Review of Pioneer DEH-6900UB iPod-Ready HU

pioneerdeh-6900_small.jpgFor my birthday a couple of weeks ago I got the new DEH-6900UB head unit from Pioneer for my GTI. In anticipation of getting the new HU, I bought a new 12″ sub and mounted it in a old Q-Logic box, ran some 4 gauge wire to my hatch, and dug out an old 300W amp. This way I could rip out the stock HU and install the new one along with the sub and amp all in one shot. Now that I’ve played around with the new deck for a couple of weeks, I thought I’d write up what I like and what I don’t like. Overall this is a great head unit. One of my main reasons for choosing it for me was the direct USB iPod compatibility. This HU works using the original white USB cable that came with my iPod – no adapters required. And if you don’t have an iPod it will accept any USB-compatible device up to 250GB in size. The 6900UB has a clean front panel with very few buttons, thank goodness for the remote however which adds a few that are sometimes necessary, such as quick-attenuation and pause. It also allows you to adjust the volume while in the Audio mode adjusting settings without going back out into the main display. The one big knob on the front does just about everything: it rotates left-right, it clicks up and down and clicks left and right and pushes in. It takes some getting used to, I’ve found the remote is almost easier to navigate, and it has a little wheel-type button as well that replicates the actions of the main knob. But the clean look is very attractive and the OEL display is very nice. Although it’s blue, it’s not an exact match to the blue in my ’04 GTI. During the day you’d never notice since the dash lights aren’t on, and it’s basically blue which is the factory color for the instrument lights, so for the most part it matches. At night it’s a different story and the blue lights from the dash are much more purple than the bright whiter blue of the display. It’s not too bad, at least the whole display is just the one color, blue, so it’s not like there are green/red/orange buttons to worry about trying to match and looking ugly too. It would be nice if it matched better, but once you pull out the factory radio, you might as well accept that your car isn’t going to have that stock look anymore. At least that stock sound is gone, or mostly.

Changing out the factory radio in the GTI makes a HUGE difference. It sounded like an AM radio compared to this new HU, even with the stock speakers. One feature I love about the 6900UB is the built-in crossover for the integrated 22×4 amp. I’ve got the stock components being powered by the deck right now (until I get another amp to drive my sub) and since the stock speakers have no bass whatsoever, it makes no sense to tax the HU trying to run lots of bass to them. So with the click of the master knob, I can turn on a high-pass filter to my 2 pairs of components and set it to cut off below 50, 63, 80, 100, or 125Hz. This way the HU can play just a little bit louder before distorting since it’s not trying to play any of the power-hungry bass. And this is typical of a multi-amp setup one might do. In addition, the sub-out also has a built-in low-pass filter which can be adjusted at the click of the big wheel. So in my case I’ve set the amp in the back to full-range mode and let the HU control the x-over frequency. This is great since it allows you to dial in just the right amount of upper bass from the driver’s/listening seat, instead of being hunched over in the trunk of you car with a flathead screwdriver trying to decide where to set the crossover point. After much messing with these two adjustments, I’ve settled on a 100Hz point for the sub and 50Hz for the front/rear components. This way the sub has the right amount of bass across the entire low frequency region, it doesn’t just play super low bass, and I get some overlap from the 6″ components in the cabin without running them too hard. There’s not an obvious “gap” in the response as the sound transitions from the subs to the other speakers. I’m not sure the stock speakers can play much below 100Hz anyway, but setting the x-over any higher created that separation effect in the music, or gap, like the sub and the components are in two different places or too far apart. The blend is perfect at the 100Hz/50Hz split.

