CD decks still come in a variety of quality levels and abilities. As I’ll go on to describe in this Kenwood KDC-BT960DAB review, this one is as good as car units get. A three-beam optical pickup, with 8x oversampling filter. It is rapid to load and read and it will work with CD-R and RW re-writable discs. The CD firmware has its own MP3/WMA/AAC decoders built-in, so you can even lay down M4A, AAC and FLAC files on a CD and it will play them. If you want the disc to carry files as against 44.1kHz CD music, you are best off using MP3, though. A CD “only” holds 650MB of data, so large FLAC files are better stored on a big-Gigabyte USB.

One sweet feature of this unit was that you get a DAB antenna included for installing inside the car. This isn’t an ugly carbuncle but rather neat. Only one small part protrudes. The rest is on self-adhesive membranes. One section goes over metal to act as ground plane, the rest extends along the glass. Mine plugged in and worked perfectly, so I didn’t unpack and broach theirs. Good to see though, even if, like nearly all the others, Kenwood don’t provide a case for the removable face.

The cosmetics make you feel that you have a slice of retro-tech become modern. Yep, it’s CD but the control and whizzy features are bang up to date. The crossovers can be set from the display but if you get the Kenwood Remote App, there’s full GUI control. The app does have some rugged reviews and I have had problems with apps myself. Not minor ones, but huge ones, like Spotify. Everyone dislikes struggling with apps!

RRP: £189.99. Buy it here. (Not available in the US, try the KDC-X705 instead, RRP: $189.99)


Setup and operation

Even when grooving, the KDC-BT960DAB didn’t get any warmer than any of the others tested, at around 50ºC maximum. There’s a nice fat heatsink on the back. The ISO plugs are on the end of a wire loom, as seen on the more full-up units. They leave more room inside the chassis, as the Japanese style multi-wire plug socket is smaller.

The USB and Aux sockets are behind the same smoked transparent plastic door that opens. Unlike, say, the Caliber with covers that pop off then dangle, or opening-up doors on others. The SONY USB cover slides and is kind of smart but this is so pretty with the USB getting its own super bright surround illumination. The smoke-tint matches the rest of the front panel with its thick see-through layer.

CD being inserted into KENWOOD KDC-BT960DAB

I plugged all the holes full. Both aerials, the USB and the AUX. I went and fetched my test CDs that had been laying around and I had to take a flannel to them. The Stanton Warriors disc was labelled with a sticker that was going nasty. Track one is the sounds of a bloke getting in his car and turning on his car radio. We hear the presenter referring to the Stanton Warriors being back and he urges us to turn it up. If you have that loud enough to hear it clearly, you are in for a treat. At the instant the contents list shows track 2, it goes from ‘background’ to feature at 12dB louder. That’s sixteen times louder and is clear and huge and cool (and deeply profane!) and I loved it.

The best possible thing that can happen to a reviewer when reviewing, happened. I lost all sense of purpose and absolutely indulged myself, playing my own DJ. I spun that disc and repeated…

 KENWOOD KDC-BT960DAB EQ adjustment

How well does it work?

After all the digital cleverness and features, the real deal about KDC-BT960DAB, is the quality of the RCA’s output amps. They are stonkers and offer up to 5V RMS of signal. This is immense. The power of processors has become stronger over the years and prices get cheaper. The inner processing in many head units today would once have been the domain of two separate boxes of electronics. The active crossover barely exists any more in car audio as most are digital domain.

The EQ in KDC-BT960DAB doesn’t just have the frequency band adjust, you can also change the Q-factor or “Quality Factor”. It means how spiky or soft and rounded your frequency curve is as you tweak it. Lift the 60Hz a bit and the frequencies above and below it are affected. A wider Q-factor makes the curve smoother. You need to be careful, as it adds more music energy requirement to your amps. I ran two £350-each 31-band analogue AudioControl EQT equalisers.

KENWOOD KDC-BT960DAB subwoofer control

The Digital Signal Processing in these decks has been impressive. But the 960 shows efforts made to get full use of it. Those three sets RCA outputs – Front, Rear and Subwoofer are Brobdignaggian. The subwoofer gets special controls of its own. And they can also be set up as HPF/Bandpass/LPF three-ways.

How about a three-way set of Morel Elate Carbon 93 for £2600? You can feed a Zapco Z-150.6AP amp. Six channels, £1,600 and nothing but a gain control for each channel. Feed it with FLAC 32 in full phatness. You will need an A-pillar install at a place like Oxford Car Audio, with gifted artisans, too.

If you want to make a really big system, this is an awesome deck to start it with.

Tech Specs:

  • 1-DIN CD Tuner with DAB+, FM, AM, 1.5A USB (2.0 high speed), Aux, Bluetooth (V4.2) streaming and calls
  • 0V Front, Rear, Subwoofer high power RCA outputs, configurable as three-way active crossover
  • DSP with Time Alignment & 13-Band, 8-presets EQ, works with Kenwood Remote App
  • Plays CD, CD-R/RW, MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV and FLAC files from USB and CD
  • Customisable RGB backlight to match car display or leave rainbow-scrolling
  • DAB antenna and microphone included, made for iPod/iPhone

For alternate options, check out our single-DIN car stereo group test.