Following on from our motorhome technical upgrade series, in this article we cover motorhome audio upgrade. Dave shares details of our upgrade from a standard Ford Audio Radio head unit to a Kenwood DMX-8019DABS with Hertz MPK 165.3 Speakers and Phoenix Z8150 Sub – here’s why and how (Over to you DT – ML)
(Oh and if you missed parts 1 and 2 in our series, you can read them here:
Why did we decide to change?
As standard our 2019 Ford Transit cab came with a terrible audio head unit. Sure it had Bluetooth and paired with my phone, but it had no Digital (DAB) radio, which is criminal in 2019, even my 9 year old Golf has a DAB radio.
Although I could stream Spotify playlists from my phone, the sound quality was poor. Over the road noise, motorhome creaks and rattles, plus the general poor acoustic, the radio didn’t have the oomph to be anything other than a background noise.
What did we change – Option 1
My initial attempt at a low cost motorhome audio upgrade was to purchase a Pure Highway 600 DAB unit. Ratings for this unit are good both from consumers and Auto Express. The interface is reasonably intuitive but reception is not great in our Ford Motorhome. The stick on screen receiver & arial can’t be placed on a heated screen, which is what we have in the van. So unfortunately, for us, reception was poor ands we needed another plan.
Next attempt was to route the cabling up the door pillar so the receiver would stick on the skylight. It just about made it. Reception was better but the receiver should be grounded on the vehicle body. Up by the skylight there’s nothing but plastics, so reception was better but still not great.
So the Pure Highway 600 unit may be a good solution for your lack of DAB if your windscreen isn’t heated with filaments and you can get the 10” grounding lead to touch the bodywork (A pillar probably).
What did we change – Option 2
So what else could we do? Having searched for other ideas on motorhome audio upgrades I spotted someone on the Chausson Owners Group facebook page that had changed their head unit into a large screen double, so that was our next route.
Pioneer, Kenwood and Alpine are the leaders in aftermarket systems, so following some online research and talking to a couple of dealers, I settled on the Kenwood DMX-8019DABS. This has all the things I wanted;
- Wifi connectivity
- Apple CarPlay
- Large clear responsive touch screen and
- none of the things I didn’t want i.e. CD/DVD player.
To fit the Kenwood DMX-8019DABS you need a series of connectors that will plug into the Ford wiring harness and a new facial panel as the Ford radio is integrated into its own panel. It is possible to do this yourself, You tuber’s FaroutRide have done it, have a look at their video here.
Although I’m reasonably competent at DIY, I know this will take soooo much longer and possibly not save me any money, as I always need a different tool, or I’ve bought the wrong part, or something breaks. (Sometimes it’s best to hand the job over to the experts DT – ML)
So I spoke to a couple of local Audio specialists, one claimed that the air bag light would stay on, the other said he’d done several Transits and there was a part that solved that problem. They were also much more forthcoming in the pros and cons of various units, so Western Car Radio in Bristol got our business.
It took the best part of a day to install, but this included fitting a rear camera into the bumper. The Chausson has a downward facing parking camera, with a display where a rear view mirror would be. I wanted the ability to have a rear facing camera functioning like a mirror, the Kenwood head unit would then show the parking camera when I reversed.
The guys wired as directed but the newly installed rear camera, (in the bumper) didn’t mate well with the display and there was a lot of interference in the picture. Thus the “mirror display” stayed as the parking camera and the Kenwood now has the rear view which can be activated with a button on the head unit.
The result is not bad, but not brilliant. I wanted a discrete “factory” looking install, rather than some obviously bolt on dual camera. The downside with the bumper camera is the aperture is small, which limits image quality, especially in low light, in low sun the image gets overexposed so you can’t see much. However, for not much money it’s better than nothing, and over time I’ll find a better solution.
Back to the head unit, after a quick run through of the functions and a pairing of our phones, we could play. The sound was significantly better than the original Ford unit. When you look at the back of the Ford facia panel, the electrical gubbins were about the size of a box of cooks matches. The Kenwood unit is much more substantial, being a double din size and about 10” deep.
The result is a lot more power and even the cheap factory speakers sounded much louder and better. Apple Car Play, or the Android equivalent, is a must. It means the key apps that you use on your phone can be used on the head unit. So you can use Waze or Google maps to search for your destination and Spotify or Radio Apps to play your music.
This is brilliant as it also means your interface will be updated. A real frustration of mine with car stereo’s and sat navs is that they pretty much stay as you bought them. Your phone apps are always being updated and improved. A nice addition is also that you can attach a memory stick to display your favourite photos on rotation as a screensaver. We’ve loaded up our favourite van trip photos, which give a feel good factor as you drive along. Switching between apps, DAB, rear camera is a cinch, and you can still use all the steering wheel controls.
Although the sound was much better, I couldn’t help feeling that we had a very capable unit powering some cheap paper speakers. I therefore booked the van back in to have the door speakers and tweeters upgraded and a small subwoofer fitted under the passenger seat.
This has transformed the sound in our van. It took a bit of fiddling with the settings to get the sub and speakers balanced to our taste and not too boomy. Once we did that we had a much richer, cleaner sound. With the factory unit we had to have the volume blasting out just to hear it above the road noise. The new set up gives not only greater volume but clarity to the sound, so even at lower levels you hear a far greater frequency range.
- Purchase of Kenwood DMX-8019DABS Headunit (approx. £500)
- New facia, cables, connectors, fitting, rear camera and wiring approx. £360.
- Hertz MPK 165.3speakers (approx. 265)
- Phoenix Z8150 Subwoofer £180, cables and fitting brings to a total of £665
The guys at Western Car Radio in Bristol are friendly, professional and very knowledgable. We would highly recommend then if you are considering upgrading your Audio kit (car or van).
So that’s it for another week, we hope you’ve found our motorhome audio upgrade article useful. You can find more articles like this one in our Motorhome Tips Section.
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