Anyway, enough about that, onto how well this thing integrates with the iPod. Most people complain about the speed of connectivity with iPod-ready head units, accessing songs, artists and playlists just takes too long to be useful. However the Pioneer unit talks to the iPod wonderfully and just as quickly as you can spin and click that main knob. The iPod controls become dormant once the unit is connected and a cool little Pioneer logo shows up on the front. Nice touch. The main knob then does all the controlling and mimics the click wheel on the iPod itself, although not near as good nor near as fast. If you’ve got a lot of songs, say a 30GB iPod filled to the max, then finding individual songs can take some time, and a lot of rotating of this knob, especially if the song is by an artist whose name isn’t either at the beginning or the end of the alphabet. Accessing a Morrissey tune for example took me 1 minute 15 seconds and I was spinning the knob as fast as I could, unfortunately it only clicks through one artist/song/playlist per soft “click” of the wheel so it takes a lot of spinning. Had I been doing that while driving, I probably would have crashed. It’s actually quicker to just press down on the knob repeatedly rather than spin it. But the HU talks to the iPod just as fast as it can, it’s the knob that slows you down. Once you pick a song, it plays immediately. And then after all that clicking, unlike he iPod which when you go back to select a new artist will go back to Morrissey and let you scroll around from there, the Pioneer deck starts over at square one, artist A, so you’re back to endless scrolling to get to say a New Order song. This honestly isn’t a big deal for me since I usually just hit Shuffle All and let it play for weeks on end. I think Alpine has the right idea by splitting up the scrolling into 6 subcategories so you can basically jump from the A’s to the M’s in just two or three clicks instead of hundreds. For this HU however, you could just make several playlists that have the artists A-E, F-J, K-O, etc. and then accessing a favorite band would be much quicker. It just takes some creativity on your part to make a few key playlists that are useful to the accessing options of the Pioneer deck, even if they aren’t really playlists so to speak. UPDATE: I tried this technique, so-called, and it doesn’t work, so it’s back to drawing board.

Bottom line the deck is sweet. The OEL is nice and has some fancy little “entertainment” options as they call it, from moving waves to bubbles to a pair of analog style VU meters bouncing only slightly out of sync to the beat. I usually just keep it on the default background with the artist and song title showing. One thing the deck has turned on by default that drove me insane is what they call Reversing. Where the display inverts, every 10 seconds – super annoying when you’re driving at night, it’s constantly getting brighter every time it “reverses”. At least you can turn it off, which once I figured out how to do it, it got turned off for good. (See the comments below to learn how to turn it off). The 7-band EQ is nice, allowing you to dial in just the right amount bass, midbass, midrange, treble and upper highs. I’ve basically got it set up to be a smiley face. A little more bass, and a little more treble. Not to mention I’ve got the loudness set to HIGH which boosts the lows and highs by a massive +12dB. These stock speakers really do suck, but with a boat-load of EQ, they can sound half-way decent. Although the sibilance is enough to make one go deaf. But that’s typical of crappy tweeters and over-EQ’ing, not to mention playing mp3’s. Yes, it’s all a very bad formula for crappy sound. But for the most part it sounds okay. The bass sounds really good though. I’ve only got 150W (50×4 bridged to 150×1 with the other 2 channels unused) going to the one dB-500 12″ sub but it’s got plenty of thump, it plays super deep, and doesn’t quite drown out the stock 22×4 amp powering the components. But I’ve also got it dialed down pretty low. The gain on the amp is set almost all the way to MIN. Mainly because the HU allows for quite a huge range of sub level output, from -24 to +6. I’ve got it set to 0 and then if a song has too much bass I can dial it down to -3 or so, and if I want a little more, I can dial it up to +3 or +4. I’ve also got the sub set to invert polarity (reverse they call it) since when doing A/B comparisons, reversed appeared to sound smoother and blended with the other speakers better, and had more bass.

So there’s my massively long-winded review of the Pioneer DEH-6900UB which took me just about as long to write as it took me to install.

Pros:
Sounds great, 22×4 plays plenty loud even on stock speakers
Direct iPod integration w/o needing expensive extra cables/adapters
7-band EQ w/2 custom settings
OEL display visible in almost any light
Bass adjustment with just 1 button
4V RCA outs for front, rear and sub
Built-in crossover for high and low-pass
Plays DRM-encrypted .aac files (from iPod only)

Cons:
Accessing songs/artists is time consuming and difficult if you have lots of songs on your iPod
Artist List starts over every time you access it with no memory of ‘where you last were’
Display color may clash with some cars’ interior colors
Entertainment background options kind of cheesy (but kind of cool too)
Cannot access or watch videos/pictures on iPod while connected to HU

My Dash Torn to Pieces
tornaprtdash.jpg
Soldered Wires from Factory Harness Adapter to Pioneer Connector
solderedwires.jpg
Head Unit Installed with iPod Stashed in the Compartment Below
huinstalled.jpg
TC Sounds dB-500 12″ Sub
subinhatch2.jpg

About Dan

For a complete biography, stop by www.danmarx.org and click around for a while.
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28 Responses to Review of Pioneer DEH-6900UB iPod-Ready HU

  1. Stephen says:

    Thanks for the review, it was very helpful. I got this this page via a “DEH-6900UB review” search through Google.

    I recently ordered my DEH-6900UB and am anxiously awaiting its arrival. Thanks BIG TIME for explaining what exactly “reverse mode” is. I saw the disclaimer about it in the owners manual, but their explanation of “reverse mode” was horrible and I didn’t understand exactly what that meant. Now I know to make sure I turn it off!

