Kenwood KDC-BT752HD CD Player In Dash Receiver Reviews
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Kenwood KDC-BT752HD CD Player In Dash Receiver

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Kenwood KDC-BT752HD: Nice but... Buggier than a Horse & Buggy

Jan 18, 2013 (Updated Jan 18, 2013)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Very Good

  • Sound Quality:
  • Ease of Use:
  • Durability:

Pros:Good AM/FM/HD reception;
3 FM Preset banks;
Intuitive Interface;
Set EQ/Audio for each source;
Features/Value.

Cons:Spotty Pandora, Hands-Free Performance;
Few compatible Android phones;
One bank of AM presets;
Remote control is not back-lit.

The Bottom Line: 1) Verify phone compatibility prior to purchase. 2) Study the owner's manual. 3) If you experience problems, contact Kenwood to petition for firmware updates. 4) Recommended with strong reservations.


The Nutshell

The Kenwood KDC-BT752HD car stereo is worthy of five stars for potential — plenty of features and a great value for the money. Unfortunately, I can only assign two stars for performance on key "selling point features".

I have contributed this review, for two reasons: 1) To relay my experience for the benefit of other shoppers, 2) In the hope that it will call Kenwood's attention to the following functionality issues for the purpose of releasing a firmware upgrade that resolves them. 

At present, this model earns a solid three stars overall, with a "recommended with strong reservations" conclusion. Here's why:


 
Plus

Good specs, stereo can output full-range sound and has a built-in MOS-FET amp (50x4 watts). The unit provides three pre-outs on the back for additional hookups. I can't speak for those because I don't have a powered sub or other such customizations in my car.

Plus


The unit offers three banks of FM-memory presets, which you may need thanks to all the cool new stations you'll find thanks to the built-in HD radio tuner. More importantly, this faceplate offers the standard six-button preset controls. This is notable because some models, by Pioneer and others, have begun to leave off faceplate buttons in favor of making drivers scroll through a menu to access other stations in memory (not among the brighter or safer design changes, IMHO).

Minus


This Kenwood model offers only one bank of six AM presets, which will be insufficient if you listen to AM talk radio and/or discover cool new stations on the HD AM band (AM radio in HD sounds like FM stereo). What I can say in favor of this unit over an otherwise comparable model by Alpine, for instance, is that Alpine gives users one less bank of FM presets. In further comparing Sony, JVC, Kenwood and Pioneer, it appears that only Sony is generous by providing two banks of AM presets on some of their models, more than what is now typical, apparently.

Plus


The Kenwood KDC-BT752HD sounds nice — better than the Sony it replaced — and the EQs can be set for each source. (There is also a three-band custom EQ.)

Minus


Some of the EQs don't seem designed to complement certain types of audio. Kenwood needs to go the route of Alpine and include a preset for "news", "country" and "classical", not just natural (flat), easy listening, bass boost, pop and Top 40. Of the built-in selections, only "Pop" and "Top 40" accentuates treble and mid-ranges adequately over my car speakers. By the same token, "Easy Listening" is by far the most questionable of the built-in EQ curves --- it basically makes anything and everything sound like AM radio, introducing muddy mid ranges and treble. Kenwood ought to ditch the Easy Listening preset and replace it with one that is optimized for news/talk, classical, country or the like.

Plus


Features galore: Built in HD radio, Bluetooth (with Parrot technology over a built-in Mic on the removable faceplate), CD, USB (with the ability to trickle charge through that port) and an AUX.

Minus


No rear USB connector. Cables, should you choose to connect them, will be front and center. (Could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your needs.)

Plus

The faceplate offers a rainbow of color choices to match your dash lights or color preferences.

Minus

Like so many head-units on the market, readability of the faceplate, with its purple-tinted plastic over a white-on-black LED, is difficult-to-impossible under bright sun (but not among the worst offenders I have seen — that distinction currently goes to Pioneer). To varying degrees, all car stereo manufacturers have provoked this same complaint. In my own comparisons, having recently owned a Sony head unit that I also reviewed here, Sony seems to be one of the better bets in designing a faceplate to cope somewhat better under bright sunlight. (Factory-installed stereos typically perform better in this regard, though.)
 
Plus

If you use your Android phone's built in music player you may be able to see meta data (artist/album info) over your Blue Tooth Audio source (wireless connection). Be aware that the optional (free) Android Kenwood Music App, as of this writing, doesn't support this feature and while the music you've stored on your Android phone or tablet will play you will not see any info. on the head unit pertaining to what you hear over a wireless BT connection. Unless...

