This affordable easy-to-use car stereo is a direct fit for the VW Vanagon, and offers several modern features to update your classic van.
NOTE: This original review of the Pioneer MVH-X560BT Digital Media Receiver was updated to reflect the functions of the newer MVH-X580BS, which was eventually superseded by an even newer model. Pioneer continues to roll out new compact Digital Media Receivers, with all the same great features as previous models but typically adding SiriusXM-readiness, a dedicated Spotify app, and other extras.
Aside from these new features, this review offers a good overview of Pioneer Digital Media Receivers to help you choose one for your own Vanagon.
- New Compact Chassis Design
- 3 RCA Preouts (2V) for System Expansion
- Built-In MOSFET 50W x 4 Amplifier
- Detachable Faceplate
- Front USB Port and AUX Inputs
- Wired Remote Input
- Included Remote Control
- Large, Multi-Line, Multi-Segmented LCD Display with LED Backlight
- 13-Band Graphic Equalizer
- Access and Control Music from iPhone or Android™ Device
- AM/FM digital receiver
- MP3/WMA/WAV Playback
- Spotify, Works with Pandora, SiriusXM- Ready
The Vanagon is an old vehicle with an old audio system. Since our van’s build date in 1983, we’ve seen cassettes replaced by compact discs, and CD’s replaced by MP3 format. Soon enough, even MP3’s may be entirely replaced by on-demand music streaming services. So, when it was time to replace our old VW Design stereo recently (yes, we still had a cassette player …), we looked for a unit that would musically power our Vanagon another decade or more into the future.
We use our Westfalia for travel and long-distance roadtripping, and without a decent stereo the endless miles of lonesome highways can be mind-numbing, so the ability to listen to music, audio books, or local radio helps to pass the time and stay alert.
I should mention here that we are no audiophiles. We’re cheap. And without some fairly significant modifications, the boxy Vanagon has all the acoustic qualities of a Chinese shipping container. Our goal was only to replace the unremarkable and aging original stereo system with something functional, offering modern connectivity and features, and which would leave some money in our wallets for fuel.
The Pioneer MVH-X580BS appeared on paper to meet all these simple requirements, and offered some new features we’ve unexpectedly come to appreciate.
We also took this opportunity to replace the original Blaupunkt speakers and all the related wiring. I chose four Rockford-Fosgate R14X2 4” 2-way full-range speakers, rated at 30 watts RMS, mainly because these came highly recommended, are affordable, and easily fit into the original Vanagon locations with almost no modifications. The Pioneer easily powers these 30-watt speakers, and while perhaps no great improvement over the original speakers when new, these were suitable replacements for the worn out factory speakers.
Key features we sought:
- AM/FM digital receiver
- Connectivity to popular external media (smartphone, flash drive, etc.) via AUX jack, USB, Bluetooth wireless
- Single 1 DIN size for easy installation into the factory Vanagon dash slot
Out of the box, the Pioneer MVH-X580BS is a compact lightweight device. Lacking cassette or CD drive decks, it’s barely half the weight and depth of most earlier head units, leaving lots of air space behind the head unit for wiring and ventilation.
Unlike too many modern car audio head units, seemingly intended to appeal primarily to 14-year-old boys, the front panel of the MVH-X580BS is a fairly subdued design which does not visually clash with the square and spartan Vanagon interior.
- Remote Control
- External microphone with visor clip
- AUX & USB input cables
- Primary multi-pin harness/connector for power input and speaker outputs
- Additional mounting hardware and extraction keys
- Owner’s Manual
Follow the Owners Manual’s simple directions for installation, final hookup, and initial setup: setting stations, lighting & display features, etc..
On The Road or In Camp
Basic operation of the Pioneer MVH-X580BS is fairly straightforward, and the large front display is bright and generally easy to read, though the glossy reflective faceplate can sometimes be hard to read in very bright sunlight conditions. A dimmer toggle allowing quick Bright/Dim adjustments helps with this.
The colors of the front panel illumination can be be custom tailored to suit your tastes, or even set to an ever-changing kaleidoscopic effect. The settings for these custom colors are buried a few levels within the menus and can be a chore to get just the way you like, but you’ll likely never have to do it again.
The Vanagon ignition switch lacks an ACC (Accessory) position, so like most modern car stereos the MVH-X580BS will not automatically turn On/Off with the key unless you add a custom cutout relay or switch. To turn off the front panel and prevent battery drain while parked, simply press and hold the upper-left SRC/OFF button; press again to turn it On. Optionally, you can remove the detachable faceplate.
Even while driving, one can easily adjust volume, station presets, scan/search, even change input sources. Beyond these primary controls are myriad additional adjustments (balance, fader, 5-band graphic equalizer, etc.). Like all modern car stereos, most of these secondary controls are buried within successively deeper menus rather than using dedicated control knobs, making adjustment while driving nearly impossible. For the most part though, common menu functions are straightforward and user-friendly, eliminating the need to frequently refer to the manual.
The main use for a car stereo, of course, is music, and this unit offers excellent AM/FM radio reception, crisply pulling in music or talk radio stations from sometimes far-flung cities along the route. In addition to AM/FM reception the Pioneer MVH-X580BS plays tunes from a variety of external input devices: USB flash drive, music players, and iPhone & Android smartphones.
The MVH-X580BS can read MP3/WMA/WAV music files from a small USB flash drive when connected via the included cable. The MVH-X580BS’s USB and AUX inputs are conveniently located on the front faceplate.
