The new Kenwood KDC-HD942U ($299.00 USD) is a single DIN chassis CD/MP3 Receiver that provides connectivity for your iPod, and includes a built-in HD Radio tuner. With the optional KCA-BT200 Bluetooth adapter, the unit will also allow you to make and receive hands free calls from your radio. With the HD Radio tuner you can enjoy almost CD quality sound from your tuner, and the best part is there are no subscription fees! AM radio sounds better as well, and because HD Radio offers multicasting, (which means there are multiple channels on each frequency) you have even more listening choices. If you have not yet experienced HD Radio, you should. Not only is the sound quality very good, but there are other benefits as well. For example, when your iPod is connected to the Kenwood KDC-HD942U you can “tag” songs heard on the HD broadcasts. Then, when you sync your iPod to your computer, iTunes automatically looks up all the songs you tagged, so you can decide if you want to buy them. This is a very handy feature if you are bad at remembering song titles or the names of new artists.
While beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, the Kenwood KDC-HD942U is a good looking unit, with a very easy to read high resolution dot matrix display, between two traditional looking round knobs. The clean and uncluttered faceplate reminds me of an old school twin-shaft style radio, which is maybe why I liked the way it looked. Most of the controls and functions are accessed via one of these round knobs. The left knob is a 3-way control which accesses and controls the audio related functions and adjustments. The 7-way right hand “wobble knob” provides control over other menu driven items like system setup, track changing and searching. I liked the available choices for the display set. You can select between a 4 or 5 line display, change the LCD from positive to negative, or simply just display a big clock if you prefer. The look of the display is simple to customize and easy to read once your selections are made. There are 10 different illumination colors, which are also very user-friendly, you can even have different areas of the faceplate be different colors, or have the brightness change with the music!
The ergonomics are thoughtfully laid out, but there are so many adjustment capabilities in so many different menus and levels, you’ll absolutely need the owner’s manual the first time or two. Thankfully, Kenwood has seen fit to include a printed manual with the unit, and not stick everything on a CD and make you print it yourself.
The faceplate is a fold down detachable design, and operates smoothly and easily, which is good, because it needs to be folded down to insert or eject a CD. Behind the faceplate is a flashing red LED that can be turned on to warn away potential thieves, or, if you prefer not to have the LED flashing, the function is defeatable. Additional security comes in the form of a 4-digit security code which is needed to re-activate the product once constant power has been removed from the unit.
Eighteen FM station presets are available as well as six more for AM stations, but there are no preset buttons on the faceplate. You can either select them using the right hand knob, or you can access them directly via the nicely designed IR remote controh which is included.
A powerful DSP processor (which can be bypassed for the purists out there) provides a plethora of control and adjustment functions. A look through the various menus allows easy setup of basic crossover points, preset equalization curves, listener position control, and other functions. There is also a “Highway Sound” setting that can compensate for sound lost in typical road noise, and you can select from 3 different levels of compensation. As is common on most modern radios, there is also a control to compensate for differences in various sources volumes.
If you’re like me and prefer to make your own adjustments, you can select from 9 crossover frequencies for the front and rear channels, and 13 frequencies for the subwoofer outputs, at -12dB/oct. The equalizer section provides adjustment of up to 13 bands, with selectable “Q”, as well as amplitude adjustment of -9 to +9dB for each frequency.
If you still want to tweak your sound even more, there is also digitally controlled “time alignment” adjustability so you can delay the sounds from speakers nearest you to alter the arrival times to coincide for better stereo imaging. But neophytes take noten when you have this much adjustability available, it’s a good idea to really know what you’re doing or your sound can get out of hand in a hurry. As always, if you’re not sure, it’s a good idea to find a qualified pro to give you a hand getting your setup dialed in.
The KDC-HD942U provides an advertised 4 volts for each of the 3 pairs of RCA outputs, and the subwoofer channel has a separate level control to dial in the amount of bass you want. If you are still working on building up your system, tht built-in four channel amplifier is good for about 17 watts to each channel, which will easily get you down the road until the budget allows for external amps. If you need even more choices for listening material, the Kenwood is compatible with the optional Sirius satellite radio tuners, and PAC steering wheel control interfaces, and comes with a 3.5mm mini jack on the rear of the chassis for Aux input signals.
If you need to entertain rear seat passengers, the KDC-HD942U also provides the ability to output the main source to the front channels, while the auxiliary source is sent to the rear channels.
Read on for the Results
With a radio like this, there are so many features and different adjustments and settings it can be difficult to get focused on simply listening to it, because you’re always tempted to play with all the controls and adjustments. Suffice to say, the Kenwood KDC-HD942U provides extensive sound tuning and control functionality, to the point where I should caution you again, if you aren’t an experienced tuner, you should probably get professional help to get the most out of the unit. But for most of my listening evaluation, I simply bypassed all the adjustments and toys and concentrated on the sonics. And I have to say, the Kenwood is a very good sounding unit, regardless of the source you choose. The tuner pulled in all my favorite stations easily, as well as the available HD channels, and displayed the info on the LCD clearly.
Thanks at least in part to the 24 Bit D/A converter / convertor onboard, when listening to a standard CD, the sound was very natural and uncolored, with no audible noise. Bass response was full, deep and powerful, while details in the highest frequencies were distinct and easily identified, but not at all harsh or hard sounding. Listening to the Cowboy Junkies “Trinity Sessions” and Robbie Robertson’s self titled album, I thought there was a very good sense of space, the vocals were clear and natural sounding, and noted the stereo separation was excellent as well. Switching to my iPod and some high resolution MP3’s, the results were pretty much the same as the CD section. The Kenwood’s sonics were top notch, and I found absolutely nothing to gripe about. iPod control of track search and selection was reasonably fast using the rotary knob, and you can also search quickly by letter. For those of you with passengers who want to play DJ, the KDC-HD942U can also allow the iPod to be used as the controller. The right hand control “wobble knob” has up/down, left/right, rotary, and center press functions, and while it works fine, it did take a bit of practice to get the center press function to work without accidentally getting one of the other directions.
Another nice feature worth mentioning is the subwoofer level control. One press of the volume button, and you’re there, and all you have to do is turn the knob. No multi-level menus, no need to press more than one button, just easy and logical. When a control is used as frequently as this is, I’ll never understand why some head units make you go through several steps to get there. Other brands could take a real lesson from the Kenwood here.
On the Bench
With my listening completed, I moved into the lab and went through the usual battery of tests and measurements. What I found basically supported my earlier impressions, the Kenwood unit is a good performing product, in pretty much all aspects. I measured 3.9 volts of actual usable output, and the frequency response measured nice and flat as well. Interestingly, the response curve was slightly flatter when the DSP was bypassed, but the differences were minor and would be almost impossible to hear. Signal to noise of the pre-outs was a quiet -87.6dBA at full output. The only spec that could have been a bit better was the output impedance, which measured average at 250 ohms. But all in all, the Kenwood is a very good performer, and would be an excellent choice for any high end system.
f it seems like head unit advancements and the continuous progress of technology is passing you by, you’re not alone. These days we can have so much capability in the radios of our cars it can be almost dizzying at times. With the likes of iPod connectivity, hands-free, bluetooth, voice activated controls, choices of HD and satellite radio formats, voice guided GPS navigation, internet connectivity, multiple audio zones, even full video and Dolby surround, it can be really difficult to know what to look for when it comes time to choose a new head unit. For some of us, only the most expensive and fully featured products will do, but for many others, all we really need is a good performing product, and a few of the more useful conveniences. If what you need is simply a new high quality head unit to take you into the technology of the 21st century, the folks at Kenwood may have just what you’re looking for