If you drive a car with a featureless stereo system, you may feel compelled to toss it into the trash and get something better. Pioneer, Kenwood and Alpine are some of the big names in aftermarket car audio. Now, Boss Audio Systems is angling for a spot among the big guys with its latest head unit, the Elite BE950WCPA.
(Full Disclosure: Boss Audio Systems sent me this system to test out, offering to install the unit into my car. I opted to do it myself. I purchased a wiring harness and a dash kit, then installed it into my 2012 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe off-road car. I’ve had it a couple of months and tested it with iOS and Android.)
The Boss Audio Systems Elite BE950WCPA is a double-DIN head unit (which means twice as big as a single-DIN, or a “normal” head unit) and comes in at $399.99. That makes it a solidly midrange unit but it packs a high-end punch. It’s a feature-packed system that looks factory and doesn’t drain your bank account.
Boss Audio Systems has somewhat of a controversial reputation in the car community. Some see Boss as decent, others see them as a brand to avoid at all costs. I had a similar opinion until I tried this audio system.
While I have experience using a lot of car audio systems, I have never installed one myself. I was disappointed that the system didn’t have any basic instructions for how to secure it into a car. The unit came with a baggie of screws and metal brackets — that’s all. To this day I have no idea what the brackets were supposed to do, but the screws found use.
The dash kit I purchased for the install did have some instructions, but they assume the installer knows how to take apart the dash and remove the old stereo. This may present a challenge for owners wanting to install a head unit themselves. Thankfully, I happen to know how to take apart the dashboard of a Smart Fortwo.
Wiring the harness is perhaps the easiest part of the installation process. The BE950WCPA doesn’t use any strange colors in its wiring, so wiring the harness is as easy as matching up the corresponding colors. Boss even considered colorblindness as a factor so each wire has a nice tag to indicate what it’s supposed to do.
Wiring took only 10 minutes and installation took roughly 30 minutes. The time to install may vary between cars and existing equipment.
The design of the BE950WCPA is one of the things I like the most about it. Aftermarket and factory head units alike commonly have cheap-feeling buttons, screens with a plastic upper layer and overall clunky designs. This system sports a 6.75-inch glass touch capacitive screen with touch-capacitive buttons.
The buttons glow with rich colors and can even be tuned to match the car’s interior lighting colors. It matches so well that it looks like it came from the factory that way.
Honestly, I think it looks even better than the optional touch screen stereo that Smart did offer in these cars. Here’s the factory option from Smart:
Beauty is also more than skin deep in the BE950WCPA. While the display is only 480x800 resolution — which isn’t even HD — it is pretty crisp and has vivid colors. Viewing angles are really solid as well. The screen does not wash out when you view it from certain angles like a unit with a cheaper display would. The polish put into this unit betrays its midrange price tag. It feels like it should be more expensive.
Unfortunately, the optional unit from the factory does do one thing better than the BE950WCPA; it has a physical volume knob. The touch buttons give the BE950WCPA a very sharp look, but I often had to turn my head to find the volume buttons. This is a small complaint, but one I think is definitely worth noting.
The user interface of a touchscreen head unit can make or break the experience. OEMs like Honda will make sure the touchscreen UIs are clean, cohesive and look like the unit actually belongs in a car. That can be hard to find in an aftermarket head unit without spending a lot of money.
Cheaper units will often use weird fonts, misspell words or make menus so hard to navigate that you’re better off trying to decipher the DaVinci Code. This is an area in which the BE950WCPA also feels factory. The menus are all easily accessed with settings that aren’t cryptic. It all reads very Android-like.
The interface is also remarkably snappy even at subzero temperatures. I am even able to use the screen while wearing winter gloves! It’s as responsive as the iPhone 11 Pro I used for testing. If I swiped my finger on a map, the picture moved as smoothly and as quickly as the map would on a phone.
My only complaint with the system’s base interface is that it looks a little outdated. It reminded me of Android 4.4 and not something from 2021. That said, this is pretty common across both aftermarket and factory units. Thankfully, you don’t have to look at the interface for too long.
One of the BE950WCPA’s biggest selling points is its Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. You can connect your phone through Bluetooth and enjoy the features of either system if you choose. I tested both and was pleased with how easy the setup was. It takes all of 30 seconds to pair your phone to the stereo and get right into CarPlay or Android Auto. I found phone pairing easier with the BE950WCPA than with my Volkswagen Jetta’s factory touchscreen unit.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay offer a better, more updated user interface. Inside these apps you can play music from various apps, play videos, get directions and even make phone calls using the wired microphone. My callers report that calls are clear with limited background noise to drown out my voice.
And if you need to charge your phone, or Bluetooth on your phone doesn’t work so hot, you can still connect to the BE950WCPA using its integrated 2-amp USB cable. The cable is very short, however, so I extended it using a USB extension cable that I had. The phones charged fine and still connected to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay without issue.
Here’s another area where the BE950WCPA impressed me. I’ve been considering getting new speakers in my Smart for a while because the ones it has suck — or so I thought. The stock speakers were almost chaotically bad when connected to the stock stereo. Lows were too low, highs were too high and the sound overall felt a bit like trying to listen to music through a pillow.
The BE950WCPA only puts out 320 Watts over four channels, but it woke up the car’s little speakers. The clarity was so good that I played the theme to Star Trek: Voyager over and over, enjoying the sounds of instruments I didn’t hear before on the stock stereo.
It makes me want to upgrade my speakers and see if I can turn my car into a rolling symphony. The unit accepts the most common audio and video file types so you could listen to your lossless music if you want to or kick back and watch a movie if you want. Boss also added an equalizer screen so audiophiles can tune their output to their heart’s content.
If you listen to the radio, there’s some good news there, as well. The radio tuner sounds pretty good, with my local channels getting as good reception with the BE950WCPA as it did with the stock stereo. Sadly, this one doesn’t come with HD radio if that’s a thing you’re looking for.
This is a system that depends heavily on being connected to a phone. It doesn’t have any physical drives of its own for music and other media. Pre-amp outputs also include front, rear and subwoofer at 2 volts, each. It doesn’t have a whole lot of power behind it but I think you’re still getting a lot for the price.
Boss added some additional features to its system that give it even more of a factory feel. You can connect steering wheel controls to operate the stereo from your wheel, even. The BE950WCPA supports front and rear cameras, too. This makes it particularly good for large vehicles and off-roaders.
At $399.99, it’s far from the cheapest or most expensive system on the market. It sits somewhere in the middle. But you get a lot for that middle-of-the road pricing. Sure, the screen isn’t high definition and you don’t get a disc drive of any kind, but you won’t often find a fit and finish like even in high end systems. The BE950WCPA gives off a factory feel without breaking the bank.
Boss Audio Systems may not have the best reputation, but the BE950WCPA is Boss showing that it’s come a long way and you should give them a chance. And you know what? I think you should. This is a head unit that feels like it could have been installed by the factory, but manages it at a price that isn’t four figures.
In a world where even expensive head units can feel out of place, Boss’s attention to detail is very welcoming. It doesn’t hit everything out of the park, but I believe the BE950WCPA is a great way to bring an old car into the 21st Century.