As technology continues to expand, it becomes cheaper and easier to outfit factory audio systems of a high quality in automobiles. Moreover, the rise in smart device proliferation also pushes vehicle manufacturers to provide a robust system that can connect with ever-evolving technology.
However, just because a factory automotive audio system may be adequate does not mean that it is excellent. While many people will focus on speakers, subwoofers, and amplifiers, one of the more overlooked audio components is the head unit. This piece of equipment has also evolved with concurrent technology and now features impressive double DIN models.
Best Double DIN Head Units of 2018
Unfortunately, this is still a relatively new development, and it can be difficult determining which models are best for what. That is why we have put together a list of the 5 best double DIN head units. Then we provide a helpful buyer’s guide, so you can find the head unit that is right for you.
|7 inch||Apple CarPlay /|
|Kenwood Excelon DNX994S||6.95 inch||Apple CarPlay /|
|Clarion NX807||6.95 inch||Apple CarPlay||Yes|
|Pioneer AVH4200NEX||7 inch||Apple CarPlay /|
|Boss Audio Systems BVCP9675||6.75 inch||Apple CarPlay||No|
1. Alpine iLX-207 – Best Double DIN Head Unit for Apple Products
Alpine is one of the older “big three” brands of high end automotive electronics. However, the brand has taken a bit of a hit in recent memory in a large part due to the fact that they now manufacture more factory automotive audio systems for luxury vehicles than they do truly high end automotive electronics. Still, Alpine understands what it takes to make high end audio equipment–especially for the future–and that philosophy is on display with the iLX-207.
One of the Best for Today
The iLX-207 is easily the most comfortable and comprehensive head unit when comes to Apple products. For one, this head unit can connect with virtually any Apple smart device. The iPhone, iPad, and even iPod are all acceptable inputs for the iLX-207. Only the iWatch is omitted, but that is liable to be fixed with a firmware update as well. However, this impressive Apple connectivity is a bit hampered by the the need for a physical connection.
Despite the “Bluetooth” advertisement, if you actually want to get the full functionality out of the iLX-207, you will need to connect your smart device via the USB cord. You can still get some of the more basic functions like answering phone calls from bluetooth, but you will not be able to use the full suite of apps without connecting directly to the head unit–usually in the glove box.
Another issue with the iLX-207 is its audio quality. Its RMS wattage is one of the lower that we reviewed, and while it advertises a 4V preamp output, a number of people report that its actual performance is more in live with a 2V as their subwoofers would regularly not pick up the signal from the amp. This is all the more surprising considering that the iLX-207 is also a fairly pricey head unit.
2. Kenwood Excelon DNX994S – Best Double Din Head Unit for Audio
Kenwood is another product that qualifies as one of the “big three” manufacturers of automotive audio equipment. However, the brand’s heyday in this market peaked in the 80s. Since then, the audio equipment for vehicles took a backseat to Kenwood’s home audio systems which unfortunately impacted the brand’s ability to R&D automotive electronics.
That however has changed as Kenwood has once again turned its attention towards producing high end automotive audio systems. As such, it should come as little surprise that the Excelon DNX994S nabbed the best double din head unit for audio on our list. For one, this is easily the best head unit for factory speaker systems.
When it Sounds Great
However, it is the wealth of additional audio management features that truly sets the Excelon DNX994S apart from its competition in terms of audio quality. First, this head unit provides high and low pass filters which, while not uncommon, are a necessary feature for high-end audio quality. Moreover, it features a 13 band EQ with a sensor that adjusts and compensates for the white noise of driving.
A True High-End
Still, it is the other sound management features that truly put the Excelon DNX994S on another level. For one, this is the only head unit reviewed that includes digital time alignment, so the sound from different speakers is synced to reach your ears simultaneously. Moreover, the Excelon DNX994S offers a number of features that allow you to sculpt the sound most to your liking. The space enhancer, sound realizer, and sound elevation systems are far more accurate and precise in sculpting the soundscape than simple balance and fade settings found on other head units.
Unfortunately, Kenwood seems to be getting lapped when it comes to embracing the future as a number of its other features are found to be lacking. For instance, when using a navigation system, you either must rely on the Excelon DNX994S’ native software–which is at least Garmin and INRIX–or the functionality is severely limited to the point that you merely receive a chime as a notification. Moreover, the Excelon DNX994S cannot run both an MP3 player and either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto simultaneously.
3. Clarion NX807 – Best Double DIN Head Unit for Navigation
While Clarion may not have the same storied pedigree as an Alpine or a Kenwood, it has actually been manufacturing electronics for roughly the same amount of time as the other two brands. In fairness, a large part of this slow climb has been largely due to the fact that the brand began its career as a manufacturer of factory automotive stereo systems for consumer grade vehicles. However, that all changed in 2006 when the company began to market as much for high end automotive electronics as well as their factory offerings.
