer DMH-C2550NEX – Shallowest mount Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019

If you’ve got one of these newer GM or RAM/Jeep models with a shallow dash, you may want to consider the new modular Pioneer DMH-C2550NEX. The DMH-C2550NEX is comparable in features and functionality to the DMH-1500NEX, but it has a modular installation design. The screen is a separate component from the hide-away brain of the radio. This is very similar in design to what we are seeing in the OEM stereo design of many newer vehicles (which is why there is no room in the dash to easily replace the radio in say a new 2018+ Jeep Wrangler JL/JLU).

Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 - Pioneer DMH-C2550NEX hideaway
Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019 – Pioneer DMH-C2550NEX hideaway

Just keep in mind if you want to utilize the hideaway functionality, you will need to purchase an extension cable and harness for the screen, the Pioneer RD-RGB150A. I do think it’s kind of lame Pioneer didn’t include that with the radio because I think most people who purchase this radio will do so for that feature and require that additional accessory.

So really what is the best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019?

There is no one best model, it really depends on your unique needs, your vehicle and your personal tastes. This is the same kind of process I lead my own customers through, but the only difference is they can check this stuff out in person on a working display model.

However, even with my guidance, sometimes my customers really don’t want to think about it. They get overwhelmed and will ask me “Well, what do you have in your car?”. I have a Kenwood and I love it, but not everyone loves Kenwood, not everyone has the same tastes or preferences as me nor should they.

Each model has it’s own unique user interface. Some are easier than others and some are more customizable than others. Some have more bells and whistles, some have less. If you’re the kind of person that gets overwhelmed with choice, you should probably go with a simpler model that has less to fuss with (any Sony model or the Alpine iLX-W650). If you’re someone that wants to have it all and not leave anything on the table, you should consider one of the higher end Kenwood or Pioneer models. Each radio is unique, just as each consumer is unique. There is no one size fits all, but hopefully this article has helped you narrow in the best option for your vehicle and personal tastes.

Final note

I don’t know how many people will read this entire 6700+ word article, but if you have, I’d like to say two things. Thank you for reading my post and secondly, I want you to know why I write these in depth articles. I get pretty upset when the top search result for “Best Apple CarPlay Stereo 2019” is some crappy website with discontinued out-dated stereo models, no valuable information and is just a poorly slapped together affiliate website competing for your precious click thru dollars. I hate misinformation, honestly, that is my motivation – I genuinely want to provide people with helpful information and I hope I have here. My goal is to educate you, the buyer, so you know what’s out there and can make an informed and confident selection based on the knowledge you’ve gained. If you’ve read this ridiculously long blog post, kindly let me know your thoughts. Please post any comments or questions the comment section below.

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

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?

 

Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade – Double Din Pioneer AVIC-8100NEX Navigation Installed

Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade - Apple CarPlay

This week in the shop – 2005 Porsche Cayenne, Pioneer AVIC-8100NEX and Murphy’s Law.

Well, it was more like 2 weeks ago in the shop I had the pleasure of doing an installation for a reader who graciously made the 2 1/2 hour trek from Boston to our shop in Brookfield, CT.  Raj has experience in the tech and infotainment industry and he was just as excited about seeing Android Auto in action as I was.

Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade - Android Auto
Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade – Android Auto

He was seeking an upgrade for his 2005 Porsche Cayenne navigation radio and was leaning towards the Pioneer AVIC-8100NEX.  This model appealed to him because of its Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. Additionally, it features on board navigation and a capacitive touch screen, much like the capacitive touch screen used on many smartphones.

Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade - Apple CarPlay
Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade – Apple CarPlay

I had some reservations about doing an install for a client driving all the way down from Boston. Only a few weeks prior, we had another customer down from the Boston area with a BMW E46 and we ran into some minor issues that were made much more difficult due to the logistics involved. It was late Friday afternoon. The vehicle was in the garage and the installation was in progress when we realized the dash kit company shipped us a 5 series double din kit in a 3 series E46 double din package.  Hello Murphy! We were left with few options and very little time to remedy the situation. So, my husband John did what he could – pulled an all nighter and fabricated his own kit.