Minus


If you use Google Music or some such "default" Android music app that resides on your phone to stream music wirelessly, you will see the song/artist info. scroll across the Kenwood display. Unfortunately, the moment you stop playing the music the last title/track info will remain plastered on your head unit's BT Audio source screen THE REST OF THE DAY (or until you start playing something else that resides on your phone). The head unit does not appear to offer any way to clear this info. To make matters worse, if you switch from stored music on your phone to an Internet Radio player over that same BT Audio that same day, you will continue to see the previous artist/album info. plastered across the display even though you are now hearing music from iHeart Radio or the like. Kenwood really needs to update the firmware on this unit in order to "time out" the display after the audio stops (or at least an option to manually clear the screen by toggling through the head unit's sources and/or after you turn off the ignition). Again, unfortunately, when you come back to the BT Audio source later on, that same title/artist remains on the screen, even hours (and multiple power on/off cycles) later. Ugh!!!!!!!

Bad to Worse


Blue Tooth hands-free calling implementation would appear to be 1/2 head unit and 1/2 BT phone performance, which makes it a real headache to determine if your phone is to blame for a problem, the head unit is defective or, worse, the manufacturer hasn't road tested and engineered the product adequately enough to be ready for "prime time".

With weeks and hour-upon-hour of testing, retesting and multiple calls to Kenwood behind me, I am beginning to think that the latter is to blame — Kenwood has released a unit only minimally compatible with Android phone users' needs. The result is buggy and inconsistent performance.

The Missing Disclaimer

Kenwood, it turns out, admits in the fine print of the owner's guide, which you are unlikely to run across prior to purchase, that would-be buyers visit the Kenwood website to see if the BT-enabled head unit in question is "compatible" with a given phone. (Good luck, as a shopper, of finding any such disclaimer in your average product description on the web. Similarly, you'll have no such luck in big box stores where all such FYIs fail to appear on the tags, advertising and product packages.)

Here's what I can say after using three different Android phones/brands, running stock ROMs and Gingerbread and ICS, respectively: While it is true that Kenwood will allow up to five blue tooth devices to pair with the head unit, don't expect to go switching between them without major headaches and hassles. Only the primary (most recently paired or used) device will retain full functionality (having tested "vanilla" Android phones by HTC, LG and Kyocera). In other words, if you get your phone to work beautifully for hands-free calling and Pandora, don't go messing it up by pairing your spouse's phone or the like.

In my experience, whatever secondary phone you attempt to connect over Blue Tooth for phone calls or wireless use with Pandora (or for audio streaming over BT) will lose at least partial functionality (with similar issues cropping up after switching back to what is the primary paired device). Glitches I ran into when trying to switch between paired phones, whether by toggling the handset's BT connection or selecting the phone directly via the Kenwood menu, are as follows:

1) When long-pressing the volume button — which should bring up "voice tag" for hands-free calling — an audible voice prompt failed to launch to indicate that the device is "listening" for input (and, unfortunately, Kenwood does not flash an on-screen message saying "speak now", "ready" or words to such effect). While the ability to issue voice-prompts is a phone-specific feature, which the head unit appears only to relay, it is the relay of that audio that will drop out entirely or lose volume without warning (regardless of phone, in my tests). Changing the Kenwood's microphone gain and noise canceling features did not appear to have any impact on how frequently this "bug" appeared.

FYI: It is dependent on the phone to allow you to "confirm" (prior to auto dialing) a potentially misdialed hands-free call. It is the phone, too, that is largely responsible for the accuracy and speed of speech recognition. The performance of the Kenwood can only be enhanced via the microphone gain. For this reason, some buyers prefer — and Kenwood manufactures — BT-equipped head units that offer a separate, wired microphone. Nonetheless, it would be ideal if Kenwood allowed an adjustment for "voice tag volume" and/or displayed status messages on the screen while in this mode to augment whatever voice prompts the phone transmits — but it doesn't. As it presently stands, the ability to confirm an outgoing voice call or cancel a misdialed call via voice control is phone dependent. 

2) While you might be able to connect wirelessly to the Kenwood's built-in Pandora source mode when a particular handset is the primary paired device, that functionality may drop out when a secondary driver of your car (such as a spouse) attempts to access the Kenwood BT or Pandora control functions. For instance, while Pandora may work initially (with the primary paired device) it will, in my experience, mysteriously read "check device" once the head unit becomes "confused" as to which device is in control (in other words, the head unit does not allow for a clean switch-over between paired devices).

FYI: Lost functionality, without warning, is one indication that you may need to re-pair your handset — just be aware that doing so will adversely impact the functionality of whatever else resides in your list of paired (and formerly working phones), even if that second or third device happens to be an identical model!

