Best Car Stereo Reviews (2020)
The car’s sound system is not something most of us will take for granted. Quality car stereo head units give you the most control over your music, including how crisp it sounds, how deep it sounds, how loud it sounds, and so on. In 95% of cases, an OEM factory car radio head unit might sound mediocre at best, but this is where it gets fun. There’s a wide range of different types of head units to get, starting with 2 main categories:
#1 Single din car radios (typically 2″ inches high and 7″ inches long)
#2 Double din car radios (typically 4″ inches high and 7″ inches long)
You’ll most probably be more familiar with single din head units due to their size. There’s no big fancy LCD screen to look at when it comes to the single din car radios – a nice, classic, and simple function head unit is what’s appreciated the most with this style. Models included in the second category, called “Double Din” head units, are essentially 2x the height of a regular single din model. You’ll usually see them with 7″ or so LCD screens built-in, with a more customized interface (video player, backup camera hookup, navigation, etc.).
Whether you’re looking for a cheap car stereo head unit or a top of the line model featuring crisp graphics and sound, the 10 car stereo reviews below should help!
Best Car Stereo – Top 10 Reviews
- Multi-Line, Multi-Segmented LCD Display with LED Backlight (13+4 characters), Built-In MOSFET 50W x 4 Amplifier, 2 Sets of RCA Preouts (2V) for System Expansion, 5-Band Graphic Equalizer
- 13 digit LCD display with variable color illumination, IPod and iPhone Ready: Standard USB-to-iPod Cable and USB-to-Lightning Cable compatibleWide compatibility: Bluetooth 4.2 Receiver compatible with most smartphones, ideal for home or vehicle audio systems, Double link: Connect two Bluetooth devices at once
- 85 Watts x 4 Max Power, Bass/Treble/Balance/Fader Controls and Preset Built-in EQ, Switchable US and European Tuner, Plays DVD/CD/MP3/WMA/USB/SD and Smartphones
- 50W X 4 High Power Amp, Advanced Bluetooth Functions (BT Plus), High Speed USB Connection For IPod Or USB Sticks, CD/MP3/WMA
- 7.0" WVGA Touchscreen with LED Backlight Display, Apple Car Play compatible and Android Auto compatible, Bluetooth hands-free calling & audio streaming
- Motorized, detachable face plate, Single line LCD text display, Power Output: Peak: 50 watts x 4 channels / RMS: 20 watts x 4 channels, CD Text Display: MP3 ID3 Tag Display (Title/Artist/Album)
- Built-in internal amp (22 watts RMS/50 peak x 4 channels), 6.2" touchscreen with variable color button illumination, Fits double-DIN dash openings, Built-in iPod, iPhone, and iPad control
10. Kenwood DDX372BT Double Din Bluetooth Car Radio Receiver
Coming in as our #10 spot is the Kenwood DDX372BT Bluetooth radio receiver. This particular model falls into the second category, with its beautifully lit 6.2″ inch LCD touch screen. The keys are able to light up, along with various background customization options (available under setup). The maximum power output is 50 watt amps per speaker and 22 watt amps RMS per speaker.
There’s no AUX port on the front – instead, it’s located on the back of this unit (along with AV and microphone inputs). When it comes to using the USB, CD’s, DVD’s and regular component radio, you can access all of that from the front-facing section. Lastly, it’s fully compatible with iPhones enabling voice control, calling, Bluetooth, and Pandora.
9. JVC KDR-330 Car Stereo Receiver
One of the most common and basic stereo receivers you can get, the JVC KDR-330 Car Stereo Receiver, steps it up a few notches above factory OEM. Being a single-din design, what you get is extremely easy to access. With a detachable faceplate, you can drastically reduce motorized theft. This unit puts out 50-watt amps MAX and 20 watt amps RMS for each of the 4 channels you can hook it up to.
EQ and AUX inputs are right at your fingertips, giving you the ability to take control of your sound system (great for when you’re running subwoofers). You can use a CD player to play any MP3 or WMA formatted track, or hook up your MP3 player and directly run your music through the single din radio unit using the AUX input. One of the best car stereo receivers on the budget you can get right now, and very easy to install.
