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Pioneer AVH501EX Review

The Pioneer AVH-501EX is our pick for the best car stereo simply because it does everything it should very well.

Our Verdict

The Pioneer AVH-501EX has the best audio performance, the best display and good power handling. It's not only more stylish than other systems, but it’s also far more versatile.

For

  • It received the highest grades in our audio quality tests.

Against

  • The front display doesn’t have a USB or AUX port.
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The Pioneer AVH-501EX earned an A+ for display quality.

The Pioneer AVH-501EX earned an A+ for display quality.
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The Pioneer AVH-501EX's display is easy to read.

The Pioneer AVH-501EX's display is easy to read.
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The remote that comes with the Pioneer AVH-501EX is easy to use.

The remote that comes with the Pioneer AVH-501EX is easy to use.
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The Pioneer AVH-501EX has 13 EQ settings, and you can adjust each one. This gives you excellent control over audio performance.

The Pioneer AVH-501EX has 13 EQ settings, and you can adjust each one. This gives you excellent control over audio performance.
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The Pioneer AVH-501EX is the only stereo we reviewed with a touchscreen.

The Pioneer AVH-501EX is the only stereo we reviewed with a touchscreen.
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The interface received an A- for ease of use.

The interface received an A- for ease of use.
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You can integrate your Pandora account with the Pioneer AVH-501EX.
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You have more control over the Pioneer AVH-501EX’s look and sound than you do with any other stereo.

You have more control over the Pioneer AVH-501EX’s look and sound than you do with any other stereo.
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The Pioneer AVH-501EX’s display shows album art.

The Pioneer AVH-501EX’s display shows album art.
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You can customize the background art on the Pioneer AVH-501EX.

You can customize the background art on the Pioneer AVH-501EX.
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Its double-din design means the Pioneer AVH-501EX won't fit most smaller vehicles.

Its double-din design means the Pioneer AVH-501EX won't fit most smaller vehicles.
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The Pioneer AVH-501EX has a max power output of 200 watts.

The Pioneer AVH-501EX has a max power output of 200 watts.
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The max output per channel for the Pioneer AVH-501EX is 50 watts.

The max output per channel for the Pioneer AVH-501EX is 50 watts.
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The Pioneer AVH-501EX has a cooling fan to ensure it doesn't overheat.

The Pioneer AVH-501EX has a cooling fan to ensure it doesn't overheat.
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The Pioneer AVH-501EX has a 16-pin connector for all the wires.

The Pioneer AVH-501EX has a 16-pin connector for all the wires.
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The Pioneer AVH-501EX lacks front USB and AUX ports but has them in the rear, so it requires additional installation considerations.

The Pioneer AVH-501EX lacks front USB and AUX ports but has them in the rear, so it requires additional installation considerations.
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You can install a microphone to make hands-free calls and to use the Pioneer AVH-501EX’s time alignment feature.

You can install a microphone to make hands-free calls and to use the Pioneer AVH-501EX’s time alignment feature.
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The Pioneer AVH-501EX has three RCA outputs to send audio signals to an amplifier, and it also has video outputs for external screens.

The Pioneer AVH-501EX has three RCA outputs to send audio signals to an amplifier, and it also has video outputs for external screens.
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I figured out how to wire the Pioneer AVH-501EX to a DC converter so I could test it without installing it in a car.

I figured out how to wire the Pioneer AVH-501EX to a DC converter so I could test it without installing it in a car.
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I spent hours evaluating the stereos’ interfaces and displays, as shown here with the Pioneer AVH-501EX.

I spent hours evaluating the stereos’ interfaces and displays, as shown here with the Pioneer AVH-501EX.
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The Pioneer AVH-501EX gives you more control over how the display looks and feels than any other stereo I tested.

The Pioneer AVH-501EX gives you more control over how the display looks and feels than any other stereo I tested.
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To test audio quality, I wired the Pioneer AVH-501EX to Pioneer PRO speakers and used a microphone to help evaluate its performance.

