Kenwood DNX8160DABS

A wolf in sheep’s clothing.

With respect to flagship receivers, much can be gleaned from aura alone, especially when coupled together with a boisterous marketing campaign. Japanese-born Kenwood however prefers to do things a little differently. The fanfare remains a little more discreet, as it prefers to let its receivers do the talking rather than a trumped up marketing campaign.

See, Kenwood has been developing high quality consumer products since 1946 and has in its possession more technological acumen than many other companies will ever have. This means that when Kenwood introduces a new flagship receiver to the market, those in the know sit up and take notice; as was the case recently with the stunning new flagship DNX8160DABS.

All in the family
Although physically similar in frontal appearance to most receivers in the Kenwood stable, the reality is that the part number is not the only thing gargantuan about the new DNX8160DABS. Its ability list is impressive to say the least, spanning literally more than a page just of acronyms alone. Metaphorically speaking the crafty designer has left no rock unturned cramming an incredible amount of functionality and technology into the standard double-DIN-sized chassis.

We’ll begin with the input methodology, specifically the disc mechanism. Although refined, the suspension setup remains fundamentally similar to previous models, boasting similar hearty characteristics pertaining to shock and vibration. It handles all the primary types of the plastic hardware such as CD, VCD and DVD while on the software side of things she’ll handle near on every acronym in the book. MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, FLAC for audio and MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, WMV, H.268, MKV, JPEG, BMP, PNG for visual; about the only thing it isn’t comfortable with a physical sheet of papyrus. Files need to be structured using the usual FAT16, FAT32, exFAT or NTFS format protocols and residing adjacent to the disc slot is the SD card reader for the navigation software.

Upon the rear exists the remaining digital inputs; including twin high speed version 2.0 USB inputs in addition to a HDMI input for the importation of high definition information. Analogue-wise there are standard auxiliary audio visual composite inputs, 3.5mm jack, front and rear camera inputs – where the reverse can be configured to auto trigger and display guiding lines – a microphone input and a steering wheel remote control port. On the wireless front there’s both analogue and digital radio tuner chips with analogue offering 18 FM presets while AM offers six, and DAB offering a multitude of preset slots for the numerous stations within each of the DAB bands.

Also on board is a Bluetooth 3.0+EDR chip set which deals with everything from telephony through to infotainment streaming duties. Multiple phones can be paired and it can handle Siri too if you’re employing Apple’s handmaiden. Expanding vastly upon the Bluetooth is both Android Auto and CarPlay, with full functionality for Android Auto being utilised via the USB cable while CarPlay requires an additional KCA-iP103 interconnect. One last prerequisite is that your Android phone be using the 5.0 ‘Lollipop’ operating system while the prerequisite for CarPlay is that your iDevice has installed one of the later Apple operating systems, not labelled specifically here because Apple changes its software versions like the weather. You simply select which one you’re using when initialising the unit and, from there, you are then able to access a whole range of secondary tier abilities manipulated reciprocally through said device via the head unit. Further to this you can also mirror your phone over Wi-Fi. You simply purchase the KCA-WL100 kit which includes a HDMI fed Wi-Fi dongle and away you go.

With your sound input you’ll want to enhance it before sending it packing. Kenwood concurs, henceforth including an extensive digital sound processing suite to ensure you get the absolute best not only from the sound itself but also your aural environment. Starting with a 24-bit DAC and basic fader, balance and loudness controls; from there Kenwood has expanded the processor to incorporate a 13-band graphic equaliser with frequency centres set at 62.5Hz/100Hz/160Hz/250Hz/ 400Hz/630Hz/1kHz/1.6kHz/2.5kHz/4kHz/ 6.3kHz/10kHz/16kHz with a gain of ± 9dB. Now just before I move on, you may’ve deduced that those frequency centres are a little departed from the norm. This is no accident; anyone who tunes cars regularly will tell you the standard graphic EQ points are usually right between the points where the most manipulation is required. Kenwood therefore has altered the frequency centres in order that it may affect those areas often left wanting. Also located within the equaliser section are a bass booster called bass EXT, and -50dB to +10dB subwoofer level control.

