Kenwood vs Kenwood eXcelon

Kenwood vs Kenwood eXcelon Sub Pre-amp Voltage Distortion Test - Max Volume - Sub Level at Max

When I was 17 years old I started working in this business and it was at that time I was introduced to the Kenwood eXcelon line. It always bothered me that the X was capitilized. To this day, I don’t know why that is. What I do know, is I’ve always been partial to the Kenwood eXcelon line up because of its strong focus on sound quality. My KDC-X890 and subsequent KDC-X991 were incredibly difficult for most of our clients to use. While navigating the maze of menu’s, inevitably you would tap the multi-directional knob the wrong way and have to start all over again. But it sure sounded great.

Kenwood eXcelon KDC-X991 – image courtesy of Crutchfield

I would spend hours in my car setting up all of my settings like digital time alignment, the multi-band EQ and testing the various audio effects like “TruBass” or “Focus”. Not only did my Kenwood eXcelon stereo sound great, it looked pretty sharp. I can recall one of the earlier models I owned featuring awesome graphics such as dancing dolphins on the display. It would even wish me a happy birthday. Or maybe that was an older Alpine model? Either way, I have very fond memories of these older single din units. To someone just getting into the car stereo scene, eXcelon was the stuff of legends.

Oddly enough, I think my original attraction to Kenwood had to do with their single din radio esthetics. The blue and red illumination matched my 6-speed VW Jetta GLI dash lights perfectly and it also sounded pretty freaking awesome with my Rockford Punch 360.2. Thus began my love affair with Kenwood eXcelon products.

Historically speaking, Kenwood eXcelon models were reserved for select dealers and select clients that could be viewed as car audio connoisseurs These premium models came with a few added features that you couldn’t get in the mainstream Kenwood line up available at the big box stores. Probably the most popular of features was their gold plated 5 volt pre-amp available exclusively in the Kenwood eXcelon series only. This is still true to this day, although the gold plating is now gone – perhaps due to shrinkflation.

Is there really a difference between the 5 volt and 4 volt pre-amp?

Years ago, I recall an industry rep telling me, very matter of factly, that the pre-amp was the same between Kenwood and Kenwood eXcelon. He told me that they were both 4.5 volts, it was simply all just a marketing ploy. This stuck with me. I had never tested a 5 volt model against a 4 volt model, but I did know my 4 volt Kenwood models on my display board always had more kick than my 4 volt Alpine models so I just always assumed this was probably the case. I had never actually measured it!

Well, I recently invested in a Fluke Scopemeter 123B and have been measuring a lot of stuff lately and decided to find out once and for all. I decided to test the Kenwood DMX7706s against the Kenwood eXcelon DDX9907XR. This would be a battle between a classic Kenwood 4 volt model and a Kenwood eXcelon 5 volt model. I was also curious to find out at what point the pre-amp distorted and at one point the internal amp distorted. I learned a lot.

Testing a Kenwood DMX7706s against a Kenwood eXcelon DDX9907XR using a Fluke 123B Scopemeter

For those unfamiliar with this tool, a Scopemeter – also known as an Oscilloscope – is a tool that is used to test a wide variety of electronic and industrial equipment. It has its uses in a variety of fields such as automotive diagnosis and troubleshooting plus testing and diagnosing all kinds of electronic equipment used in the technology and healthcare industry.

My use for this tool is pretty straightforward. And I’m still learning how to use it so this is like the blind leading the blind here, so bare with me. By attaching the positve and negative probes to the RCA pre-amp output and playing a test tone through each radio – 1 kHz and 40 Hz – we can see at what point the signal begins to distort. We can also measure the voltage. Additionally, we can attach the probes to the speaker wire output of the radio and measure at what point the amplifier in the radio begins to distort.

First up – Kenwood DMX7706s – Is it really 4 Volt?

I connected the Scopemeter to the front pre-amp output of the Kenwood DMX7706s. This is basically a newer version of the Kenwood I have in my own vehicle, a DMX7704s (which I think sounds flipping fantastic). I played the 1kHz test tone through my iPhone connected through the USB and cranked the volume all the way up and this is what I saw.

Kenwood DMX7706s Pre-amp Voltage and Distortion Test

Two things happening here – the signal is clean. But the voltage is only 3.25. Pay no mind the mV~, I still haven’t figured out how to change that part of the display, but what it’s telling us is we’re getting 3.25 volts – I checked it against my Fluke MD-88 to verify. So the bad news is it’s not quite 4 volts on the front pre-amp, but the good news is that signal is clean at max volume on the pre-amp. Next, I decided to check the sub pre-amp voltage with the sub level all the way up.

Kenwood DMX7706s Pre-amp Voltage and Distortion Test – Sub level all the way up

Additionally I will add that I made sure the EQ was set flat and crossovers were turned off for front, rear and subwoofer. The reason I tested it with the sub level all the way up is it’s pretty much guaranteed this is exactly what my clients will do. I don’t like clients coming back with busted up gear that is a direct result of distortion. For those that aren’t aware, it’s a distorted or clipped signal that will damage your speakers. When you hear the signal breaking up and getting distorted, that’s a bad thing. Distortion is like kryptonite for speakers and subs, avoid it at all costs.

What I found on the sub pre-amp surprised me a bit. With the volume all the way up, the sub level all the way up, and all audio enhancement features turned off like Supreme, Bass Boost, etc., the signal was totally distorted. Yet, we were getting 5.1 volts! But what good was it if the signal was clipping?

Kenwood DMX7706s Pre-amp Voltage and Distortion Test – Clean at 30 with sub level at 10 (max)

I started to lower the volume to figure out at what point it started to distort. Finally at volume 30, the signal was clean. Bummer! Why would the signal be clean up to 40 on the front pre-amp, but distort at 31 on the sub pre-amp? Also, we were only getting 3.54 volts at that volume level. For comparison, with the Alpine iLX-407, I had to turn the sub level all the way up to get any kind of reading and it was clean even at max volume so I was perplexed. Maybe Kenwood did things differently. I decided to test it again, but this time with the sub level at 0 and with 40 Hz. Here’s what I found.

