Pioneer DEH-X9500BHS review: An annoying DJ lives inside this great car stereo

Phone menu
The DEH-X9500BHS is able to handle hands-free calling and Bluetooth audio streaming. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

When connected to a device that supports A2DP stereo audio streaming, the DEH-X9500BHS will play back audio from whatever music, streaming, podcast, or audio app your phone can use. The unit is able to send rudimentary Play, Pause, and Skip controls to the connected device. When streaming audio from my Samsung Galaxy Nexus' stock music app, I didn't see any metadata on the LCD. When tested with an iPod Touch, however, Bluetooth metadata was consistently displayed.

When in the Bluetooth mode, pressing and holding the control knob initializes the Voice Control mode, cuing up Siri or Voice Search for iPhone or Google Voice Search or a third-party voice search app on Android. Presumably, this will work with any phone's voice command system, but I was unable to test with Windows Phone, BlackBerry, or feature phones.

2x USB ports
Like any audio receiver that's worth its place in your dashboard, the DEH-X9500BHS has USB connectivity. In fact, it's got two USB ports on its rear panel.

USB ports
USB ports aren't uncommon in car stereos, but this Pioneer has two. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

You can connect a portable USB mass storage device via either of these ports to gain access to the digital audio stored within. MP3, WMA, WAV, and iTunes AAC formats are supported and you can find these files by browsing a folder hierarchy or by artist, album, genre, and so on.

The DEH-X9500BHS is a Made for iPhone device and allows users to access audio media stored on an iPhone or iPod device. Tracks can be organized by song, artist, or album name, or in a variety of other categories such as composer, genre, podcasts, or audiobooks. The X9500 is iPhone 5- and Lightning connector-friendly when you bring your own Lightning-to-USB adapter cable. For users of older Apple devices, Pioneer sells a CD-IU51 30-pin adapter.

With an iPod device connected, tapping the Mix button activates the Mixtrax functionality or, as I like to call it, the kinda-weird-sorta-annoying-virtual-DJ-mode. By default, this mode puts the DEH-X9500BHS' display into flashing, color-cycling mode and adds audio scratch, blending, and reverb effects to the song transitions in an effort to make your in-car audio experience feel more like a thumping party in a nightclub. I found the transitions to be odd and the flashing lights to be distracting. Mixtrax mode can be customized in a menu to disable the flashing and remove the more obnoxious song transitions, but I mostly steered clear of the mode entirely.

App connectivity for Android and iPhone/iPod Touch
The USB and Bluetooth connections also enable a rudimentary level of smartphone app connectivity for iPhone/iPod Touch and Android devices, respectively. The settings menu gives the choice between Bluetooth and USB app connections; simply select the mode that matches your handset of choice.

Pandora app mode
When connected to a phone running Pandora, the Pioneer receiver can take command of the app. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Pandora Internet Radio gets its own icon in the source selection menu, while the rest of the apps get lumped under an App Mode source. This is oddly appropriate, because Pandora is one of the only apps that I was able to get to work consistently via the DEH-X9500BT's interface. When the DEH-X9500BHS is connected to a smartphone running the Pandora app, users can tap the Search button to browse their preset Internet radio stations, view metadata for the currently playing track, skip the current song, and rate songs with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down with the up and down arrow keys.

While I didn't test every app available in Pioneer's list of App Mode-compatible apps, I did grab a few of the audio-centric iOS and Android apps and found that most of them didn't really work for me. Pioneer's own Mixtrax app for iOS, which automatically creates custom mixes and playlists, worked well enough. The recently added iHeartRadio app did not. Even when apps didn't work via App Mode, the backup of simple Bluetooth A2DP audio streaming did. However, that solution meant that I still had to interact with the handset for anything beyond basic play, pause, and skip.

Installation and upgradability
Spin the DEH-X9500BHS around before you shove it into your dashboard and you'll be greeted by the bank of available connections for installation and upgradability.

Moving from left to right, you'll find the pigtail for your car's AM/FM antenna, the two USB inputs, the SiriusXM Bus connection, the connection point for the wire harness, ports for the included microphone and optional steering-wheel remote, and three pairs of 4-volt RCA preamp outputs -- two that are full-range and one that is a low-pass subwoofer output.

Car stereos largely use a standard wire harness and the DEH-X9500BHS is no exception. The harness includes color-coded connections for power, ground, speaker level connections, illumination, and more. Those speaker level outputs are driven by a four-channel amp that pushes a maximum of 50 watts per channel.

The receiver is SiriusXM-ready, which means that you can add satellite radio reception to the X9500BHS with a one-cable connection to the SiriusXM SXV200V1 tuner. The SXV200V1 is a separate and additional purchase.

In sum
Phone users will appreciate the direct connection via USB, which eliminates the need for expensive adapters, and the App Mode connectivity (when it works). All smartphone and feature phone users will appreciate the Bluetooth hands-free and audio-streaming connectivity. Pandora radio integration worked flawlessly and was a pleasant surprise in the DEH-X9500's feature set.

Pioneer DEH-X9500BT
It's not without its flaws, but Pioneer's flagship CD receiver certainly does not disappoint. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The DEH-X9500BHS isn't without its flaws. The interface is a bit difficult to understand and required more digging through the instruction manual than I like for a single-DIN receiver. And Mixtrax mode is, in my opinion, rather obnoxious. However, its inclusion doesn't detract from the rest of the unit's functionality, so it doesn't detract from the rating.

At an MSRP of $300, the DEH X9500BHS packs a remarkably wide range of digital audio connections. All things considered, the Pioneer DEH-X9500BHS is a solid choice for a single-DIN car stereo.

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  • Type CD / MP3 player
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