So, needless to say, I was a little hesitant about another Boston client coming down on a Friday for an installation. I thought to myself, “What could go wrong this time that would be difficult to remedy based on the customer’s place of residency?” John reassured me it was a lot more straightforward than the 3 series and there was a lot less that could go wrong. It was essentially a head unit install with some cables routed to the center console. Plus, he reminded me we would be using tried and tested Nav TV parts. I convinced myself everything would be fine with this Porsche Cayenne navigation upgrade, but in the back of my mind I was still paranoid about what could go wrong when a client travels such a long distance for the purchase and installation of car electronics.

I’ve been alive long enough to know that Murphy is always lurking around, but let’s forget my paranoia for a moment. The Pioneer AVIC-8100NEX really was the perfect solution for bringing this 10 year old vehicle’s navigation system up to date. The goal was to replace the old outdated Porsche navigation radio with a capacitive touch screen navigation radio that supported both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Even though the Porsche Cayenne was equipped with the fiber optic MOST Bose audio system, with the right parts, it was going to be a relatively straight forward job.  Nav TV makes a pretty cool interface that allows you to retain the stock fiber optic Bose amp called the MOST HUR-955.

Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade - MOST HUR 955
Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade – MOST HUR 955 – And, yes, that’s my red swingline stapler in the background.

Having sold and installed several of these kits before, I wasn’t too worried about that part of the install. Besides the interface, there are several different dash kits available for this vehicle. Metra makes one and so does Nav TV. We used Metra’s ASWC-1 steering wheel control interface and Nav TV dash kit.  Although the Nav TV Porsche dash kit is more expensive than the Metra version, it is made in Germany and has the same exact appearance, quality, texture and finish as the factory radio.

Shortly after Raj first inquired about the 2005 Porsche Cayenne navigation upgrade, we touched base on the phone to go over details. I quickly typed up an estimate that he agreed to. With an install date set, I started ordering in parts.

This is when Murphy made his first appearance in our 2005 Porsche Cayenne navigation upgrade.  After taking a deposit and ordering up parts I realized I made a pretty big mistake.  Although I told him about the Nav TV MOST HUR-955 – I explained to him what it was and how it worked – I umm, sort of somehow forgot to put it on the estimate and subsequent invoice. Yikes! Talk about an expensive error. Unable to absorb that additional cost, I made the phone call to explain the error I made in my estimate.

I didn’t know what to expect. I would be pretty peeved if someone sprung an additional $600 part onto my estimate, but Raj was quite understanding and still wanted to move forward with the job. Sweet! I was excited. This was going to be our first install with a customer who actually had a compatible Android Auto device, the Google Nexus 6.

The Pioneer AVIC-8100NEX comes with two USB ports.  USB 1 for Apple CarPlay and USB 2 for Android Auto.  Additional inputs include HDMI and AUX.  We planned to route all 4 into the center console for the 2005 Porsche Cayenne.

Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade - USB's Center Console
Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade – USB’s Center Console

Everything with the installation was going as planned until about 4:00 in the afternoon, right about when John would have been wrapping things up.  Uh-oh – here comes Murphy again! With the radio powered up and the interface wired in we had no audio. John removed the Nav TV interface and tried to do a software update. It was not recognized by our computer.

John spent over an hour testing and checking while on the phone with Nav TV tech support. Meanwhile, I had a major meltdown realizing we had been shipped a bum part. After explaining the situation to Nav TV (“You know, the customer is not from our area and can’t just pop back in Monday after you ship us a new part”) they managed to ship a replacement part out next day Saturday delivery which I’m sure cost them a pretty penny. We explained the situation to Raj and I drove him over to Enterprise to pick up a rental so he could drive home while we waited for the replacement part to arrive.

Raj was extremely understanding about the situation and he attributed this to being in the tech industry and having been in similar situations. On the way over to Enterprise he asked me, “So what was the part that was defective?”  I responded, “It was that $650 part that I forgot to put on your receipt.” He burst out laughing. I’m glad he thought it was funny, he handled the news much better than I had.

