Hello All. New to this forum and I wanted to share my experience and findings in my pursuit of sound quality...
I've been planning on installing a moderate sound quality system in my 2015 Camry XLE V6 non-JBL. After reading about those on the many forums who have upgraded their speakers, added LOCs and/or DSPs, and added amplifiers only to complain about a hissing noise & midbass distortion I decided to do some testing myself to confirm the issue is really coming from the stock headunit.
I performed the following tests with the car running and without the car running and the results were the same.
I connected my front dash speaker leads to some aftermarket speakers, Morel Virtus 402 component set, on a test bench outside the car and had a hissing sound coming out of the speakers - more noticable on the tweeters. And then again, on the test bench with amp being powered by cars battery, I connected the dash speaker leads to front channels of my amp, a Phoenix Gold Ti21600.5, which accepts speaker level signals into the balanced rca inputs, and the hiss was amplified and it just didn't sound right even when playing music. Turning up the volume past 25 or so resulted in midbass distortion regardless of the amps gain setting. To compare I connected and old 1990 something kenwood cd player that I had laying around for years to the amp and played the same cd... guess what no hiss & no distortion!
These results were enough proof that the stock Toyota headunits are poorly made perhaps using cheap low performing DACs and poor performing amp chips. I decided that in order for me to obtain any level of sound quality, I would need to replace the stock headunit. I couldn't get past spending so much coin on speakers/amplifier and feeding it a poor noisy signal from the stock headunit. Unfortunately DSPs, with how much they can do for frequency response, can't do anything for a signal with a poor noise floor, poor dynamic range, and a non linear distortion profile.
I had to choose an aftermarket Nav with Idatalink Maestro support. I spent many months reading & researching the differences between the Big Three’s offerings (Pioneer, Kenwood, Alpine). Luckily a shop about an hour from me (Sounds Incredible Mobile Audio in Brookfield, CT) had each of the flagship ddin models on their sound board. I spent several hours getting familiar with each one. I finally decided on the Alpine unit for the following reasons: I could care less about carplay or android auto, to me the UI is more intuitive than the others, it has more of a stock look and feel, the hard buttons are larger and feel more substantial, 9 band parametric eq AND bass/treble controls, and it comes in an 8” screen version that I would try to make fit... Seeing some photos online, I felt that a standard 7" screen double din looked too small compared to the large dash area where the radio is located.
Unfortunately, Alpine does not make a perfect fit kit for the 2015+ Camry like they do for the 2012-2014 model years. That leaves me no choice but to get a dash install kit and modify it so the 8” Screen will fit. There are two companies that make a dash kit: Metra and American International (AMPP also sold under the BEST name). Sounds Incredible ordered both kits so that I could inspect them and see which one would be more suitable to fit an 8” screen in it. I chose the Metra kit in this case. Overall it felt much more substantial, using thicker plastic and the shape of the face provided for a flat surface to work with unlike the AMPP kit which would require cutting into compound curves.
After many hours of cutting, filing, sanding, drilling, and adjusting, I feel it came out pretty good for my first custom head unit install:
Currently this is feeding the stock speakers with it's internal amp. All I can say is Wow!.. what a difference in clarity. I'm hearing instruments and details that I could not hear on the stock head unit. Where the stock head units bass sounded bloated and muddy, regardless of eq settings, it's tighter and more defined with the Alpine. Where I had to limit the volume on the stock head unit so my ears didn't hurt from upper midrange distortion, I can turn the Alpine up louder without the same distortion... Though too much volume and I can hear the stock speakers exceeding their power/excursion limits. I'm also hearing instruments come from one side of the vehicle or the other where the stock radio just kind of mashed them all up (better stereo seperation). I'm completely convinced that replacing the stock head unit with a quality aftermarket unit makes leaps and bounds improvements in sound quality and is a necessary first step if one wants to achieve a higher level of sound quality in these newer Toyotas.
Here are some preliminary notes on the Maestro operation. As you may know, the stock head unit controls vehicle feature options. Mine had settings for things such as how long the headlights stay on after you turn off / leave the car, how long the dome lights stay lit after shutting the car off, etc.
I found that all these vehicle settings are present on the Alpine/Maestro combo. I also found an advanced vehicle settings screen which provides vehicle features that where not available on the stock head unit such as activating auto front window down and moonroof open/tilt with holding down the unlock button on the key fob. Also controlling the windows/moonroof open/close by using the key in the door lock cylinder. There were some other option there that I did not have time to look into.
Now here are a couple of items I found the Maestro is not performing: Changing the color scheme of the auxiliary screen between the gauges, and displaying the compass/speed limit/navigation promps on the auxiliary screen between the gauges.
So far these are the things that that I've noticed but I plan to do a more in depth examination of all the features. I went through the stock system, before I removed it, and made a list of all the option/features/integrations that it had.
If anyone is interested; When I get time I can list them all here and wheather or not the Maestro is performing them...