3) Periodically, the unit will exhibits glitches in BT audio playback. This occurs when the music you are wirelessly streaming from your phone begins clipping and cutting out. Leaving the car off overnight seems to "reset" the connection (the next day BT Audio is again playing cleanly) but it begs the question why Kenwood hasn't included a "soft reset" feature — because toggling the Blue Tooth connection on the phone and/or turning off the head unit (or ignition) doesn't seem to do the trick in these instances. It would appear that once a wireless playback issue has occurred the only solution is to do a hard reset (and blow all your AM/FM presets, EQ and other settings), let the car sit idly for hours (which isn't an acceptable solution while out doing a series of errands) or re-pair the phone that has begun "acting up". (Again, however, it is more likely to misbehave in conjunction with a given phone if there is more than one paired device stored in memory.)

Initially, the big-box retail store where I purchased the Kenwood KDC-BT752HD, indicated (at their car stereo installation bay) that the audio clipping while streaming over the BT connection suggested the head unit was defective, prompting my spouse and I to swap out our first Kenwood unit for another. Now that we're on our second unit, having confirmed that the firmware is current, we can report that the issues are identical. Seemingly, it will take yet another firmware update on Kenwood's part to address the problem.

 
The Wrap

My take on this unit is that if you never have any other drivers in your car and don't expect to have more than one cell phone paired, you will probably avoid problems (providing your phone is compatible to begin with). Still, it seems inevitable that Pandora functionality and Blue Tooth — the reason you are probably researching this model in the first place! — are also among the least reliable aspects of the Kenwood KDC-BT752HD.

The good: HD/analog tuner integration is seamless. The CD player works as expected. The USB port will allow you to bypass much of the BT audio headaches by ditching that source and playing your music collection directly from a USB flash drive. Even so, when you buy a "loaded" head unit — and pay more to obtain these features — it evokes disappointment, not to mention danger, to drive down the road glancing down to see if one's phone book has uploaded and the device has re-established a BT connection successfully. Likewise, it defies the whole point to drive down the street while also attempting to toggle one's Blue Tooth connection from the phone in instances where the two have failed to "talk" to each other.

Because of the potential for "distracted driving" while operating this unit in conjunction with a smartphone — which as of this writing may very well may be par for the course with any such head unit for all I know — I can only recommend the Kenwood KDC-BT752HD with reservations. Should you happen to own a smartphone that interfaces reliably, count yourself lucky. If not, be prepared to upgrade your phone — as I ultimately did — at the same time you purchase this Kenwood head unit.

It was only last year, apparently, that this Kenwood model debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show in Los Vegas. Little did I realize, having only entered the car stereo market recently for the first time in over 8 years, that as far as Android users are concerned we are still among the "early adopters" when it comes to an all-in-one solution of this type. Having been vaguely aware that Blue Tooth head units have been on the market for some time now, buggy performance and limited compatibility is not what I would have expected — but it is what it is.

But here's the real rub: While I, or anyone else who owns this head unit, may get the phone one presently owns to "play nice" — and by that I mean reliable use of ALL advertised features — who is to say that the next phone will integrate with this Kenwood unit at all? If I don't want this head unit to go obsolete faster than I can plop down cash for a new one, I am going to select my phone from here on out based upon how well it integrates with my BT car stereo (to comply with hands-free calling/driving laws). Should Kenwood abandon the regular use of firmware updates to make this head unit serviceable for years to come — which sometimes happens when models are discontinued — some owners will undoubtedly find themselves stuck with an outdated smartphone "getting by" because a newer phone no longer functions. (Something to consider if you are not an audiophile who routinely upgrades your car stereo and/or who likes to upgrade phones frequently.) This is also something to consider if you are using a contract-based cell phone service. I ditched my contract phone plan a year ago in favor of pre-paid, and the only reason I have been able to make this Kenwood unit function is that I was able to return an HTC handset that did not work reliably, deactivate my existing LG phone with similar integration problems and "upgrade" to a phone with stronger native BT functionality (Kyocera Rise, VM Mobile). For those not accustomed to being able to return a cell phone without breaking a contract or incurring a fine, however, keeping this and other similarly-equipped BT head units functional for more than a year or two post purchase is undoubtedly a hit or miss prospect.

This review assumes, in conclusion, that Kenwood's BT functionality matters to the reader. If not, consider a non-BT equipped head unit — it will save you a considerable amount of money and the considerable amount of time it takes to learn the ropes of this feature-packed but buggy car stereo.


###


Recommend this product? Yes


Amount Paid (US$): 155.00


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