  2. David says:

    How do you set the clock on the DEH-P6900UB? I tried following the directions and for some reason im not getting it right.

  3. Dan says:

    You need to turn off the radio first, press and hold the SRC button to turn it off. Then press and hold the multi-control till it turns on again and dial it over once to the clock. Then up and down to change the hour and minutes. That’s it, hope that helps.

  4. Dave H says:

    Thanks for the review. I just bought this unit but have not installed it yet. However, my last Pioneer had the same issue with the display “inverting” every 10 seconds or so. How do you turn that off with the DEH-P6900UB? Thanks for the help.

  5. Dan says:

    Make sure the unit is turned off, then press and hold the multi-control and it will take you into the main setup. Just scroll through a few of the options (language, clock, AUX 2, etc.) and it’s one of the last ones I think, just set it to off.

  6. Matt says:

    Nice Review. I appreciate it. I Just got this deck and I love it. I was thinking of just getting an iPod just for the purposes of using it with the deck but since you’ve mentioned the controls on the iPod go dormant once connected, you’ve probably saved me a few hundred extra dollars from buying an iPod just so I could use its interface as a sort of remote.

    I guess a hard drive connected would ultimately be the same and cheaper if you don’t already own an iPod.

    I’ve also hooked up XM to this deck (through the aux) and it sounds better than usual because of the High Pass filter and the good equalizer. Although since I’ve had to amplify the signal going into the AUX, at loud volumes for highway driving I can hear the slightest high pitch buzz from amplifying the signal (Which is annoying when you pay attention to it).

  7. Shelby says:

    nice writeup! thanks so much for posting how to turn the annoying flashing / blinking screen off! I never would have thought it was Reverse that did it, I thought it “reversed” the levels you navigated to and eventually would get back to the main screen. This was the only thing I couldn’t figure out and I was PRAYING there was a way to turn it off. I was googling everything I could think of to get some help and then I tried DEH-6900UB & annoying and got your post!

    I will be posting a full review of this at http://www.subaruoutback.org soon if anybody wants even more info.

    related search terms: DEH-P6900UB illuminate switch off

  8. Dan says:

    Hey no problem. I should have mentioned in the original post how to turn it off, but it wasn’t until Dave H asked about it that I commented on how to do it. I read through every page of the instruction manual until I found it. It’s interesting though since that feature is on by default, yet whenever I saw it in stores, it was always off. Yet I find it hard to believe that the sales guys actually went in and figured out how to disable it. The one sales guy who tried to sell me the unit didn’t even know it had a USB port in the back, kept trying to tell me I needed a special cable.

  9. Martin says:

    I recently got the DEH-P690UB from the US. I have mostly used it playing MP3 off a USB memory stick, flawless.

    Unfortunately the FM tuner can only tune in 0.2mhz steps so half the stations here in the UK cannot be recieved or sound slushy because the tuning isn’t spot on.

    Is the 6900 the same and is the frequency step adjustable by a hidden setting?

  10. Dan says:

    The 6900 also increments in 0.2MHz steps on the odd frequencies. I looked for a hidden setting to change it but couldn’t find anything.

  11. Martin says:

    Plot thickens,

    I got the service manual which covers the 690, 6900 and 7950, it seems they have identical innards.

    By chance I looked at the 7950 user manual and there IS a frequency step setting in the language/clock/etc menu!

    The service manual describes pressing EQ+DISP+RESET to get into a test mode although there is no mention of tuner settings.
    No matter how I try pressing these buttons, I still only get the demo mode on my 690.

    If anyone manages to activate the test mode you should be aware that it may be possible to mess up the CD drive calibration by tweaking inappropriate settings..

    Interestingly the service manual also describes how the firmware can be updated from USB storage device.

    I feel a mail to Pioneer coming on.

  12. Martin says:

    Update..

    The DEH-P7950UB is the Austrailian version of the DEH-P6900UB. It has selectable tuning steps of 0.1Mhz or 0.05Mhz on the FM band.
    After looking at the circuit diagrams with a magnifying glass, I’m certain the 6900 can be turned into a 7950 by snipping a link on the underside of the tuner PCB.
    My 690 is slightly different in that the ROM in the removable face has another part number, presumably programmed to display ‘Premiere’ when it is first switched on.

    I’ll be voiding my 2 year warrantee later and I’ll keep you posted.

