While most modern vehicles come equipped with competent car stereos straight from the factory, there is always room for improvement. Thankfully there are hundreds of options in the aftermarket if you’re looking to upgrade your car stereo. Also known as a radio, receiver, or head unit, the car stereo is essentially the centerpiece of any car audio experience. It’s what you see and interact with, with modern units offering features such as Bluetooth hands-free calling, touchscreen displays, and streaming audio.
If you’re shopping for car stereos, you might get overwhelmed by the plethora of options currently available, and the countless features each product offers. To make it easier, we’ve picked out the top 10 best options on Amazon, detailing their features and what makes them an ideal pick.
To learn more about car stereos, refer to our table of contents.
Updated 11/7/2019 with new products.
Table of contents
- 1. Editor's Pick: BOSS Audio Double DIN DVD Player
- 2. Pioneer In-Dash Single-DIN Car Stereo Receiver
- 3. JVC Built-In Bluetooth Dual Phone Connection Car Stereo Player
- 4. ATOTO A6 Double DIN Android Car Navigation Stereo with Dual Bluetooth
- 5. Kenwood Single DIN In-Dash Stereo Receiver
- 6. Pioneer Digital Media Receiver
- 7. JVC Single DIN Digital Media Bluetooth Receiver
- 8. Sony Single DIN Hi-Power Bluetooth In-Dash Car Stereo
- 9. Alpine Single DIN Bluetooth Car Stereo
- 10. Kenwood Digital Media Receiver
- Everything You Need to Know About Car Stereos
- Sound Quality
- Expanded Music Sources
- Do You Like to Customize Your Listening Experience?
- Bells and Whistles
1. Editor's Pick: BOSS Audio Double DIN DVD Player
If your vehicle can accommodate a double DIN head unit, Boss Audio offers a versatile and affordable car stereo. Featuring a 6.2″ digital LED touchscreen, this head unit can serve as a DVD player as well. In addition, you can hook up your smartphone or MP3 player through the aux-in or plug into the USB or SD ports. Bluetooth technology lets you play music wirelessly from your device, along with controlling music apps and making calls hands-free.
Inputs on this car stereo include USB, SD, aux, rear camera, steering wheel control, and USB charging. Output include video, front, rear, and sub pre-amp. The head unit offers 80 watts x 4 max power.
With an extremely affordable price tag, this is one versatile head unit that can fulfill many of your needs.
2. Pioneer In-Dash Single-DIN Car Stereo Receiver
One of the most popular brands in the car audio industry, Pioneer has several car stereos available on the market. This unit is not only affordable, but highly rated offering 50 watts x 4 channels of power output. It’s a single DIN head unit with a multi-segmented LCD display and a detachable face plate for extra security. A wireless remote control is included with this unit.
Although it’s an entry-level model, it offers plenty of features including MP3 and WMA playback, a front auxiliary input, and Advanced Sound Retriever technology. You can customize your sound through a 5-band graphic equalizer, high-pass and low-pass filter settings, and subwoofer control.
The Advanced Sound Retriever technology enhances audio reproduction nearly all the way up to 20 kHz frequencies, allowing you to hear the detail, warmth, and clarity from your highly compressed MP3 and WMA files that have been copied onto a CD. This technology helps restore data that tends to get lost in the digital compression process.
3. JVC Built-In Bluetooth Dual Phone Connection Car Stereo Player
Like most head units in its class, this JVC car stereo offers 50 watts x 4 channels of power output, but also includes a subwoofer direct connection, USB Bluetooth wireless technology, and more. There are several options when shopping for this head unit: CD player with USB; CD, USB, and Bluetooth; CD, USB, Bluetooth, and SiriusXM Ready; and CD, USB, and SiriusXM Ready.
For the models with Bluetooth, the stereo supports HandsFree Call, the ability to pair with 2 phones, audio streaming and control, voice-recognition dialing, Siri Eyes Free, Phone Book Access Profile, and Pandora Control for Smartphone via Android.
Owners praise this head unit for its adjustment features and quality of sound. Some however, complained about how small the radio buttons are and that they don’t provide a lot of feedback when pressed.
4. ATOTO A6 Double DIN Android Car Navigation Stereo with Dual Bluetooth
One of the few double DIN units on our list, this is an affordable and extremely versatile car stereo from ATOTO. It runs Android OS (Marshmallow) and has been customized and optimized for in-vehicle use. Some of its features include AM/FM radio tuner with RDS, 45 watts x 4 channel power or higher 24 watts x 4 channel RMS output, auxiliary/backup camera/dash camera input, Bluetooth handsfree, steering wheel key control, and more. There is however, no CD/DVD playback on this head unit.
