The double DIN-size Kenwood DPX302 is a budget car stereo with a budget feel. For a stereo with such a large amount of spare faceplate real estate (many other units manage to pack in the same amount of features to a single-DIN rig), the controls on the system are far less than user-friendly. Its hard plastic buttons feel cheap, and its user interface is far more complex than it needs to be. While it does support a range of modern audio sources, including MP3 and WMA discs as well as portable media players (via a standard auxiliary-input jack), the capability to navigate digital-audio libraries with the system's single-line dot matrix display is very limited.
With its silver controls, luminous blue backlighting, and lacquered black plastic trim, the Kenwood DPX302 looks at first glance like a stylish car stereo. However, upon closer inspection, the sheen quickly wears off. The volume knob to the left of the faceplate feels cheap and poorly integrated, as does the loose, fiddly control knob on the opposite side of the unit. The small source button--which doubles as the on/off switch--is hidden next to the far more prominent control knob joystick, and the menu button (which doubles as the EQ preset control) is even smaller and less visible.
The Kenwood DPX302 features a single-line, monochrome dot matrix display, which is bright enough to be visible even in direct sunlight but is extremely limited in the amount of information it can show at any one time. If the designers of the unit had not assigned so much space to advertising the system's capabilities on either side of the display, the screen itself could have been made twice as long and far more useful. On a positive note, we do like the DPX302's prominent auxiliary-input minijack for connecting portable digital audio players.
Like most car stereos of the digital age, the Kenwood DPX302 can play AM/FM radio and regular Red Book CDs as well as discs encoded with the main compressed audio formats, including MP3, WMA, and AAC. When playing back digital-audio discs, the dot matrix display shows artist and track information, which scroll automatically across the screen in a stuttering stream. While the information is legible, the screen shows only 10 characters at a time, meaning that the driver will have to wait for a while to read long song titles.
Perhaps the system's most impressive features are its advanced audio settings for listening to disc-based and radio sources. The Kenwood DPX302 features dedicated controls for tweaking the front and rear high pass filters, as well as a setting for the low pass filter and controls for subwoofer phasing. For compressed audio tracks recorded at a very low bit rate (below 96Kbps), a Supreme setting restores their high-frequency region in order to improve lost sound quality.
In addition to these advanced audio settings, the Kenwood DPX302 features six preset EQ configurations (including Rock, Pop, Jazz, and Top 40) plus an option for users to customize their own output levels. The system also has dedicated settings for bass, mid, and treble, and a subwoofer level control if your audio system is equipped with a standalone sub. All outputs play via the system's built-in Mosfet amplifier, producing 22 watts RMS multiplied by four channels.
To optimize all this output tweaking for individual cars, the system enables drivers to calibrate the output based on speaker size, with settings for 6x9-inch speakers, 5- or 4-inch speakers, and OEM speakers--a feature we particularly like. A standalone attenuator button is another nice touch, as it gives drivers the option to turn the system's volume down quickly when needed.
Navigating disc-based digital-audio libraries using the right-hand jog wheel is a time-consuming process. Tracks can be skipped and selected by moving the joystick to the left and right, but the display shows only the track number when browsing, and the driver has to listen to at least five seconds of a track before the (truncated) ID3 tag information shows up. Similarly, searching between folders (by pushing the control knob up and down) requires users both to change the track currently playing to browse the library and to search for folders by number only. Alternatively, the user can wait for five seconds after each selection for the folder name to appear on the display.
Fortunately, playing digital audio from portable media players via the DPX302's auxiliary-input jack does not require use of the faceplate controls. Having enabled AUX as a source from the main menu, users make all audio selections using controls on their iPod or other MP3 player. In addition to the front-mounted auxiliary input, the Kenwood DPX302 has presets for five other auxiliary sources including DVD, Video, Game, and Portable. The system can also be connected to a number of external sources such as satellite radio, HD radio, video, and CD changers. Inputs from these sources can be assigned and controlled using the DPX302's controls.
In contrast to the labor-intensive process of navigating and selecting digital-audio files, the means of tweaking audio output levels is straightforward, with most settings being activated via the volume knob (press it in quickly for standard EQ controls, hold it in longer for advanced customization).
Audiophiles may tolerate the Kenwood DPX302's unwieldy programming controls and small screen in order to get a budget stereo with decent customization features. However, there are other stereos in the same segment that are much easier to use.