The next day UPS arrived at 9 AM with the replacement interface and it worked like a charm. I have had such a low defective rate with this manufacturer that I was really surprised to have a defective part. Nav TV makes nearly all of their parts right here in the USA and quality control tests each and every one before shipping. Thankfully they stand by their product and they were quick to make it right.

Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade - Google Play Music
Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade – Google Play Music

At the end of the (next) day we had a very happy customer with a pretty sweet 2005 Porsche Cayenne navigation upgrade.  Raj, I hope you’re enjoying it!

Parrot RNB6 – Supports Android Auto & Apple CarPlay

Parrot RNB6 CES 2015

Parrot RNB6 – Award winning head unit supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay

UPDATE – 8-4-15 – Parrot RNB6 Cancelled – Find out why the Parrot RNB6 got eighty-sixed.

While at CES 2015 I was able to take a peak at the new Parrot RNB6.  The Parrot RNB6 definitely has the most vibrant and responsive touch screen of all Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatible head units that I have come across.  It’s a high quality screen and it shows.  The image was not at all washed out despite being under bright display lighting.  I assume the Parrot RNB6 will be replacing the Parrot Asteroid Smart which is a head unit that I’ve always had mixed feelings on.

Parrot RNB6 CES 2015
Parrot RNB6 CES 2015

The Parrot Asteroid Smart worked on a similar platform, running an Android operating system and then tethering off your cell phone for wifi to allow access to various apps including a web browser, email, navigation apps and various audio apps.  What I didn’t like about the Parrot Asteroid Smart was it’s sound quality.  It was sub-par.  For a $500 stereo it sounded like a $50 Walmart special (think Boss stereo).  It also lacked standard steering wheel control integration, it required the Parrot Unika which had limited vehicle compatibility and lacked many American vehicles.  Thankfully, Parrot has teamed up with Metra and together they have come up with a solution for that.  The AX-SWC-PARROT will allow for Metra’s ASWC-1 steering wheel control interface to work with Parrot products.

Parrot RNB6 – Sound quality

The verdict is still out on sound quality.  Unfortunately, Parrot did not have an in car display set up for a true audio demonstration.  In fact, I don’t even recall any audio playing from the Parrot RNB6 models themselves.  At each display stand, there was also a monitor above demonstrating the features and capabilities.

Parrot RNB6 EQ
Parrot RNB6 EQ

The Parrot representatives were more than happy to scroll through the various pages of audio adjustments under the Parrot AudioFX menu.  Ever the skeptic, I’m not convinced just yet.

Parrot RNB6 EQ
Parrot RNB6 EQ

Parrot is known for their innovation, their Bluetooth hands free and their Drones.  They’re not exactly a car stereo head unit company so I will not be convinced on sound quality until I hear it.  If it’s anything like the Asteroid Smart, I will be sorely disappointed. On paper however, the Parrot RBN6 looks like it should perform well.  It features:

  • Multiple band EQ
  • Digital time alignment
  • Built in Crossovers
  • 6 Volt pre-amp outputs
  • Preset EQ based on vehicle – Parrot says they’re uploading more and more vehicles to their database, but the unit should come pre-loaded with many popular vehicles (probably mostly European models)
  • Option for using either a simple EQ or advanced EQ depending on user preference

Parrot RNB6 - Preset EQ by Vehicle
Parrot RNB6 – Preset EQ by Vehicle

Parrot RNB6 – Vibrant and responsive touch screen

I definitely think the Parrot RNB6 has the brightest and most responsive capacitive touch screen of all Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatible head units so far announced.  You can truly see the vibrancy.  The RNB6 screen quality is probably the closest in quality to your actual smart phone screen.  These sample models were all under bright show room lights and still incredibly vibrant.  This is an important feature and I think it’s a key advantage Parrot will have over Alpine, Kenwood and Pioneer.

