Pioneer’s virtual CES 2021 presentation included a new head unit, the DMH-WC5700NEX, that could be the key to updating my older dashboard with today’s tech. It’s so interesting, that I’m considering breaking into my Sony Hi-Res piggy bank.
The Pioneer NEX is a single-DIN unit that will come with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, along with a few other things such Amazon Alexa, Sirius XM and the like. So what? Plenty of head units come with these feature, even though they can’t all interface with CarPlay and Android Auto wirelessly, as you can with the NEX. And crucially for me, it’s Hi-Res Audio certified.
But the NEX is not just wireless, it’s headless! Well, almost.
Pioneer is calling this head unit a modular receiver, which means that the screen and main chassis are discrete components. The screen connects to the main box via a cable, rather than being affixed directly to it. So, you could install the head unit into the dash and install the screen elsewhere. And that’s why I’m most excited. Let me illustrate below:
That’s my 1997 BMW 318ti’s dashboard. Do you see anything in particular that would produce fitment issues with modern large-format screen head units?
It’s the A/C vents! Air-conditioning is an absolute necessity in the Rio Grande Valley. It’s just too damn hot down here, even if you roll with the windows down. The problem I’ve run into when looking at new head units that would fit into my dash, is that the screen would block most of the drivers vent and some of the passenger’s.
Even something as simple as sticking my phone in a vent cradle can block too much of the cool air for me, so I’ve always made do with head units that have no screen, and therefore lack a modern interface. The NEX could finally solve the vent obstruction problem for me.
Finally: Wireless AirPlay in an air-conditioned 318ti is possible. I could 3-D print a bracket to hold the modular screen atop the dash or in the space beneath the climate controls or down next to my emergency brake. Really, in any number of places.
Pioneer is pitching the NEX more or less as a solution for newer cars that have limited space in the dash behind their integrated screens, which can force owners to stick to a factory head unit. But the possible applications for a modular system like this are not limited to installation in newer cars, not by a long shot.