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

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MSRP: $300.00

The Good The Pioneer DEH-X9500BHS CD receiver features standard CD/AM/FM sources, and also decodes HD Radio out of the box. Smartphone users gain access to Bluetooth calling and audio, USB/iPod connections, and Pandora Internet radio.

The Bad The App Mode isn't well-documented and many of the compatible apps didn't work during our testing. Mixtrax mode is a bit obnoxious.

The Bottom Line The Pioneer DEH-X9500BHS packs in a remarkably wide range of audio sources for a single-DIN receiver, including some rudimentary app integration.

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8.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9

The largest number in the current lineup of Pioneer Electronics' DEH CD receivers is 9500, which means that the DEH-X9500BHS is the top of the line, but there is more information that can be gleaned from the model name. The X designates that Mixtrax functionality (more about that later) is, for better or worse, baked in, B is for Bluetooth connectivity, H is for the HD Radio tuner, and S indicates that the DEH-X9500BHS is SiriusXM Satellite Radio-ready.

What's in the box?
The DEH-X9500BHS CD receiver comes with a remote control, a USB extension cable, a microphone for hands-free calling, a wiring harness, and an assortment of screws.

The DEH-X9500BHS sticks to the standard single-DIN car stereo form, which should make it easy to install with minimal modification of your vehicle, but you won't see most of the unit's metal chassis once the CD receiver has been installed in your dashboard. Instead, all that you'll see are the glossy black faceplate, a dot-matrix display, and the unit's controls.

The faceplate has a flip-down design, swinging out of the way at the touch of a button to reveal the CD slot. This design frees up space on the faceplate for larger buttons and more display space and makes it easier to remove the entire faceplate for security. The DEH-X9500BHS is split approximately in half, with zones dedicated to display and controls.

In the box
Here's everything that you'll find inside the DEH-X9500BHS' box. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The left half of the faceplate is what I'm calling the control zone. Here is where you'll find the buttons, knobs, and levers that you'll need to access your tunes. The central control knob is used to adjust the volume or scroll between options, depending on whether you're on the Now Playing screen or in a menu. The control knob can also be pushed like a button to access the settings menu and make selections. Sharing an axis with the control knob is a skip lever that can also be twisted to skip between tracks, tune radio stations, and perform other tasks.

detached faceplate
The DEH-X9500BHS' faceplate is removable for security. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Surrounding this control knob and lever assembly is a bank of buttons. Moving clockwise from the 10 o'clock position are the Source selection button (which doubles as a power button on a long press), a Back button used when navigating menus, a Search button that initiates media browsing, the Mix button that starts Mixtrax mixing (we really will come back to that), a Band selection button, and a Phone button. To the right of this bank are two small Up and Down arrow buttons and in the far upper right corner is the Open button that causes the faceplate to flip downward.

DEH-X9500BHS controls
The physical controls are all gathered on the left half of the faceplate. Antuan Goodwin

The right half is the display zone, where you'll find the dot-matrix backlit LCD. Up to three lines of text can be displayed on the 192x48-pixel display at a time, as well as icons, larger text, or graphics as needed. The entire display features variable-illumination color and users can set the color of the display and control backlight independently or lock them together on the same uniform color. Pioneer claims that 210,000 colors are available. Thirty of those colors are easily accessible in the menu, with colorful names such as coral, lime, iceberg, and pear. The other 209,970 colors can be set and chosen manually by inputting an RGB value in a custom color option buried in one of the menus. For those who can't make decisions, the display can also be set to cycle smoothly between the preset colors.

The included IR remote control has dedicated buttons that mirror the unit's volume control, band selection, skip forward and back, up and down buttons, selection, answer and end calls, source selection, and display functions. In addition, the remote has buttons for pause and mute, actions that I wasn't able to carry out with the buttons on the DEH-X9500BHS' faceplate. I'm not a huge fan of remote controls -- I'm never that far from the driver's seat -- but for some the controller should be a welcome addition.

IR remote control
The IR remote control can perform a few tasks the face buttons can't. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Basic CD/AM/FM radio/HD Radio, auxiliary input
The DEH-X9500BHS features a remarkably wide array of audio sources for a single-DIN unit. At the core of these audio sources are the basics of car audio.

Behind the flip-down faceplate, you'll find the unit's CD slot, which can handle store-bought discs and home-burned CD-R and -RW media with standard Red Book audio or burned with MP3, WMA, and WAV digital files.

CD slot
The CD slot hides behind the fold-down faceplate. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

An AM/FM tuner with RDS text display is also present, but the DEH-X9500BHS is also able to decode HD Radio broadcasts right out of the box. Tuned-in HD Radio stations benefit from increased audio quality and the X9500 can also tune in HD substations for broadcasters who enable it and iTunes Tag songs being broadcast with metadata to a connected iPhone or iPod for later purchase.

At the far right edge of the faceplate, near the end of the display, you'll find a 3.5mm analog auxiliary input.

Bluetooth connectivity
The DEH-X9500BHS is a particularly good receiver for smartphone and feature phone users thanks to its inclusion of Bluetooth wireless connectivity out of the box. The stereo pairs quickly, with almost no interaction required on the receiver side -- simply find the device in your phone's Bluetooth menu, initialize the pairing there, and verify that the PIN displayed on your phone matches the one displayed on the DEH-X9500BHS' screen.

Upon pairing with a phone, the DEH-X9500BHS will sync the handset's contacts and missed, dialed, and received calls, giving the user access to all of this information from the Phone menu and control knob. Audio quality of incoming calls will vary depending on where you mount the included microphone and the quality of your car's speakers and acoustics, but I found that calls made from CNET's 2007 Chevrolet Aveo test car -- possibly the worst audio case scenario from a speaker and road noise perspective -- sounded acceptable and clear. I've no doubt that most other drivers will be pleased.

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.