We get our hands on the new Kenwood DMX8021DABS head unit to see how it performs.
Have you ever been to a Las Vegas buffet? They offer breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner in one sitting because in the city that never sleeps, it can be one of those times for their clients at any time. Not only that, but the choice in every segment is the greatest and highest quality in the world. The brand-spanking-new Kenwood DMX8021DABS car stereo is a Las Vegas buffet of awesomeness, all in a short-body double-DIN unit. It serves up everything you’ve ever wanted and more…
To say that this device has everything is a gentle understatement. The main plot is, that it’s so clever and capable, that DMX8021DABS is an awesome candidate for replacing OEM units. It’s far more than just a double-DIN hole-filler. You are going to want what it can do and it will make whatever you have right now, look limited and dated. The screen maximizes every available millimeter but the insides are compact. Being a mech-less unit has allowed Kenwood to fill the innards with the latest tech for GPS/DSP but all within an 85mm deep chassis. There is so much going on inside and the back is packed with all the essentials sockets that the DMX8021DABS is a masterclass in compact design. Clever space-saving tricks like a permanent-on fan neutralizes the need for a roomy heatsink.
- RRP: £599.99. Buy now.
- Shallow-Chassis Double DIN mech-free with 7in WVGA capacitive touch screen, wireless Android Auto and Apple Car Play
- Onboard Power: 4x50W @4ohms
- Front/Rear/Sub RCA outputs at 5.0V, Four RCA camera inputs and RCA video out, rear USB-C on cord
- Reads MP3, WMA, WAV, AAC and FLAC audio files. Plays JPEG/BMP/PNG images and WMV and MPEG 1/2 /4 and H.264 video
Gadgeteer or Audiophile? Yes.
In-car sound quality fans can be as choosy and pernickety as home HiFi fans. Kenwood as a brand is known for having a major focus on sound quality as well as cute features. There was a 25th anniversary edition of Kenwood car radios that were hand-finished with special parts for true enthusiasts. So while this bristles with smarts, let’s just deal with the awesome audio quality first.
The RCA outputs used to send music off to amplifiers, run at a whopping 5 Volts. This is literally ten times the signal level that used to be seen as ‘normal’. It means that any noise is a much tinier part of the pie. That makes for music you can amplify without fear of clarity loss. Then there are three sets of these high-potency RCAs and the internal crossovers can use them all.
You have to be proper deliberate to get into three-way mode for the crossovers and they do have some limitations. Yet the capabilities are on a par with standalone crossovers. You can adjust the frequency point, then the slope and gain as well as even flip the phase on each driver. That’s serious control. If you want active two-way, then the system has built-in genius for that too. No super-expert needed. You choose the speaker size, kind of car and speaker location. There’s a choice of ten rear speaker sizes. You put in all that data using intuitive graphics on the screen. The digits then adjust crossover points and Digital Signal Process your location to focus the stereo image for you. Then, you can adjust the 13 band graphic EQ. Choose a factory curve or make your own and keep three.
You can build a simple four-corners speaker system or use the Kenwood DMX8021DABS as the beating heart of a super-system.
iPhone or Android? Yes.
In addition to fitting in skinny shallow-dash locations, the Kenwood DMX8021DABS is awesomely equipped to handle all phones. For these days, ANY physical medium is seen as old fashioned. There are lots of USB ‘stick’ and SD card slotted car head units about. These are still used in a time-honoured fashion where you record your favorites from your music collection to use in-car. It used to be Compact Cassettes and then CDs and even DVD-R discs. We have looked at plenty of semi-retro decks that will still spin everything.
But this is about the phone they know you own. And mostly about ‘YES’ being the answer as to if the head unit can play and read your files. The list is impressive. The Kenwood DMX8021DABS processors will recreate FLAC files and make them sing, no matter how intricate your music. The corded USB-C socket is the rapid 3.0 spec.
The major tale is not the mere ability to eat any file, it is how good it is with your phone. Do the totally idiot-proof Bluetooth pairing thing and the head unit will recognize your device and fire up Android Auto or Apple Car Play. These are politically serene for Kenwood and others, as the Android and iOS systems are responsible for making car-use-safe apps. This was once a nightmare of individual makers writing bad apps just for them. In my case, it came up with my RingGo parking app as well as others like Spotify. It uses internal WiFi to be able to do this wirelessly and even has the best dual band 2.4GHz/5GHz system meaning the highest speed and best sound quality so it will NOT lose grip. This is utterly class-leading.
The graphics are so pretty and easy to understand, that you will be paired and singing like a fool in no time.
Front or Rear Entertainment? Yes.
There are buckets of clever in this little shallow unit. One of the best of which is the two-headed thing. It can have two phones connected at the same time and it has dual zone output. This means you can take turns on the phone while junior is watching a film in the back seat. That will require a rear screen with wireless headphones. But the unit can do it. Not a new feature but it can be a boon with bored passengers on long journeys.
One new feature is all about kicking-out a pretty well-embedded OEM unit. Some cars have a secondary display for the radio in their dash binnacle. There is a special socket on the back of the DMX8021DABS for a loom to connect to these cars. The display of clock and radio details can be retained.
The radio is a top end FM unit as back up to the DAB+ tuner. These both bristle with features and will be way better than most OEM systems’ radios. Just make sure you fit a good quality antenna. They include a GPS antenna (and a microphone for the handsfree phone usage) but no DAB twig.
Then, there is screen-mirroring. That is when you can see what ever is one your phone screen, on your unit’s display. It works wirelessly for Android yet still needs a connection for iPhone on the DMX8021DABS. You must pay attention to the road, and the use of this is just like firing up YouTube while driving. A car maker can never allow you to buy a car that can thus distract you with TV images. However, an aftermarket accessory can put the responsibility back onto you. The responsibility not to watch and be distracted. Just part of the do-it-all capability of the unit.
These days we are now legally bound to take better care of lunatic cyclists. Likewise pedestrians looking at phones while they cross the road. So cameras in all directions are a help. You can use the Kenwood DRV-N520 dash cam and plug it into its own dedicated connector. This makes it fully integrated and you can even have reversing indicators showing on a non-Kenwood cam input. Darn clever, just like it was built into your car. So although aftermarket, the Kenwood DMX8021DABS can be deeply integrated into your ride. This can easily surpass whatever is in your dash and still keep all the OEM benefits.
An absolute tour-de-force from Kenwood. It had me lost in Spotify for an hour or two when I should have been writing this! Brilliant unit, hugely recommended in every possible way.