Kenwood iPod Interface Reader Review

This review comes from MotoringFile reader Nathaniel Salzman:

Kenwood, like other after-market car stereo producers has wisely offered an interface between their car stereo head units and the iPod. This $100 add-on system features the ability to control the iPod from the head unit, browse artists and playlists, and charges the iPod while connected. The unit consists of a controller box with one cable ending in an iPod dock connecter, and another cable ending in a CD-Changer plug. That end plugs straight into the CD-Changer port on the head unit, and displays track, artist, or playlist type (if type display is supported by that particular head unit). I have been using this Kenwood setup in my Acura for about a month now and if you’ve chosen a Kenwood replacement head unit in your MINI, it is at least a very straightforward option for connecting your iPod.

Firstly, the Kenwood interface is retroactive. In 2001, I installed this current Kenwood head unit and Rockford Fosgate Punch speakers in place of the OEM. Fast-forward to 2005, the off-the-shelf iPod adaptor worked as soon as I plugged it in to the four-year-old head unit. The unit is truly plug-and-play. Installation was very straightforward and took less than 45 minutes since the Kenwood head unit was already in place. The majority of the time was spent placing the actual interface control box in the glove box and running the wires behind the dash pieces.

As for the performance, unfortunately capability doesn’t always equal mastery. The browse functions of the Kenwood unit work, but work VERY slowly – in practical use, too slowly. Trying to find a specific song through the head unit can really impede your driving. I have the dock cable exiting at the base of my center console where there is a nice little nook to tuck the iPod (I listen to my iPod quite a bit outside the car, so I didn’t want to have to retrieve it from the glove box every time). I’ve found that the easiest, quickest, and ultimately safest way to pick a specific song or playlist is to use the unit’s Auto Resume function. The head unit will resume playback from whatever song or playlist was playing on the iPod before plugging it in. I disconnect the iPod, use its controls to navigate to that song or list, then plug it back in. This was a big disappointment, as the whole point of this interface was to eliminate fussing with the iPod itself while driving. I’ve found that most times I’m driving with it, I end up choosing a list before I start going, or I simply leave it in the Library list and put it on Random (done through the head unit itself, which is a nice feature). The shuffle play is like having your own radio station, but with taste. If you’re like me and have all sorts of stuff on your iPod, this can be a lot of fun because you’ll hear music you didn’t know you had.

In summary, though I can’t speak to its comparison to the Alpine or other direct interfaces, the Kenwood iPod interface, despite some shortcomings, is an acceptable at best way to control your iPod from the head unit.

Pro’s: Volume control and next/prev. track control is wonderfully convenient, and having the iPod all charged up when I get where I’m going is great. Being able to toggle Random on and off from the head unit is also convenient. The install is very easy. There is no firmware or software installation required for the iPod, and the system works retroactively with almost any Kenwood head unit. Also, any time the head unit is turned off, the car is turned off, or the iPod is unplugged from the system, the iPod is automatically paused. Likewise, if you’re listening to a song as you get in the car, you can simply pause the iPod, plug it in to the car, and it will continue through the car stereo

Con’s: Browsing between lists or searching through artists is very slow. It’s easier simply to disconnect the iPod, select your list, then plug back in. This process also errors at times and the iPod has to be reset, much to my frustration. If the iPod itself could still be controlled while plugged in, this system would work much better.

Conclusion: The Kenwood iPod interface is, in my opinion, not really cost-effective given its poor performance. In a MINI application especially, where swapping the head unit can eliminate steering-wheel volume control, I would recommend going a different route. The iPod’s functionality is so essential and cleanly designed. This system robs it of much of that ease-of-use. A good iPod-to-car integration should function as cleanly as the iPod itself and I have yet to find that 100% perfect solution. A system similar to this, with a conveniently located mounting position and the ability to access the iPod’s native controls would be a good compromise in my opinion.

Rating: 2.5 (out of five)

Postscript: For my purposes in my Acura, I’m considering fabricating an adaptor using an actual Apple dock, running signal from the dock’s line-out to a head unit line-in, then rewiring a car charger to charge the iPod in-motion through the dock. Without steering wheel controls in my Acura, reaching down to hit “next” on the iPod is no different than reaching down to hit “next” on the head unit. I’ve also considered integrating my iPod wired remote into that kind of setup. My center console is slightly off center towards the driver, so there is room to the right of the console to install the dock without invading the passenger leg room. I’m looking at fabricating a dash-matching cradle for the dock where the iPod would lay flush with the console and the materials would blend with the dash materials. The iPod would slide in and out easily and I could control it simply using the iPod controls themselves or perhaps using the wired remote (which I could then use by touch and not have to look down at all).