Kenwood DMX7706s Pre-amp Voltage and Distortion Test – Clean at 40 with sub level at zero

With the sub level at zero, volume all the way up, we got a clean signal. No distortion there and not quite 4 volts, but close to it at 3.75. The below 4 volt reading was definitely a bit of a disappointment, but I did find it interesting that the sub pre-amp definitely has more kick than the front or rear pre-amp. Typically, this is where you really notice the extra voltage, in the bass, so it kind of makes sense that’s where they put the emphasis, but it’s also a bit misleading in the labeling of the product. Consumers see “4 volt” and they assume you mean all three pre-amps are 4 volt not just one out of three. Feeling a bit deflated, I was more anxious than ever to test the Kenwood eXcelon model. Was the DDX9907XR really 5 volt? Or would we see similar results?

Kenwood eXcelon DDX9907XR – Is it really 5 Volt?

I wired up the Kenwood eXcelon DDX9907XR to my test bench power supply and got the Scopemeter probes secured. I opened the test tone on my phone, pressed play and cranked it up. Once again, I started with the front pre-amp and here’s what I found.

Kenwood eXcelon DDX9907XR Pre-amp Voltage and Distortion Test – Clean at 40

Would you look at that? We’re getting 5.29 volts out of the front pre-amp with the volume all the way up and no distortion. Awesome! It really is 5 volts. I guess it’s not just a marketing ploy, there really is a measurable difference. How about on the sub pre-amp? Would we see similar results to the DMX7706s? I switched the probes to the sub pre-amp and turned the sub level all the way up to find out.

Kenwood eXcelon DDX9907XR Pre-amp Voltage and Distortion Test – Sub level max, volume all the way up

Holy cow! We’re getting 8.32 volts out of this thing! But just like the DMX7706s, the signal is totally distorted so it’s not really usable voltage. I lowered the volume to see at what point it would be clean while keeping the sub level at max.

Kenwood eXcelon DDX9907XR Sub Pre-amp Distortion Test – Supreme off – Pretty clean still at 32

With the Supreme audio setting turned off, the signal started looking clean at 32 and we were getting a whopping 6.36 volts! However, Supreme is a feature I really like using on all Kenwood models because it truly does enhance the sound in every vehicle. I decided to turn on Supreme and found it immediately distorted at volume 32. Stepping it down one notch to 31 cleaned it right up. Plus we were still getting 5.7 volts which is not too shabby.

Kenwood eXcelon DDX9907XR Sub Pre-amp Test – Supreme on – Clean at 31

Now I wanted to see with the sub level at zero, would we still get 5 volts and would the signal be clean at max volume? I adjusted the sub level down, selected the 40 Hz test tone and cranked it up. Here’s what I found.

Kenwood eXcelon DDX9907XR Sub Pre-amp Voltage and Distortion Test – Max volume, sub level at zero

With the sub level turned to zero and volume maxed, we finally had a clean signal through the sub pre-amp. However, it wasn’t quite 5 volts, but close at 4.78.

Kenwood vs Kenwood eXcelon Pre-amp Voltage Distortion Test Results

We can take away some important information from this testing.

  • Kenwood’s regular products featuring “4 volt” Pre-amp are not quite 4 volt unless you only count the sub which was 3.78 volts with clean signal. Front pre-amp only measured at 3.25 with fluctuations up to 3.54.
  • Kenwood’s eXcelon products definitely have a higher voltage pre-amp – truly 5 volt on the front/rear and almost 5 volt on the sub. This is with the sub level set to zero so the signal stayed clean all the way up to max volume.
  • With both head units, the signal stayed clean on the pre-amp at max volume with EQ flat, audio enhancements turned off and sub level set to zero.
  • With both head units, we got a ton of voltage out of the sub pre-amp when we turned sub level to the max, but signal started to distort on both around volume 30.

What about their internal amplifiers? When do those start to distort?

A lot of my clients like to build their audio system in phases often starting with the head unit, then maybe adding an amp/sub. For a while they may be powering the stock speakers off the radio with the crossovers turned on before they go ahead and upgrade speakers along with an aftermarket amplifier. Because of that, I wanted to know at what point the amp in each radio started to distort. This allows me to show and tell my clients don’t go past this volume level or you risk damaging your speakers.

Kenwood DMX7706s Internal Amp Distortion Test – with Supreme off

With Supreme turned off, I could turn the head unit up to 29 before the signal started to get a bit jagged. Distortion was clearly visible on the scopemeter at volume 30. With Supreme on, 28 was the max I could go and still have clean signal. This was still pretty good when compared against the Alpine iLX-407 which started to distort at 21 out of 35 or 3/5 the volume.

Kenwood eXcelon DDX9907XR Internal Amp Distortion Test – with Supreme on

I had the exact same result when testing the Kenwood eXcelon DDX9907XR’s internal amplifier. With Supreme and everything else in the audio menu turned off, the signal remained clean up to volume 29. With Supreme turned on, signal distorted at 29, but was clean at 28.

Kenwood eXcelon – is it worth it?

Clearly the Kenwood eXcelon model had the better performing pre-amp. It was truly higher voltage. In car audio, the higher the voltage on your pre-amp, the more sensitive it’s going to be to your amplifier. This means you don’t have to turn the gains up as high so your amp can work more efficiently and theoretically play cleaner because it’s being less taxed to perform. With a lower voltage pre-amp, you have to turn the gains up higher to get the same audio effect that you’d have when connected to a stereo with a higher voltage pre-amp. For the true audio connoisseurs out there, Kenwood eXcelon is the only choice there is.

