Pioneer SPH DA120

Pioneer AppRadio 4 (SPH-DA120) CarPlay Receiver Review

Pioneer SPH DA120: The Ultimate Review

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Thanks to the huge number of multimedia systems for cars, it can be really difficult to pick the one that will suit you the best. Trust us, we get it — that’s why we are here to help you!
Today, we will provide you with everything you need to know about the Pioneer SPH DA120 double DIN unit. In other words, the first aftermarket system that integrated CarPlay (Apple’s technology).

What’s In The Box?

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty details, we’ll have a meander around the contents of the box.
Yup, it will feel like a text-based Christmas!

Pioneer SPH DA120 Wire Harness

As soon as you open the box, you are greeted with the wire harness. Every double DIN system includes this since it’s an integral part of the installation process.
Here, you’ll find the grounding, power, speaker and other wires that allow your brand-new system to work.

Install Screws

These do what they say on the tin — keep the unit in place.
Owner’s Manual
After a quick flip-through, you’ll notice that this covers everything from the warranty period to the installation and connecting your phone to using the handsfree technology.

The Pioneer SPH DA120

And lastly, you arrive at the unit itself. We must say, our first impressions were, “wow, this is trendy”!


  • Dual USB
  • Built-in Bluetooth for hands-free calling
  • Built-in Bluetooth for audio playback
  • AppRadio mode
  • Rear camera input
  • 6.2" capacitive touchscreen
  • Android compatible
  • iPhone compatible
  • iPod compatible
  • Apple CarPlay
  • GPS antenna
  • 4 x 50W MOSFET amplifier
  • Firmware updates via USB
  • AM/FM tuner
  • Dual zone entertainment
  • HDMI input
  • External Bluetooth microphone included
  • 2 x rear USB
  • Rear AUX input
  • Rear camera input
  • Steering wheel remote input
  • 13-band graphic equaliser
  • Source level adjuster
  • 3 Hi-Volt RCA preouts (subwoofer, rear and front)

Key Features

Companies will always big their products up — that’s the whole point, right? Well, we won’t be doing that. Instead, we’ll give you our honest opinions into how good these key features really are.

Apple and Android Compatibility

Since Apple CarPlay is the premise this device has been built upon, you need an iPhone to use it. Android just won’t cut the mustard we’re afraid.

External Bluetooth

Microphone Included
Most car systems that have hands-free capabilities will come with an external microphone. This one, we have to say, is particularly brilliant since it picks up your voice almost perfectly when talking on the phone.

Handsfree Functions

CarPlay is supposed to work purely via voice activation — that’s the whole point, after all. So, we’re paying an extreme amount of attention to all of the Pioneer SPH DA120’s hands-free features.

Sending Texts

To say we are disappointed with this aspect is an understatement (unfortunately).
The accuracy of the voice recognition software when it comes to dictating texts is, to put it bluntly, awful. Sadly, your recipients will receive a stream of garbled text that doesn’t resemble a word you said. Not to mention that it will probably end up being sent to the wrong person since the system struggles to recognise even the simplest of names.
Having said this, you could argue that it is a lot safer than not having one at all.

Receiving Texts

Thankfully, receiving texts is a completely different story (mainly because it does not rely on recognising the words you say).
As you’re driving along and receive a text, it will pop on the display screen. Then, all it takes is one tap on the monitor and it will start reading the message out.

Receiving Calls

We can’t actually fault the receiving calls function at all — it’s just simply great.
For starters, you just need to tap the screen once when you have an incoming call to answer it. This means it is extremely safe, as well as being super easy to use.
To top it off, the external microphone included with the Pioneer SPH DA120 picks up your voice wonderfully. So, not only will you be privy to great quality audio, but so will the person on the other end of the phone.