  • Ian

    Thanks for this review – think I will stick with my Kenwood Keg!

    One question – if you simply jump to next or previous track, is that very slow too?

  • RB

    Thanks for the review but for my money……….

    MCS, iPod, ICE LINK, Pro Clip, MFSW…Thank You.

  • Do you think that the slowness may be due to your older head unit? Perhaps it is faster with the current line of receivers.

  • Nathaniel Salzman

    “One question – if you simply jump to next or previous track, is that very slow too?”

    No, jumping to the next or previous track is virtually instant – as fast through the head unit as it is on the iPod. Essentially, this setup is great once you get to the list you want to listen to. It’s just getting to that list through the head unit that’s an absolute chore.

  • Nathaniel Salzman

    “Do you think that the slowness may be due to your older head unit? Perhaps it is faster with the current line of receivers”

    It may indeed be due to the older head unit, but I’ve read identical complaints on from buyers who installed the system at the same time as a new head unit. I knew this when I bought it, but didn’t expect it to be quite THAT slow. Also, much of those complaints had to do with browsing Artists and Albums, which I don’t really do. And furthermore, old as my head unit is, it’s hardly an antique. I think the slowness may have less to do with the age of the head unit and more to do with the fact that the system is integrated through the CD-changer port in the first place. There may actually be a seek-time delay of some sort to allow a CD-changer time to swap CDs before actually trying to read them.

    This system simply solved my very basic iPod integration problem: direct line-in audio, and charge-in-motion sans the bulky car charger and extra wires. But what it robbed me of was the ability to simply use the iPod’s native browsing ease. Unless the list you want is only three or four lists away, you’ll spend your entire commute just getting to your list, and meanwhile you’ve rear-ended a school bus.

  • BBoy

    I have the same unit and can second your review. The sound quality is excellent, and I love being able to see the track name on the dash, but if I want to hear a specific song, album, or playlist, I find myself disconnecting the iPod, finding what I want to hear, then plugging it back in. Browsing using the deck is obscenely slow.

  • Leonardo Munoz

    Nice review, thanks. But does anyone has any experience with competitive products, such as CD-IB 100 from Pioneer or KCA-420i from Alpine? Do they have the same problem?

  • Jeff Enderwick

    The Alpine sucks rocks too. The buggers have a wheel with a push, click, buttons for , “menu”, and play/pause. Why they cannot make it work like an iPod, I’ll never know. You are better of just living with a unit with line-in, and waiting for the next generation of head-ends. These are just not quality products. It is amazing that this stuff got through Alpine’s user testing and made it to market. They must’ve tested it with an iPod with five songs on it.

  • I have the Alpine. Scrolling through playlist/Albums/Songs is slow, but livable. Must people are just spoiled with the extremely fast scrolling on the iPod itself. I tried the aux input method first, but found I was looking at the iPod instead of the road way to much. Basically, I try to keep my number of playlist low and created some playlists just for listening in the car. One con on the alpine interface is something if you leave it plugged in when you turn off the car, the ipod will get stuck in “OK to disconnect” mode and drain the battery.

  • Did you hear any odd noise issues? I seem to have some type of high frequency noise after my ipod plays for a few seconds.

  • Brian

    My Kenwood ipod interface worked fine in regards to audio quality and display of song titles on my dash. However, because I needed to connect, disconnect, and reconnect the ipod so many damn times to find a song or album the Kenwood interface no longer works with my ipod, my wife’s ipod. I purchased the 20GB color screen model last year and my ipod stopped loading into the Kenwood interface in December. Luckily Apple exchanged my ipod for a new one and less than a week of using the new ipod it too does not load into the Kenwood interface. Yesterday my wife’s ipod stopped loading as well. I am going to examine the interface’s connection to my radio to make sure it is still tight. If the connection is not the problem I am going to see what Kenwood will do in order to resolve this problem. 3 ipods! Come on!

  • If the iPod stops working with the KCA-IP500, reset the iPod by disconnecting it from the adaptor, press and hold the center button and the menu button for about 10 seconds until the Apple logo appears, and then reconnect it, and it should work.

    Apple spends all this time an attention to detail on the user interface and the user experience, and then to make it work with another product, you have to put a lame interface in front of it. I don’t see any point in this.

