PROS / This radio is a high quality product with all of the best features.
CONS / The Bluetooth module costs extra.
VERDICT / This radio has all the best features at the right price.
The Kenwood KDC-HD545U HD Radio earns our TopTenREVIEWS Gold Award for best HD car audio equipment. We rank it so highly because it has all of the features, can play all of the file formats and offers it all at a great price. The number two HD Radio has the same great features at a higher cost while the number three car audio system doesn't provide any Bluetooth connectivity.
The receiver found in this product ensures a clear sound when in range of the stations. The tagging capacity for this radio is 50 songs, which is also typical. The tag button itself isn’t intuitively labeled at first glance. It’s also the button used to search for songs on a flash drive or iPod. Tagging a song means the metadata information, such as title and artist, is saved to the radio for your reference. As soon as you hook up an iPod that information will be transferred over and iTunes will bring up all of the songs for you to purchase if you want. This way you can keep track of your favorite new songs without scrambling for paper to write the information down. If you are interested in a unit with a larger tagging capacity check out the Dual XHD7720 HD Radio receiver.
When you have an iPod connected to the car audio equipment, there are a lot of search options available. One of the unique options in this HD Radio is the ability to search for songs alphabetically. After choosing the alphabetical search mode, you can enter up to three characters to search. The list will come back with all of the songs that match the criteria.
This is one of four car stereos that can play AAC (.m4a) files as well as WMA and MP3. This is nice if you have a large collection of music in this format. Now you don’t have to convert the songs to another file type in order to listen to them on this car audio equipment. With all accepted file types, the screen displays the song information so long as there is metadata included. When the information isn’t provided that portion of the display will be blank.
The USB port is conveniently located on the front of the HD car stereo where you can plug in an iPod cable, Zune or flash drive. The devices are then controlled from the car audio system, which removes the hassle of trying to drive and hold your iPod at the same time. There is also the option to hook up a steering wheel remote control, even for the HD Radio receiver controls. This feature is nice because you can keep your hands on the steering wheel yet have control of your HD Radio. However, you’re required to purchase a separate module and have it professionally installed to access these functions. But it wouldn’t hurt to check it out if that is something you have been wanting.
This is one of the few car audio units that will organize the USB folders in alphabetical order. It will also play the music in the order it is within the folder, which is normally by song title. We didn’t have any problems navigating through the music we had stored on different flash drives. When we added new music later, it was organized along with the other folders already in there.
A small downside to this car stereo is that even though it's compatible with Bluetooth, it does not come functional. You have to purchase a separate module and have it installed before it will connect to anything. If you want an HD Radio receiver that comes with Bluetooth functionality, take a look at the Dual XHD7714. This stereo is also satellite radio-ready for Sirius and XM. You’ll just need to purchase the extra module provided by Kenwood. Most of the HD Radios on our lineup have this optional feature as well.
Ease of Use
This is definitely a knob-driven radio. Maybe you noticed the lack of buttons on the faceplate of this HD car audio unit. The navigation is not as easy as some of the other more button-driven products. If you’re looking for something that doesn’t include an all-powerful knob try the Dual XHD7720. Though there is a knob, the preset buttons under the screen really help with the radio. The presets are easy to set – just hold down the number you want to set when you’re on the station.
To get to the main menu options, you have to push the knob, which is also the volume control. The problem here is that you may accidentally select the wrong item and then you’re fiddling with the volume instead of scrolling through the menu. You don't want to accidentally crank up the volume when you're trying to adjust a different menu option. Though the knob keeps the faceplate from being cluttered with buttons, it might actually make navigation more complicated.
The few buttons are clearly labeled. Some of them have additional function labels written above the buttons. There are quite a few icons on the display, which adds a little clutter. However, they are helpful reminders about what each button does, so in this case usability is probably more important than aesthetics. If you are looking for a stereo with a more attractive interface, check out the JVC products. The source button is used to turn off the power for the car audio system. Instead of holding the button down, pressing the source button cycles through the four choices: Tuner (this includes HD Radio), USB, CD and Standby. Standby is the power-off mode.
This HD Radio gives you a lot of control when it comes to choosing what the display looks like. There are several different layout options to choose from, and you can select which piece of information appears where. You can choose to have the text scroll when it’s longer than the display. You can also choose to have a dimmer automatically adjust the brightness according to the surrounding lights. When you have the Bluetooth module it can display the connection status, signal strength and battery level of the cell phone.
Help & Support
On the Kenwood website they have a fairly detailed support section for HD Radio. This section includes FAQs, though they are somewhat limited. It has information about part distributers, rebates and promotions, catalogs, glossary, national service centers and owner’s manuals. There is even a section for firmware updates for Bluetooth modules. These updates are important because of all the new cells phones coming out the firmware updates. The company does a good job of making sure all of the new devices are compatible with the module.
The manual provided with the car audio system is relatively clear. The electronic version doesn’t have the same linking features that other product manuals do. The diagrams are clearly labeled, give brief descriptions and reference pages where there are more detailed instructions. We didn’t have any problem trying to locate how to do basic tasks.
Overall, the Kenwood KDC-HD545U beat out the competition because it has the most features available for the best price. With expandability of Bluetooth and Satellite radio, this HD car audio equipment is definitely something you will want to look into. If you are interested in more electronics for your automobile, check out our reviews of Portable DVD Players, Portable TVs and Navigation GPS devices.