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.

Best CarPlay Head Unit 2017 – Kenwood, Pioneer, Sony and Alpine Review

Alpine iLX-107 - Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

Best CarPlay Head Unit Review 2017 – Sony, Kenwood, Pioneer and Alpine – Where to start?

Update – make sure to check out my Best CarPlay Head Unit 2018 Review here for the latest and greatest.

Shopping for an Apple CarPlay compatible head unit can be super confusing since there are so many models out there to choose from.  If you’re not sure where to start, I’ll simplify and explain all of the current CarPlay compatible models from 4 major brands – Kenwood, Pioneer, Sony and Alpine.  They all have their own unique pro’s and con’s and the best one will vary depending on your unique needs. This CarPlay head unit review will help you break down the features and find the best one for your particular application.

It’s all about the features:

Are you interested in SiriusXM, HD Radio, CD player, HDMI input, iDatalink Maestro?  No?  Then consider the Sony XAV-AX100.  The Sony XAV-AX100 is a great little Apple CarPlay compatible head unit and it’s one of the most reasonably priced out there. That’s largely because it lacks all those other features that some of us refer to as bells and whistles.

Sony CarPlay XAV-AX100
Sony CarPlay XAV-AX100 – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

I plan on putting this in my own Jeep once we get some free time at the shop. Why would I choose this model since I work in this industry and could put any in my car? Well, I hate SiriusXM, I have no desire to listen to regular radio or CD for that matter and I have no need for an HDMI input. I can also live without iDatalink Maestro Car Portal features such as resetting a check engine light or checking vehicle battery voltage on screen. I’m also a little, um, frugal to put it nicely and if you are too, you might want to consider this model as well. Aside from Apple CarPlay, the Sony XAV-AX100 features:

  • 6.4″ touch screen
  • Volume knob (I point this out because the models with a slightly smaller screen have this feature and that is something some people like to have vs one of those little tiny volume rocker bars we see on 7″ models)
  • AM/FM Radio (no HD radio)
  • Bluetooth
  • Reverse camera input
  • Front, Rear and Subwoofer preouts (they say rated at 2 volt, but I swear sounds more like 4 volt)
  • 10 band EQ
  • Built in steering wheel control interface – compatible with mostly older Toyota, Nissan, Mazda and Subaru vehicles.

The Sony is simple – what you see is what you get. Because it lacks so many features, it’s really pretty easy to use. The home screen has a few simple icons and the settings menu is easy to navigate. This model has a few options for background display screens or you can upload your own.

Sony XAV-AX100 Home Screen
Sony XAV-AX100 Home Screen – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

So what’s the catch with the Sony XAV-AX100?

I have two complaints about this model. Number one – you cannot connect an iPod through the USB. The USB port on this stereo is specifically for either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, however – you can have your iPhone connected for CarPlay and also have an iPod connected to Bluetooth at the same time so if you want the option to play an iPod through this stereo, that’s really the only way to do it.  Kenwood on the other hand will allow you to connect an iPod to the USB port, however, you cannot have an iPhone and iPod connected at the same time because they use the same USB port (even on models that feature dual USB ports!). Pioneer by the way, does let you use an iPod on the secondary USB port while having CarPlay connected via USB 1.

Complaint number two – Sony’s steering wheel control mapping is bizarre, it’s just a bit redundant and seems odd how they’ve doubled up functions on buttons. Source doesn’t just change source, it will also allow you to hang up or reject a phone call. My guess is they mapped it this way for the older Japanese vehicles that only have 5 basic functions on the existing steering wheel controls. However, if you have a newer vehicle with dedicated answer/hang up and voice button, it will seem a little odd.  So for example, in my 2014 Wrangler, here is how my steering wheel controls will be mapped out using an iDatalink Maestro RR:

Sony XAV-AX100 Jeep Wrangler SWC
Sony XAV-AX100 Jeep Wrangler SWC

However, if you can get over these quirks and don’t need all the bells and whistles, the Sony XAV-AX100 may be the best CarPlay head unit for you.

So you want SiriusXM? Not ready to give up CD’s?

Consider the Kenwood DDX6703s or DDX6903s. These two models are so similar I’ve lumped them together. The DDX6703s is part of Kenwood’s regular line and the DDX6903s is part of their premier eXcelon line up. The DDX6903s has two USB ports, DDX6703s has one USB port. The DDX6903s has a 5 volt pre-amp output, the DDX6703s has a 4 volt pre-amp output. When purchased from an authorized eXcelon dealer, the DDX6903s comes with a 2 year warranty and the DDX6703s has a 1 year warranty.

Kenwood DDX6703s CarPlay Head Unit
Kenwood DDX6703s – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

So when you step up to either the DDX6703s or DDX6903s you gain a few key features over the Sony XAV-AX100 such as:

  • SiriusXM compatibility (requires SXV300 tuner and I recommend a higher quality satellite radio antenna than the garbage SiriusXM includes with this tuner such as the Mobile Spec MSUNIVSAT)
  • HD Radio on FM/AM
  • CD/DVD player
  • Dual camera input (and it’s real easy to switch to the front camera, when in reverse just tap the screen)
  • iDatalink Maestro compatibility with Car Portal features
  • GPS antenna

The iDatalink Maestro Car Portal features are pretty cool and an absolute must for certain vehicles. For example, let’s say you have a brand new Ram pick up with the Uconnect 5.0 radio and you want to upgrade to a CarPlay head unit.

iDatalink CH3 Screen Ram
iDatalink CH3 Screen Ram – Image courtesy of iDatalink

The stock head unit has a vehicle settings menu where you can change settings for the door locks, horn, lights, dimmer, etc. Once you change the radio, you can no longer access those options. Unless of course you go with an iDatalink Maestro compatible head unit with what’s called a serial data port connection. To see what features you would be able to retain and check compatibility, try out this iDatalink Maestro RR weblink demo.