  13. Conrad says:

    Hey so how did you hook up your sub? did you have to run a long RCA cable from the amp all the way to the back of the headunit?

  14. Dan says:

    Yup, that’s how you do it. You also need to run a nice fat wire from the battery to the amp as well.

  15. Conrad says:

    Awesome thanks alot, i just installed this unit a few hours ago before work and still havent been able to play with it, install looks clean btw! thanks again.

  16. Vee says:

    After looking at the circuit diagrams with a magnifying glass, I’m certain the 6900 can be turned into a 7950 by snipping a link on the underside of the tuner PCB.
    Martin, is it proven?

  17. Martin says:

    It’s proven!
    Turns out the link was a SMT zero ohm resistor that needs moving from one pad to another. This changes the state of the MODEL pin on the CPU.
    A new menu appears allowing 0.05 or 0.1MHz steps in BSM scan. Manual tuning is now in 0.05 steps. Been working perfectly for a month now!

  18. Vee says:

    Comment from Martin
    Time: October 21, 2007, 7:44 pm

    It’s proven!
    Turns out the link was a SMT zero ohm resistor that needs moving from one pad to another. This changes the state of the MODEL pin on the CPU.
    A new menu appears allowing 0.05 or 0.1MHz steps in BSM scan. Manual tuning is now in 0.05 steps. Been working perfectly for a month now!

    Could you atach a picture- cause I don’t mind what to do.. :)

  19. Blue says:

    Could you be a little more specific about which resistor needs “moving?”
    I got the necessary tools to do this, but I can not understand exactly what I’m looking for…and I wouldn’t wanna destroy it without a good reason :D
    Tnx in Advance :)

  20. Martin says:

    I just made a web page of it. http://www.sparkgap.co.uk/misc/DEH6900UB_modification.htm
    Thanks for your interest, you spurred me on.

  21. Dan says:

    Great write-up Martin! Thanks for posting. Looks like a simple mod to perform. Doesn’t really make sense why that couldn’t be a programming/firmware thing instead of being hardwired. But after playing around with the 6900 for several months now, I can think of quite a few improvements they could have made to the iPod connectivity and how the menus work as well. But oh well, it’s still a decent HU.

  22. Menno van Grol says:

    Thanks for the tips,I didnt read nowhere in the instruction manual that the unit has to be turend off to use the multi control to adjust the time etc etc.

  23. I’m about to buy this radio or a similar radio, but before I do, I need some good feedback on how good or bad this unit actually works with an IPOD. The sole reason I want to upgrade from a starter Kenwood car stereo that plays CDs/mp3 CDs is to be able to play both CDs AND Ipod. I’m reading lots of reviews and apparently this stereo and most (every one I’ve seen) stereo’s “scrolling” system sucks.

    Thanks,
    Future customer in need of help (Mike)!

    email: 16@redbluebooking.com

  24. Dan says:

    The only thing I can recommend is to take your iPod and a cable to a local electronics store, Circuit City, Best Buy, etc., all carry this deck (or at least they did a year ago) and try it out. It is a pain accessing individual songs/artists. The wheel isn’t nearly as smart as the iPod’s click wheel, so it doesn’t know to scroll faster when you spin in faster, it still does one song per click. I’ve been tempted to open the unit up and pull the clicker part out so the wheel just spins freely, but I’m not sure if that wouldn’t mess up other things, like the volume (go over a bump and the volume goes full bast). You’ll never know if you can live with the slow scrolling unless you try it out.

  25. Dave says:

    Thanks for this awesome review. To be honest, I didn’t read the whole thing, but I too was going internet searching to try to figure out what the hell this “Reversing” thing was. You’re right, SUPER ANNOYING at night.

    When I changed the clock for daylight savings it started doing that, and I never figured out why it started happening or how I managed to turn it off.

    I just had my battery go dead the other day (hooray -8 degrees in the morning) and it started doing it again. GAH!

    Thanks again, man.

  26. Malaya says:

    How do you store radio stations? I’ve been pushing buttons for a while now and i can’t figure it out

  27. Tam says:

    About a year late, but in case anyone passing through wants to know about storing stations.

    – Hit the Source button until you are on the Tuner setting.
    – Tune into the station you want to add.
    – Hit the list button to the right of the multi-use button and select the Preset # you want to use.
    – Hold down the knob until it adds it to your presets.

  28. riceme says:

    Thank you so much for explaining how to correct the time. I have a hard copy of the owner’s manual, and downloaded one (thinking it may have been updated), but neither were a darn bit of good… Can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help!

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