  • The “slow” that he speaks of comes from switching from playlist to playlist. Noone wants a bazillion songs just on random only so you have to add the playlists to your iPod. When you do this its like this (picture wise)

    -Such and such (the iPod) -playlist one -playlist two -playlist three -playlist four -playlist five

    and so on….and when you are going through them it takes a good (second or so in my case) amount of time to load the playlist and you have to go through each in order so its takes and thats why it takes a while…so if you are on three, you either have to go up 3 or down 3 just to get back to your iPods songs (no playlist) I don’t know if that helps you guys but i tried. In my opinion this thing is great but i was also hauling around a good 90 some cds in my car alone. I think having this and allowing my head unit to control the iPod is fantastic. I can’t get enough of it. i would give it a 4.5 outta 5. (the few second going through the menu’s isn’t as much of a downer for me as it may be others. As all products, it will come down to personal prefference)

  • in refferance to the guy that said he had 3 iPods not work…if you didn;t try it the iPod interface requires the lates updates on your iPod so if you haven’t gotten them i’d try it again

  • And (sorry to post so many) its still faster than flopping through all your cd’s just to find one song.

  • charlie

    Hi All, just fitted shiny new Kenwood headunit and the ipod adapter. Wish I’d read this first. Stunned by how unsuable the thing is. Flicking through the 10 or so playlists I have is fine, but passenger asked if I had Foo fighters, sure hang on we’ll find it….30 miles later still pushing the control to get past artists starting with A, then, B, then C the, oh forget it – just no use at all. It sounds great, but I will never find an artist beyond the range Y Z A B C and there is little point in a 30 – 40 – 60 GB ipod and access to hardly any of it.

  • You should just get the RCA Adapter and put it in the aux input

  • Rod

    To all of you complaining of slow load times, QUIT CYCLING THROUGH THE ARTIST, PLAYLIST, ETC. ONE BY ONE!!! Just use the remote from your head unit, like the one that came with my 25th Anniversary edition Kenwood.

    Here’s the typical cycle I go through after plugging the IPOD into the adaptor:

    1) Press menu button so “Scan” is highlighted. 2) Push in on volume button to scan to next category. These go from all songs, to artists, then to album, then to genre, then to playlists (if you have on your IPOD). I typically just press once to go to Artists. 3) Now look up the Artist number from a printed spreadsheet that you printed off your PC that contains your I-Tunes (or in my case Media Monkey) library. This data must be exported from the software first, then brought in to Excel and gridded for easier readability. 4) Use your head unit remote to type the 3 digit (hopefully you don’t have more than 999 different artists) artist # from your spreadsheet, then press the up or down control button on the remote. This will then jump to all songs by that artist, starting alphabetically by album, then track #. 5) Use your secondary spreadsheet (or just guess) to determine what SONG # within that artist you want to hear. Again, hopefully you don’t have more than 999 songs by any one artist, or things get tricky. Type that song # and hit right or left remote control button. 6) You’ll usually get close, then press left or right to get to the actual song you want.

    Oh, and you’ll want to reorganize all of your music collection to store the Album-track#-trackname in the TITLE metatag of your MP3’s. At least I had to because you only get TWO lines of data displayed on my head unit. So for example, the first line will say “ARTIST: AC-DC”, and the second line will scroll the song TITLE metatag. So I’d see “Back in Black-02-Hells Bells” below the artist line. Why not just leave the song tile in the title metatag? Because you’ll need to know what album and track # you are at when scrolling through to find that exact song. Trust me, I know what I’m doing.

    Is this a Clumsy procedure to go through? Yes.

    Will it take you 2 weeks to get everything working right? Most likely.

    Will you quickly find a song? Yes, once you get the hang of this system.

    I only wish my Kenwood remote was backlit… It’s very tough typing in 3 digit numbers while driving at night.


  • Nathaniel Salzman

    Wow, I wish I would have moderated this more. It posted back in July but there have been comments all along.

    I’ve still got this unit in my Integra, and I actually did something similar to Rod’s procedure of making a quick little spreadsheet of all my lists so that I’d know which list I was on by number. Unfortunately, I don’t have a remote for this head unit, so I can’t just punch the numbers in. That would make a BIG difference. But it’s not all bad. The audio’s great, and I just make my music choices before I get going.

  • Garry


    With my kenwood KDC-MP628 the ipod skips everytime that i plug it in. Why?

