For 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.
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)
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
Soldered Wires from Factory Harness Adapter to Pioneer Connector
Head Unit Installed with iPod Stashed in the Compartment Below
TC Sounds dB-500 12″ Sub