Kenwood DNX9170DABS
When talking high-end receivers you cannot avoid the ever present elephant in the room that is the Japanese giants. Bitter pill though it may be for our esteemed European and American colleagues to swallow, the aforementioned manufacturers have the market well and truly dominated. Each year these conglomerates release range after range, with one standing out as those remaining play catch-up. 
Love it or loathe it, it’s fair to say Kenwood hasn’t always been the crown bearer. However, that changed last year when the tenacious company hit the ground running with a range of receivers that by all accounts were approaching flawlessness. It’s with a sense of irony then that earlier this month I was sitting around pondering who’d knock Kenwood off the throne this year when the DNX9170DABS receiver landed on the desk. If this behemoth is anything of a yardstick, it seems Kenwood has no plans to vacate said throne anytime soon.
King Ken
Literally designed to be king of receivers, the DNX9170DABS is an impressive number to behold. Capable of handling everything audio and visual it inherently has a feature and ability repertoire nothing short of amazing. Putting it succinctly, it’s a magnificent marriage of ability, performance and flexibility – an incredible amount of technology packed into a double-DIN chassis.
Input methodology-wise the primary asset is of course the disc mechanism. It floats via a highly effective suspension arrangement that’s able to prevent all but the nastiest shocks impacting upon operations. It handles all the primary types of the plastic hardware such as CD, VCD and DVD while on the software side will accept all the standard acronyms such as MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, FLAC and Vorbis for audio and MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, WMV, H.264, MKV, JPEG, BMP, PNG for visual. Files need to be structured using the usual FAT16, FAT32, exFAT or NTFS format protocols.
Kenwood DNX9170DABS
Upon the rear exists more analogue and digital inputs including twin high voltage, high speed version 2.0 USB inputs, auxiliary audio visual composite inputs, 3.5mm jack, front and rear camera inputs where the reverse can be configured to auto trigger and to display guiding lines. Alternatively you can plumb in Kenwood’s DRV-N520 dash camera if preferred. Last but not least there’s a microphone input and steering wheel remote control port. 
On the wireless side of operations there’s both analogue and digital radio tuner chips; analogue offering 18 FM presets and AM offering 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 chipset handling both information streaming and telephony, via multiple phones if necessary. The unit also employs both Android Auto and CarPlay, with the operating system prerequisite for Android platforms being 5.0 ‘Lollipop’ or later. A similar prerequisite exists for Apple devices, in that they must have a later operating system installed. You simply select which system you’re using when initializing the unit and from there you are then able to access a whole range of secondary tier abilities to which you can manipulate via the head unit. Android users can also further this ability by employing a function call Air Mirroring, whereby allowing you to seamlessly display your Android apps on screen and enjoy two way interactions with them minus the usual clutter of cables.
With sound securely on board you’ll no doubt want to manipulate it, ergo Kenwood has provided an extensive digital sound processing suite enabling you to combat your troublesome acoustic environment and attain the best possible sound from it. Starting with a 24/32-bit DAC and basic fader, balance and loudness controls; from here the operation is bolstered 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 and 16kHz with a gain adjustment from -9dB to +9dB. Also located within this section are a bass booster called bass EXT and -50dB to +10dB subwoofer level control. As far as a crossover, the satellite channels feature a high-pass which is settable incrementally between 30Hz to 250Hz and, depending on what configuration you’ve selected, you’ll have first-order 6dB through to fourth-order 24dB slopes in 6dB increments for 2-way, or 6dB through to 12dB in 3-way mode. The subwoofer channels feature similar frequency centres but as a low-pass, in addition to a 0 degree or 180 degree phase switch. The time alignment section provides up to 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. This feature will prove most handy if you have some highly efficient speakers you need to attenuate. The unit is also preloaded with numerous presets to get you by if you’re not overly confident with the whole self-tuning gig.
After gig party
With the sound tuned and ready for exportation; the output options start with 5-volt front, rear and subwoofer RCA pre-outs. If you’re not using amplifiers there is also an internally mounted MOSFET amplifier which can output 22 watts continuously or 50 watts maximum at 4-ohms, with distortion staying well below acceptable industry standards. Naturally 
there’s the full gambit of analogue audio visual outputs intrinsic to the design including the ability to supply and control separately the rear seat entertainment.
The Garmin navigation package comes via SD card and includes regular features such as voice guidance, text to speech ability, high resolution two or three dimensional maps with landmarks included in the display and a searchable point of interest database resembling a phone book. Going beyond the basics, the unit also includes abilities like traffic information, junction view with lane assist and intelligent parking assist. Positioning is superb thanks to the situating software employing multiple satellite channels to locate you with pinpoint accuracy.
Attractiveness personified is the DNX9170DABS – it’s a beautifully presented design. It’s finished with a piano black trim which surrounds a bright LED backlit 7-inch anti-reflective TFT touch screen boasting a 16:9 ratio WVGA resolution of 1,152,000 pixels or 2400 x 480. It deals with both NTSC and PAL and when the anti-aliasing software is combined with just the right combination of sharpness, contrast and brightness the image is comparable to that of a home theatre panel. Underneath the screen reside the primary controls and their illumination colour can be altered to match your car. Likewise the wallpaper can also be changed to suit your personal preference. The face position can be set at various angles, all the way through to a reverse position of -10.2-degrees.
Despite first appearances, installing the unit and setting it up is not too daunting. Sure there are a lot of components included in the box, however, you don’t need to fit them all because Kenwood has continued with its plug’n’play loom system thereby allowing you to omit the ones you’re not using. Other goodies include various looms all colour coded and clearly labelled, an IR remote control, navigation SD card, face surround, numerous aerials and the external microphone.
With the unit installed I began by first devoting a significant chunk of time to tuning it – it’s suggested you do likewise. Kenwood put a lot of effort into getting that level of aural manipulation ability into the deck; make full use of it. People are often shocked here at how good we get systems sounding post tuning and, to be honest, we’ll confess it’s not because we’re genii. If you use DSP receivers of this ilk to their potential you’ll achieve great things. Control wise the unit is easy to use with menu schemas being logically set out.
Auditioning started with the standard zero noise track to test for system noise. As one would expect, the DNX9170DABS is very quiet thanks to its high voltage pre-out being conducive to low gain positions further down the line. Moving to the dynamic sinusoidal stuff, the unit handles tasks with deceptive ease thanks to the combination of DSP and DAC chipsets performing amicably. The overall output is linear, devoid of artificial level boosting at either end of the frequency spectrum and its sound is natural and balanced in a very real sense. The face on the other hand is equally agreeable, with information being displayed in superb detail, especially when playing movies. Speed is all but a non-event, with the unit reacting quickly to requests without lag windows spanning multiple seconds.
When reviewing high-end receivers it may seem obvious to trot out a paragraph like the one above. However don’t discount what was said in the opening stanza; topping the best receivers in the world is no straightforward feat. It’s something that takes a tremendous level of ability and skill, and indeed Kenwood has done exactly that in order to remain on the throne for yet another year. 
Kenwood DNX9170DABS
Kenwood DNX9170DABS multimedia head unit
Price: $1949 standalone, or $2299 with DRV-N520 dash camera
+ Clean & clear sound; Remarkable features list; Gorgeous design
- Is this perfection?
Type: Double-DIN receiver
Features: 7-inch TFT screen, 24-/32-bit DAC, DSP, 5V pre-outs, CarPlay, Android Auto, Air Mirroring, Bluetooth, GPS navigation, DAB plus multiple audio visual inputs and outputs
Power handling: 4 x 22 watts continuous, 4 x 50 maximum (4 ohms)