The capacitive touchscreen display is a full HD 7-inch unit with 1024 x 600 resolution. Unlike other more basic head units on this list, this one has a built-in GPS receiver module with external GPS antenna, so it has full navigation support through Google Maps.
Along with the previously mentioned auxiliary audio/video input and reverse camera input, this stereo also boasts 4-channel RCA audio out, separate subwoofer out, three USB interfaces, and a micro SD slot.
5. Kenwood Single DIN In-Dash Stereo Receiver
Another reputable manufacturer in the car audio industry is Kenwood, which offers an affordable entry-level stereo with CD, MP3, auxiliary, and built-in Bluetooth features. This head unit features a 13-digit LCD display with variable color illumination and is both iPod and iPhone ready with both standard USB-to-iPod cable and USB-to-Lighting cable support. For Android users, a USB-to-Micro cable will be necessary.
This single DIN unit comes with a detachable faceplate, front USB and auxiliary ports, and is compatible with a variety of online streaming services such as Pandora, iHeart Radio, and Spotify. Maximum power output is rated at 50 watts x 4 channels and some of the audio features include a 13-band graphic equalizer, drive EQ, adjustable subwoofer level, bass boost, loudness, and more.
Overall, especially for the price, this head unit offers good sound quality and a wide variety of features. Included in the box is a wiring harness, steering wheel remote harness, microphone, and remote control. For the time being, this stereo is also being offered with a free bluetooth speaker (pictured).
6. Pioneer Digital Media Receiver
Another offering from Pioneer, this is a single DIN unit with built-in Bluetooth, Mixtrax, USB, auxiliary, Pandora, Spotify, iPhone, Android, and Smart Sync App support. Featuring 10-level brightness control, this head unit offers 50 watts x 4 channel power output, includes two RCA preouts, 3-mode loudness settings, subwoofer control, and Advanced Sound Retriever.
The built-in Bluetooth is capable of handling both hands-free calling and audio streaming with the latest Hands-Free Profile (HFP 1.6) and Wideband Speech capability. This car stereo is also compatible with the Pioneer ARC App, allowing you to select functions including presets, fast forward and rewind, and artist and album search.
There are two different models of this head unit available with some different design details on the 2019 version.
7. JVC Single DIN Digital Media Bluetooth Receiver
Featuring a 2-line VA LCD display, this JVC head unit offers a broader viewing angle and better visibility. Ideal for users looking for more personalization, this car stereo allows you to choose illumination colors from one of 49 presets, or even the ability to customize your own color by adjusting the intensity of RGB. The built-in Bluetooth capability offers 2 phone full-time connection, allowing you to connect two phones full time with secure and simple pairing.
As part of JVC’s lineup, this product uses original K2 technology that reproduces the original master sound by expanding the bit rate and frequency range. This technology is compatible with all sources including CD.
Sound settings for this head unit include a 13-band equalizer, compatibility with Pandora, iHeartRadio, Spotify, as well as SiriusXM. It also supports Android music playback via USB and offers high current 1.5A charging for devices.
8. Sony Single DIN Hi-Power Bluetooth In-Dash Car Stereo
Offering 40 watts RMS (100 watts peak) x 4 channels, this Sony single DIN head unit offers wireless music streaming with Bluetooth and NFC connectivity, 2-Zone, Dynamic Color Illuminator with Sound Synchronization, advanced sound with EQ10, Mega Bass, and HPF/LPF crossovers. Helping deliver rich sound through this car stereo are DSEE and ClearAudio+ technology. Its CD playback supports MP3/WMA/AAC/WAV/FLAC formats, while the SongPAL App provides intuitive remote control.
The full-featured Sony head unit also allows you to take control with Siri Eyes Free for iOS devices, while Bluetooth 3.0 easily takes calls and listens to your music from your favorite portable device. The 2-Zone, Dynamic Color Illuminator lets you choose from nearly 35,000 colors so you can independently mix and match the display and button color to your interior and style. For even more personalization, you can even have the lighting synchronized with the beat using the Sound Synchronization function.
The new Advanced Sound Engine on this head unit includes adjustable EQ10 equalizer, selectable slope LPF/HPF crossovers, Listener Position calibration (Time Alignment), Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) to improve digital music playback, Advanced Auto Volume to balance source signals, as well as Clear Audio+ and Rear Bass Enhancer to deliver an amazing listening experience.
