Aftermarket multimedia receivers allow drivers to upgrade their ride with modern audio sources and technologies without having to buy a whole new car. But it's still easy to spend more than you might want on features you might not need, even before installation costs.
The Boss BVCP9685A is a simple receiver aimed at those users who are primarily interested in using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on the road -- smartphone streaming technologies that bring your favorite navigation maps and audio apps to the dashboard. The head unit packs a loadout of features you need (Bluetooth, phone and USB connectivity) and skips those you might not (who still carries around stacks of CDs?) at a price that makes it worth a closer look.
The BVCP9685A's display is a 6.75-inch, non-detachable unit rocking a modest 800x480-pixel resolution -- not quite HD, but on par with most of the competition at this price point. Stacked vertically on the screen's left flank, closest to the driver, is a bank of five buttons. From top to bottom, there's mute, volume up and down, a Siri/voice control button and a shortcut to the BVCP9685A's home screen. The buttons feature customizable illumination, allowing the user to toggle between six preset colors or a custom value using the onscreen menu.
Speaking of the menu, the Boss home interface is refreshingly simple. It's not the flashiest setup I've used, but I like the way the tile-based home screen places almost all of the receivers functions right there for the user to tap. The shallow structure meant that I almost never had to dig more than one or two taps into the menu structure to find what I was looking for, which is great for low-distraction operation.
The receiver doesn't boast the fastest boot-up time on the road, hanging on the Boss Audio splash screen for quite a while before dropping the user into the main menu. However, it's not unbearably long -- not much longer than it takes me to casually buckle up, settle in and double check my mirrors.
Behind the scenes, the BVCP9685A is powered by an internal amplifier boasting four-channels with 80 watts of peak power -- a decent amount of power to drive most 4-ohm OEM or aftermarket speakers -- and grants the user control over how their audio is presented with a 10 band equalizer with five presets. Owners who prefer to bring their own power to the party can connect the BVCP9685A to external amplification via its three, 2-volt stereo preamp audio outputs -- one front, one rear and a dedicated low-pass filtered subwoofer output.
In addition to the standard dual-DIN sized receiver itself, you'll find a dashboard trim ring, mounting hardware (eight bolts and two brackets), a wire harness with standardized color coding for power and speaker leads and an external hands-free microphone in the box with the BVCP9685A. No surprises here.
The BVCP9685A is what is known as a mech-less receiver, which means there is no optical drive for CD or DVD playback. Personally, I prefer mech-less designs, as the lack of moving parts means less bits to break and, in most cases, improved overall reliability. In addition to lacking an optical drive, the BVCP9685A also lacks a 3.5mm auxiliary input -- though, you could probably make use of its single RCA AV input with an adapter if you really wanted to avoid using Bluetooth.
Bluetooth and USB are the primary methods for connecting media to the BVCP9685A. The unit supports Bluetooth for audio streaming and hands-free calling via its included external microphone.
A closer look at the Boss BVCP9685A digital media receiverSee all photos
On the USB side of things, there are two connections for the user to choose from. One USB drive is a dedicated Android Auto or Apple CarPlay connection port. After plugging your phone into this port (you'll have to bring your own USB cable) and accepting the terms on the host phone (for the initial connection), the smartphone mirroring interface of your choice will take over the display allowing access to your maps and apps via touch.
The hardware voice button is referred to as the Siri button in Boss' materials, but I was able to call up either Siri or Google Assistant depending on which ecosystem was connected via USB. Regardless of which platform you owe allegiance to, a Boss Audio icon in the Android or Apple menu or the hardware Home button will bring the user back to the main interface.
I found it odd that the Boss menu features separate home screen tiles for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, despite the fact that you can't plug in two compatible devices simultaneously and so would only ever be able to pick one at a time. You'd think there'd be one tile that would switch between the technologies depending on what phone type is connected, but that's sort of an interface nitpick that doesn't at all affect the functionality of the menu.
The second USB port is for reading USB storage drives or charging an additional device. Connecting a FAT32 formatted external drive to this port allows the BVCP9685A to playback WAV or MP3 audio files; AVI, MKV or WMV video files (when parked) or JPG, PNG or BMP photos.
Accessories and upgrades
The receiver also features an onboard AM/FM radio tuner that supports displaying RDS (Radio Data System) metadata for broadcasts. There's no HD Radio tuning but, again, that's par for the course -- I'm not aware of any receivers at this price range that support HD Radio out of the box.
With the aid of add-on accessories, users can upgrade their BVCP9685A with steering wheel controls or a rear camera. The unit features a dedicated rear camera input and a reverse gear sensor lead on its main wire harness that connects up with most off-the-shelf rear cameras. The BVCP9685A's menus also allow the user to overlay and adjust static parking guide lines when displaying a rear camera view to aid in parking accuracy.
The price is right
The Boss Audio BVCP9658A carries an MSRP of $250 which is quite a bargain, especially if you can find it at a discount online retailer like Amazon or -- perhaps the best value if you can find it -- in a bundle that includes a license plate mounted rear camera. At this price point, the closest competition is the Sony XAV-AX1000 which has a slightly smaller display and only supports Apple CarPlay, making it a no-go for Android users.
Yes, there are small trade-offs with the Boss unit: The 6.75-inch screen isn't the sharpest that I've tested and the menu could use a few tweaks. But, for the money, the BVCP9658A certainly gets the job done -- especially for users who are primarily looking for the Android Auto or Apple CarPlay functionality -- and is a significant bargain packing the functionality of a much more expensive receiver into its affordable price tag.