A built-in MOSFET amplifier and a peak output of 50 watts per channel give the X890 a wide sound range, and granular EQ controls and sound settings make it easy to personalize your sound. As well as basic options for bass, middle, and treble, the KDC X890 offers detailed frequency adjustments within each level--for example, you can set bass center frequency anywhere between 40Hz and 150Hz. Another feature, called the Bass Management System, boosts the bass output by 6, 12, or 18 decibels. Six preset tone curves with a four-band parametric equalizer display the EQ settings. Additionally, the X890 includes a control for speaker settings that lets you customize the stereo's output to match your individual in-car arrangements.
As a standard AM/FM tuner, the KDC X890 is intuitive to use: radio frequencies are located using autoseek, manual selection, or six presets, and the unit is RDS- and PTY-enabled to give detailed information on station and music tracks as well as program genre. For CD playback, the X890's motorized faceplate folds down to reveal the single disc slot, where you can load CDs containing multiple audio formats, including MP3, WMA, and AAC. A dedicated USB port will also let you play tunes directly from a flash drive--a handy new feature.
To navigate your files, you'll turn to the faceplate's combination of buttons and jog-stick or use the remote control. We found the X890's 64-color fine-dot display bright but a little grainy, with some of the more ambitious graphic sequences reminding us of hand-held LCD games of the 1980's. The X890 makes you choose one of six song information formats, each with a single line of text giving ID3 tag information on a combination of title, artist, album, folder, and filename. Unfortunately, we found the head unit controls too complicated for making a selection while driving (press button 5 for folder or file selection, scroll through folders/files with the jog-stick, press button 1 to confirm selection).
Thankfully, the X890's ACDrive media (the AC stands for Advanced Codec) function considerably simplifies the process using a text-to-voice technology that announces the name of the files aloud. You'll have to prepare your songs to work with the ACDrive function, however, so Kenwood includes a copy of Phat Noise media manager software with the head unit. Phat Noise lets you store, index, and organize audio files and--most importantly--encode the files with Voice Index information.
Having installed the Phat Noise software and given the files on our flash drive the Voice Index treatment, we found it much easier to select music. With ACDrive-enabled files, the X890 display adds an option called S.mode, which lets you use the jog-stick to scroll through media files according to artist, album, genre, playlist, or folder. In each mode, the system calls out the name of the album, artist, playlist, or folder. As the system relies on text-to-voice software to articulate the names of song titles and artists, the pronunciation is a little Stephen Hawking-esque, but in most cases clearly comprehensible. S.mode also lets you search for tracks, artists, and folders by first letter.
If the voice index is the KDC X890's most useful advanced technology, then the most entertaining (and perhaps least practical) feature has to be the G-Analyzer function, a built-in motion detector to measure the gravitational forces acting on the head unit, which it then translates into graphics and text data. According to Kenwood, G-Analyzer (the G stands for Graphic Motion) can measure and analyze a car's horsepower. It appears that after a driver has entered the class and weight of a particular car, the X890 will calculate horsepower by measuring lateral acceleration for 15 seconds, giving the result in the form of a graph with the highest reading (that is, the point of maximum acceleration) saved for future reference. But we're somewhat skeptical: in the real world, horsepower is measured using a device called a dynamometer, which takes measurements at an engine's flywheel. These are then evaluated against a number of variables, including the exhaust system, pumps, alternator, starter, and emission controls.
In an admittedly unscientific test, we calibrated the G-Analyzer to the weight and dimensions of a fully laden minivan and shook the head unit around for 15 seconds to get a readout of 320 horsepower: a little on the high side.
A G-Analyzer Stop Watch function is also available, presumably for speed demons to measure their 0 to 60 times while playing their favorite beats at full volume. The X890's instruction manual--which appears to have been translated from Japanese using a computer program rather than a person--warns users not to use "G-Analyzer horsepower analysis or stop watch on public roads." While it is an entertaining concept, we'd also advise drivers not to rely solely on its readouts for reliable information on their cars' performance figures.
The X890 sports a number of additional features, including controls for a Kenwood iPod adapter; satellite radio (separate subscription, tuner, and antenna required); and HD radio. There is also a connection for a CD changer, RCA cables for auxiliary inputs, and three sets of 5-volt preamp outputs.
A removable faceplate make the X890 less vulnerable to theft, and the unit comes with a two-year limited warranty from Kenwood.