9. Alpine Single DIN Bluetooth Car Stereo
Like Pioneer, Alpine is an extremely reputable brand within the car audio industry. This single DIN comes with a detachable faceplate, and offers 50 watts x 4 channels power output or 18 watts RMS x 4 channels. There are 3 pairs of pre-amp RCA outputs (front, rear, and subwoofer), USB input, and a rear 3.5mm audio/video input. The built-in equalizer on this Alpine head unit is a 9-band parametric equalizer, while the display is in white with LCD text. Personalization options are a bit lighter on this head unit compared to other products on this list, with the ability to select from 4 colors for the buttons.
This unit is compatible with Android, iPhone, and iPod devices for audio playback, as well as CD-R/RW and MP3.
Although expensive compared to other options, many consider this one of the best single DIN head units Alpine has to offer. It may not be as feature rich as other head units, but its focus is to provide excellent sound quality and display, along with a variety of inputs.
10. Kenwood Digital Media Receiver
Offered by Kenwood, this is another head unit that doesn’t offer CD playback in order to focus on multimedia devices that are more prevalent in today’s modern world. Maximum power output is 50 watts x 4 channels with audio features including dual USB, three preouts, Kenwood sound reconstruction, 13-band equalizer, Time Alignment, Drive EQ, subwoofer level adjustable, System Q, bass boost, loudness, and built-in LPF/HPF. Supported file formats include MP3/WMA/AAC/WAV and FLAC Decoder with ID-3 Tag Display.
External media control features on this stereo include Bluetooth, NFC, dual phone connection, wireless music browsing, Pandora and iHeartRadio support, and Remote App support for iOS and Android.
Sporting a 13-digit 1.5-line LCD display, this head unit comes with a Theft Deterrent Faceplate and uses a rotary encoder and direct key (TEL) for easy operation.
Everything You Need to Know About Car Stereos
As you can tell, head units have long lists of features and specifications that you may not want to learn every bit of detail on when shopping for a new car stereo. Our goal here is to simplify a lot of these terms and help you make your purchasing decision easier by highlighting which features are most important for day-to-day use.
The main reason you may want to consider a new car stereo is for better sound and a wider range of playback options, especially in today’s connected world where you have a portable device handy that is capable of streaming music. Or perhaps you have an MP3 collection that you don’t want to part with and want easy access to listening while inside your vehicle. Whatever your reason may be, here are a few things to consider when shopping for a new car stereo.
Most head units will have similar power outputs, typically 50 watts x 4 channels. But it’s not just about power output with a new car stereo. With better built-in power and circuit design, many of these head units will produce cleaner, richer, and more detailed sound, in addition to being louder. This means you may not necessarily need to upgrade your factory speakers to get a better listening experience—sometimes a new car stereo will do the job.
Expanded Music Sources
You’re likely familiar with your phone being able to stream music online, or accessing your digital collection for playback. But not all factory car stereos will offer Bluetooth capability, or even support for certain file formats. That means when you’re shopping for a new head unit, make sure it is capable of playing your main source of audio entertainment, whether that’s from Pandora or Spotify, or your MP3 collection that now resides on a CD-R/CD-RW or a USB drive.
Most aftermarket car stereos will offer playback for a variety of file formats, including MP3, WMA, and AAC, while others will have support for Apple iOS and Google Android devices. There is also satellite radio to take into consideration, and online streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora, and iHeartRadio. There is also Bluetooth connectivity, which also comes in handy for hands-free calling.
Digital music has become so common that some of the head units on our list don’t even offer CD or DVD playback.
Do You Like to Customize Your Listening Experience?
If you’re a passionate audiophile, there’s a good chance you’ll want to have more control over how your music sounds. In that case, look for car stereos that have a plethora of configuration and sound setting options, such as digital time correction and parametric equalization. Generally however, most aftermarket car stereos will offer more configurations than your factory head unit, allowing you to control and adjust the stereo with ease.
Bells and Whistles
Beyond customizing your listening experience, some head units will offer a plethora of options to personalize their visual appearance as well. For example, if you want to match your interior’s color setting with your head unit, you may want to purchase a product that has a variety of color options. Some will allow you to setup the buttons to be a certain color, while others let you customize the display. Fancier touchscreen units have selectable backgrounds and colors as well, giving you a way to truly personalize your dash.
Although Bluetooth wireless connections make things extremely straightforward these days, you may have a device that requires an auxiliary input or even USB. Some head units will also provide audio/video outputs so you can connect portable music players or rear seat video screens. If you’re running an external amplifier and/or subwoofers, make sure your new head unit can accommodate those accessories as well.
Lastly, one thing to consider is protecting your investment. Some head units will come with detachable faces or security codes to help prevent theft. Keep an eye out for these features if you’re concerned about possible theft, since it is rather straight forward to steal a head unit.
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