Christmas Round-Up: 2013 Kenwood Double DIN Car Stereos

Kenwood is one of the main double DIN car stereo manufacturers out there, offering plenty of models. This year’s crop was again prolific (though not as much as Pioneer’s), and everyone is sure to finds the exact receiver he’s looking for.  The question though is: is Kenwood spreading itself too thin? We will see…

Kenwood DDX370

This is this year’s Kenwood entry-level CD/DVD receiver, featuring a very responsive 6.1” touchscreen display (800 x 480 resolution) that is easy to see during the day, thanks to the anti-glare coating. As a entry-level model though, it doesn’t have built-in Bluetooth. However, it’s compatible with Ford’s SYNC system with integrates phone functions, Bluetooth, sat radio and other features.

There is also no built-in navigation, but that is not surprising at such a cheap price. However, the receiver supports Garmin GPS and Pandora Internet Radio control for iPhone (Pandora and music work for the iPhone 5, but video and Garmin app don’t). Disappointingly, this double din car stereo is not compatible with Android.

This headunit supports all kinds of media formats (except mp4, which is the video format iTunes is using now; it you want to play these kinds of videos, you will need a video converter). The audio quality leaves a lot to be desired, as it has little bass and sounds cheap, though it still remains slightly better than any OEM unit. An auxiliary input and rear USB port enable you to connect your portable music devices, so you can play your iPod on it, although it doesn’t come with a cord. The DDX370 also supports a back-up camera and steering-wheel control, but doesn’t come with a remote.

To its credit, the DDX370 is easy to install and looks good, and we’re really thankful for the physical volume knob, which ensures we can drive safely.

Kenwood’s DDX370 can only be recommended for Ford and iPhone owners, and those looking for just a bare-bone, no-frills, double DIN headunit. If you don’t fit in that description, read on…

Kenwood DDX370

Kenwood DDX370

Buy it now

$270 from Amazon

Kenwood DDX470

The DDX470 is basically a mid-range upgrade of the DDX370, which now includes built-in Bluetooth, allowing you to place calls and access your phonebook from the headunit. The other features remain the same: CD and DVD playback, medium-resolution 6.1” touchscreen, rear camera input, iPod connectivity and control (with album art and song info on the screen), compatibility with the iPhone and its app ecosystem (not with the iPhone 5 though), such as Garmin GPS and Pandora radio. Full disclosure: the Garmin app is $49.99 and the Vehicle Display Integration for all apps and Bluetooth is an additional $49.99; you might prefer the free Google Maps app. And while we’re divulging extra cost, you need to buy a special iPod cable for the latter to work with the stereo. Pandora Internet radio is available for your iPhone (including iPhone 5) but only through connecting it to the USB slot using the special iPod cable. If you have an Android device, you’re luckier as you can play Pandora with Bluetooth (though you don’t get the control from the headunit). The receiver is also SiriusXM compatible.

Your phone will automatically pair with the receiver when you get into the car, so you can enjoy all that headunit control bonanza while your phone remains in your pocket or the glove compartment. You also get Siri hands-free to call or text people, get direction, etc.

The picture quality is excellent, with no lagging, but the user interface looks quite old, despite being quite intuitive to get around. Like the DDX370, the sound is very good but could be improved, with the subwoofer sounding a little low and an undistinguished 3-band equalizer. The Bluetooth microphone is decent at best, as it has trouble picking up your voice. Again, we do appreciate the big volume knob, which makes a real difference when you need to change the volume while driving.

Overall, the DDX470 is great value for money and an upgrade over a single-DIN or OEM unit. But if you can, save a bit more and get yourself an Alpine double din car stereo or one of the other Kenwood receiver below.

Kenwood DDX470

Kenwood DDX470

Buy it now

$350 from Amazon

Kenwood DDX770

As the DDX470 improved on the DDX370, the DDX770 makes slight improvements over the DDX470, namely a 6.95” touchscreen with clear and bright video display whose background you can change this time, so it can match your car’s interior. One cool thing is that if you hold down the mute button for a few second, it will turn off the screen but leave everything working, which makes it very practical when driving at night.

Kenwood’s Simple Secure Pairing system will automatically detect and pair phones in close proximity to the headunit, with no searches, PIN codes or other hassles. You can control your phone from the receiver and even use voice dialing.

You can control Pandora with your iPhone from the receiver screen as well IF you buy the extra $30 iPod cable (for Android users, you will be able to play Pandora through Bluetooth, but you won’t get song information on screen), and watch Netflix content on it (up to iPhone 4 or 4S). Similarly, you can control Garmin’s Streetpilot app for iPhone on the headunit, and have access to Sirius Satellite Radio if you have the tuner and subscription.

Otherwise, the sound quality is good, with a nice and clean EQ, a decent amount of subwoofer control and high & low pass filters. It doesn’t reach the detail, crisp treble and deep bass of high-end Pioneer double din car stereos though. The big volume knob of the DDX470 has disappeared, to make place for several small physical buttons at the bottom, giving you more options. All the menus are pretty intuitive.

Overall, Kenwood seems to have solved some of the issues with the lower entry models of the DDX lines. The DDX770 is excellent for a double din car stereo under $350. If you’re looking for a 6.95” touchscreen receiver with heavy iPhone integration, then this is one of the top picks for the money.