Want a bigger screen too?

Well, why not, we’re already around $550 in price range, what’s a few bucks more? The next step up from the DDX6703s and DDX6903s is the brand new DMX7704s which features a 7″ touch screen (vs 6.2″), BUT you lose the CD/DVD player. And although this model has two USB ports, only one will work for iPhone or an iPod. The secondary USB port is for flash memory and all Kenwood’s that have the dual USB feature are like this.

Let’s think about this – do you really need a CD/DVD player? If not, but you want Apple CarPlay, iDatalink Maestro support and SiriusXM then this may be the best CarPlay head unit for you.  What else do you get when you step up again within the Kenwood line up? The DDX9703s and the eXcelon DDX9903s.

Kenwood DDX9703s Home Screen
Kenwood DDX9703s Home Screen – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

The DDX9703s and DDX9903s feature an HDMI input

To truly mirror the iPhone, you need a head unit with an HDMI input and you also need an HDMI cable and an Apple Lightning Digital A/V adapter. When I say mirror I mean it mirrors the audio and video of the phone on the screen, you still have to control everything from the phone itself.

HDMI mirroring - Best CarPlay Head Unit Review
HDMI mirroring – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

The only thing I can see safely using this for is if you wanted to have the GPS app Waze on screen, you could launch it from your phone and mirror it into the stereo screen.

The DDX9703s and DDX9903s also feature Dual Zone

What Dual Zone allows you to do is load a DVD into the in dash CarPlay head unit and feed the audio/video out into a rear monitor (ideally one that supports wireless IR headphones) while you can listen to your iPhone, SiriusXM or HD radio on the front two speakers. This is a cool feature if you’re looking to upgrade the family vehicle.

Like the previous eXcelon models, the DDX9903s has a 5 volt pre amp output (vs 4 volt on DDX9703s) and has a 2 year warranty when purchased from an authorized dealer (vs 1 year on the DDX9703s). Additionally, the DDX9903s has dual USB ports, but again, only supports an iPod or iPhone on the main USB port, the secondary USB will read flash memory. The DDX9903s also features a glass capacitive touch screen vs a regular resistive touch screen.

Page one of sources Kenwood DDX9703s
Page one of sources Kenwood DDX9703s

From an operational standpoint, the navigation menu’s on the Kenwood models are pretty easy to use. Icons are large and easy to see. There are 3 easy to swipe through pages that allow you access to all the various sources available.

Page two of sources Kenwood DDX9703s
Page two of sources Kenwood DDX9703s

You can easily drag and drop the icons in the order you prefer putting the ones you use most often on the home page and secondary page. Additionally, there is a clear menu button on every Kenwood radio and to access the settings you simply tap menu, then settings.

Page 3 of sources Kenwood DDX9703s
Page 3 of sources Kenwood DDX9703s

One unique feature Kenwood has that no one else seems to offer is “Memory Recall”

Let’s say you or your installer spent a good amount of time setting up the audio features, perfecting the 13 band EQ settings and digital time alignment and then bam, without warning your battery goes dead and you lose all those settings. Well, if you memorized them in the head unit, all you have to do is recall them. I LOVE this feature and I seriously don’t get why Sony, Alpine and Pioneer don’t copy it (please engineers – take a hint!).

So what are the drawbacks on Kenwood?

Well, there’s a couple. For one, what’s the point of dual USB if you can only play an iPod on the same port that supports CarPlay? Number two – I’ve heard of a few people out there hearing a background hiss sound as soon as they connect their iPhone to the USB port. I’ve talked to Kenwood about it and as long as you purchased it from an authorized dealer, they’ll swap it out no questions asked. That’s in theory, in practice I had a customer buy a refurbished Kenwood model from an authorized online dealer (please stay away from refurbs!) and he experienced this issue. Unfortunately he still had the same issue after installing the replacement unit. It’s kind of like the hiss you hear on a record player and it’s only audible at near zero volume, but still, I can see how annoying it would be. Luckily, I haven’t had any issues with units we’ve sold. And lastly I’m not too keen on the blue splash screen for the Album art section. If you don’t have your iPhone or iPod connected you will see a blue splash screen and there is no way to change that.

If you can get over the Blue album art splash screen and the fact that you can only play an iPod over the main USB port, Kenwood may still be the best option for you. Especially if you want SiriusXM capability, iDatalink Maestro RR capability, HDMI input and Dual Zone. In that case, the DDX9703s or DDX9903s may be the best CarPlay head unit for you.

Want to be able to have CarPlay connected and an iPod at the same time?

This might sound like a silly feature to get hung up on, but here’s why you might want to consider having this option. Let’s say you have your iPhone connected for CarPlay and you’re listening to Pandora or Spotify and you end up driving into an area with spotty cell service. All of a sudden your music starts pausing or cutting in and out. I personally can’t stand when data streaming services get interrupted like that – really who likes listening to music cutting in and out? With the Pioneer AVH-4201NEX you could simply switch your source on the radio to USB 2 to your already connected 80 gig iPod loaded up with tunes for interruption free listening. It saves the hassle of trying to disconnect one device and connect another while you’re driving and if you want a safe and enjoyable listening experience, this is one feature to consider.

