Upgrading a car’s head unit is one of the most important steps to improving its audio system and overall functionality. The primary purpose of a head unit is to provide the interface for the audio system. Aftermarket devices also improve the amount of power available to speakers, how much control one has over their equalization, and what inputs are available to the car as a whole.
On top of general functions, an upgraded head unit can provide new uses for smartphones, such as hands-free communication and GPS navigation. This guide will detail the general uses and additional conveniences of our three top options.
Compare: The 10 Top Rated Double DIN Head Units of 2017
What Is a Double DIN Head Unit?
- 0.1 What Is a Double DIN Head Unit?
- 0.2 What Are the Advantages of Upgrading a Head Unit?
- 0.3 What Are the Contenders for Best Double DIN Head Unit?
- 0.4 Considerations for Choosing a Double DIN Head Unit
- 0.5 General Features
- 0.6 Audio Features
- 0.7 Compatabilities
- 0.8 Controls
- 1 Conclusion: Our Double DIN Head Unit Reviews Are In
- 1.1 Best Affordable Unit: Pioneer FHX-720BT 2-DIN CD Receiver with Mixtrax
- 1.2 Best for the Money: Kenwood DPX300U Double DIN In-Dash Car Stereo Receiver
- 1.3 Best Overall: JVC KW-R800BT In-Dash AM/FM/CD Car Stereo Receiver with Bluetooth
DIN head units are the devices in the center consoles of cars that are generally used to control stereo volume. They come in two sizes: single and double. A double DIN head is noticeably taller than the former, at roughly two inches long. They may occupy more space, but their greater size allows them to be packed with more features.
The core purpose of a head unit is to supply power to speakers and control volume and balance, but through Bluetooth technology and various inputs, they can stream music, manage phone calls, and even interface with navigation applications like Google Maps.
What Are the Advantages of Upgrading a Head Unit?
Factory-installed head units may be adequate as general purpose devices, but with a wide variety of aftermarket units with greater functionality, no one has to settle for “adequate”. Upgraded head units, along with other devices such as sub woofers and 4 Channel Amps, are instrumental in improving a car’s sound system, and also offer the opportunity to incorporate smartphone applications.
Online streaming apps allow people to enjoy the music they want to listen to without paying a premium for satellite radio, or they can just plug in their storage devices and music players for easy listening. Units with hands-free calling capabilities reduce the risk of taking calls while driving. The list of benefits simply goes on and on.
What Are the Contenders for Best Double DIN Head Unit?
Pioneer FHX-720BT 2-DIN CD Receiver with Mixtrax: The FHX looks great for its price, with over 210,000 colors and 10 brightness levels to match a car’s dashboard display. It can access virtually any kind of media and stream from an iPhone or Android device via Bluetooth. When paired with a phone, it can enable hands-free communication at the push of a button.
Kenwood DPX300U Double DIN In-Dash Car Stereo Receiver: The DPX features a strong amplifier and plenty of room for expansion. It is a fantastic choice for individuals in the process of upgrading their stereo system, with a number of Bluetooth capabilities to sweeten the deal.
JVC KW-R800BT In-Dash AM/FM/CD Car Stereo Receiver with Bluetooth: The KW-R800BT delivers fantastic power and media functionality in one attractive head unit. It features a strong amplifier, plentiful equalization controls, and several analog and Bluetooth inputs for an expanded range of capabilities.
Considerations for Choosing a Double DIN Head Unit
There is no shortage of DIN head units to choose from, so individuals are best served by finding the one that meets their wants and needs. Being able to play the right media types is a given, but how powerful the amplifier is and how much audio customization is available is equally important. Bluetooth integration can completely change the driving experience for the better with the right set of features.
- General Features: A head unit’s core schematics and features can be simple or expansive depending on the unit itself. General features include a unit’s power output, interface, and customization options. Each individual feature may seem inconsequential alone, but altogether they are very important in determining the overall quality of a head unit, regardless of what else it can do.
- Audio Features: Audio focused head units come with a variety of equalizers, retrievers, and controllers to help individuals tailor their stereo system’s sound to their precise liking. The availability and efficacy of these features presents a general idea of how much a head unit will contribute to a superior sound.
- Compatabilities: All of the head units featured in this guide include Bluetooth capabilities, but not all Bluetooth connections are created equal. A head unit’s ability to interact with multiple devices is a good judge of its versatility, and the method with which it interacts is a matter of convenience. For people who are planning to expand their stereo system with additional speakers or a subwoofer, it is also important to consider how many outputs a unit has.
- Controls: Even the most feature-laden head unit is useless if its interface is too difficult to use while driving. This section judges how easily one can access and control a system’s features without being distracted from the road. Fewer, larger, and multi-purpose buttons and knobs are often easier to access and remember than a series of small, single-purpose tools.
The FHX takes on a broad variety of tasks and comes with a good amount of power handling. It maintains a continuous average power of 14 watts with a 50-watt peak during heavy use, enough to allow good speakers to perform to their capabilities. The head blends in nicely with the rest of any car’s interior with its variable color illumination and has a sleek, attention-grabbing design. It plays all kinds of CDs and can access USB storage, so one will never find themselves lacking for options.
Kenwood makes its intentions for the DPX very clear from the start, with its 22-watt continuous average power. It is one of the best heads one can use with a set of aftermarket speakers, as the extra power provides a noticeable boost in sound quality. The heads 13-digit variable color display takes care of aesthetics, but otherwise the DPX has no frills and makes no fuss. Its only real focus is on enhancing power and sound quality.