8. Clarion CZ302 Bluetooth CD/USB/MPS/WMA Radio Receiver
Moving up in style and cost, its Clarion CZ302 Single Din head unit. Style-wise it looks much better than the JVC mentioned above, with the white and black LCD track screen giving it a crisp, yet subtle look. Built-in Parrot Bluetooth enables you to pair up your wireless device for hands-free communication and audio streaming + you can even hook-up Pandora and control it from the head unit itself.
If Pandora isn’t your thing, you can use the built-in SiriusXM satellite radio function built-in (however, it requires a subscription to SeriesXM to work). Connect a device using the USB port located on the front, use the EQ to tune sound, and the AUX input for playing your MP3 music tracks. For right around 100 dollars, it’s about what we’d be comfortable paying, a BIG step-up from OEM but not overly expensive.
7. Pioneer AVH270BT Double Din Bluetooth Car Radio Receiver
Our #7 spot goes to a well know brand called Pioneer. Their AVG270 Double Din head unit is considerably cheaper than some of the Kenwoods double din stereo models. This one in particular offers a flat face with no knobs at all, all buttons for settings and volume. Its touch screen is by no means the clearest in resolution, but it gets the job done quite well, allowing you to customize a wide array of settings.
Bluetooth Hands-Free calling and audio streaming allows you to communicate without physically touching your phone. Along with a wide array of different settings accessible from the touch screen, you can also access USB, AV and AUX inputs located at the back of this digital media receiver. Sound outputs are rated at 50 watt amps MAX for each of the 4 channels, and 20-25 watt amps RMS. If you thought all this is costly, you’d be wrong. 180 dollars gets you the whole package, not a bad value proposition at all.
6. Sony DSXA40UI Digital Car Radio Receiver
You probably already know Sony makes some exceptional products, from HDTVs, Video Game Consoles, Windows Computers, and let’s not forget, car audio equipment. This is why, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the sixth place on our list goes to the Sony DSXA40Ui Single Din digital head unit, with its sleek styling, fitted with a nice black-on-black color scheme giving it a very stealthy look. What you’ll find here isn’t anything extraordinary, except for the fact that you can access the AUX and USB port right at the flip of the cover. What’s nice here, is that those ports can stay hidden with the flip of the cover.
As always, the front panel is 100% detachable to reduce vehicle theft. Power output from this head unit is around 55-watt amps MAX and 20-25 watt amps RMS. RCA outputs for external amplifiers are present, allowing you to expand your sound system. Lastly, the typical things like EQ adjustments and FM/AM radio are all present. A wireless remote control lets you be away from the system, without really being “away”. This is an excellent way to start your custom sound system, so check this Sony model out.
5. Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Double Din 7″ inch Touchscreen Radio Receiver
The fifth position goes to the Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Double Din 7″ inch stereo receiver, which, by far, is the costliest stereo receiver we have on this top 10 list. Right off the bat you’ll see that it costs a pretty penny, but it looks like the features may be justifiable for just that.
The first clear sign of a premium product is the slightly larger LCD display at 7″ inches across (compared to the 6.2″ inch). The LED-backlit display offers more vibrant colors under animation , as well as the backlit keys giving this unit a more defined look at night. It features Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, so AUX cords won’t be necessary. Still, if an AUX cord is needed, you can have direct access from the back (as well as access to RCA outputs).
This touchscreen looks very crisp and clean, allowing you to make light touches (much like on smartphones) to perform any given command. To wrap up this particular review, we’re going to cover a very cool feature which iPhone owners will love. It’s called CarPlay, and it basically allows you to have access to the basic iPhone applications on the head unit itself, such as making calls, listening to music, using Apple Maps, reading text messages or listening to podcasts.
This review could go on for a while with the number of features that this particular stereo reviewer has, but we’ll cut it short here. For the best double din head unit and Bluetooth car stereo, look no further than this Pioneer AVH-4100NEX.
4. Alpine CDE-143BT CR Radio Receiver
Moving back down to the single din head units, on the fourth position we have the Alpine CDE-143BT Digital Audio Receiver. This head unit is not meant for cheap car stereos, but instead it’s meant for pairing up with your existing Alpine equipment. Giving you a classic look with the volume knob and black/white LCD display, this is the definition of quality made from Alpine. It boasts 50 watts of max power and 20-25 watts of RMS for each of the 4 channels. From the front you’ll be offered an AUX and USB ports for playing music and charging your device.