Pioneer AVH-4201NEX Best CarPlay Head Unit Review
Home Screen on Pioneer AVH-4201NEX – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

The AVH-4201NEX is essentially the same head unit as the last year’s AVH-4200NEX (and the 2015 model AVH-4100NEX), but they added a free reverse camera to the package. There are quite a few things to like about this model, it seems to have everything you could possibly need as far as features are concerned:

  • AM/FM – HD Radio
  • Bluetooth
  • Dual Zone
  • Dual camera inputs
  • SiriusXM ready
  • Dual USB ports and both support iPod’s and iPhone’s – CarPlay only functions on USB 1
  • HDMI input
  • CD/DVD player
  • iDatalink Maestro compatible
  • Detachable Face for security purposes

The menu and user interface is also quite intuitive. From the home screen you have access to your 5 most commonly used sources, telephone shortcut, settings shortcut and CarPlay shortcut. A quick tap of the A/V icon on the bottom right brings up all available sources. Some people prefer this layout over Kenwood’s larger source icons and several pages of sources to swipe through.

Pioneer AVH-4201NEX Best CarPlay Head Unit Review
Pioneer AVH-4201NEX Home Screen – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

Drawbacks on the Pioneer CarPlay models

One feature Pioneer lacks is a GPS antenna, so if you plan on using the Apple Maps often in your vehicle, that is one feature to keep in mind that both Kenwood and Alpine include, but Pioneer and Sony do not.

Speaking about Pioneer – Pioneer has three new CarPlay head units being released this summer including the first ever single din CarPlay head unit.

They’re not out yet, as of this writing, but coming soon and they will be more value oriented. There are two double dins and the first ever single din flip out CarPlay receiver. The two double dins are going to be the 6.2″ touch screen AVH-1300NEX and the 7″ touch screen AVH-2300NEX.  Both will feature:

  • AM/FM Radio (No HD Radio)
  • Bluetooth
  • SiriusXM capability
  • CD/DVD
  • 4 Volt preouts, 13 band EQ, built in crossovers
  • iDatalink Maestro capabaility
  • Single USB port

These models are similar to the Sony, less bells and whistles cuts the price way down. The 6.2″ AVH-1300NEX is expected to sell for $399.95 and the 7″ AVH-2300NEX is expected to sell for $499.95 (the AVH-2300NEX will also be Android Auto compatible).

 

AVH-3300NEX - Best CarPlay Head Unit Review
Single Din CarPlay Head Unit Pioneer AVH-3300NEX – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

For those of you wanting CarPlay, but lack the double din opening, the AVH-3300NEX is the perfect solution. This model will have pretty much everything you could possibly need for a single din CarPlay receiver:

  • 7″ Touch screen
  • SiriusXM Capable
  • Detachable panel
  • Single USB
  • Bluetooth
  • 4 Volt preouts, 13 band EQ, digital time alignment
  • Single Reverse Camera Input

What about Alpine?

Alpine will eventually be shipping the first ever wireless CarPlay receiver which is pretty cool, but you definitely pay for that coolness factor. The iLX-107 will basically be replacing the iLX-007 which was essentially an Apple designed product. The iLX-107 will retain the clean design and user interface that we saw in the iLX-007, but it will add wireless CarPlay control and iDatalink Maestro capability.  This model is expected to sell for $699.95 and it simply features:

  • AM/FM Radio
  • USB (strictly for CarPlay compatible devices)
  • GPS antenna
  • Rear AUX input
  • Reverse Camera input
  • Front, Rear and Subwoofer preouts 2 volt

As I said, coolness comes at a price.

Alpine iLX-107 - Best CarPlay Head Unit Review
Alpine iLX-107 – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

The Alpine iLX-107 is not to be confused with the Alpine iLX-207 – but it’s easy to get them confused because they will be sold at the same price and have very different features.

Alpine iLX-207 - Best CarPlay Head Unit Review
Alpine iLX-207 – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

When you move over to the Alpine iLX-207 you lose the wireless CarPlay feature and rear aux input, but you gain quite a bit such as:

  • HD Radio
  • USB that is not strictly for CarPlay (also plays iPods and Android Auto)
  • SiriusXM Ready
  • HDMI Input

Still, at this price point, you’re really not getting a fantastic value with Alpine. With Pioneer or Kenwood, you’re getting a lot more features for your money. And there’s one more thing to keep in mind with Alpine – none of their CarPlay models include a CD or DVD player. So if that’s important to you, forget Alpine. If however, wireless CarPlay is a feature that’s important to you, then the Alpine iLX-107 may be the best CarPlay head unit for you.

Confused yet?  Let’s recap.

Sony XAV-AX100 – Good for a nice easy to use basic CarPlay stereo.  No frills.  Features:

  • USB strictly for CarPlay or Android Auto
  • 6.4″ touch screen with small volume knob
  • Bluetooth
  • Reverse camera input

New Pioneer CarPlay Models AVH-1300NEX and AVH-2300NEX add features like:

  • CD/DVD player
  • SiriusXM capability
  • Rear AUX input
  • iDatalink Maestro compatibility

Kenwood DDX6703s and DDX6903s add features like:

  • HD Radio
  • GPS antenna
  • Memory Recall
  • Dual camera inputs

The Kenwood DMX7704s adds features like:

  • Larger 7″ screen (however lacks a CD/DVD player)
  • Dual USB ports (but only one for CarPlay and iPod, secondary for flash memory)

The Kenwood DDX9703s and DDX9903s add features like:

  • HDMI input
  • Dual Zone
  • DDX9903s features glass capacitive touch screen
  • Plus you get the CD/DVD player back on these models

The Pioneer AVH-4201NEX adds features like:

  • Detachable face
  • Free reverse camera included
  • Both USB ports support iPod playback
  • However, this model lacks a GPS antenna

The Alpine iLX-107 is the only model to include:

  • Wireless CarPlay
  • However it lacks just about everything else: CD/DVD, USB is strictly for CarPlay, no SiriusXM, no HD Radio, no HDMI input, has just one camera input.