The KW strikes a perfect balance between power and features. It has an impressive 20-watt built-in amplifier, a Bluetooth adapter, adjustable illumination, and a remote control. On the power side, its amplifier is strong enough to give a major boost to a car’s stereo system. It blends well with virtually every interior with 30,000 coloring options and is clear, bright, and effective. The KW’s USB port is fast and powerful, capable of fully charging a phone while accessing its internal memory for music.
The FHX’s Advanced Sound Retriever actively improves the quality of compressed music files, such as the commonly used MP3. Its 5-band equalizer delivers significant user choice and comes prepared with seven presets for those who enjoy multiple genres of music. Unique to the FHX is Pioneer’s MIXTRAX program, which acts as a virtual DJ that smoothes transitions between songs in a playlist through DJ-inspired effects.
The DPX is all about audio and delivers with its considerable power, 3-band parametric equalizer with 8 preset curves, and a low-pass filter for subwoofers. The head pairs nicely with any speaker set but is the only choice for people who have already upgraded their car’s speakers. It even features a speaker settings function that allows users to set their receiver’s output to match the size and type of speakers inside the vehicle.
The KW-R800BT gives speakers a generous helping of power for good sound, and an iEQ 3-band parametric equalizer to keep its audio balanced. For upgraded systems, the head allows individuals to fine tune their subwoofer levels and a 24-bit digital-to-analog converter manages the data transfer from source to speaker output with impressive clarity. The KW’s features are simple but essential to securing a consistent, articulate sound, especially when paired with aftermarket speakers.
The FHX supports Bluetooth integration for Android and iPhone devices, and any other media player with basic Bluetooth functions. Hands-Free communication is available for any compatible phone, as is audio streaming. For newer iPhones, Siri can integrate with the FHX for completely hands-free voice dialing. One of the head’s best features is its easy synchronization with the Pandora Internet Radio app, which allows users to listen to their personalized stations, create new ones, and even rate songs as they play.
The DPX lacks Bluetooth hands-free calling capabilities, but iPhone users can plug in their phones directly to access iHeartRadio and Pandora stations through the head’s controls. It has USB inputs for additional storage devices and music players and is compatible with SiriusXM for people who want to get their music the old fashioned way, minus repetitive songs and excessive advertisements. The DPX has 6-channel preamp outputs for front, rear, and sub speakers.
Through Bluetooth, the KW is capable of hands-free calling, music streaming, and controlling certain apps. It can remember up to five devices and keep two phones connected at all times. For voice calling, the KW has an external microphone, and voice dialing can be used for most smartphones. It has full integration with the Pandora app, and can stream music from iHeartRadio, SiriusXM, Last.fm, and others. Generally speaking, if it makes a sound, the KW has a way to make it louder.
The FHX has a relatively simple interface and includes a small remote for additional controls. Still, most people will find themselves fiddling more with the buttons and control knob on the head than the remote, which is easy to drop or misplace. The FHX is fairly simple to navigate for basic functions, but accessing other features requires a learning curve. The FHX’s dim screen is nearly invisible during the daytime, making these minor annoyances much more significant.
The DPX’s controls are sleek and simple, primarily because the head itself doesn’t do much other than play music. It has all the buttons it needs to control audio, with plenty of size and space so the keys are easy to remember. The head’s interface is as streamlined as the device itself, which is to say: very. The DPX ships with a remote to give passengers easy access to the stereo from any seat.
The KW’s menu takes a small amount of time for some people to learn, but overall the buttons are very intuitively placed and prominently sized. Its general volume and playback controls are just as easy to find as its menu and higher functions. The head comes with a basic remote that’s passenger friendly if nothing else, but the overall presentation of the head requires little more.
Conclusion: Our Double DIN Head Unit Reviews Are In
The FHX-720BT comes with enough basic functions and extra features to justify a spot at a higher price point, but its rather standard design keeps it from really feeling like a true upgrade. Something can be said for how familiar the head seems, but inadequacies in its button placement and the dimness of its screen make it a little inconvenient to use. Still, once one gets accustomed to its flaws, the FHX performs wonderfully and noticeably improves audio quality.
- Good power handling
- Plenty of features
- Familiar design
- Dim screen
- Certain features are confusing to operate
The DPX skips over more modern features and delivers the overall audio capabilities of more expensive units for a substantially lower price. In terms of sound, it delivers like no other in its range. However, these benefits are substituted for many other flaws. The DPX enforces a reliance on wires to communicate with devices, and even when plugged in, integrates superficially at best. There are no additional convenience tools, only pure sound. It is exactly what an audiophile is looking for, but the opposite for many others.
- High power
- Big expandability
- Simple interface
- No extra features
- Relies on analog inputs
By tactfully balancing features and practicality, the KW-R800BT stands out as a useful, intuitive, and overall enjoyable head unit that doesn’t forget its primary purpose. It contributes nicely to an enhanced sound first and spends the rest of its time managing calls, accessing streaming devices, and taking commands. Its design is striking without begging for attention, and its most important features can be understood at first glance.
Like most new tech, the KW-R8500BT has a reasonable learning curve, but JVC doesn’t over-complicate things in the head’s presentation. It is a bold device, but one that is tempered by the manufacturer’s near hundred years of experience with audio technology.
- Reliable power handling
- Useful features
- Clearest audio quality
- Screen text can be obscured by sunlight
Head units have always been the heart of a car’s stereo system, but through Bluetooth technology have become part of the brain of the car itself. A good head unit can bring even an older car into the world of smartphone integration and intelligent technology. Whether one is shopping for the features or the sound, there are countless options for either and one good champion of both.