Kenwood DDX770

Kenwood DDX770

Buy it now

$550 from Amazon

Kenwood Excelon DDX790

The DDX790 is exactly the same double din car stereo as the DDX770 but comes with the 2-year Excelon warranty, instead of one year. It has the same front panel as the DDX770, with a 6.95” touchscreen (the interface still looks a bit old) and the same set of physical buttons at the bottom. Bluetooth hands-free calling, Pandora and GPS app control are included as well, and the installation is easy.

Being the same as the DDX770, it also has its limitations, namely the extra charges for the Sat Radio, the Gamin GPS app and an iPod cable, and being an iPhone-centric 2-DIN headunit. If that’s perfect for you, then you might consider spending the extra $20, as it might be worth it to get that extra year of warranty…

Kenwood Excelon DDX790

Kenwood Excelon DDX790

Buy it now

$470 from Amazon

Kenwood Excelon DNX690HD

This awesome CD/DVD Bluetooth receiver features the same design as the DDX370 and DDX470, namely a rotary volume control (and a few other “quick access” buttons) on the left side of a 6.1” WVGA screen, with a 2-year Excelon warranty. Most importantly, it features built-in navigation by Garmin, with predictive text to save time, free NAVTEQ traffic reports and plenty of other options (but not the Junction View and Lane Assist features of the DNX6990). It also sports an HD Radio tuner, so you can enjoy high quality radio (no subscription needed), while also being compatible with a SiriusXM Sat radio tuner. You also have the option to turn off the HD Radio and go back to FM if you wish to do so.

The DNX690HD is tightly connected to the iPhone, as you can control your Pandora Internet radio, Aha Radio and iHeartRadio apps, as well as few other select apps, through the receiver’s touchscreen by plugging your device in with the separate iPod cable. It’s also compatible with Siri for emails, Bluetooth calling and iPod commands. Pandora can be controlled and played through Bluetooth if you have an Android or Blackberry device. Of course, iPod playback is possible by plugging the iPod in the Aux input. The sound quality is excellent, and the advanced equalizer for bass, midrange and treble allow you to customize the sound to your tastes.

If you enjoy Ford’s SYNC features, GM OnStar or Chrystler uConnect systems, you don’t have to fear losing them as the DNX690HD’s iDatalink Maestro module ensures your new double din car stereo is compatible with these cool systems.

Now we do have a few gripe with this car stereo. The processing power is sub bar, and as a result the user interface is not as responsive as one could expect in 2013. Lag is not an uncommon issue when playing music through Bluetooth, which can make skipping several songs at the same time a small hassle (it can take 5 seconds to skip or stop a song). Also, some reviewers have expressed concern about the navigation working haphazardly after a few months of use and the screen freezing from time to time. Finally, the screen is too bright, despite lowering the brightness levels.

The Kenwood DNX690HD Excelon 2-DIN receiver retails for $1,100, but is available at a discounted $630 on Amazon. Considering all the insane features packed in this one headunit, and if you don’t get a lemon, it potentially blows other double din receivers mentioned in this article out of the water. Given the Excelon warranty, it might be worth a shot buying this double din car stereo for Christmas. For those who don’t feel confident doing so, we cannot recommend enough the similar Alpine models.

Kenwood Excelon DNX690HD Navigation Receiver

Kenwood Excelon DNX690HD

Buy it now

$480 (refurbished) from Amazon

Kenwood Excelon DNX890HD

The DNX890HD features the same capabilities as the DNX690HD, but with a design similar to that of the DDX790 (a 6.95” touchscreen with small bottom buttons)…We told you there would be something for everyone. It also comes with the 2-year Excelon warranty. What it does have over the DNX690HD though, is a 13-band equalizer and Sound Excellence Digital Signal Processing, allowing you to customize the sound to your car’s interior, your speakers positions and many other things to the last imaginable tweak. Talking about customization, you can also drag-and-drop icons from the main menu. You can also tilt the screen at various angles to avoid a glare under intense daylight. As a result, this 2-DIN headunit is the best-sounding of Kenwood’s 2013 releases. But how does it fare on the flaws mentioned in other units?

First, the navigation by Garmin has been improved, with quick route recalculations, wonderful traffic reports, more points of interests and the Lane Assist and Junction Views when merging or turning off on major highways or intersections. The screen is still too bright, even with a dimmer lead hooked up (however, you can access a “secret” dimming setting by pressing the menu button for 5-10 seconds). Another thing is that you can’t remove icons you don’t use from the main menu and you have to go back and forth to find what you’re looking for; for example, playlist navigation is counter-intuitive and requires far too many clicks (unlike on Pioneer double DIN car stereos), which can become a safety issue. As for the lag, it still takes a long time to turn on and the screen occasionally freezes, but the 1.6.0 firmware update seems to reduce the problem somewhat. A large flash drive might still take forever to load your music. Finally, the manual comes in a CD; when you pay that much for a unit, you expect a paper manual that you can actually carry in your car.

This unit would be worth the price if it would work like Kenwood says it does. We could overcome this issue, as the DNX890HD offers plenty of features, but it wouldn’t be right when there are other similar models that work better.

Kenwood Excelon DNX890HD Navigation Receiver

Kenwood Excelon DNX890HD

Buy it now

$937 from Amazon



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