Pioneer SPH DA120 Making Calls

This is where we ran into problems again.
Like we said earlier, the voice recognition technology included in the Pioneer SPH DA120 is pretty poor. This makes it quite hard to make calls using the hands-free system since it won’t pick up the names of the person you’re trying to call.
And, even if you do get it to work (which we did a few times) it might not actually respond. For example, it might display “Calling Fred” on the screen but it won’t really be doing it.
Pretty disappointing to say the least!

iMaps As a GPS/SatNav Unit

To be honest, it isn’t all that great as a GPS either.
As long as you know where you’re going and you programme it in before you start driving, you’ll be fine. It will get you there. But if you run into any roadblocks, it takes about 20 minutes to recalculate your route. Not great when you’re in a pickle!
Additionally, in order to change the destination, you have to pull over. While we understand that this is a safety feature, it’s rather annoying when you’re in the moment!
Then again, like with the previous functions that we’re quite up to scratch, it’s better to have it than to not.

CarPlay 3G/4G Signal

CarPlay is supposed to help you while you’re driving along. For example, you can say “where can I get coffee”, and it will show you directions to the nearest coffee shop or cafe.
Demos use the word “coffee” because it is easily recognisable by voice-activated technology. However, we tested it with other, more obscure words and (like we thought) it couldn’t recognise what we were saying.
Not to mention that all of this becomes moot if you don’t have a good 3G or 4G connection on your phone.

Pioneer SPH DA120 Audio Quality

The audio quality is pretty good. It’s better than any car’s factory-installed system.
Bear in mind that you won’t be able to use CDs with the Pioneer SPH DA120 model since they’ve removed the slot. Nowadays, most people don’t use this anyway but it could be a disadvantage for all you old souls.
The one thing we do want to mention is that the random playlist feature doesn’t work properly. How can this not work? Well, it plays the same songs every time you select it.

Reversing Camera

If you do attach a reversing camera to this double DIN unit (we suggest you do), you will notice parking lines on the monitor. This not only increases you (and your car’s) safety but also ensures you can park perfectly first time.

  • If your phone has a good to an excellent internet connection, it works pretty well
  • Easy to use interface when receiving calls
  • Crystal clear calling (with good phone signal of course)
  • Convenient on-screen parking lines if you have a reverse camera installed
  • Brilliant external microphone
  • Great at reading out any text messages you receive
  • If your phone has poor to no internet connection, the whole system becomes pretty useless
  • The voice recognition technology isn't great
  • Can't programme routes on the move when using iMaps
  • We feel it is overpriced for what it's actually capable of (don't be fooled by Apple's association with the device)
  • Sometimes the hands-free system will completely ignore you (the only way to fix this is to turn the engine off and on again)
  • If you have a reversing camera connected, it takes 30 seconds to register after you have switched the engine on
  • Random music feature doesn't always work
  • iMaps takes an extremely long time to recalculate a different route if you come across roadworks and such

Pioneer SPH DA120 — The Final Verdict

General FAQ

If you don’t consider yourself to be a car enthusiast, you might find terms like this confusing and somewhat intimidating. However, it’s a lot simpler than you think.
The acronym DIN refers to the space in your car’s dashboard that the radio slots into. Over time, they started to become the same size (2 inches by 8 inches to be precise) so a term setting the industry standard was created. Thus DIN was born.
This term stands for “Deutsch Industri Normen” which is German for “industry norm”. Everything making sense so far? Good!
Since you now know what DIN is, we can look at double DIN.
As you have probably gathered already, double DIN refers to a bigger space. Here, the width (8 inches) stays the same, but the height doubles (from 2 inches to 4 inches).
Woop! You’re now basically a car expert.

Even though Android double DIN stereos are the most popular due to their high functionality and overall ease of use, there are other options out there. Yep, the car lovers have created quite a complicated world for themselves when it comes to audio!
So, what are these alternatives?

You know what DIN means already (clever clogs). In older vehicles, this is the only type that fits.

This is great for vehicles that have a specific radio integrated into their dashboard already and doesn’t allow you to easily change it over.
In short, an OEM replacement is a custom radio (i.e. it is shaped to the specific size and specifications of your car).

Have you ever streamed a video from your laptop to your TV, or from your phone to your laptop? Mirror linking is the same except you are displaying your phone’s screen on the monitor in your car.
At first, this might seem dangerous but there are restrictions that stop you from accessing distracting apps while you’re on the move.

Some cars still have CD and DVD slots. For those that want their passengers to be able to watch a film while travelling, you need to ensure your car (or at least the double DIN system you buy) has one.
Having said this, modern cars sometimes allow you to do this by inserting a USB stick into the port.

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