Alpine vs Pioneer: comparing their head units

by | Auto Tools, Comparisons (Cars)

When it comes to car stereo, Pioneer and Alpine are one of those companies. You know, the ones manufacturing head units that are not only products. No, they’re a gateway to premium, long-lasting entertainment.

There’s a reason the term Japanese quality exists. I couldn’t get how these guys do it until I lived in Japan for 3 years. Visiting some local facilities had me directly witness why Japan still dominates the automotive industry. The quality control is insane!

Anyways, onto the actual topic of Alpine vs Pioneer head units…Are you looking for simplicity a.k.a. single DIN units? Or do you want to experience the bells and whistles of double DIN units?

For single DIN, the Pioneer DEH-S6100BT takes the audio cake. Simple, yes – but also delivering impressive sound quality and decent connectivity.

With double DIN receivers things depend on what you actually need:

  • Pioneer AVH-W4400NEX gives you better functionality and easier user interface. Fully wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, SD card slot…good stuff.
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  • Alpine iLX-207 lets you enjoy a juicier sound and great audio adjustment/tuning options. The tradeoffs are fewer features and more technical navigation.
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  • Pioneer AVH-210EX is a budget option with some tolerable inconveniences.

Let’s take a closer look into this battle of quality brands 🙂 I’ll start with double DINs, as I think they are gradually becoming a must-have for any car owner. Single DINs will follow!

Battle of the double DIN:
Alpine vs Pioneer in-dash stereo

As I mentioned before, I consider the Pioneer’s 4400NEX and Alpine’s iLX-207 the pinnacle of these companies’ double DIN.

(If you want more budget options, I’ll mention some after comparing these two!)

At first glance, you’d think that they are quite similar as they share lots of common specs like:

  • 50W x 4 raw power

  • 7″ screen at a 800×480 resolution (480p)

  • iDatalink Maestro compatibility

  • Sirius XM satellite ready

  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible

  • HDMI

  • Great audio quality with HD enhancements

Once you dive in deeper, however, you’ll reach two conclusions.

Pioneer = more functional and simple, intuitive user experience.

Alpine = fruitier sound and richer, more technical sound customization.

Functionality and convenience

Alpine doesn’t have an SD card slot, but the W4400 NEX has. Most importantly, however, Alpine requires a wired connection for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Valuing your convenience, Pioneer lets you go full wireless with both – and with Pandora too.

If you want to have your music on your head unit, Alpine will not cut it. You simply can’t do that – there’s no SD card slot and you need to keep your phone plugged if you want to have CarPlay or AA on.

User interface

Yes, both double DIN car stereos have a 7″ screen that delivers video in 480p. However, there’s a big difference in how this screen is organized.

To me, Pioneer is simply easier to navigate. You literally need a few seconds and you’ve got the hang of it. I recommend it for people who like clean, straightforward interfaces…or to people who are not that technical. The volume controls are also more responsive.

I’m not saying that Alpine is ugly – but it is not as simple and neatly ordered as Pioneer’s counterpart.

As far as screen response times go, you won’t get any significant differences. Both will be responsive to your touch and there won’t be any lag. Pioneer might be slightly quicker with the bootup time, however.

This video pretty much demonstrates the user interface/great responsiveness side:

The sound

Let me be clear: both of these companies make no compromise in terms of audio quality. However, Alpine’s iLX-207 definitely takes audio control, enhancements and technicalities to the next level. You can thank the Alpine Tuneit app for that.

Pioneer has always stayed true to clean audio reproduction. Crystal clear, HD, outstanding – but still a more linear, straightforward approach to audio tuning.

Alpine – and especially iLX-207 go for the meaty, colorful details behind how sound works.

Obviously, a lot of people aren’t that much into technical audio adjustment. I guess audio engineers or audiophiles will be the ones who will enjoy the BassEngine SQ adjusts and other software-related tinkering the most.

Budget double DIN options:
Definitely Pioneer

Now, not everyone is willing to shell out that much cash for a head unit. Or, you know, some people need only half of that bells and whistles thing.

For the more budget-oriented of you, I have to say that Pioneer has way better mid-level options. In particular, I’m talking about the AVH-2300 NEX or the very affordable AVH-210EX bluetooth car stereo.

Why no Alpine?

When it comes to double DIN receivers, Alpine is better at the high-end range. The iLX-107 used to have some tasty discounts but it’s still expensive and it has no Android Auto support.

So, the AVH-2300NEX and the AVH-210 EX.

Let’s first talk about the AVH-2300NEX. The 2300 series in-dash stereo is actually a toned-down version of the W4400NEX I recommended above. The screen and user experience are the same, but with the 2300NEX you DON’T get:

  • Wireless connections to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto

  • SD card slot or SD playback

  • HDMI support

  • HD Radio Artist Experience

  • HD Radio multicasting

None of these, no. These are significant drawbacks for people who love the wireless experience or are into the highest quality radio sound Pioneer can offer. On the other hand, if you don’t care about such things that much, the 2300NEX will save you a few bucks.

The AVH-210EX is an even more budget pick and possibly one of the cheapest good quality double DIN receivers out there.

Pioneer vs Alpine double DIN receivers: AVH-210EX is a great budget pick if you don't mind no wireless support and slightly older screen tech.

It’s a solid pick if you don’t mind the old, slightly clunky user experience and the smaller 6.2″ screen. As you can guess, this car stereo lacks all the perks I mentioned above – no HDMI, no HD Radio stuff, no wireless connections etc.

Important note: being older tech, the screen can be pretty bad with strong direct sunlight. No anti-glare, at least not good anti-glare, unfortunately.

All in all, the 210EX is a decently functional, great-sounding receiver which is however somewhat of a blast of the past considering current double DIN devices.

Pioneer vs Alpine:
Single DIN receivers

So, if we’re talking about good single DIN head units and Alpine or Pioneer at the same time, there are exactly two most sensible choices.

The Alpine CDE-172BT:

Why do I recommend the Pioneer receiver?

Simple answer: because functionally they’re pretty much the same…but the Pioneer is slightly cheaper. You just get a better bang for your buck.

(Probably why you also see Pioneer single DINs having 5-6 times the reviews their Alpine counterparts have.)

Also, personal preference maybe – but once again the user interface from Pioneer is more intuitive. I’m mainly talking about the bottom controls and the straightforward 1 to 6 setup.

So what can you expect of these? Generally good stuff for the modest price:

  • Voice control via Bluetooth or USB

  • MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC compatibility (though Pioneer also supports WAV)

  • Android and iPhone Music support

  • SiriusXM support

  • USB + AUX inputs

Pioneer’s DEH-6100BS dash stereo is a little bit more fun to have around due to its 10-level brightness control and dual-zone color customization supporting up to 210000 colors.

Concluding thoughts

Well, there we go – I hope I could shed at least some light on the whole Alpine vs Pioneer debate. I’m a huge fan of functionality and user experience, so Pioneer definitely tickles my fancy compared to Alpine’s bet on masterful sound manipulation and experimentation.

As a whole, I’m grateful that Japanese companies like Pioneer, Alpine, Kenwood and JVC exist. Can you imagine the car stereo world without them?

Not a sight I’d want to see.

The Japan I saw while living there was definitely declining in terms of political influence on a global scale…But in terms of pure quality of manufacture, they still have it. They are still the behemoth of automotive tools and accessories. And the two brands I talked about in this article are prime example of that.

Founder of ToolingFun. Couldn't even change a lightbulb in my teenage years. Discovered the joy of DIY projects during my 2nd year in college. All about tinkering around, trying fun tools and projects, and giving my opinion on industry brands!