The new Alpine iLX-207 doesn’t really fit well in the middle of the progression of these models because it has a mix of features that is not exactly priced competitively compared to Kenwood and Pioneer models (which is why I don’t plan on carrying this model).  For reference, the key features on this mechless CarPlay head unit are:

  • HD Radio
  • USB that is not strictly for CarPlay (also plays iPods and Android Auto)
  • SiriusXM capability
  • HDMI Input
  • iDatalink Maestro Support

So which model is the best CarPlay head unit for you? Simply focus on the features that are most important to you and you’ll find it a lot easier to select the best CarPlay head unit for your unique application. Enjoy!

 

 

 

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

Best Double Din Navigation 2016

Looking for the Best Double Din Navigation for 2016?

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

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

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

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

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

Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX – I’m popular

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

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

From the home screen you have several easy shortcuts to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where is the Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX lacking?

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

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

Kenwood DNX893s – The overachiever

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

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

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

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

Memory Recall – I LOVE this feature of the Kenwood DNX893s

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

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

Bigger Must be Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DNX893s – Bonus Features and Pet Peeves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Alpine INE-W967HD – The underperformer

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

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

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

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

Alpine, where’s the value?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alpine INE-W967HD Sound Quality

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

So who wins Best Double Din Navigation 2016?

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

Sneak peak at the Kenwood DNX893S

Kenwood DNX893S

Kenwood DNX893S – Looks awesome on paper and in person

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

Kenwood DNX893S
Kenwood DNX893S

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

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

User Friendly

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

Kenwood DNX893S GPS Widget
Kenwood DNX893S GPS Widget

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

Kenwood DNX893S Clock Widget
Kenwood DNX893S Clock Widget

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

Kenwood DNX893S K40 Radar Integration

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

Kenwood DNX893S K40 Radar Integration
Kenwood DNX893S K40 Radar Integration

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

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

More iDatalink Maestro Perks of the Kenwood DNX893S

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

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

DDX9902s Ford iDatalink Integration Features
DDX9902s Ford iDatalink Integration Features

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Cool Features of the Kenwood DNX893S

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

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

Kenwood DNX893S Tire Temp
Kenwood DNX893S Tire Temp Feature

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

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

Kenwood DNX893S
Kenwood DNX893S Garmin Split Screen

Replacing a defective factory navigation radio in a 2012 F-150 with Kenwood’s DDX9902s

Kenwood DDX9902s installed in a 2012 F-150 that came equipped with stock navigation, Sync and reverse camera.

Kenwood DDX9902s – What you buy when your factory 2012 F-150 navigation radio craps out

A couple months ago, a long time customer of mine came into the shop with his 2012 F-150 in need of a new stereo. I asked him why he was considering upgrading and he sheepishly explained to me the stock “POS” navigation screen had stopped functioning properly and shortly thereafter it had an unfortunate encounter with his fist and it now definitely needed to be replaced.

Kenwood DDX9902s installed in a 2012 F-150 that came equipped with stock navigation, Sync and reverse camera.
Kenwood DDX9902s installed in a 2012 F-150 that came equipped with stock navigation, Sync and reverse camera.

Aside from needing a working radio, the customer was interested in Apple CarPlay and didn’t necessarily need on board navigation since he would have access to Apple Maps. His 2012 Ford F-150 was equipped with the following features that would need to be integrated with or retained:

  • Sync
  • USB and Line Input (Aux)
  • SiriusXM
  • Reverse Camera
  • Steering Wheel Controls

Additionally, his factory navigation screen had been the display for all climate control information. Luckily, there is a very cool company out there that specializes in this type of integration and feature retention called iDatalink.

DDX9902s Ford iDatalink Integration Features
DDX9902s Ford iDatalink Integration Features

Kenwood was the first to partner with iDatalink.  iDatalink is a pretty cool company that specializes aftermarket automotive electronics integration. As a result of this early partnership, Kenwood stereos tend to have more advanced integration features compared to other brands out there like Alpine and Pioneer. Although I had not sold a Kenwood DDX9902s yet, I knew this was really the best solution for this 2012 Ford F-150 and for the customer’s needs. At the time, the Kenwood DDX9702S and DDX9902s were the only two head units on the market that offered the advanced iDatalink integration capability (including climate control ability) and Apple CarPlay (Kenwood has since also introduced the DDX6702s and DDX6902s).

DDX9902S - Tire pressure monitor display 2012 F-150
DDX9902S – Tire pressure monitor display 2012 F-150

Although there is technically no installation dash kit for this vehicle (2012 F-150 with the OEM navigation), we were able to mount the aftermarket double din DDX9902S in the factory navigation radio opening. After we installed this stereo, I was pleasantly surprised to find the OEM volume knob controlled the new Kenwood radio. This install was accomplished using the iDatalink Maestro RR and FO1 harness. For anyone considering doing this work themselves, please keep in mind you need to set up an account with iDatalink and you will also need an iDatalink weblink programmer and access to a PC with Internet Explorer.

DDX9902s with OEM reverse camera 2012 F-150
DDX9902s with OEM reverse camera retained 2012 F-150

The factory reverse camera was retained by identifying factory Video +/- and shield and hard wiring these connections to the Kenwood’s reverse camera input. Combining the Kenwood DDX9902s along with the iDatalink Maestro RR and FO1 harness, we were able to retain the factory amplifier, factory Sync USB and line input, factory steering wheel controls and climate control information.

DDX9902S with Ford F-150 climate controls integrated using iDatalink Maestro
DDX9902S with Ford F-150 climate controls integrated using iDatalink Maestro

Additionally this interface allowed us to display vehicle gauge information and access additional helpful vehicle information. Although the iDatalink Maestro RR did not retain the factory SiriusXM in this particular vehicle (if memory serves me correctly, there was actually an issue with the OEM sat tuner, otherwise I think it would have actually been retained), we were able to simply install the SXV300 tuner and retain the OEM SiriusXM antenna using the iDatalink SAT1 adapter.