Use the Bluetooth integration to listen to music, take calls, and make outbound hands-free calls (directly from the head unit). Last but not least, is the simple to use layout of this Alpine model. You can adjust volume, switch from different stations/songs, select preset favorite stations, and adjust your EQ for the kind of sound you really want to listen to.
3.BOSS AUDIO BV9976B 7″ inch Touchscreen Bluetooth Radio Receiver
BOSS is no Alpine or Pioneer when it comes down to credibility and quality, but that does not mean that all their products suck. A good example of a VERY popular double din car stereo head unit is the BOSS AUDIO’s BV9976B 7″ inch Motorized Touchscreen unit. What’s great about it is the sheer cost savings that will happen when you purchase this particular unit. Look at comparable Pioneer and Kenwood units, they are 180-300 dollars while this radio receiver costs as little as 120 dollars. First are the savings, next are the important features that make this head unit tick.
At 85 watts pushing at each of the 4 channels, RMS rating will be anywhere between 40-45 watts. The front face lit up with bright LED’s, is simple to use. When it opens up to the 7″ inch LCD screen, you can listen to the radio, listen to a disk, use hands-free Bluetooth, or stream music. The front features the typical controls you’d usually find on a single din head unit. However, what you’ll ALSO find here are the AUX, SD Card, and USB ports for listening to music. This is probably the best car stereo head unit that is double din, for budget-oriented buyers.
2. Kenwood KDC-255U In-Dash CD Radio Receiver (USB + AUX)
A very big seller from Kenwood is their KDC-255U in-dash single din cd radio receiver. Priced extremely reasonable at around 60 dollars, it brings out a classic head unit look while still looking modern and quite sleek. The front features a USB port along with an AUX port to stream music directly from your music devices. One thing this head unit is compatible with is Pandora, allowing you to switch from song to song, and rate thumbs up or down directly from the head unit.
From all 4 channels available, you can run 22watt amps RMS. Use the included RCA cables to really crank up the juice by hooking up an aftermarket amplifier. Overall it’s an easy unit to install, undoubtedly one of the best cheap stereo receivers you can get right now from ANYWHERE.
1.Pioneer FH-X720BT Double Din Bluetooth Car Radio Receiver
Undoubtedly one of the most popular double din head units you can buy online right now. Pioneers FH-X720BT takes a double din approach while still being in “look” a single din. What we love about this unit the most is night time appeal, since it’s primarily black with LED accents all around. The controls on the front of this unit are very easy to access, especially the volume control located directly in the center of the unit.
Bluetooth for hands-free calling and wireless audio streaming is a very useful feature. Voice recognition supporting iPhones makes it easy to make outbound calls without having to touch your phone. With two RCA outputs in the back, you can connect an external amplifier to really boost up the sound output, which from the factory is 50 watts max and 25 watts RMS per channel (4 in total).
To complement your brand new head unit, you’ll probably want to get a good pair of component car speakers. Also, to power your entire sound system you’ll need a good quality car battery. Especially when you’re looking to push a few subwoofers and aftermarket component speakers, a high cold cranking amp battery is the way to go. Check this post for after market android auto stereos.
Best Car Stereo – Ultimate Buying Guide
In contrast to buying a home audio system, which is quite easy, buying one for your car is definitely more challenging, as you need to make sure that you get one which will suit not only your needs, but also your car.
- While there’s no denying that making a choice is hard, the variety of models available on the market is quite comforting, as it makes finding the right one more realistic. To help you even further, we prepared a guide, which should help you with the decision, at least a little bit.
- First of all, when buying a stereo for car, you need to consider the components, and whether you really need all of them. There are three main ones, which you should keep in mind – the stereo receiver, an amplifier and the speakers.
- Once this is done, you can move on to the second thing to consider, which is the different features. Do you want your stereo receiver to have a specific software? Or maybe you want the best car audio quality with a speaker with a wide frequency range? Think about what you would appreciate most in the product.
