Pioneer Stage 2 System Review Including AVH-P4300DVD Receiver
Pioneer is one of the old dogs of the car audio industry. They’ve been around through the thick and thin of all the crazes and fads and still managed to come out on top. But rather than rest on their laurels, they’ve taken a new approach to marketing their products that seems to be resonating quite well with consumers.
Choosing a car stereo setup is a complex process that involves multiple variables such as features, sound quality and budget. And to muddy the waters further, this task has to be repeated for each component with compromises that are often not realized until too late… Pioneer has sought to quell this confusion and the proverbial ‘ buyer’s remorse’ by putting in place “Stage” categories that cater to very different market segments and set expectations accordingly.
The company has redesigned their website and now offers a cool new FitGuide that helps consumers traverse through their product sets. After entering in your car’s year, make and model, you are greeted with a list of four “Stages”, each with a baseline setup and overall system cost. Pioneer uses a rating system called TSQ, or Total Sound Quality, to help folks understand what they may be gaining or losing in audio fidelity with their various choices. The Stages run the gamut from targeting budget-conscious consumers looking to shell out a couple hundred bucks for the entire system to the affluent aficionado seeking professional grade components that might cost $10,000 for the full Monty.
Once you’ve selected a Stage, you are prompted with tons of customization choices to swap out the initial recommendations with products of your own choosing, including pulling from other Stages along the way. As you add, change or remove components, the TSQ for the entire system updates to let you know whether or not your choices are helping or hurting your objective. Pioneer offers a nice filtering mechanism on the left-hand side that allows you to focus on a particular Stage, select the head unit features you desire, and choose different subwoofer dimensions.
For the purposes our our test, we went with a core Stage 2 setup, which fits snugly into a sweet spot of affordable cost and solid sound quality. We figured that this was the best category for our readership and began our review with this product set. For our installation we used our project demo car, a 2001 Acura CL Type S. We went with a full replacement of the stock audio setup, which was a Bose system, a little bit past its prime.
The head unit we selected actually came from the Stage 3 category but is only $60 more than the best Stage 2 offering and still provides an excellent value. The AVH-P4300DVD is a double-din DVD receiver with an anti-glare 7-inch wide-screen touch display, USB DirectControl for iPod/iPhone and single-disc CD/DVD Video playback. It also features a built-in 50W x 4 amp, 8-band graphic equalizer, 3-mode Loudness control and an SD memory card slot.
In use, the AVH-P4300DVD is a great looking unit with a bright, clear screen and tons of great background graphic choices. The unit provides the option of changing the colors of the various control buttons, which, in turn, offers a nice balance with touch-screen operation. It’s very easy to get to the Menu or Mode functions, scroll between stations or tracks, handle the volume or change the source without having to fumble around or slap at the screen while driving. We were blown away by all of the configuration and customization choices provided and the ease of traversing the various sections with solid iconography and logical groupings.
Switching between the radio, CD/DVD player, USB and Aux is effortless and each source offers its own set of relevant controls. The radio shows the track and artist via RDS, takes care of local ‘seek’ tuning, provides best station memory and offers 24 station presets. If you want XM, Sirius or HD Radio, additional modules are required. The DVD/CD playback offers DVD chapter, time and title direct search, autoplay and CD text. The iPod/iPhone USB hookup requires a separate cable, but is well worth it. Using the Pioneer CD-IU50V USB Interface Cable I was rewarded with the ability to control my iPod Nano from the touch screen with the same menu options and flow provided by Apple. And using the Aux port and a 3.5mm audio connect, I was able to play tracks from my Samsung Galaxy phone and pump Mog, Pandora and a host of other streaming music services through the stereo. Unfortunately, all song selection has to take place on the phone itself.
Our only gripe with the unit is that Bluetooth functionality requires a separate module. This should be pretty much standard in this day and age, especially with all the controversy surrounding distracted driving and the new handsfree cell phone laws popping up in most major cities. And built-in navigation would be nice, but since most cell phones now have this feature it’s no longer a necessity.
We went with two sets of the Pioneer TS-A1604C 6 1/2 component speaker package, using the main speakers in the factory door location and the factory tweeter holes. The component speakers were also installed in the rear deck using a 6×9 adapter. We were disappointed that the more beefy TS-A6994R 6×9 5-way coax speakers suggested by the Fit Guide didn’t actually fit due to a mounting depth issue which placed them directly on the trunk’s crossmount, but we were pleased that the speaker setup overall sounded excellent. The max music power is rated at 350 W (50 W), with a carbon graphite-aramid cone, frequency response between 29 Hz and 29 kHz and a sensitivity of 90 dB. With a TSQ of 143, Pioneer is indicating that these speakers should be superior to the factory cones. Without much offered on the low end, these components were a little bright but nevertheless powerful with excellent music reproduction.