DDX9902s Gauge Display 2012 F-150
DDX9902s Gauge Display 2012 F-150

After getting an estimate from the dealership to replace the stock navigation, I probably would have punched my dash too. Thankfully, in the end the customer was able to upgrade his seemingly proprietary stock stereo to an aftermarket stereo that will essentially never be outdated (assuming you always have an up to date iPhone or Android phone). Although this customer had an iPhone, the Kenwood DDX9902s is also Android Auto compatible.

DDX9902S - Replaces defective OEM navigation in a 2012 F-150
DDX9902S – Replaces defective OEM navigation in a 2012 F-150

What if you don’t have the factory Ford navigation radio? No problem, you can still enjoy this kind of seamless integration using the iDatalink Maestro interface. Visit Maestro.iDatalink.com to see what kind of integration features are available for your vehicle.

Kenwood CarPlay & Android Auto – DDX9902s & DDX9702s

Kenwood DDX9902s - Spotify on display at CES 2015

Kenwood reveals two new Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible models at CES 2015 – DDX9902s and DDX9702s

My first stop at CES 2015 was over at the Kenwood booth in the North Hall and my timing couldn’t have been better.  I wandered into the unattended room which was displaying the DDX9902s and DDX9702s, Kenwood’s new Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatible models.  I would later find out this room was normally closed off to attendees and only accessible via supervised demonstration by appointment.  Luckily I snuck in before their first appointment of the day and I was able to sit in on the demonstration and ask questions.

DDX9902s - Home screen CES 2015
DDX9902s – Home screen CES 2015

Kenwood has two versions of this stereo.  The regular Kenwood model is the DDX9702s and the Kenwood eXcelon model is the DDX9902s.  The stereo menu and user interface is essentially the same as last year’s DDX8901.  I was concerned about processing speed as it was always lagging a bit on the DDX8901, Kenwood was unsure at this time whether or not the processor has been upgraded over last year.  For what it’s worth, I did not see any lag time in any operations in either Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.

Kenwood DDX9902s - CES 2015
Kenwood DDX9902s – CES 2015

The DDX9902s will include the standard Kenwood eXcelon 13 band EQ, digital time alignment, built in crossvers, 5 volt preouts, high quality digital to analog convertor.  The regular Kenwood version, the DDX9702s will still have 4 volt preouts and most likely come with a more basic EQ like what we saw in last year’s DDX771.  The exact details of the EQ are still to be determined.

Kenwood DDX9702s - CES 2015
Kenwood DDX9702s – CES 2015

You have to keep in mind, these models are prototypes.  Often what vendors display at CES are products they are still developing that are about to go into production. Because these products are still being developed and they are not finished samples off the production line, there were some questions I had that were left with open ended answers and flat out, “We don’t know yet” responses.

Here is what I do know about the DDX9902s and DDX9702s

  • Compatible with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, but not at the same time.
  • Both models include a separate GPS antenna designed to work with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto devices.  The stereo takes information from both the external GPS antenna and the information from the phone for the best GPS coverage.
  • When using Android Auto – the phone is locked, everything must be accessed from the stereo (not the same for Apple CarPlay).
  • You can access music from other sources such as HD Radio or SiriusXM while accessing Google Maps from Android Auto or Apple Maps from CarPlay.  The audio prompts from the navigation are overlaid and reduce volume on whatever media source is playing.
  • Android Auto relays traffic information when using Google Maps app.
  • There is no on screen phonebook access – Android Auto really wants drivers to rely on Google Voice and this feature encourages them to keep their eyes on the road.
  • Connection for Android Auto through USB to micro.
  • Connection for CarPlay through USB to lightning.
  • Probably will have two USB ports, but not positive at this time.
  • Will have HDMI input and can use new optional Miracast adapter KCA-WL100 to wirelessly mirror audio and video from phone (kind of like Airplay from Apple)
  • Will support iDatalink Maestro integration
  • Samsung phones will still most likely need a tip adapter.
  • Android Auto requires Lollipop 5.0 or higher.
  • You still can’t have more than two phones paired at the same time for BOTH handsfree and audio – you can have one paired for music and one paired for phone calls, but that’s it.
  • Estimated release date May 2015

Whether you’re using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, there is a huge push by developers to get drivers to rely on their smartphone’s voice control.  Android Auto’s voice control function was impressive.  Not only can you tell it what artist to play, but you can tell it which app to use to do so.  In all verbal test commands, Android Auto obliged. See image below, this is from the command “Play artist Maroon 5 on Spotify”.  It was spot on (LOL – I couldn’t resist).

Kenwood DDX9902s - Spotify on display at CES 2015
Kenwood DDX9902s – Android Auto voice commands responding at CES 2015

What we don’t know and won’t know until we try it

I have concerns about Samsung devices running Android Auto.  I have seen charging issues with the more popular Samsung devices such as the Galaxy S4, S5, and Note 3 running through a USB to micro while running navigation apps, music apps, making and receiving phone calls and received social media and email alerts.  Usually the charge supplied by standard car stereo USB (like Pioneer, Kenwood or Sony) is usually not enough to keep up with the phone.  Kenwood’s technical rep stated that charging is .5 amp on their USB while their white display board shows 1 amp charging.

Kenwood DDX9902s - Android Auto Phone Menu
Kenwood DDX9902s – Android Auto Phone Menu

Kenwood was running their Android Auto display with a Nexus phone and the stereo alone was maintaining the phone’s battery over the course of CES 2015.  When asked about what we could expect to see with the more popular Samsung devices, their guess was as good as mine.  It hasn’t been tested, so they simply don’t know at this point nor do they have plans to test every Android phone model and relay to consumers the efficiency or lack of efficiency a particular phone has.

