Our new Kenwood Car Radio … Awesome

Following the Blaupunkt Car Radio debacle, we decided to switch brands and get a Kenwood. I’ve always liked Kenwood gear, already having had a Kenwood hi-fi system that I lovingly called “The Monolith”, in that it was big and black and very very mean. So I don’t understand my reticence in getting a Kenwood from the outset when looking at car stereos.

We needed a car stereo that could play CDs and MP3s using CD-Rs and USB Mass Storage, such as a hard disk. We also wanted some form of handsfree functionality for my wife’s mobile phone. We opted for the Kenwood KDC-BT8041U from Car Audio Direct. Bizzarely, considering we spent upwards of £300 for the Blaupunkt equivalent, this package had all the features (and more) for half the price. We got DMC on Desmesne Road, Douglas to do the installation for us.

From the outset, this device has been impressive. The radio is excellent, and the Traffic Announcements work well (they never worked on either of the last two Blaupunkt’s we had). The CD player is responsive and sounds well enough (considering we’re using OEM speakers) and there is an AUX in. Usefully, the AUX in uses a standard 3.5mm jack, unlike the proprietory version on the Blaupunkt unit (which had to be disabled when used with the Bluetooth module, anyway). The USB has worked almost perfectly, too. For some reason, it does not like the hard disks we are giving it, but we suspect that is because the hard disks need more than the 500mA the USB connection is able to provide. Instead of looking at some hacky attempt to find the remaining 1000mA required via cigarette lighters, etc. we decided to switch tactics and use USB keys instead. This works brilliantly.

Oh… and it plays New Order!

The Bluetooth function is built into the unit, this time, which is really welcome as it operates as a combined unit and not as an extra. The phone pairing is fast and reliable. Calls are very clear and the user interface in using the phone/stereo when making/receiving calls is excellent. Some neat features are also supported, such as downloaded phonebooks, SMSs and phone status. What really impressed me on this is the support for Bluetooth Streaming Audio. After hooking up the phone, it is a breeze to play Podcasts and MP3s through the car’s stereo and it works very well. You can also switch between phones so one phone can handle calls, another phone can handle Audio streaming – though we haven’t yet used this feature.

Use of the device’s user interface is pleasurable. Unlike the Blaupunkt, the screen is responsive and there is tactile and auditory feedback provided. While using a device as complex as this via the limited controls available will always result in compromises for User Experience, Kenwood have done well to minimise issues. What I particularly like is navigating through large file directories using the control knob. It is fast to navigate between screens and if the data isn’t available to display, it is “filled in” asynchronously.

Unfortunately, the user manual isn’t that great, relying on mnemonics to identify features and when to those features are available. Also, the unit doesn’t support a Random mode across an entire USB device which sort of detracts from the point of having large amounts of audio files available.

Otherwise, though, highly recommended!

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