  • roni

    Hi, I have the kca-ip500 installed through a kvt 717 dvd. can anyone tell me how to get the song and/or artist title on my screen? My system is capable, I just cant figure it out Thanks

  • b6

    I just today got a Kenwood KDC-MP532u and the IP500 installed in my vehicle and discovered that while you can linearly navigate (or apparently do so by song number as mentioned above) you simply cannot navigate using the iPod’s native menus. When the Ipod is plugged in to the IP500 you have a “Kenwood” screen that obscures the iPod’s native navigation controls. Wow does this suck because the HU navigation is a huge PIA.

    Then strangely, however later today for some unknown reason and only for a single trip in my car I WAS able to navigate using the iPod with it plugged into the IP500. I have a 30GB video iPod and suddenly I was able to see a video I have loaded on the iPod AND hear the sound through my HU! Yet, when I turned off the car the iPod remained on and so I turned it off. Now however, upon returning to the car and starting up the iPod it once again has only the “Kenwood” screen on the iPod… this is driving me nuts! If I could navigate with the iPod I would be a very happy camper. Maybe it will come back?

  • patrick

    Just like b6, I too have actually had several occassions when I could control the Ipod through it’s own menu (using IP500 and Kenwood HU). Now I can’t!

    But for sure, it worked many times IF I didn’t unplug or take the Ipod out of the socket. And it also worked after leaving the unit in the car overnight (or extended period of time). Next morning I could then easily navigate using the Ipod menu and not the HU. Perfect… but now its stopped again!!

    So its possible to control your Ipod directly from Menu, but there must be some configuration or sequence that allows this. One thing for sure – it won’t happen as long as “Kenwood” is on the Ipod screen.

  • cs

    I have been using this unit plugged into the dvd/screen HU for about 6 months. I agree that the remote control is essential to navigating through a HD-based iPod’s playlists.

    One major problem I encountered is that if you have over 7782 (not sure about exact number) tracks, the playlist function stops. You can still step through all the tracks sequentially, but that is little use with thousands of songs. You have to keep the tracks below that number, which is a pain as I have a 60 gig pod and can easily exceed that number. Contacted Kenwood, heard nothing and I doubt there is anything that can be done.

  • sfaz

    hmm after reading reviews i think ill just get the Kenwood CA-C1AUX, (cd changer plug to Rca) and a RCA to ipod interface 😀 it charges ipod and u can control the music from ur ipod. info will not be display in ur car stereo but u can always get a nice ipod car holder 😀

  • Steve

    I thought it was pretty tiring when reading through the description of printing a list of songs, exporting to a spreadsheet, whatever. The I did a simple thing.

    Printing CD inserts and song or album lists You can print a list of the songs in your library or a selected playlist to use as a CD jewel case insert, or simply to have a song or album list.

    To print a CD insert, or a song or album list: Select your library or a playlist and choose File > Print. Select a Print option. Choose a theme from the Theme pop-up menu and click Print. You can see a preview of each theme you click.

  • Sam

    i give up on mine, i got the KDC-W808 with the ipwhatever adapter, and i just cant figure out how to chose a song, i press up and it goes to first artist, then the second artist, then it goes to the zutons!!! arg, why wont it just let me searchh through artists?

  • tony

    Im awaiting my kenwood kdc7031 being fixed, then im concidering getting an ipod interface as i hate having so many cds in my car. Im planning on getting a remote aswell, will the remote justify getting the ipod interface or is it still not worth it.

  • Al,

    I have a Excelon X990, Can everyone tell how get into the playlist, genere, or songs. Because I put the NEXT button to get into the SCAN, REPEAT and RADOM , but when I press SCAN button, I just scans like a normal CD. But it doesnt appear the playlist with all the songs. any thoughts ?

  • sturt m

    there is some compatibility issues with the ipod touch and this deck, the touch dosent charge properly. and the battery will runn down to empty and not go back up.

  • chris

    hey i just installed my H.U. (kca-mp4302) with the ipod adapter however i cant figure out how to scroll through my artists or songs, only playlists. i have figured out how to get the song and artist to be displayed i just would like to be able to actually SEARCH through them. i have read rods method but am still having trouble. if anyone has anytips please help. e-mail me if possible as i do not check this too often

  • Maxxx

    I am quite frustrated with my brand new kenwood deck, i have an 80 gig Classic, with 50 gigs of video, and 9000 songs… When someone gets in my car, and wants to hear my custom 12″ JL’s pound, its like, oh, well disconnect the ipod and find bass testers… either that or i do it, and well ive found myself randomly swerving on the highway, so its just not a very good setup. The deck quality, preouts, and decently low distortion rating makes this deck decent, better if i use cds, but i will never burn 9000 songs to cd, so i guess im stuck with using this ipod integration…