Sunday, December 13, 2020

Kenwood Excelon Reference DNX997XR GPS Navigation System Review

When it comes to car stereo receivers, there are a lot of quality options. If you want a high-quality receiver that has great features, look to Kenwood. And if you want top-of-the-line features and a big bang for the buck, look at Kenwood’s Excelon Reference Series. Up for review today is their DNX997XR. It’s their top-of-the-line DVD Receiver with built in GPS, and it’s a powerhouse! Check out it’s loaded specs.


Features and specs:

6.8" High Definition Monitor with Capacitive Touch Panel

Android Auto™ & Android Auto™ Wireless

Wired and Wireless Apple CarPlay™

High-Resolution Audio Wireless

Wireless Mirroring for Android

USB Mirroring for iPhone and Android

4 Camera Inputs / HD Rear Camera Ready

Built-in Bluetooth, HD Radio & WiFi

3 Preouts 5V

Garmin Navigation with 3D Terrain View


Capacitive Touch Panel:

Clear glass display with swipe functionality that provides superior picture and touch panel control.

Customizable Multi Widget:

Customize your Home Screen by selecting four shortcut/ information widgets. Widget options can include album art, clock, compass, photo frame, visualizer, and more.

Wireless Mirroring for Android:

Solution for seamlessly displaying and controlling your smartphone apps on a screen without cables on select Android devices.

USB Mirroring:

USB Mirroring via USB for iPhone & Android, 2-way Touch Control for Android.

4 Camera Inputs:

Optional camera connection method for up to 4 cameras in various configurations.

HD Rear Camera Input:

HD Rear Camera (CMOS-740HD) can be connected for High Definition viewing.

Parking Guide Lines:

Parking guide lines (requires installation of compatible backup camera) that enhance the effectiveness of a backup camera.

Dash Cam Link:

Dash Camera (DRV-N520) can be controlled and viewed from the touchscreen.

3 Years Map Care:

KENWOOD offers 3 years map updates enabling you to keep up to date. Download the latest maps online to an SD card and insert to your navigation system.

Lane Assist:

Lane Assist guides you to the correct lane for an approaching turn or exit, making unfamiliar intersections and exits easy to navigate.

Photo Real Junction View:

Garmin Photo Real Junction View shows what complex interchanges look like before you arrive.

3D Terrain View:

Garmin navigation feature that displays 3D map contours, providing realistic terrain perspectives.

Dual Phone Connection:

While you are connected through Bluetooth, with a touch of a button you can switch between two phones.

High Quality Sound Parts:

High quality sound parts (custom-made or carefully selected capacitor, etc) are adopted to provide superior sound quality.

The Kenwood DNX997XR came in a great looking color printed box. Opening the box revealed a well-protected receiver held in place by custom molded Styrofoam. Unwrapping the plastic, showed a well-made receiver, made mostly of metal with some plastic on the front. Quality of materials used, as well as the fit and finish, was excellent. All of the rear connectors were very solid. Also included was all of the connectors, keys and instructions. This is their top-of-the-line model, and it showed.


It starts with the display and you won’t find a better one than the HD display found on the DNX997XR. In fact, good luck finding a display this good on a receiver from any other manufacturer. The HD 1280x720 pixel resolution display is nothing short of breathtaking! So not only will your DVD’s look good, you can even load some HD movies on a flash drive. The eye candy will have you smiling from ear to ear.


The Kenwood DNX997XR is so loaded with so many sources available, it’s a car receiver that reminds me of a home receiver, where there are so many connection options. Thanks to the optional steering wheel adapter, I was even able to get the use of all of my steering wheel controls. Very nice!  In-fact, it doesn’t matter what content you want to watch or listen to, DVD or CD check. AM/FM, even HD radio, check. Flash drive or SD card for audio and also video, also check. You are also covered with audio services such as Sirius XM, and through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you also have access to your streaming services, such as Spotify and Pandora. You can use the dual USB connectors for your flash drive content. Apple Car Play and Android Auto can be used wirelessly through wi-fi. Whatever your content, enjoy it while you’re on the go. There’s even wireless mirroring for Android, and True Mirroring through USB connection for both iPhone and Android and 2-way touch control for Android.


The Kenwood DNX997XR also has you covered for use by multiple users. There is Dual Phone Connection. Being connected through Bluetooth you can easily switch from one phone to another. So while I may have my phone connected, my wife could switch to hers. There’s also Kenwood Music Mix, which allows you to connect up to 5 Bluetooth devices. This means that if we’re going somewhere as a family, the kids can turn on some music from their phones.


If you’re familiar with Kenwood, then you’re probably familiar with some of their traditional audio features. These include built-in crossovers, 13 band EQ, and even time alignment. Amazingly, the crossover can even handle a 3-way component system! There is also an arsenal for different sound controls with Bass Boost, Loudness, Drive Equalizer +, Space Enhancer, Supreme, Realizer, Stage EQ, and Front Focus. Additionally, there is zone control. All of this helps you get the best sound and functionality based on your system, vehicle and sound performances of course this functionality lets the family enjoy their content as well!


Now that we know that the Kenwood DNX997XR has all the features anyone could possibly want in a car receiver, let’s see how it all comes together. The HD display is gorgeous. Whether you are just listening to the radio, or following the map for the GPS, or watching a movie, the image is always stunning! Going through the settings for the initial setup for the crossovers and other settings was very simple and intuitive. And working with the widgets to customize the look of the display was really cool.  I like the weather one.