Simple, Shiny and Functional
Still, the NX807 should definitely be seen as a bit of a niche head unit. Interestingly, the NX807 is arguably one of the more comprehensive head units in terms of functionality. Specifically, the NX807 can manage more types of file formats from more varied of sources than almost any other head unit we reviewed. In real terms, this means that those of you whole entertainment systems in your vehicles can control the vast majority of them from this head unit instead of having to rely on three or more systems to run your in-vehicle entertainment system.
Whether you want to play your audio from a separate device, a memory card, or various types of discs, the NX807 has you covered. In fact, only one other head unit reviewed offered this same kind of versatility. Granted, this does not extend to actually being able to send a video signal to other screens within your vehicle, but it is fairly impressive nonetheless.
Robust Navigation System
Unfortunately, it seems as though Clarion simply tacked on a number of connecting features that allows different devices and file formats without actually improving the audio quality beyond what they already provide for their factory models. While the RMS wattage is not poor, it is not anything to brag about either. However it is the 2V preamp signal that is the worst offender. This means that a high end, aftermarket stereo system will do better with a more powerful head unit.
4. Pioneer AVH4200NEX – Most Versatile Playback on Double DIN Head Unit
The last of the “big three,” Pioneer is far more of a general electronics brand than it is specifically an automotive or even general audio brand. However, the company made its name in automotive audio systems and has been one of the most innovative companies in that market being the first to offer pretty much everything from CD players to GPS navigation to video players including DVD, plasma, and OEL technology.
In that vein, the AVH4200NEX continues this trend by pushing the boundaries of what a double DIN head unit can accomplish all at one time. One of the main ways it does this is through a litany of acceptable formats and inputs. In terms of inputs, this is another head unit we reviewed which can read USB, memory cards, CDs, and DVDs. However, unlike other head units that can read DVDs, the AVH4200NEX takes it a step further in terms of what it can do with that signal.
Stereo and Video
Moreover, for those of you with rear assist and lane correction systems, this is also one of the few double DIN head units to offer connections to two separate camera lines. To top matters off, this also happens to be a fairly inexpensive head unit when compared to the overall market. However, there are some serious flaws with the AVH4200NEX that you will have to consider carefully before opting for this system.
Specifically, this head unit falls into the trap that a number of older head units did: unreliability. The software of the AVH4200NEX is buggy. If you provide a command, it may or may not recognize it the first time and this is while using the head unit’s controls. If you attempt to control the AVH4200NEX from your smart device, your chances of encountering a bug glitch rise precipitously.
To make matters worse, even if the head unit recognizes a command, it takes a fair amount of time to execute it. This is likely due to an older processor trying to run newer and more consumptive–apps, but it still leads to a situation where you may have to wait a few seconds before the command is even recognized. This slower processing also shows up in terms of start up where startup times of 30 seconds to a minute are not unheard of.
5. Boss Audio Systems BVCP9675 – Best Budget Double DIN Head Unit
Boss Audio Systems is the only brand on our list that specializes exclusively in audio systems. Moreover, it is also the youngest brand on our list first founded in the late 80s. This odd positioning as a more niche market manufacturer has led to a few interesting developments. However, the most notable one for consumers is the fact that the absence of a brand name with a storied pedigree reduces the amount they can sell their products for.
A Price to Consider
As such, it should surprise no one that this is the least expensive double DIN head unit on our list. In fact, the difference in price between this head unit and the next lowest competitor is a difference of over $200. However, that will come with some advantages and disadvantages. For one, this head unit has a few issues with its screen.
However, as a manufacturer for vehicular audio systems, the BVCP9675 does get a few things right. For one, the 20 RMS watts are good for the second best on our list. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the preamp signal which only clocks in at 2V. This means you should pass on the BVCP9675 if you have a high end, aftermarket stereo system.
Best Double DIN Head Units – Buyer’s Guide
Despite the increasing number of features that double DIN head units are expected to perform, the most basic function of any head unit is to manage and boost the quality of your vehicle’s sound system. Keep in mind, few head units that are not specifically designed to do so are appropriate for an expansive stereo system. However, there can still be a great deal of function and versatility found for factory settings from a double DIN head unit.
RMS Watts. This is arguably the most important audio feature of any head unit that does not defer to a more elaborate and expensive audio setup. However, there are two different types of wattage: RMS and peak. Unfortunately, brands are often a bit disingenuous and will present peak wattage as a meaningful spec.
