For years I had wanted to upgrade my car stereo system but I was afraid it would ruin the factory look of that dash. So the years went by and I continued to be unable to play CD-RW disks on my CD player on the head unit in my Maxima. Nor could I play mp3 compressed media.
That meant I had to convert everything to .WAV format, then record it on a CD-R which only got me about 18 to 19 songs per CD. Worse, because it was CD-R, I was stuck with that CD forever as I could not rewrite over it when I grew tired of that music.
So over the years, I collected dozens of homemade CDs that I no longer listened to in my car or in my home.
I also longed for the days of having a head unit that read mp3s on disks. I had one of those a decade ago and it was great. I could get upwards of 200 songs per CD and that kept me satisfied for months at a time.
I also wanted to take advantage of some of the BlueTooth options available for streaming music, but I was locked out of all of that. I had a built-in cassette player though!
Finally last month, I realized that my car was 14 years old now and that I was never going to sell it. It has been a wonderful car and I am going to drive my Nissan Maxima until it falls apart.
So with that realization, I started looking for a new head unit to take advantage of some of these new features. I did not want to spend a fortune on it, so I set a budget of $200. I finally decided upon the Kenwood DPX500BT because it had all of the features I wanted, was priced well below $200 and it was a double-DIN receiver, meaning it would take up two slots in your dash. I wanted that full look to replace my old cassette/radio/cd player combo rather than installing a single-DIN.
The following represents my thoughts and opinions on this new Kenwoodhead unit and the entire process of replacing your factory car stereo.
BlueTooth for Streaming and Hands-free Calling
This Kenwood unit is a double-DIN CD receiver with audio connectivity and control capabilities for music files stored on an iPhone, iPod or Android device through BlueTooth.
This was one of the most important features I was looking for when I selected this model. There is another model exactly like this one (DPX300) without BlueTooth, but for me it is well worth the extra $30 or so.
When you enable that on your device and choose the source on the head unit, it streams the music wirelessly from your phone using your cellular plan’s data network.
I know what you may be thinking? Doesn’t that eat up all of your monthly data? No, it is minuscule. Believe me, I was worried about that, but you can use it a couple of hours every day during a commute and you will still have plenty of data leftover at the end of the month, even if you are on the 2GB minimum plan with Verizon like I am.
The unit also comes with an external Bluetooth microphone which is installed by connecting it into the back of the unit, then threading it through your console up the side to your driver’s sun visor. That puts it in the perfect spot to pick up your voice when talking on your phone. Incoming calls can be set to pick up automatically or at the touch of a button. The sound from the call will come out over your car speakers.
For iPhone users, the stereo is also compatible with Siri.
The other way to control your mobile devices is through the USB port on the front of the unit. Just plug it in and use the controls on the head unit to navigate the device. It will automatically switch the sourec over to whatever you plug into the port.
The unit has search functions that you can use to browse the music on the device. You can use Reverse Browsing, Alphabet Search and Skip Search to find what you want.
The unit automatically disables the receiver's integrated control which lets you control it using the iPod controls. You can also use this port to connect thumb drives and play music from them, or to upgrade the firmware on the unit. More about that later.
Finally, the USB input will allow you to charge mobile devices.
This unit does not provide steering wheel controls, however, it does provide a small remote control. I do not know why you would ever need a remote control for a car stereo, but it is there if you ever want it.
I suppose if someone else if driving your car on a road trip and you are sleeping in the backseat, you could play a trick on them by constantly switching the music. Absent that, I do not really see the need. Whatever cost this added to the overall price of the unit, I would have rather had the $10 - $15 off the total price.
Installation and Firmware Updates
I bought this unit online because it was $50 cheaper than at Best Buy. However, I took it to Best Buy to have them install it for $65. It costs a little more if you have a complicated setup with sub-woofers and amps, but I was more than happy to have them do it at that price.
I was not sure if the technician upgraded the firmware before he installed it, so I checked it myself. It is easy to upgrade.
- Download the firmware files from the Kenwood website for this model and copy them to the top level of a USB memory stick. Do not put it in a folder on the drive. Also, do not change the name of the file.
- Connect to the USB port in the unit.
- When you see “NO MUSIC” press Source and select Standby.
- Press and hold the Audio button.
- Enter the Function Setting Mode.
- Turn the control knob to select “Initial Set” then press the control knob.
- Turn the control knob to select “F/W Update” then press the control knob.
- Press the control knob again.
- Turn the control knob to select “yes, the press the control knob again.
- Update should start and finish in less than a minute.
- Press the Reset button.
For those of you interested in installing the stereo yourself, here is a view of the back.
- Pandora integration with your car stereo through your iPhone
- Bluetooth Technology for hands-free phone calls and wireless music streaming
- Connect with satellite radio from SiriusXM with a single direct connection tuner
- 2-way iPod control allows control from the iPod or the stereo
- Variable Color Illumination button lighting
- Single-line LCD text display for CD text display and MP3 ID3 Tag (Title/Artist/Album)
- Power Output: Peak: 50 watts x 4 channels, RMS: 22 watts x 4 channels
- Remote control included
- Kenwood Music Control App for Android available on Google Play
I have not regretted buying this unit for one second. I purchased a Kit from a separate manufacturer and gave it to the installer and it fits in the dash like a glove.
Amazon Price: $13.68 $8.00 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 4, 2016)
I did not upgrade any of my speakers or add an amp, but the music from this head unit sound much clearer and louder than my old factory model.
My favorite feature is the BlueTooth. I use it to stream music from Pandora or my music on Apple’s cloud. It works flawlessly. I have not had one hiccup in the streaming process.
Using my iPhone through the head unit works fine also, however, I do not really talk on the phone that much so I cannot say how you sound to the other person through the microphone.
I have already made my first mp3 CD in over 10 years and whenever I get tired of streaming, I just switch it over to the CD source. I have also used it a couple of times to charge my iPhone.
If I had one complaint it would be I cannot listen to my iPod classic anymore without some effort. That old device has no Bluetooth capability of course, but it will connect into the USB port. However, I have found it to be cumbersome to try to control it either on the display screen or the iPod controls itself.
Anyway, that is probably something I am doing wrong and it is by no means a deal breaker. I have plenty of music and podcasts to enjoy via my CDs and streaming sources on my iPhone.
This particular stereo has been out for about two years, so you may have a little trouble finding it. But when you do, you will notice that it has very good reviews.
So if you have an older car, do not be afraid to switch things up. They make some very nice looking kits for most cars now and an aftermarket radio can look just like a factory one.