To test audio quality, I wired the Pioneer AVH-501EX to Pioneer PRO speakers and used a microphone to help evaluate its performance.
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As shown here with the Pioneer AVH-501EX, wiring car stereos is not a simple process.

As shown here with the Pioneer AVH-501EX, wiring car stereos is not a simple process.
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Not all stereos are as easy to connect to Bluetooth as the Pioneer AVH-501EX.

Not all stereos are as easy to connect to Bluetooth as the Pioneer AVH-501EX.
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The Pioneer AVH-501EX paired to my smartphone seamlessly.

The Pioneer AVH-501EX paired to my smartphone seamlessly.
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I spent over eight hours testing stereos like the Pioneer AVH-501EX.

I spent over eight hours testing stereos like the Pioneer AVH-501EX.
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The touchscreen on the Pioneer AVH-501EX makes adjusting EQ settings a lot easier than it is with other stereos.

The touchscreen on the Pioneer AVH-501EX makes adjusting EQ settings a lot easier than it is with other stereos.
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I evaluated the Pioneer AVH-501EX remote’s ease of use and general purpose.

I evaluated the Pioneer AVH-501EX remote’s ease of use and general purpose.

The Pioneer AVH-501EX is our pick for the best car stereo simply because it does everything it should very well. Its audio performance was the best in our tests, it’s easy to use, and the display is miles ahead of the competition. It's also more versatile than other car stereos, as it features a DVD player and ports for backup cameras. If you want a car entertainment system that's affordable and provides high-end audio at the same time, the Pioneer AVH-501EX is a great option.

When I compared the audio quality of the 10 best stereos, as played on the same speakers, the Pioneer AVH-501EX came out as the best sounding system. For this test, I created a playlist that included songs from a wide variety of genres. It also included music I recorded and mixed, which means I know exactly how it is supposed to sound. Only the Kenwood eXcelon KDC-X998 had comparable audio quality to the AVH-501EX and also received an A+. Other stereos, like the JVC KW-R935BTS and the Pioneer DEH-80PRS, were very good but didn't have nearly the balance and consistency.

The AVH-501EX has 13 EQ bands, and each one is customizable, which allows you to shape the sound to fit your preferences and your car's acoustics. Many stereos come with 13 EQ bands, but most often they are pre-set, and you can't adjust them.

You can also optimize the stereo’s sound using its time alignment tool. To use this feature, you place a microphone (included) where you want the best sound, such as the driver's seat or the middle console. The microphone picks up the frequencies from all your speakers, then the stereo adjusts the signal timing so the frequencies arrive at that spot at the same time. The stereo may adjust timing by fractions of a millisecond, but it helps minimize muddiness and echoing.

The Pioneer AVH-501EX’s display received an A- for ease of use. It's the only car stereo we reviewed that has a touchscreen. In fact, it's almost entirely touchscreen, except the important controls – play/pause, repeat, skip, phone – are physical buttons on the driver's side. This makes them easy to access while you drive, but the touchscreen has a bit of a learning curve.

This display is more readable and stylish than those on other stereos. Much like a tablet or smartphone, you can add your own background images, and it displays album art in high detail. It's basically like having a small tablet for your stereo. While the display is the best we reviewed, I don't recommend trying to navigate through all its features while driving.

The interface’s one downside is its lack of a USB and AUX port on the front. There are other useful ports on the back, including those for backup and dash cams, but AUX cords are a popular way people connect their phones to their car stereos. AUX doesn't require pairing or have compression issues like Bluetooth, and it’s fast. Without these ports in the front, you have to install cords from the back.

Like the majority of car stereos, the AVH-501EX’s power output is 50 peak watts per channel and 200 watts overall, and the continuous power handling rating is 22 RMS watts. And that's fine. This is plenty of power for most people.

The stereo’s most notable specification is the 4-volt rating on its pre-outs. The higher the voltage, the cleaner the audio signal. Of course, this only matters if you're sending the audio signals to an amplifier.

The Pioneer AVH-501EX is the best car stereo overall. It received the highest grade in our audio performance tests, and it has the best display. This stereo is also easier to use than you might think, though it's not without fault. The lack of USB and AUX ports is disappointing.