By far our favorite input device is a smartphone. Both Android and Apple iPhones can be paired to the stereo via Bluetooth for wireless streaming, and the unit can store pairing data for up to three phones with the ability to quickly pair/add a new phone using Pioneer’s Guest Mode feature.
When paired to a phone via Bluetooth, the stereo automatically pauses and resumes your playlist upon parking and continuing. When connected to an iPhone, iPod, and portable USB drives and Android devices via the USB port, users can use basic controls (Play/Pause/FF/Rev/Random/Repeat) and display track, artist and album information.
Wireless music streaming via Bluetooth sounds excellent on the MVH-X580BS, offering more robust audio quality than many other Bluetooth-enabled stereos.
In addition to playing music from an external storage device, the MVH-X580BS is also able to stream music via a number of music apps. Usings Pioneer’s ControlApp, the unit can play and control music from iHeartRadio, Pandora, Aupeo, gMusic, Rdio, and others. Play, pause, next and back commands, if enabled by the connected app, are available on the receiver when used with an iPhone (via USB connection) or Android (via Bluetooth) devices.
For the full sensory-overload experience, the MVH-X580BS offers MIXTRAX, a “virtual DJ technology … transforming a music library into a nonstop playlist that delivers a unique DJ-infused listening experience.” We’ve never used this feature, but evidently it provides enhanced audio transitions between songs plus entertaining “visual effects” on the front panel. Not wishing to suffer a seizure while traversing a treacherous road such as the Moki Dugway, we heeded the advice of the MVH-X580BS’s owner’s manual: “Turn MIXTRAX off if the visual effects it produces have adverse effects on driving”.
In addition to music, the Pioneer MVH-X580BS optionally integrates your smartphone into the audio system so you can make & receive hands-free phone calls while underway. The included hands-free microphone, like the USB and AUX inputs, connects to the rear of the MVH-X580BS head unit and the small cable can be routed behind the Vanagon dashboard to a suitable mounting location, like visor or dashboard. The contacts stored in your phone can be sent to the stereo unit and searched alphabetically for easy calling (not while driving, please).
When a call comes in the music is automatically muted and you can answer the call, the caller’s voice being piped through the audio speakers and your voice picked up by the hands-free mic. This feature generally works well, the mic and speakers allowing clear conversations, with no complaints from the other end. But much depends on ambient conditions like vehicle speed and road or wind conditions, and it can sometimes be difficult to use while, say, driving a diesel Vanagon on a gravel road.
Using Bluetooth for either music streaming or hands-free phone, the MVH-X580BS is able to connect at a pretty good distance in and around the campervan. In fact, we often run the entire stereo via our smartphones while sitting around the nearby campfire.
In short, Bluetooth is awesome …
Another especially useful feature, particularly when traveling in unfamiliar whereabouts, is the ability to integrate your favorite navigational app with the car audio system. Google Maps, CoPilot GPS, HERE Maps, or any number of other nav apps all integrate well with the MVH-X580BS via Bluetooth, helpfully cutting into the music to provide turn-by-turn prompts via the stereo speakers, then returning you to your regularly scheduled programming.
The small handheld remote allows us to control most head unit functions from anywhere within the Westfalia, and even from some distance outside the van: volume, mute, tuning, phone calling, display, pause & playback, and more.
A clever accessory, perhaps helpful to the average user, the remote control is especially useful in the camper van, whether enjoying dinner on the bench seat, a nightcap around the campfire, or sleeping in late in the upper bunk.
The Pioneer MVH-X580BS includes a nice feature typically found on more expensive car stereos; the removable front panel. With a simple press of a button the faceplate can be removed from the head unit and hidden someplace away from prying eyes or even taken out of the vehicle entirely.
Though a full-featured car stereo, the MVH-X580BS is not an expensive unit, and an opportunistic thief may happily smash your front window worth a few hundred dollars in order to grab your stereo worth less than half that.
The detachable faceplate can help prevent such ironic travesties …
In The Long Run
We’ve been using the Pioneer MVH-X580BS for over a year now, and couldn’t be happier. From weekend camping jaunts to month-long cross-country road trips, this head unit has really upgraded our traveling listening experience.
The AM/FM digital receiver pulls in and holds stations, and accepts music or audio books from a variety of smartphones, MP3 players, USB flash drives, streaming sources and more, using the included input cables or wirelessly via Bluetooth. Turn-by-turn navigation from Google Maps and other apps makes traveling easy, as we tend to get off the beaten path, so GPS voice prompts via the speakers lets us enjoy the scenery without getting lost in it. The ability to make and receive hands-free phone calls lets us contact local restaurants, lodging, or other sites, and keep in touch with family and friends back home.
The MVH-X580BS installs easily in the Vanagon dash slot, and the remote control allows us to handily control most music and other functions from within or near the van. With storage space at a premium while traveling and camping in the Westfalia, the MVH-X580BS eliminates the need to fumble and store bulky CD’s. Since we keep all our favorite tunes on our phones, we can just pull up a playlist appropriate to the mood and rock on down the highway. In fact, after enjoying the MVH-X580BS for a full summer in our Westy, we purchased an identical unit to replace the factory stereo in our other car.
In short, the Pioneer MVH-X580BS has succeeded in bringing our ‘classic’ campervan well into this century, for many more years and miles of happy camping.
Hits: affordable, easy to install and use, modern connectivity (USB, Bluetooth, etc.), lots of features, turn-by-turn GPS via car speakers, hands-free phone calling, remote control, removable faceplate
Misses: shiny faceplate sometimes hard to read in bright sunlight, custom front panel colors tedious to set, head unit should be manually turned On/Off in vehicles lacking ACC ignition switch