A Review of the Kenwood eXcelon Stereo CD Receiver Range
If you've got any interest in car audio, you've likely heard about the Kenwood eXcelon series. This product line covers everything you'll need for mobile entertainment; amps, speakers, head units and navigators.
Kenwood has boldly designed eXcelon to be their signature acoustic family. They've gone all out - using high-quality materials and precision engineering to create rich sound with remarkable clarity.
Kenwood has an undeniable pedigree. Founded in 1946, they quickly gained a worldwide reputation for elegant craftsmanship and relentless innovation. As a result, they are now one of the top name brands in aftermarket car electronics.
But do they live up to the hype? In this article, we'll review Kenwood eXcelon car stereos. These receivers are offered in four grades, with two models in each grade.
A Rundown of the Kenwood eXcelon Stereo Selection
Do you find yourself constantly searching for just the right sound?
Maybe you're always on the hunt for the best components to fuel audio addiction - no matter the cost.
Do you spend a lot of time fine-tuning your presets?
Kenwood designed this with you in mind.
The KDC-X998 is Kenwood's answer to every stereo question you've asked, and a few you probably haven't.
It stands above the rest of the eXcelon series due to an impressive array of luxury features.
HD Radio receiver. This lets you listen to local broadcasts in crisp digital format, supercharging the AM/FM bands. Basically, AM quality will improve to FM, and FM will improve to CD.
Front and Rear USB, Front AUX. No more struggling to choose between jams on your flash drive or charging your phone. The flexible design makes it a snap to run one of the ports into your glove compartment. Front AUX input is included for analog connection to an iPod.
Seamless integration with your peripheral devices. Connect two Bluetooth devices at once. With Kenwood's Near-Field Communication, connecting is a simple one-touch process. Android and iPhone both interface through the stereo, so you can talk to Siri or Google as you drive. iHeart radio and Aha radio are also supported.
It can even reply to text messages, so you can comfortably ignore your friends while cruising to some sick tunes.
DriveEQ technology boosts your audio signal to compensate for road noises like wind or highways. This is on by default when you install your eXcelon stereo; we preferred turning it off and fine tuning the equalizer by hand.
Unprecedented customization. An incredible 13 band manual equalizer, 3 or 2-line LCD, and variable color illumination are at your fingertips.
This control will be necessary because the display can be difficult to read in bright lights. Polarized sunglasses make it especially hard. Luckily, you can reverse the colors to counteract glare.
Features don't mean anything if it doesn't push clear, all-encompassing sound through every inch of your vehicle. What kind of power does the KDC-X998 offer?
All eXcelon head units max at 200-watts. That may seem modest, but the continuous power output is a juicy 88 RMS, which puts this receiver at the top of the list in terms of sustained sonic production. Be wary of cheaper brands that talk about 'peak' power; optimal power at a constant rate is what really counts.
It also comes with 6 channel pre-outs so you can integrate other audio components with your dash.
If you often use CDs, then you'll be glad to know the CD player has an exquisite signal-to-noise ratio of 110-dB. This puts it up there near the top of high-fidelity audio. Every time you upload or download an mp3 file, some quality is lost; which is why even today CDs produce the best quality sound available.
- Theft Deterrent Faceplate
- Anti-Dust Flip-up door
- Built-in HD Radio
- Front AUX & Dual USB Interface (Front/Rear)
- Sound Excellence DSP
- Bluetooth Built-in (Hands-Free Profile / Audio Profile)
- MP3/WMA/AAC/WAV Files Playback with ID-3 Tag Display
- Incredible sound quality with excellent digital-to-analog conversion
- Versatile control options allow for nuanced user settings
- Sleek design with glossy black finish and theft-deterrent faceplate
- Display can be difficult to read in bright light
With their eXcelon KDC-X998, Kenwood has set the bar for premium head unit performance. It offers a diverse range of user options to adjust your listening experience for maximum enjoyment. If you've got the cash, this model is our recommendation for an audiophile.
The other model offered in this grade, the X898, boasts many of the same features that make the X998 so attractive. This includes 3 4-volt pre-outs, Front and Fear USB, 3-line LCD, and smart phone compatibility.
Unlike the X998, the X898 does not support HD radio. Not all areas are equipped to broadcast digital radio; if you live in such an area, this receiver would be a good choice.
The X898 also lacks Kenwood's Sound Excellence DSP, so some of the more intricate shaping controls (Elevation, Sound Enhancement) are not available. You can still customize your equalizer on 13-bands and DriveEQ is included. Subwoofer controls, bass boost, and sound reconstruction are all here.
- Front and rear USB
- Auto dimmer control
- Identical face design to the X998
- HD radio not supported
- Less tools for shaping sound
If you'd prefer something that's a little easier on the wallet, then check out the eXcelon KDC-X700. This model still offers an outstanding array of options at a reduced price.
Like the X998, the KDC-X701 has crisp sound and excellent performance. It comes equipped with HD Radio, iPhone and Android integration, 6 channel pre-outs, and Kenwood's DriveEQ technology.
All eXcelon models offer 13-band equalizer frequencies, so you can be as selective as you want.
This model has two rear USB ports, which is less convenient for the user than one being in the front (like the X998). It also has an auxiliary input in the rear instead of the front, which makes it more difficult to hook up your iPod. But with Pandora, iHeart and Aha radio, you might not even notice.
- Excellent sound quality at high-fidelity
- Friendly user display that offers a variety of settings
- Cutting-edge peripheral support
- Inconvenient USB/AUX placement
- Doesn't support Apple lossless playback
Kenwood's eXcelon series of receivers have less audio enhancement at the lower end of the model scale, but the KDC-X701 offers pretty much every feature that you can find in the X998 at a lower cost.
If you're like Goldilocks, then maybe you want your porridge "just right". In that case, Goldilocks probably has the KDC-X501 receiver in her little red coupe.
Unlike the more expensive models, this head unit doesn't come equipped with HD Radio. It offers BlueBooth and select smart phone integration, but it only has a single rear USB and AUX input. Control with Siri and Android are still available.
Naturally, you can personalize this device with a variable color display, 13-band equalizer settings, and crisp LCD.
Power and performance are identical to the higher-end eXcelon car stereos, with excellent 6-channel pre-outs at and high RMS. The LCD is less robust at only 1.5-lines and can't be toggled.
- Wireless music browsing
- Adjustable sub control
- Clean, user-friendly design
- No HD radio support
- Inconvenient USB/AUX placement
For the best car stereo at affordable prices, Kenwood's eXcelon KDC-X501 is the perfect compromise between $$ and performance.
At the lower end of the scale, the eXcelon series offers reliable entry-level car stereos. Compared to the earlier models we discussed, the features are pretty basic.
If you're the type of user who just wants to listen to music without a lot of extra options, the Kenwood eXcelon KDC-X301 is the best car stereo on a budget.
This is still an eXcelon component, so the essential features that let you shape your sound haven't changed. DriveEQ helps balance audio signal with road noise for a richer music experience. High and low filters let you direct the specific frequencies to amps and subs they prefer.
The X301 has single front-facing USB and AUX input, which lets you plug and play your favorite devices like iPods. The face is just as sexy as the more expensive models and shares their theft-deterrent front plate with dust covers for the USB and AUX ports.
Power output is identical, so you will find that performance remains excellent. Fewer features and lack of HD radio make this a no-frills approach to vehicle entertainment.
- Front-facing ports allow easy access to external devices
- Android rapid charge capable
- Flexible digital playback of audio files like mp3, WMA, and FLAC
- Simple display lacks many features offered with premium models
- No HD radio capability or CD cover