Best CarPlay Head Unit 2017 – Kenwood, Pioneer, Sony and Alpine Review – Car Stereo Reviews & News Tuning, Wiring, How to Guide&039s

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

update: be sure to check out my best carplay 2018 head unit review here for the latest and greatest.

Buying an apple carplay compatible head unit can be very confusing as there are so many models to choose from. If you’re not sure where to start, I’ll simplify and explain all current CarPlay compatible models from 4 major brands: Kenwood, Pioneer, Sony, and Alpine. they all have their own unique pros and cons and the best one will vary based 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:

Interested in siriusxm, hd radio, cd player, hdmi input, idatalink master? No? then consider the sony xav-ax100. The Sony XAV-AX100 is a great Apple CarPlay compatible head unit and is one of the most reasonably priced around. that’s largely because it lacks all those other features some of us refer to as bells and whistles.

Reading: 2017 car stereo reviews

I plan on putting this on my own jeep once we get some free time at the shop. Why would I choose this model if 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 don’t need an hdmi input. I can also live without idatalink maestro car portal features like resetting a check engine light or checking vehicle battery voltage on the screen. I’m also a bit, um, frugal to say the least and if you are too, you might want to consider this model as well. In addition to Apple CarPlay, the Sony XAV-AX100 includes:

  • 6.4″ touch screen
  • volume knob (I point this out because models with a slightly smaller screen have this feature and that’s something some people like to have instead of one of those little volume rocker bars we see on models with 7″)
  • am/fm radio (no hd radio)
  • bluetooth
  • reversing camera input
  • front, rear and subwoofer preamps (they say rated at 2 volts, but I swear it sounds more like 4 volts)
  • 10-band equalizer
  • Integrated steering wheel control interface: Compatible with most older Toyota, Nissan, Mazda and Subaru vehicles.
  • Sony is simple: what you see is what you get. Because it lacks so many features, it’s actually quite easy to use. the home screen has some simple icons and the settings menu is easy to navigate. this model has some options for background display screens or you can upload your own.

    so what’s the catch with the sony xav-ax100?

    I have two complaints about this model. number one: you can’t connect an ipod via usb. the usb port on this stereo is specifically for 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 can’t 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, allows you to 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 weird, it’s a bit redundant, and it seems odd how they’ve duplicated button functions. the source not only changes the source, it will also allow you to hang up or reject a phone call. I’m guessing they mapped it this way for older Japanese vehicles that only have 5 basic functions on existing steering wheel controls. however, if you have a newer vehicle with a dedicated answer/end and voice button, it will seem a bit strange. so for example on my 2014 wrangler this is how the steering wheel controls will be mapped using a master idatalink rr:

    However, if you can get past these quirks and don’t need all the bells and whistles, the sony xav-ax100 may be the best carplay head unit for you.

    do you want siriusxm? not ready to give up cds?

    consider the kenwood ddx6703s or ddx6903s. These two models are so similar that I have lumped them together. the ddx6703s is part of kenwood’s regular line and the ddx6903s is part of their excellent excelon line. the ddx6903s has two usb ports, the ddx6703s has one usb port. the ddx6903s has a 5 volt preamp output, the ddx6703s has a 4 volt preamp output. when purchased from an authorized excelon reseller, the ddx6903s comes with a 2-year warranty and the ddx6703s has a 1-year warranty.

    so when you move to the ddx6703s or ddx6903s you get some key features over the sony xav-ax100, like:

    • siriusxm compatibility (requires sxv300 tuner and I recommend a higher quality satellite radio antenna than the crap siriusxm includes with this tuner, like msunivsat mobile spec)
    • hd radio on fm/am
    • cd/dvd player
    • dual camera input (and it’s very easy to switch to front camera, when in reverse, just touch the screen)
    • idatalink maestro support for car portal features
    • gps antenna
    • idatalink maestro car portal features are great and an absolute must for certain vehicles. For example, let’s say you have a new ram truck with the uconnect 5.0 radio and you want to upgrade to a carplay head unit.

      The stock head unit has a vehicle settings menu where you can change the settings for door locks, horn, lights, dimmer, etc. once you change the radio, you will no longer be able to access those options. Unless of course you go with an idatalink master compatible head unit with what is called a serial data port connection. To see what features you could keep and check compatibility, try this idatalink maestro rr weblink demo.

      want a bigger screen too?

      well, why not? We’re already around $550 in the price range, what’s a few bucks more? The next step up from the ddx6703s and the ddx6903s is the new dmx7704s which features a 7″ touchscreen (vs 6.2″), but loses the cd/dvd player. And while this model has two USB ports, only one will work for iPhone or iPod. the secondary usb port is for flash memory and all kenwoods that have dual usb function 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 and SiriusXM compatibility, then this may be the best CarPlay head unit for you. What else do you get when you get back into the Kenwood line? the ddx9703s and the excelon ddx9903s.

      ddx9703s and ddx9903s have an hdmi input

      To actually 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 phone’s audio and video on the screen, you still have to control everything from the phone itself.