Kenwood DDX9902s - Google Maps
Kenwood DDX9902s – Google Maps

It amazes me how car stereo is really moving into sort of a software and hardware industry.  Kenwood has built Android Auto compatibility and hardware into their products and cell phone manufacturers build phones that support Android operating systems.  Cell phone manufacturers still build their own cell phones.  Some cell phones charge more efficiently than others.  The stereo is just a portal at this point so we really don’t know how any one particular phone will respond until we try it.

Other new Kenwood models revealed at CES 2015

Aside from the DDX9902s and DDX9702s, Kenwood revealed an overwhelming amount of new stereo models, many that look a lot like last year’s models with subtle differences.  One model worth mentioning is their new flip out 7″ touch screen model, the KVT-7012BT.  Kenwood had discontinued their flip out style touch screen a couple years ago, but have brought back an option for those limited to a single din stereo opening.

Kenwood KVT-7012BT
Kenwood KVT-7012BT

The new Kenwood flip out DVD features:

  • Three 5 volt preouts
  • Bluetooth for handsfree and audio streaming
  • 5 Band EQ
  • Pandora, iHeart and Aupeo compatibility
  • Waze compatibility – I’ll believe it when I see it.  They did this last year – slapped a label on a product and then legitimized it by saying, well technically using an iPod 30 pin adapter to audio and video into the Kenwood’s A/V in you could mirror Waze on screen.  The only Waze control I saw over at the Kenwood booth was on the JVC side and I wasn’t impressed.  It was very laggy, unresponsive – it just didn’t work well.  I did not see a Kenwood radio with this function set up for demo, but it’s possible I just missed it.

New Navigation Models

The DNX691HD, DNX891HD and DNN991 have been replaced by the DNX692HD, DNX892HD and DNN992.  On first glance, they look a lot like their predecessors.

Kenwood DNX692 CES 2015
Kenwood DNX692 CES 2015

And after browsing through the menus and sources of these new Kenwood models they appeared to be exactly like their predecessors.  Even their responsiveness which was a bit disappointing.  I was hoping Kenwood had improved the processing speed in these models, but it really seemed exactly like last year’s models.  Interestingly, their non navigation models did appear a LOT faster in processing.

Kenwood DDX272 & DDX372BT - CES 2015
Kenwood DDX272 & DDX372BT – CES 2015

I inquired if the Bluetooth handsfree profile had been upgraded over last year’s version as bluetooth handsfree sound quality has always been an issue for my customers on their non navigation and non eXcelon double din touch screen head units.  I was told that it had not been upgraded.  So even though processing has been upgraded and responsiveness has improved, handsfree call quality could still be an issue on Kenwood’s DDX372BT, DDX392, DDX492 and DDX672BH.

New single din Kenwood Excelon models

Kenwood introduced 3 new single din head unit models, the KDC-X399, KDC-X599 and KDC-X799 and they carried over two models from last year (the KDC-X898 and KDC-X998).  The KDC-X399, KDC-X599 and KDC-X799 essentially look the same and have very similar features and a few subtle differences.  Pictured below is the KDC-X599.

Kenwood KDC-X599
Kenwood KDC-X599

KDC-X399:

  • AM/FM CD Player (open CD slot – no dust cover)
  • Front USB/AUX
  • Three 4 volt preouts
  • 5 band EQ
  • High pass and low pass filter starting at 100 Hz (kind of high I think)
  • Variable color illumination
  • Pandora compatible
  • iHeart Radio compatible

KDC-X599:

  • Adds dust cover
  • Adds Bluetooth Audio and Handsfree Calling
  • Adds SiriusXM Ready (requires SXV300 tuner)

KDC-X799:

  • Adds HD Radio

Conclusion CES 2015 at the Kenwood booth

By far the most exciting additions to Kenwood’s line this year will be the DDX9902s and DDX9702s featuring Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.  However, we will have to be patient and wait another 5 months or so until they actually begin to ship. Estimated retail price on these models will be $700.

Kenwood DDX9902s - Android Auto
Kenwood DDX9902s – Android Auto

 

 

 

Video Post – Best Double Din Navigation 2014

Easy Source Select AVIC-5000NEX

Car Stereo Chick Hands on Review – Best Double Din Navigation for 2014

I write some pretty long posts.  Not everyone feels like reading them.  Don’t worry.  I started making videos again.

Here is my video reviewing the best double din navigation systems for 2014.  This is a hands on review of the Kenwood DNX691HD, Kenwood DNN991HD, Alpine INE-W940, Alpine INE-W957HD, Pioneer AVIC-5000NEX and Pioneer AVIC-7000NEX.  Enjoy!

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

Best Single Din Head Unit 2012

Update – Check out the 2014 review here

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

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

Car Stereo Chick makes her pick on Best Double Din Navigation 2012

Kenwood Excelon DNX9990HD Split View Navigation

UPDATE – Link to Car Stereo Chick’s 2014 Double Din Navigation Review

Hello everyone!  After a few weeks of selling and playing with the various features of the navigation systems I currently sell (Kenwood DNX6990HD, Kenwood DNX9990HD, Pioneer AVICX940BT, Pioneer AVICX140BH), I have come to the conclusion that the DNX9990HD from Kenwood is the best pick for a double din navigation system currently on the market. I’ll revise and revisit this when the new Alpine Navigation systems are in (end of June early July is my best guess at this point).

  • Garmin navigation rocks
  • Split view navigation and source control is convenient
  • Processing speed is pretty good, doesn’t get as bogged down as most advanced navigation systems do
  • iPod control is easier to use than other options on market
  • iDatalink Maestro interface will allow consumers to easily, and cost effectively, retain OEM features like steering wheel controls, Satellite radio, Sync, U-Connect and Onstar (coming soon)
  • Awesome Equalizer section with excellent sound quality and precision control
  • Superior Bluetooth sound quality and function
  • Appealing 7″ display with reverse tilt option and flat black finish on buttons

For a more in depth review, please check out the Best Double Din Navigation 2012 page here.