- Last, but not least, you also have to consider your budget. Keep in mind that you most probably are going to spend more than you think – unless you know how to install it yourself. Professional installation can be really costly, however, if you have never done anything like this before, it’s best to just let an expert do it.
- So now that you know what you should think about before investing in car stereo system, let’s get into everything you need to know when changing it.
The stereo receiver, or head unit if you prefer, is one of the three main components. It is basically a control hub of the whole system, and what you use for adjusting the volume, changing the radio station or playing different music. Depending on which model you will decide to get, you might even be able to display maps on it.
While every car comes with a stereo receiver, after a while you might want to change it to something more high tech, to ensure that you are getting the best audio quality.
Depending on their features, and the way in which they are used, stereo receivers can fall into different groups. Here are three of them which are worth consideration:
- AV – these are some of the best stereo receivers available on the market. They are designed to handle both the visual and audio digital media. The high-end models will come with an AM/FM radio tuner, which allows you to tune to any radio station you desire.
- High-end – into this category fall some of the highest quality and most expensive devices, with advanced features that distinguish them from the others, as well as high sound frequency and power. One of their advantages is that you can play music saved in different formats, such as DSD or FLAC.
- Wireless – this is a relatively new category of stereo receivers, which allows you to create a wireless connection between your phone and the receiver, thanks to which you are able to use voice assistants, such as Siri and Alexa, without taking your hands off the steering wheel and eyes off the road. This makes sending a message, playing music, or sending a text a lot safer than it has been before.
So now that you know how the stereo receivers divided, we can focus on their different features that you need to take into consideration while buying a new one.
- The place in which all adjustments connected to sound are made is called preamp. What’s more, preamp outputs allow you to connect a stereo amplifier – while you might not necessarily need one, it can be of great help if you want to achieve a loud and clear sound, as the ones installed in the car do not always give you the same quality that a dedicated one could.
- Depending on the stereo system in your car, you could have a different number of the preamp outputs – some cars have only one, while some have two sets. There are also those which have three sets of preamp outputs (6 jacks), so that you can connect two amplifiers and a subwoofer at the same time.
- One of the things that you should consider when it comes to preamp output is its voltage, as the higher it is, the clearer sound you get, and the higher output from the amplifier. Standard car stereos usually offer around 2V, while some can have 4V and more.
- Most stereo receivers, even the aftermarket ones, should have Bluetooth support, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you shouldn’t have a problem with finding one. What’s more, it’s better to stay away from those receivers that do not have Bluetooth support, as there is a chance that there are lacking other features as well.
- If you are using your phone for navigation, then a GPS is not something you might need. However, if you desire to buy a receiver that has mapping features, then GPS is worth considering.
- Furthermore, even if you use Android Auto or CarPlay, you might still benefit from a GPS, as they sometimes use the receivers built-in GPS, to get better position, which results in a slightly more accurate mapping.
- However, the difference is small, so you might not even notice it. This is why if you already found a digital media receiver that has CarPlay or Android Auto, you don’t necessarily need it to have a GPS. However, if you’ll be using the built-in mapping features of your receiver, then you need to ensure that it has its own GPS sensors.
- Apart from those described above, there are other ways in which you can play music from your phone or other devices. For example, you can use a receiver with an aux port, or with a USB port.
- Another way, which is slowly becoming old-fashioned nowadays, is the AM/FM radio. While not many people are listening to the HD radio nowadays, your receiver should still feature it. Many cars these days, apart from the terrestrial radio, also feature support for the satellite ones, even though you usually need to purchase a subscription to access it.
- Last but not least, we have a CD player, and while many people might not want to have one, there are some who prefer to listen to music in a traditional way, and want to have one. Since many stereo receivers these days lack a CD player, you want to make sure that the one you purchase has one.
Amplifier Features and Considerations
Apart from buying a car stereo receiver, you might also want to invest in an amplifier. While most won’t need one, as the sound quality they have is enough for them, if you have a tuned ear, you might want to purchase one, to ensure that you are getting audio of the highest quality possible.
- Amplifiers can come in different configurations – some with more channels than others. On the whole, you will need one channel for every speaker that you wish to have or have already in your stereo system – you will also need one for the subwoofer if you decide to add one. Remember that there’s no harm in buying an amplifier that has more channels than you need, as maybe you’d want to add a speaker in the future. However, the problem arises when you buy an ampler that doesn’t have enough channels, thus limiting your system.