Parrot RNB6 Apple CarPlay
Parrot RNB6 Apple CarPlay

Parrot RNB6 – Extra features over Alpine, Kenwood and Pioneer

Like the new Pioneer and Kenwood Apple CarPlay and Android Auto models, the Parrot RNB6 will support both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – not at the same time of course.  However, the Parrot RNB6 offers a lot more than its competitors.  Besides being both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible, the Parrot RNB6 itself is running the latest version of the Android operating system, Lolipop 5.0.  This means users can simply pair their phone to this stereo and tether off their cell phone for internet connectivity.  So if you don’t feel like connecting and using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, simply use the onboard Android operating system and apps for your navigation and music.  This unit also includes Bluetooth so you can make and receive phone calls or stream your music wirelessly.

Additionally, it includes Parrot’s stereo microphone – this appears to be the same microphone that comes with their MKI9200 Bluetooth which is the best sounding handsfree kit I have heard or used.  Meaning call sound quality is great – very little background noise, calls are heard clearly thanks to the noise canceling stereo microphone.

Parrot RNB6 - Shallow design makes for easier installation
Parrot RNB6 – Shallow design makes for easier installation

The Parrot RNB6 is similar is size to Alpine’s iLX-007.  It’s quite shallow making installation easier in many vehicles.  For example, I doubt heat and A/C ducts would have to be modified if installing this in a BMW E46.  Other cool perks include Parrot’s Dash Cam.  It’s unclear whether or not this unit will be shipping with the Dash Cam or not.  I believe that is Parrot’s intention.

In Europe it is mandatory to have a Dash Cam installed.  I think that’s a great idea.  I know I’ve been looking at installing BlackVue’s Dash Cam DVR in my own vehicle.  I’ve had too many near miss accidents due to idiots that can’t drive and don’t know or care who has the right of way.  In fact, recently it scared me how angry and aggressive I became after 3 different idiots pulled out in front of me within less than a 1 mile stretch.  I think driving around with a Dash Cam DVR would calm me down a bit and make me a safer, less aggressive driver.  At least I would feel like I had a built in witness on my side should I ever be unable to avoid one of these morons.

Parrot RNB6 Dash Cam
Parrot RNB6 Dash Cam

Other cool features include OBD2 integration for on screen vehicle information.  Check out all the ports on the back of this stereo.  Besides OBD2, there are two HDMI inputs, one standard USB (assuming for Android Auto) one USB for iPod/iPhone (assuming for Apple CarPlay), external GPS antenna connection, Steering Wheel Control connection, Dash Cam connection and an Ethernet connection – which I was told will be for future use and expansion.

Parrot RNB6 - Connections on back of radio
Parrot RNB6 – Connections on back of radio

But wait – there’s more!  Here are the features that people get really excited about, but will probably only work with a handful of cars.  Parrot’s demo of the RBN6 included screen shots of:

  • Heat and A/C controls on screen
  • Park assist sensor integration
  • Front/Rear camera integration
  • Lane assist integration

Parrot RNB6 Climate Control
Parrot RNB6 Climate Control – Most likely a CAN bus only feature

I asked Parrot how this is being accomplished and they told me it was through CAN.  CAN stands for Control Area Network (little side note here – I learned about CAN years ago from Larry Perzan who sadly passed away last weekend.  Larry owned and ran Perzan Auto Radio in Upper Darby Pennsylvania.  He was a true innovator and genius when it came to car electronics and installation.  He was an invaluable asset to this industry and he will be missed dearly.).  CAN is basically just communication lines.  It’s kind of like positive and negative, cars with CAN have CAN hi and CAN lo wires.  Information from the vehicle computers and modules flow along these lines.  By tapping into and reading CAN this information can then be displayed and even integrated with (this is how iDatalink’s Maestro works).  So I have a feeling that in order to use these features, your vehicle will already have to be equipped with these systems and this information must also be communicated on the vehicle CAN Bus system.

Parrot RNB6
Parrot RNB6

Overall, the Parrot RNB6 looks quite promising.  I can’t wait to take a listen to one in my shop on my own sound board.  Parrot did not have an estimated price or release date at this time – they are still working out the details.  My guess is it will be similar to other soon to be released Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible models and fall in the $700 – $800 price range, but please understand that’s just my professional guess.  If they do end up packaging it with the Dash Cam, I would expect it to be in the $1100 – $1200 price range.  I will be sure to post an in depth review once the product ships and I get my hands on one.