The Alpine Power Duo Is the Best Affordable Upgrade You Can Make for Your Car Stereo

The biggest upgrade you can make to your car stereo these days is adding Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality. Alpine’s ILX-W650 is a best-in-class in-dash digital multimedia receiver that is compatible with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in a shallow chassis with a 7″ capacitive touchscreen. Paired with Alpine’s KTA-450 amplifier, the value and features can’t be beaten.

The combination of the Alpine ILX-W650 and KTA-450 is called the Power Duo and it’s an appropriate name for this dynamic pairing. The receiver and amplifier use Alpine’s PowerStack system, which stacks the amplifier and head unit together behind one another on the same brackets. The ILX-W650 was designed as a single DIN depth chassis at 2.4”, while the KTA-450 is only 1.25” deep so they both fit stacked together in any car that has room for a 2-DIN head unit.

This is my boring old radio before the upgrade.

The ILX-W650 has a host of impressive features, but one of the most important, from a day-to-day use perspective, is the 7″ anti-glare capacitive touchscreen. This type of screen is similar to the latest mobile phones, so it’s super responsive and easy to use. It can even recognize multi-touch gestures like two-finger swipes, which is built into Alpine’s user interface. Multi-touch is also helpful when using CarPlay apps like pinching to zoom in navigation apps. I went to a local Best Buy to test out the touchscreens by other manufacturers, and Alpine’s screen was head and shoulders above the competition at the price point, including Sony and Pioneer.

The rear of the ILX-W650 and included wiring components

Check out the full, impressive list of ILX-W650 features:

  • 7″ anti-glare capacitive touch screen
  • Audio, video and Bluetooth® feature set
  • Two-finger swipe user interface
  • Works with Apple CarPlay
  • Works with Android Auto and the Google Assistant
  • SiriusXM-Ready
  • Works with Pandora® Music for iPhone® and Android™ phones
  • Rear camera input (camera sold separately)
  • FLAC/MP3/WMA/AAC/HE-AAC music playback via USB
  • Compatible with most factory steering wheel audio controls (adapter required)
  • USB port accommodates various devices
  • External microphone included

Everything that comes with the KTA-450

The 7″ screen is large and easy to read but removes the ability to have any physical buttons or knobs. There are some CarPlay compatible receivers in this price range that have physical buttons or knobs, but they feature 6″ screens. I’d gladly trade touch-sensitive buttons, like what Alpine uses underneath their touchscreen, for that additional screen real estate. Underneath Alpine’s generous 7″ screen, you’ll find touch-sensitive volume up/down buttons, a mute button, a menu button, a microphone button, and a phone button. While there’s no simple knob to turn the volume up and down, I don’t miss it.

The home screen

The KTA-450 amplifier gives your sound system a power boost thanks to it’s 4-channels that pump out 50 watts of Alpine’s Dynamic Peak Power (DPP) technology per channel. The exclusive DPP technology is able to double your sound system’s power during those dynamic musical passages that would benefit from a little more “oomph.”

The radio interface

We installed the Power Duo kit in my 2009 Toyota Camry and could instantly hear the difference coming out of the 11-year-old stock speakers. The sound clarity was much better than it used to be, and you could tell there was much more power behind the speakers. Sound quality is something that Alpine has been known for, and they’ve proven it to me with the combination of the ILX-W650 and the KTA-450. I was left very impressed with the sound quality.

Apple CarPlay app list

My 2009 Toyota Camry previously did not have any technology built-in, but that’s ancient history now that we’ve installed the Power Duo. We can now make crystal clear calls via Bluetooth, even while driving, stream music via Bluetooth or Apple CarPlay, use GPS navigation apps through Apple CarPlay, and use Siri’s voice control capabilities. We even used a wiring harness (sold separately) that allowed us to maintain the use of the steering wheel controls to operate the receiver’s functions.

Apple CarPlay homescreen

Waze in Apple CarPlay

This isn’t a review of Apple CarPlay, so I won’t go into too many details, but I thoroughly enjoy using CarPlay. It has a super-clean user interface, allows you to use Waze for navigation as well as a host of other apps right on your car stereo. The home screen is a nice touch, allowing you to view your navigation map, music controls, and upcoming calendar appointments on the same screen. Siri hands-free functionality works really well by simply tapping the microphone button on the bottom of the screen. CarPlay reads texts to you and will transcribe responses and I’ve found that CarPlay does an excellent job of keeping my eyes on the road. You will need to physically plug your iPhone into the USB port via lightning cable, but it will also charge your phone while connected.

The included microphone tucked neatly above the driver side sunshade

Alpine was kind enough to send us one of their rear-view cameras to go with the Power Duo since the ILX-W650 has a camera input. The Alpine HCE-C1100 is a tiny camera that features High Dynamic Range (HDR) technology that helps enhance detail in both light and dark conditions. The HCE-C1100 has a 131-degree horizontal and 103-degree vertical viewing angle so you can be sure you’re keeping track of everything behind you. The experience is similar to a car with a built-in backup camera; when you switch gears to reverse, the camera pops up on the 7″ screen. The screen displays digital parking cones that help you figure out how much room you have behind you. You can customize the distance the cones are apart to your preference.

The tiny HCE-C1100 backup camera mounted above my license plate

My only complaint about the ILX-W650 is that it does not have RDS functionality when listening to FM radio. RDS stands for Radio Data System and it’s a communications protocol where FM broadcasts can send information about the radio station, the artist, and the song currently playing. Most modern car radios have this functionality built-in and will display at least the artist and song currently playing on FM radio. This is something I was surprised the ILX-W650 did not have for such a fully-featured multimedia receiver. All you see when listening to FM radio is the radio station’s frequency, ie. “104.3.” While it’s not the end of the world and certainly isn’t a deal-breaker, the lack of RDS is something worth considering.

Backup camera view during the day

Backup camera view at night

The Alpine Power Duo plus their backup camera completely transformed my daily driving experience and I couldn’t recommend it enough. The entire experience feels high-quality, from the well-designed user interface on the high-end 7″ touchscreen to the excellent sound quality emanating from the 11-year-old stock speakers, to the crystal clear view behind me provided by the HCE-C1100. If you’re looking for an upgrade to your car stereo, you’d be remiss not to check out the Alpine Power Duo.

You can purchase your Alpine Power Duo from Crutchfield or your local car stereo installer.

Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample

What I Like:   Innovative PowerStack design; Responsive touchscreen; Excellent sound quality; Bluetooth functionality; Compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; Works with a backup camera as well

What Needs Improvement:  I was surprised that it does not have RDS compatibility for FM radio

 


About the Author

Perry Brauner
I'm an architect by trade, but the overarching theme of my life has always been trying to keep up with the newest, coolest technology. Ever since I picked up an NES controller, I've been hooked on the latest and greatest gadgets, gizmos, and toys. Whether it's gaming, mobile phones, and accessories, or PCs and Apple products, I'm interested. I use many Apple products in my daily life, such as the iPhone, iPad, and my MacBook Pro. I've also built a few PCs in my day, so I'd like to say that I'm a pretty well-rounded techie.