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Pioneer Navigation system - Part1

Maps, Apps, Tunes, and More

Kevin McNultyPhotographer, Writer

We really don't have to tell you how important music is. After all, it has tamed each one of us at one point or another, motivated us, got the party going, kept it going, and helped us stay awake on long hauls. Combine a high-end advanced sound system with cool apps and an accurate and easy-to-use GPS navigation that easily guides us to our destinations and you get what we think is the perfect in-cab mapping tool and entertainment system.

We just picked up Pioneer's new in-dash AVIC-X950BH navigation AV receiver and a complete sound system, which includes high-end speakers, an amp, and a subwoofer. We installed all this trick gear in our late-model '12 Ram 1500 truck. The 4x4 had what we thought was a good-sounding factory sound system until we started pumping tunes through six new Pioneer D-Series speakers. The realization of what we weren't hearing from the factory stereo components was amazing!

Pioneer Electronics has been around since 1938, and we've used the company's stereos and speakers in our 4x4s ever since we were youngsters. We've always had great luck with Pioneer components and like the fact that Pioneer offers a full line of equipment, which can be very reasonably priced for budget-minded truck builds and a high-end line of components for extravagant builds. None of the components are too terribly complicated to install or operate.

We're not sure how many of you folks are audiophiles, but we know you like music. We aren't fanatical nor experts in the field, but we can confidently operate and install a good sound system. Just like most people we can also tell the difference between crisp clear music with little distortion and just-OK sound. It is easy differentiate the highs, midtones, lows, and vocals of a sound system, especially when switching from the nonpremium factory sounds system.

The features of the AVIC-X950BH are just what we have been waiting for in an audiovisual navigation system. The receiver not only uses a very detailed GPS guidance and a mapping database, but it also features the latest entertainment technology, such as Pandora Internet Radio, HD Radio, Sirius XM Satellite Radio, App Radio, Bluetooth connectivity, and Aha web connectivity, which allows you to listen to Facebook and Tweets safely. The iPod and iPhone connectivity allows the viewing of the album, songs, and artists. The system works with iPhone 4, 4S, and 5 (iPhone 5 requires a special interface cable and firmware update). The NavTec navigation features Total Traffic real-time traffic updates, 12 million points of interest, and 2D and 3D mapping.

We can't think of anything Pioneer left out of this radio! The receiver has a number of other really trick features, such as rear audio and video outputs, meaning your kids can watch movies or listen to audio on separate monitors in the backseat while the adults listen to their own entertainment up front. If you truck doesn't have a rearview camera the AVIC-X950BH has an input for a backup camera. We have found it very handy while backing up trailers or negotiating tree lines backwards!

Before picking up the AVIC-X950BH we shopped around. At the time no other system had all the features this unit has and the factory receiver with audio/navigation was $1,900-$2,100 compared to this unit at $950. We are splitting this review into two parts since the system does so much. Part 2 of our story will cover the system's performance and a full review of all the features.

Obviously the high-tech components aren't as easy to install as the low-budget superstore radio that was bolted into that old '70s farm truck. The wiring in late-model trucks is complicated, but adapters are available for aftermarket audiovisual components that make installation less complicated and systems nearly a direct plug-in.

We contacted Crutchfield, and the guys there helped us out with the factory integration adapters and dash installation components. Without their help we might have spent days tracing wires, splicing, and crossing our fingers in the hope that we wouldn't short-circuit the truck's critical electrical components. Crutchfield carries just about everything needed for the proper and professional installation of an audio system, including adapters so a truck's steering wheel audio controls can still be used with an aftermarket system. Crutchfield's website is easy to navigate, so we found our parts quickly—we also called them a couple of times for technical advice and they were more than helpful.