This small car stereo, the Pioneer DEH-X9500BHS, boasts wired and wireless inputs and connections for all of your digital audio needs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.