Sunday, October 19, 2008

Kenwood Excelon KDC-X991 car receiver review

When it comes time to look for a new CD receiver, there are a lot of models from which to choose and from a lot of different manufacturers. And you want to make sure you get what you need. After all, your receiver is the center of your car stereo system. For that, I look for a mix of quality, features, and reputation. After all, I expect good sound, need a lot of features, and expect my deck to stay out of the repair shop. With those criteria I tend to look towards Kenwood for my deck. The model I will be reviewing today is the KDC-X991.
The KDC-X991 has a plethora of features. Along with it being a competent CD player, it has a strong tuner that is HD Radio ready with RDS, has a 4096 color display that is customizable, is Satellite radio ready, Bluetooth ready, has multiple inputs with a USB input as well as an auxiliary input. The built-in amplifier is rated at 50x4, and can be turned off to help improve the sound quality if you are using external amplifiers. There are three 5v preouts for use of external amplifiers to give them a strong signal. It even has dual zone so you can have separate sources for front and rear. It also uses what is called ODD or Offset Dual Differential. This system uses dual D/A converters. With it, the digital signal processing is isolated and controlled separately for the front channel so the channel separation is greatly improved.
When it comes to sound control, you will be hard pressed to find another manufacturer that gives you more options to custom tailor your sound. Sound management on this deck is huge! There is a custom cabin setting where you tell your deck what size the cabin is (compact, full-size, wagon, minivan, SUV, etc), the locations of the speakers, the size of the speakers, and if they use a separate tweeter as well as the size of your subwoofer, and digital time alignment is also allowed where you put in the distance from you to the speakers. There is also a built in crossover network to control the high pass and slope separately for the fronts and the rears, as well as the phase for the sub. There is also a manual position setting where you can select where the focus is to be.
Kenwood also did not leave out equalization control, and again it is all customizable. For those who do not like to do a lot of tweaking, there are the presets for Natural, Rock, Pop, Easy. Top 40, Jazz, and User. For those who want more control, there is a separate 4 band equalizer for the front and rear channels, totally adjustable for the center frequency, q factor, and gain for each band. For example for band 1 you can choose from 60/80/100/120/160/200 Hz, q factor (height of the slope) of .25/.50/1.00/2.00, as well as the gain of the band of -9/-7/-5/-3/-2/-1/0/+1/+2/+3/+5/+7/+9. If that were not enough, there is also the SRS Wow HD. I really like the Focus effect. My front door speakers are down low in the doors, and the SRS Focus helped the speakers sound as if they were much higher in the doors.
The graphic display also has multiple options to choose how you want your display to look, as well as in what color. There are display types A through E, and some gives you more information than others. You can download different short little movie clips or wallpapers. I really like the spectrum analyzer. There is also the option for a G-Analyzer display for a stopwatch, horsepower analysis, and g-force. With the display type I chose, I get the spectrum analyzer as well as the song title info. The display has 4096 colors. Even though I have seen other decks with higher resolution, it does look good, is well lit, and the angle is adjustable if you need to.
While there are some features of the deck that I do not use, such as the G-Analyzer, or the external Kenwood amplifier control (since my external amps are not Kenwood’s), I do use the majority of the features and love them! The deck almost feels like my home theater receiver when I scroll through all the input options (Standby, HD Radio, CD, Internal Memory, USB, and Auxiliary). The CD transport works great. I love the RDS radio info (station name and song title). With the external tuner, HD Radio sounds awesome. The deck can also handle satellite radio, but with my HD Radio tuner (and HD Radio being free) I have not felt the need for it.
Hooking up my Samsung 2GB MP3 player to it thru the USB connector was very simple. Once connected, it started to read the info on my player. I was glad to see the deck was able to play the songs as well as show the ID Tag info with the song title. There did appear to be a small glitch which I am chalking up to a slight incompatibility issue with my Samsung MP3 player and the deck. While it would play songs and show the song info on the decks display, I could not fast forward and skip songs. I would have to listen to them in the order they are stored in my MP3 player. If I switch inputs to say my CD player, and then go back to the USB connection later, it plays the song we left off at.
One of the new features on this deck compared with last year’s KDC-X990 is the internal memory. It has 512MB of internal memory that you can transfer songs from either a cd or your mp3 player to. You can instantly have access to your favorite songs without needing the disk or having your mp3 player connected. You select the record quality (higher quality takes up more space), and type in the song title. Additional changes from last year’s KDC-X990 are the addition of SRS WOW HD (improved from last year’s SRS WOW), the USB input, and SP Supreme. And while it does not say it on the box, according to Kenwood it is also Bluetooth ready. As an audiophile, new models coming out is always concerning, especially when you have a great sounding unit like the KDC-X990 up to be replaced. New models are constantly replacing the old ones. And as an audiophile, I was concerned that changes would be made to the new model (such as eliminating the ODD) so the sound quality is not quite as good. When I pulled out the KDC-990 to make way for the KDC-X991, I was glad to hear that this was not the case. The sounds that I heard were just as they were intended. When I listened to Manheim Steamroller, it was very crisp and clean. Vocals were very natural sounding and smooth. I have heard some say a particular manufacturer will be a tad bright, or maybe a bit warm sounding. I thought the deck was rather neutral.
I have had decks from Alpine, Pioneer, and Kenwood. I started off with Alpine, went to a Kenwood, and then went to Pioneer and am now back to Kenwood. The KDC-X991 is my 4th Kenwood Excelon deck since I went back to Kenwood and I love them. I love the features, such as the add-on HD tuner, and the sound is amazing! And the built-in internal memory is something I have not heard any other manufacturer having. I LIKE IT! Well deserved kudos goes to Kenwood for an excellent sounding product. If you like a lot of features and the ability to customize your sound, I would highly recommend giving Kenwood a look. I for one have not been disappointed I did. The features and specs touched on here are just a few. For complete specs, feel free to check out Kenwood’s website at