      The only thing I can see for sure using this is that if you want to have the waze gps app on the screen, you can launch it from your phone and mirror it to the stereo screen.

      ddx9703s and ddx9903s also feature dual zone

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      what dual zone allows you to do is load a dvd into the in-dash carplay head unit and send the audio/video to a rear monitor (ideally one that supports wireless infrared headphones) while still being able to listen to your iphone, siriusxm or hd radio in the two front speakers. this is a nice feature if you are looking to upgrade the family vehicle.

      like previous excelon models, the ddx9903s has a 5 volt preamp output (vs. 4 volts on the ddx9703s) and is warranted for 2 years when purchased from an authorized dealer (vs. 1 year on the ddx9703s). Also, the ddx9903s has two usb ports, but again, it only supports an ipod or iphone in the primary usb port, the secondary usb will read the flash drive. the ddx9903s also features a glass capacitive touchscreen instead of a regular resistive touchscreen.

      From an operational standpoint, the navigation menus on Kenwood models are fairly easy to use. the icons are large and easy to see. there are 3 easy-to-swipe pages that allow you to access all available fonts.

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

      a unique kenwood feature that no one else seems to offer is “memory recall”

      let’s say you or your installer spent a fair amount of time configuring the audio features, fine-tuning the 13-band EQ settings and digital time alignment, and then bam, without warning, the battery dies and lose all those settings. well, if you memorized them on the main unit, all you have to do is retrieve them. I love this feature and I don’t understand why Sony, Alpine and Pioneer don’t copy it (please engineers take a hint!).

      so what are the drawbacks of kenwood?

      well, there are a couple. For one, what’s the point of dual usb if you can only play an ipod in the same port that supports carplay? Number two: I’ve heard of some people hearing hissing in the background as soon as they plug their iPhone into the USB port. I spoke to kenwood about it and as long as you bought it from an authorized dealer they will exchange it no questions asked. that’s it in theory, in practice, a customer purchased a refurbished kenwood model from an authorized online dealer (stay away from refurbishes!) and experienced this issue. unfortunately he still had the same problem after installing the replacement unit. It’s like the hiss you hear on a record player and it’s only heard at near zero volume, but still, I can see how annoying that would be. Luckily, I have not had any problems with the units we have 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’ll see a blue home screen and there’s no way to change that.

      If you can get past the blue album art splash screen and the fact that you can only play an iPod through the main USB port, Kenwood may still be the best choice for you. Especially if you want SiriusXM capability, IdataLink Master RR capability, HDMI input, and Dual Zone. in that case, the ddx9703s or ddx9903s may be the best carplay head unit for you.

      do you want to be able to have carplay connected and an ipod at the same time?

      This might sound like a silly feature to obsess over, but here’s why you might want to consider having this option. Let’s say you have your iPhone hooked up for CarPlay and you’re listening to Pandora or Spotify and you end up driving to an area with spotty cell service. suddenly your music starts to pause or drop out. I personally can’t stand when data transmission services are interrupted like that. Who really likes listening to choppy music? With the Pioneer AVH-4201NEX, you can simply switch your radio source to USB 2 to your already docked 80 Gig iPod loaded with tunes for uninterrupted listening. saves the hassle of trying to unplug one device and plug another in while driving and if you want a safe and enjoyable listening experience, this is a feature to consider.

      The avh-4201nex is essentially the same head unit as last year’s avh-4200nex (and 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 need when it comes to features:

      • am/fm – high definition radio
      • bluetooth
      • dual zone
      • dual camera inputs
      • siriusxm ready
      • Dual USB ports and both iPod and iPhone compatible; carplay only works on usb 1
      • hdmi input
      • cd/dvd player
      • compatible with idatalink master
      • removable face for security reasons
      • The menu and user interface are also quite intuitive. From the home screen you have access to your 5 most used sources, phone shortcut, settings shortcut and carplay shortcut. a quick touch of the a/v icon at the bottom right shows all available sources. Some people prefer this layout to Kenwood’s larger font icons and multiple pages of fonts to scroll through.

        disadvantages of pioneering carplay models

        one feature that pioneer lacks is a gps antenna, so if you plan on using apple maps often in your vehicle, that’s a feature to consider that both kenwood and alpine include , but pioneer and sony not.

        Speaking of pioneer: Pioneer has three new carplay headunits launching this summer, including the first single din carplay headunit.

        They’re not out yet, as of this writing, but they’re coming soon and they’ll be more value-oriented. There are two double din and the first ever single din drop down carplay receiver. the two double din will be the avh-1300nex with a 6.2″ touch screen and the avh-2300nex with a 7″ touch screen. both will feature:

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