In truth, the peak wattage is only occasionally relevant. Moreover, the impact of peak wattage will depend heavily on the type of audio played. For instance, if your music does not feature a dynamic range of volume, then peak wattage is liable to be useless. Of course, even if the audio is dynamic in its mastering, peak wattage is still only periodically necessary.
The RMS wattage is a far more meaningful spec in terms of sound quality regardless of the audio played. The general power being delivered to the speakers is the RMS wattage. Essentially, this wattage determines the power over longer periods of time and through a larger range of volumes. As such, a larger RMS wattage will be far more noticeable than a larger peak wattage.
This is important for those of you with extensive stereo systems. Essentially, if the head unit will not be powering the speaker system, it will still need to send the audio signal to the amp that does power the speakers. However, the ability for the amp to decode and pass along the truest signal is determined by the head unit’s preamp.
This signal is determined by volts instead of watts because it is not actually manifested through the speakers directly. However, the stronger this signal, the better quality the signal the amp can send to the speakers–assuming the amp is equal. A low preamp signal voltage can lead to distortions of sound and lower quality audio.
Aside from the base power of either the speakers or the amp signal, the head unit can provide a number of signal modifications to help improve the audio quality or more accurately control it. These functions do not actually affect the hardware–whether speakers or amps–but simply alter the signal itself.
Low and high pass filters are one of the more common signal management. However, this is almost exclusively designed for use with a high-end stereo system. By routing the high and low-frequency signals to the appropriate speakers, the audio quality increases with less noise from a single speaker trying to play to wide of a range.
Bass boost is another common signal management, though this need not be applied to high-end speaker systems. In fact, this is far more appropriate for factory speakers that do not likely have an external amp powering them. This is one of the features that will likely test both the RMS and peak wattage of the head unit.
Other audio quality based signal management include the ability to craft the sound created. While this most commonly shows itself as an equalizer, there are other forms as well. For one, higher end head units will often be able to shape the sound created in three dimensions–locating it by depth, horizontally, and vertically. This is not simply switching the balance or fade either and instead alters the signal so that it almost acts as a ventriloquist such that the audio seems to emanate from a different point.
After the audio quality, the next most important function for a double DIN head unit will be its connectivity. To what kind and how many different devices can the head unit connect? While we have mostly become familiar with aux and USB connections and Bluetooth not far behind, the hardware compatibility of those connections is just as important as the input and output.
This is one of the most common and basic connection. Essentially, the aux ports the signal from the external device via the audio output–generally the headphones port–to the vehicle. Most vehicles come with this as a standard input, but progressing technology does not guarantee this feature. Specifically, more advanced head units may or may not recognize an aux signal as they begin to move towards USB and Bluetooth with HDMI replacing the aux.
This is by far one of the more common inputs for vehicles made after 2005. Once iPods hit the scene and revolutionized how we as a society listened to music, automotive manufacturers were quick to follow suit. These days it is almost impossible to find a new vehicle without a USB connection. The same can be said of double DIN head units as well.
While Bluetooth has been around for a while and has even been a feature in automobiles longer than the USB connection, it has only arguably been within the past decade or so that Bluetooth receivers have advanced enough that the signal remains reliable throughout use. However, since that time, Bluetooth has quickly become the preferred method of connection for high end automotive systems–whether audio or otherwise.
A number of double DIN head units come equipped with either native proprietary software or bundled 3rd party software. However, these offerings are ultimately a bit limited and do not include the basic services of a provider like Verizon or AT&T. While some offer navigation support and others might provide streaming music apps, few can compete with the apps designed by Apple or Android.
As first on the scene, more double DIN head units are compatible with Apple CarPlay than they are Android Auto. Moreover, the various integration of this app with head units is often far more robust and will allow a wider range of apps to run through it. However, this is also one of the more restrictive car apps in that it often blocks out non-Apple apps for similar functions.
Because Android Auto took longer getting to market, fewer manufacturers have truly fleshed out its capabilities. This is actually a shame because far more people own Androids than they do Apple product–both in the US and internationally. Moreover, Android Auto plays much better with 3rd party apps than Apple CarPlay. Still, expect this compatibility to improve over time.
In the end, different people will prefer different features. As such, what makes the best double DIN head unit for you will follow for the next person. Ultimately, you will need to identify specifically what you want most from your head unit, and use that as the basis of your selection.
If you are an audiophile who is simply looking to get the best sounding head unit that also incorporates some of the new features of progressing technology, you would be hard pressed to find a better product than the Kenwood. With the best RMS wattage as well as the best preamp signal voltage, this is an ideal head unit for both factory and aftermarket stereo systems.
However, if you like to on the bleeding edge of technological developments, then the Pioneer is liable to suit you best. With its numerous formats and inputs, you can construct a full automotive entertainment system that can be run from a single control device–something no other head unit we reviewed can accomplish.