- The amplifiers usually range from two channels to eight or more, with most commonly used being a five-channel amplifier, which allows you to connect four speakers and one subwoofer. If you only need an amplifier for a subwoofer, you can buy a model with one channel.
- The amplifier’s power is one of the most important things to consider when choosing one. The higher amplifier’s power is, the better sound the system will produce (louder and clearer).
- The first thing you need to do to find out how much power you need, is checking how much your speakers can handle. The number is usually measured in RMS, and it’s a good idea to find an amplifier that will match the RMS of your speakers per channel. So, for example, if your speakers have an RMS rating of 8, you should consider buying an amplifier, which delivers 8 watts or less per channel.
- Power is extremely important when it comes to subwoofers, as they usually require more of it to run properly. This means that you might have to either bridge two channels, or buy a separate mono amplifier for subs.
- Another important thing to consider are the preamp outputs in your car, or the lack of them. If your stereo receiver doesn’t have them, and you want to buy an amplifier, you might need to tailor your amplifier purchase to the outputs that you have in your car.
- If you don’t have preamp outputs, you need to make sure that the amplifier you are willing to buy has speaker-level inputs, which will result in better sound quality. However, if you want to get the best sound quality, you should seriously consider investing in a receiver with preamp outputs and an amplifier with line-level inputs.
- In a nutshell, if your receiver doesn’t have preamp outputs, buy an amplifier with speaker-level inputs. If it does have them, buy an amplifier with line-level inputs.
- While you are most likely going to have a professional install an amplifier for you, where you place it might vary, depending on your vehicle. The reason behind it is pretty simple – since cars don’t have a separate amplifier, you can’t really take out the old one, and replace it with a new one.
- Despite it, there are some places, in which people most often put them, such as under the front seat, where no-one can see it, or in the trunk. Since it’s not a one-size-fits-all issue, everyone might want to install it somewhere else, which is something that you should keep in mind.
Brands to consider
- There are so many brands available on the market, that choosing the right one can be a challenge.
- However, there are some companies that stand out in the crowd, such as JVC, Sony, Alpine, Kenwood or Pioneer. If you decide to buy equipment from any of those companies, you can be sure that you are getting a product of high quality, both in sound and build.
- Don’t ignore other brands though, as there are some companies that focus on different features, and not on the whole. For example, some companies focus more on the amplifier and speaker side of things, then on the stereo receiver side. Some brands known for their great speakers are JBL, Rockford Fosgate and Kicker.
Choosing the best car stereos is a lot more challenging than choosing the ones for your house. You not only have to think about which components you want it to have, but also about different features of those different components.
For example, when looking for a stereo receiver, the things that you should consider include its preamp outputs, whether it has CarPlay or Android Auto, or GPS. While a display might not be as important as the rest of the features, it still needs to be taken into consideration. When looking for an amplifier, you need to think about its channels (how many it has), the power, and the installation process, which can turn out to be quite expensive.
There is also the financial matter, as not everyone will be able to afford the same system. If you have thousands of dollars that you can spend on upgrading your car with new audio equipment and professional installation, then go for it.
For those who cannot really afford it, there’s nothing really to worry about as thanks to the variety of products, and separate components available on the market, you are bound to find something that will suit not only your needs, but also your budget.
Remember that you don’t always have to change the whole system – especially if it hasn’t been that long since it’s been last updated. For example, if you need more advanced mapping, maybe buying only a stereo receiver will be enough?
If you want to improve the audio quality in your car, why don’t you invest in a good subwoofer, or change only your speakers? This way, you can get what you desire, without having to replace every component.
There are a few more things that need to be discussed. First of all, you might be surprised at how much the installation can cost. This is why the best idea is to call a professional beforehand and discuss how much more or less will the installation and the cost of the parts. Make sure that they will give you the final cost so that you will know how much you will need to spend.
Also, unless you are an audiophile, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to achieve great sound – there are many affordable ones that give you an excellent audio quality.
With this being said, we reached the end of our guide. We hope that it will make the buying process at least a little bit easier for you.