Remember The Time Pioneer Let You Put Dolphins In Your Dashboard?

Pioneer Dolphin Radio

With slabs of shiny plastic and more blinking lights than a TikTokker’s bedroom, most aftermarket head units of the early 21st century took on a somewhat maximalist aesthetic in the name of futurism. It was the new millennium, sleek consumer electronics design was the next big thing, and everyone was looking to cash in on that vibe.

While brands like Kenwood and Alpine were seeing how much information they could cram onto LCD displays, Pioneer took a different approach by using organic electroluminescence as the basis for its Organic EL displays. The initial marketing materials had some pretty fantastic claims that Pioneer’s new displays were 1,000 times faster than LCD displays, and Pioneer had just the way to show off this new display tech.

See, this was the turn of the millennium and entertainment technology was trying to do a little bit of everything just because it could. Windows offered the famous pipes screensaver, WinAmp had more skins than Tywin Lannister, and Pioneer head units with these Organic EL displays had light shows of their own. While Pioneer was still figuring out what to do on early models, the Organic EL display really hit its mainstream stride in head units like the DEH-P6400 head unit of 2002.

Seeing dolphins while driving is usually a sign that you’re about to file a very big insurance claim, but Pioneer decided to put a little animation of a person swimming with dolphins into each DEH-P6400 head unit. While it’s definitely an unusual concept, that little visual flourish turned into a really big flex. Sure, the resolution was on-par with the screen on a Nokia 3210 mobile telephone, but you weren’t really stunting if you didn’t have dolphins in the dash and two “twelves” in the trunk.

Of course, the famous video of dolphins on the Pioneer DEH-P6400 head unit wasn’t the only animation on tap. In addition to really grainy level meters and some head-bending pipe-style animations, Pioneer also put race cars inside the deck. See, Pioneer sponsored several Indycar drivers including Alex Zanardi, so it was only right to animate the open-wheel cars to show off corporate sponsorship. The animation itself is quite neat as it includes a moving engine cutaway, a first-person view shot, and a proper racetrack setting that was leagues slicker than the cyber-influenced Indycar animation in the previous DEH-P6300 head unit.

Pioneer Deh P6400 With Dolphins Showing Indycar
Photo credit: Pioneer

Putting the aforementioned animations aside, the DEH-P6400 was still a pretty nifty head unit. Not only did it have preparation for a 3.5 mm auxiliary input, it was also XM satellite radio ready. RMS power of 22 watts according to Crutchfield really wasn’t shabby for the day, and RMS bandwidth went down to a reasonable for the time 50 Hz. If you wanted more thump, four pre-amp output jacks were on offer to support a more serious audio system. In addition, you could control a CD changer through the head unit, critical for shuffling from Limp Bizkit to Ja Rule on the move.

Pioneer also offered a multi-color Organic EL display on its MEH-P9000 and DEH-P9000 head units that could illuminate blue, green, yellow, and orange. As these were both rather high-end head units, they never reached the mass appeal of the DEH-P6400. Even today, the DEH-P6400 is remembered with the same fondness as Dunkaroos and Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition. While the shiny silver faceplate and fairly low-resolution display definitely date the head unit, it should be the perfect era-correct head unit to top off a 2000s-style build of a Toyota Matrix XRS or Nissan Sentra SE-R. I truly believe that the car culture of the 2000s will eventually have its day in the sun and when that happens, the Pioneer dolphins should be a hot commodity once again.

Lead photo credit: Pioneer/Boosted 2000

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48 Responses

  1. I was literally just searching for these on eBay last week.

    Back in the day, as a wee young 17 year old, I saved my money and bought a DEH-P6400 to install in my hand me down 1982 BMW 733i… I believe it was $350, a lot of money for a minimum wage earning 17 year old…

    The day came, I bought one, then I spent the day installing the radio and some 10 inch subs in the trunk….

    I rocked out with it, scrolling through the animations to suit my mood.

    Then a couple months later some asshole smashed my window and stole it while I was parked at school.

  2. Had one in my 95 accord. Yes it was lowered on wheels with a lip. Yes I shaved the side moldings and even shaved the grill so to speak by extending the hood down where the grill was. Yes I totaled it and left head unit in it because I thought I had to, lol…

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