Programming in my favorite radio stations was equally very simple. While radio performance is typically nothing to get too excited about, the DNX997XR performed very well. I love the HD radio! Both regular AM/FM radio sounded as well as expected. And the built-in antenna did a good job of pulling in the signal. It was the HD Radio however that’s the game changer. HD Radio did sound so much better with CD quality sound.


The CD/DVD transport similarly performed in spades. It’s nothing to get too excited over. It’s a standard feature, found on almost all receivers. CD/DVD transport is an important feature. As expected, the transport performed great, with CD’s and DVD’s.


One of the more exciting features for me was the Hi-Res audio, especially wireless Hi-Res audio. I was able to connect my LG V40 ThinQ wirelessly, and listen to my Amazon Music HD service. Not only did the display show the song info, but it sounded oh so good! And here is where the Kenwood DNX997XR really shines. The XR Reference series uses the best internal components. Listening to my favorite tracks that I have heard a thousand times, I was impressed with the sound I heard. The receiver proved to be extremely transparent, yielding the same sound that my favorite tracks are supposed to have. I have the best top of the line components in my reference system, that features German Maestro’s best 3-way components in the front, Alpine Type-X components in the rear, Image Dynamic subs and Audio Control DSP/Crossovers for a fully active system. With best of the best components, I had high expectations for the DNX997XR and hi-res audio. And it had me grinning ear to ear. Let’s see how it sounded.


Electric Light Orchestra- Mr. Blue Sky

               Drums had excellent dynamics and extra definition. Cymbal was really crisp and clean, being able to hear the impact of the stick on the cymbal. And what sounded like cowbells but was actually beating against the iconic fire extinguisher had good impact, depth to the sound, and pitch definition. The violin and cello were smoother than honey being able to hear the bow going across the strings. Vocals were also extremely smooth with excellent texture and timbre. But what really took my breath away was the wide and deep soundstage that came through that seemed to be coming out all across my windshield and even my hood!


Tonto- Africa

               Kick drum right off the bat had excellent fullness of the depth and authority. Cymbals were extremely crisp and clean, being able to hear the strike of every impact. Vocals had excellent harmonics, really showing the resolution of the timbre with great texture that was silky smooth. The recorder was similarly smooth like honey, with excellent air! They apparently had a full percussion section as not only did the cow bell come out loud and clear, the congas also had excellent full resolution of the pad and the marimba even had great definition from the wood for its tone, and the decay of the gong coming through loud and clear. Piano sounded very natural. And this was an excellent example of providing a huge soundstage that was wide and deep. There were a lot of different instruments, but they all came through clearly. I felt like I was right there in the recording studio with the artists, yet I kept getting pulled away by visions of being on the African plain.


Queen- Bohemian Rhapsody

               This track really showcased the soundstage, with the precise imaging of the vocals across various locations of my windshield. The layers and layers of resolution of timbre and texture of the vocals gave harmonics that were such aural bliss it was off the charts. The highlight of this track was the quality of Freddy Mercury and the vocals of his fellow artists. But the other instruments also came through equally well. The piano sounded very natural with the striking of the strings. Cymbals were crisp and clean. Drums had great depth and played with authority. And the decay of the gong after being struck came through beautifully. Listening brought back memories of the movie Bohemian Rhapsody. I felt like I was right there with the band during the recording.


I listened to multiple of other tracks as well. And the same theme came through – a sound that was transparent to the source material, with a huge soundstage. I had never heard that depth of soundstage before with Guns and Roses: Paradise City! Sure a lot of this is a tribute to my reference gear, but truth is, it all starts with a quality source unit/receiver. Kenwood had always done a great job with their Excelon Series. But they truly elevated their game with their fairly new Reference Series and need to take a bow for it. They did an impeccable job with the execution of hi-res audio, even wirelessly! If you haven’t jumped onto hi-res audio, you must! So Delicious!!


The execution also continued with the Android Audio and Android audio wireless. I’m the one who mostly drives my truck. But sometimes my wife does, and sometimes we’re together. And there are times when the teenagers also join us. So being able to connect multiple android devises for music, or mirroring really came in handy.


I also can’t forget about the built-in Garmin Navigation. I loved the 3D terrain view feature. The line assist and Photo Real Junction View really came in handy when there are a bunch of lanes in the interchange along with the voice prompts, to keep you or get you in the correct lane, really came in handy in multiple occasions. The split screen view for half map and half music controls/display was awesome as well. Kenwood did a great job integrating Garmin with the receiver. And I never had any problems with Garmin not getting me to the right place. It’s easy to think that a car radio with navigation is no longer necessary thanks to our cell phones. But the truth is, it’s so much safer!


Kenwood did a phenomenal job with the DNX997XR! Thanks to its transparency and quality of execution of hi-res audio, whether you have a $500 or $10,000 system in your vehicle, you will get every ounce of quality your system is able to deliver. There is so much usability with its other features as well, the DNX997XR is designed for everyone. Based on its design, features, quality and performance, the Kenwood Excelon Reference DNX997XR GPS Navigation System has easily earned our Editor’s Choice Award. The $1299 MSRP isn’t cheap, but is worth every penny.  If you have the means, don’t just walk, run to get one. The eye and ear candy are off the charts. For more info and complete specs, check out their website at  Reference gear: AudioControl DM-810, AudioControl In-Dash Epicenter, JL Audio XD600/6 Class D amp, Vibe Audio LiteBox Stereo4 Class GH amp, Massive Audio Nano BLU BL1 Class D amp, German Maestro M-Line 3-way components, Alpine Type-X 2-way components, Image Dynamics subs.