What is the Best Single DIN Car Stereo?
Need to replace your single DIN Head Unit? The Alpine CDE-HD149BT Should Do Just Fine!
Wherever you drive, you have the tunes cranked up. You may have a sub and amp in your trunk, or the stock speakers might be enough for you. Yet, there comes a point where you might need to change out your factory radio. It might be because you need an upgrade or it could be because of a problem you’re experiencing. Maybe the CD player stopped working, or you can’t find cassette tapes or cassette adapters for sale.
In my case, the radio went dark. On my Chevy truck, the radio lights burnt out one by one, and you’d never expect such a small repair to require a replacement radio. Nonetheless, I found myself shopping for a head unit for my truck.
On Amazon.com, there are literally hundreds of choices to wade through. Some are foreign-made no-name brands that I can’t pronounce, so I sorted just the recognizable brand names – Kenwood, Alpine, Pioneer, Sony, JVC, and so on.
Of the choices that kept showing at the top of the screen was an Alpine head unit. Not wanting the cheapest of the cheap nor the most expensive unit, I made the gut choice to buy it. For just over $200, there’s not much to lose. As long as it’s as good as the factory radio or better, I’m happy.
What It’s All About
My head unit of choice is the Alpine CDE-HD149BT, a single din head unit with some pretty decent specs. The screen is a highly-attractive LDC display with crisp writing and a cool layout. There’s a knob to the left along with a few menu buttons and a row of station preset buttons along the bottom. It looks attractive, even just from the picture on the box.
As for specs, the Alpine CDA-HD149BT is much, much more than I bargained for. After I paid for the unit, I actually read the specifications. It’s Bluetooth-capable which I knew, but it also comes with a separate microphone for clarity. It can integrate with steering wheel Bluetooth and audio controls with another adapter (not needed for me), and is satellite radio-ready.
Among other cool features, this Alpine head unit has a feature known as TuneIt. There’s an app you can download to your iPhone which controls the equalizer. We’ll tell you how that works later on.
Installation: Parts Sold Separately
If your vehicle has a double-din head unit like so many do in the past two decades, you’re going to need an install kit for the Alpine CDE-HD149BT. You can find one on Amazon as well – just search for a single DIN install kit and filter the results for your car. And, to make our installation as simple as can be, I chose to purchase a Firewire adapter. You just attach the wiring adapter to the wiring harness from the aftermarket head unit and it connects directly to your factory harness during installation.
As well, I decided to go for the gusto and install the satellite radio adapter, SiriusXM SXV300v1 Connect Vehicle Tuner Kit. Because, why not?
When everything was on hand, I pulled the dimly-lit double-DIN head unit out of my Chevy. The harness clips in as expected, and the install kit fastens in with two screws. If you decide to use the SiriusXM adapter, it’s going to pose some issues for routing the wiring. It all clips in nice and easy, but the antenna has to be on your roof. It took about an hour just to get it routed out from the radio and up the driver’s door pillar to the roof.
After neatly clipping it all together, I realized I still had a microphone to install. The Alpine head unit slid out nice and easy using the ‘key’ included in the package and the microphone cable took the same route as the satellite antenna, mounting at the top of the inner pillar. It stays in place just with a tension clip like the picture shows.
It’s all neat and tidy, and with the proper care and about two hours of time, the installation was totally complete. It’s not a complex project, but it does take a bit of skill with wiring.
The first time I turned it on, I tuned into a radio station and was thoroughly unimpressed. The sound quality was bland and tinny, with treble that hurt my ears when the volume was turned up. Granted, they are stock speakers, but the factory radio sounded better. And then I remembered TuneIt.
I had downloaded the app while the mounting kit was in transit, so I pulled it up on my iPhone. The setup instructions are clear in the manual, and I quickly paired my phone to Bluetooth on my new radio. You can choose from presets or you can customize your sound with a 10-channel equalizer. Because I’m fine with quick and easy, I just picked the ‘Pop’ preset. That made a world of difference.
I don’t have a subwoofer, so the bass isn’t exactly booming. Otherwise, you can’t ask for better unamplified sound quality. It’s super easy to change your sound dynamics for whatever tone you prefer.
Making a call through Bluetooth is a piece of cake. Voice controls go through Siri on my iPhone when I press the phone button. Voice recognition is decent so far, with an odd correction necessary, but that’s a Siri issue I believe. Streaming music from your phone or Bluetooth device is just as easy. The big glaring square on your radio changes the source input. Press until Bluetooth is displayed, and you’re good to go. You can control your song selection through the head unit, which is an added bonus if you’re in an area where you can be ticketed for distracted driving.
Now, for SiriusXM. The purchase price is minimal, so I don’t regret buying the adapter. However, with so many other audio sources – Am/FM/CD/MP3/Bluetooth – the need for satellite radio isn’t exactly high. Still, I paid my 3-month subscription and tried it out. It works great, but I doubt I’ll keep using it long-term.
The unit itself is made really well. All the controls are simple to use once you’ve read the first few pages of the owner’s manual. It looks good, and that’s customizable too. There are 4 color choices for button illumination, which I promptly switched to green to match my Chevy’s lighting.
Mechanically, it’s solid. The faceplate tilts down to install a CD in the slot, which may go unused for the duration of its life. The faceplate is also removable for security purposes.
I have no intentions on expanding my truck’s sound system to include amplifiers or subs. If I did, this unit could reach its full potential. With three sets of RCA preouts, it has the ability to pack serious punch. It could be used for competition, should you so choose.
A favorite item might seem trivial, but it’s sure to receive the most use of all the Alpine CDA-HD149BT’s features: a USB charging port. It can be used as an input, but it also charges your device! Since my smartphone is in constant use, it’s great to be able to charge it while I’m on the road. You just have to supply your own USB cable. Also of note, you cannot control the USB audio input from the head unit, only on your device.
My only complaint is the buttons themselves. In our cold winter weather, the buttons creak a little when they are pressed. It’s a tiny annoyance, and I can’t say any other unit would be better.
With tons of options on the market to replace my factory radio, I may have just stumbled onto the best single DIN car radio for the price. Pioneer has a similar head unit, the Pioneer DEH-4300UB, although it has a $50 higher price tag and doesn’t look as sleek. The Kenwood KDC-BT952HD functions in a similar fashion, but its standard looks and reported reliability issues make it a non-starter!
Aside from stepping up into the double-DIN category, the Alpine CDA-HD149BT works wonders. Its functions are plentiful for a true audiophile. There are dozens of little features that I simply won’t get to using, but maybe you might.
There are many other cheaper head units you can purchase too, from less refined displays to lower-end features. You can get something that works well for under $100. But if you want the best single-DIN head unit with Bluetooth, satellite radio capability, and excellent integration with your iPhone, I’d give the Alpine CDA-HD149BT a solid look.