Crossover-wise the satellite channels feature a high-pass filter settable incrementally from 30Hz to 250Hz with first order 6dB through to fourth order 24dB slopes in 6dB increments. The subwoofer channels feature the same frequency points but as a low-pass, in addition to a 0- or 180-degree phase switch. The time alignment section provides up to a whopping 6.1m distance delay on each channel and for a little extra control you’re also able to adjust speakers’ individual levels between -8dB and +0dB. If you’re not up on all this tuning jargon then Kenwood also provides numerous preloaded presets to get you by.

Kenwood DNX8160DABS

Ins and outs
With your sound tuned and ready for exporting; the outputs start with 5-volts front, rear and subwoofer RCA pre-outs or an internally mounted MOSFET amplifier which can output 22 watts continuously or 50 watts maximum at 4-ohms, with distortion staying at a very respectable level even in regards to the latter. There’s also a swag of ancillary analogue audio visual outputs including the ability to supply and control separately the entertainment for your rear passengers.

The navigation package installed actually employs top flight Garmin software and features the usual suspects including voice guidance, text to speech ability, high resolution 2D or 3D maps with landmarks included in the display. However, it expands upon these nowadays standard features to include junction view with lane assist and intelligent parking assist just to name a few. Positioning is extremely accurate thanks to the situating software employing multiple satellite channels to fixate its position precisely.

If ever a receiver was style anthropomorphised, this is it. It’s a beautiful looking unit, and rather than being finished with the usual semi-gloss black industrial look, Kenwood has instead gone for a gleaming piano black number. The face comprises a large 7-inch anti-reflective TFT touch screen which returns a 16:9 ratio/WVGA resolution of 1,152,000 pixels or 2400 x 480. This is backlit with bright LEDs and is able to handle both NTSC and PAL. Kenwood has all but perfected the combination of sharpness, contrast, brightness and anti-aliasing which is conducive to the panel offering detail hitherto unseen. Below the screen are the primary buttons and, naturally, their illumination colour can be altered to match your binnacle and dash, and you can also change the wallpaper to suit your own tastes. The face position can be set at various angles, all the way through to a reverse position of -10.2-degrees!

Installing the DNX8160DABS is not difficult. Nevertheless, you’ll need to find real estate enough for the cables. That said Kenwood does make many of them detachable so you can omit the ones you’re not using. Included in the box are various looms, all colour coded and clearly labelled, an IR remote control, navigation SD card, various aerials and the external microphone. Once it’s installed, can I urge you to spend some quality time with some decent tuning equipment? Because without sounding immodest, not a single week goes by where I don’t tune a car for someone simply using their existing head unit’s abilities, and the difference can often be jaw dropping.

With the unit installed, tuned and with popcorn at the ready I began my auditioning with the usual zero noise track before moving to dynamic sinusoidal music. As you’d expect, given the aforementioned combination of high voltage pre-out, DSP and DAC, the sound quality is superb… literally superb. It borders on being completely noiseless, introducing next to zero hiss, artifacts or external noise into the sound. All the while sounding outstanding and very precise not to mention extremely linear without artificial level boosting. The display itself is equally as impressive, with information displayed in dazzling detail. Perhaps more importantly though, it possesses the speed to match the exquisiteness.

Finding anything negative about the DNX8160DABS is a challenge, period. However, if hard pressed I’d probably sheepishly mark a surreptitious remark or two about the face mechanism being a tad cacophonous.

Kenwood’s new receiver is the ultimate workhorse. It not only is feature-packed and sounds terrific, but it presents superbly in every sense of the word. It’s nigh close on that ever-elusive ‘flawless’ moniker.

Kenwood DNX8160DABS Multimedia head unit
Cost: $1899

+ Comprehensive features list; Superb sonic performance; Attractively styled
- Subtly loud face mech but we’re really nitpicking

Type: Double-DIN multimedia head unit

Features: 7-inch TFT screen, 24/32-bit DAC, DSP, Android Auto, CarPlay, Bluetooth, DAB+, multiple audio visual inputs outputs

Power handling: 4 x 22 watts continuous/4 x 50 maximum (4-ohms)