For thump we went with the Pioneer TS-SWX251, which is a 10-inch flat subwoofer already mounted in a shallow enclosure that’s just 3 1/4 inches deep. It’s actually listed as a Stage 1 offering, but the woofer itself falls in the Stage 2 camp. With a max power output of 800 Watts and a frequency response between 20 Hz and 114 Hz this unit is capable of reproducing a considerable amount of bass for its petite size. It’s not going to win an SPL competition but for complementing the highs and mids of the components it does an excellent job. If you are looking for trunk rattling, rear-view mirror shaking rumble, you’ll have to look elsewhere. But the TS-SWX251 is svelte enough to still give you use of a significant portion of the trunk which was one of our requirements.
The subwoofer enclosure features an “air suspension excursion control system” that locks air between the main cone and the drive cone allowing them to move in unison with the air acting as a spring. This provides a consistent bass response throughout the frequency range with linear sound even after hours of use. Or at least that’s the party line… All we know is that the base is tight and clean. But with a TSQ of just 116 there is obviously a lot of room for improvement and Pioneer lets you know right off the bat that you’re not going to significantly surpass your factory thumpers. Bass heavy tracks from a digital source allow the unit to flex its muscle, but for regular FM tuning you may not even notice it’s there. Of course, a bigger enclosure would do wonders but you’ll have to sacrifice space. If you don’t mind giving up some trunk real estate you would be wise to go with a bigger box and possibly a more powerful amp if you prefer thunderous bass.
Our setup included the 4-channel Pioneer GM-6400F (75W x 4) to drive the component speakers and the 2-channel GM-5400T (190W x 2) to handle the subwoofer. These amps are compact, well marked with convenient placement for power cables and RCA connectors. The GM-6400F has a switch for high-pass and low-pass crossovers, which is easy to set but doesn’t allow the flexibility to tweak throughout the full range. That said, an adjustable gain control helps dial in the right level of loudness and clarity to eliminate distortion. If you happen to set it wrong or pump up the volume too high, the system will automagically drop output until you dial things down a bit. Numbered channel markings are absent and lean towards the consumer oriented labels of Left, Right, Speaker out A and Speaker out B. The manual is very detailed and descriptive and accounts for the most common applications.
The GM-5400T is a bridgeable amp with 760 max watts with selectable bass boost at 0/6/12 dB and a low-pass crossover filter at 80 Hz as well as an adjustable gain control. Both units offered reasonably high TSQ ratings of 197 and 217 respectively and perform remarkably well.
The folks at Al & Ed’s Autosound in Marina Del Rey did an excellent job of putting it all together. They created a custom double-din mount to hold the AVH-4300DVD and made the fit look almost factory, with a clean aesthetic perfectly matched to the rest of the dash. They ran both a USB cable for the iPod/iPhone connection as well as a 3.5mm audio cable from the Aux connector to the storage area under the arm rest. And they installed a module to allow the steering-wheel controls to handle the volume level and scroll up the track/station list. The amps were wired with 4 gauge power cables, while RCA cables and coax were used to connect the speakers. Both amps were mounted against the rear of the trunk using a custom wood panel covered in carpet. And the subwoofer was secured just aft of the spare-tire cover to allow unimpeded access.
[Al & Ed’s Autosound Marina Del Rey (Ask for Joe)]
Galvin Manufacturing Corp introduced the first OEM car stereo in the 1930s. But it was Pioneer in 1975 that delivered the world’s first component car stereo. Things have come a long way since then… Rather than just keep innovating in the fidelity department, which Pioneer has done as well, the company has put considerable thought into the purchasing process and it’s welcoming to see the consumer finally provided with transparency and actionable information to help with the buying process. The FitGuide is extremely easy to use and welcoming, the configuration selection process condenses a large amount of information into digestible chucks and at the end of the day you have an extremely good idea of exactly what you are getting for your money. Pioneer even has a fair amount of Fit Fotos from actual installations so you can get a good idea of what your ride might look like with a similar setup.
Overall, we were extremely impressed with the whole Pioneer system. The double-din AVH-P4300DVD is a stunner as well as an approachable and capable touch-screen unit to serve as your command center. We wish more things were built-in like navigation and Bluetooth but for pure functionality it delivers in spades. The component speakers are excellent performers and we believe would have been even more so if the 6×9 units had fit properly. The amps are capable, strong and space saving with a nice clean look. And the woofer, for its size and form factor, handles its bass duties admirably. If you crave soul-shaking bass lines, definitely plan to go with a larger-size woofer, bigger box and possibly a stronger amp. Even though we started with the Stage 2 system were were able to mix and match beautifully, which is one of the advantages of going with Pioneer.