| | 04-07-2009, 10:16 AM Thread Author #1
Review: Kenwood KDC-BT742U Car Stereo with built-in bluetooth
I'm a newer Blackberry user and I'm still discovering tons of possibilities with my device (AT&T Curve 8310.) Since my factory car stereo succumbed to the hazards of coin insertion (two year olds see coins and a slot, curiosity takes over) and wanted a better hands free solution. I didn't want another add-on device so while Parrot's handsfree accessories were feature-rich I liked the idea of an all-in one unit and decided what the heck, let's give it a go.
The receiver is a single DIN design (standard chassis size) and was a direct fit for my car, a 2003 Subaru Outback station wagon. I purchased point-of-sale and the shop soldered up a direct harness to go from my car's harness to the stereo. It took them 15 minutes and was worth every minute and the extra $20. The unit took about 30 minutes to install and a bit longer to setup. Setup wasn't super easy but the manual was pretty clear and the old principle of RTFM took a lot of the sting out of it. The bluetooth handsfree pairing can be initiated by either end. I initiated from the blackberry because it was easier than navigating the stereo's menu interface. Test calls (incoming and outgoing) were better than I expected. Everybody I talked to said it was clear on their end and sounded perfect on my end. The stereo auto-downloads the device address book and it's easy to dial from the head, but still easier to voice dial from the handset. Voice recignition dialling from the stereo is available, but it was cryptic to setup and and a pain to navigate to. I don't use it. Dialling from the stereo by address book entry or call log entry is much easier. Taking an incoming call is even easier still. When a call comes in, the stereo immediately beeps, attenuates and display's the caller's name or phone number on the stereo unit. The call is answered by pushing in the unit's main control button.
The unit functions nicely as a car stereo. Onboard amplifier provides 22 watts RMS x 4 channels (I'm using this), or offers 3 preamp outs (Front, Rear, Subwoofer) with built-in user configurable passover settings. It has front mounted inputs (1/8" mini-stereo and USB) and controls your USB-connected iPod via built-in controls that are easily the best I've seen yet, functioning almost exactly like the iPod's own control interface. The bluetooth handsfree was exactly what I hoped it would be and the stereo's best feature.
Overall, the stereo gets a 3.5 out of 5. Once setup, it's easy to use and has all of the features I was looking for without all of the additional devices stuck all over my dashboard.
Pros - The device has a truckload of pros, but some of the cons are potential dealbreakers. The pros are a great bluetooth handsfree that doesn't have to be spliced into your existing speaker wiring or remote interface, a very nice iPod direct control feature that also allows iPod control from your iPod if you prefer it. Kenwood mid-level quality stereo sound (not for audiophiles or purists, but a good replacement for a non-premium factory car stereo), and in my car's case, a pretty easy install. The USB port charges USB-charged deviced (Blackberry and iPod in this case) freeing up the car's 12v port for another device. The device is ready for Kenwood add-ons such as a CD changer, HD radio or satellite tuner or
Cons - The big cons here are a less-than-ideal control interface, and the biggest missing feature of all, the bluetooth audo cannot be used as an audio source for media player or radio application output. I found a way around it, but it's a pain to navigate to and doesn't sound nearly as good as it would if it were an actual selectable audio source. I am hoping this will be addressed by a firmware update. Tuner control is a pain and dialling directly to an interface is next to impossible. Frequency can be directly input via the unit's wireless remote control, but who wants to fumble with those while driving?
The device lists at Kenwood dealers for $219 but can be had for less via eBay or online sellers (Bizrate lists one seller as $173.95 with free shipping.) Here are links to Crutchfield's listing and to Kenwood's product detail. Additional accessories (wiring harness, dash mount adapters, professional installation) may add anywhere from $50 to $100 to the price of the unit (specialized install or install of addional components such as amplifier or speakers may cost more.)
ADDED: Kenwood emailed me stating that A2DP bluetooth audio should be available as an audio source. I'm still working on using A2DP audio as a source on the head (thread here at crackberry.com, dialogue with Kenwood)