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Best Car Stereos: Upgrade Your Auto Sound Quality

Take your vehicle's entertainment system to the next level with these top car stereos.
These are the best car stereos
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It seems like all new cars come with fancy touch screens that take up a sizeable amount of real estate on the dashboard. But what if you don’t own the latest and greatest? You’re stuck with the old-school single-DIN radio without a fancy large screen or infotainment system. That advanced smartphone in your pocket is useless when it comes to streaming your favorite music, getting step-by-step navigation directions, voice-to-text, or making calls.

What you need is a serious upgrade to the sound quality and stereo system in your vehicle. An aftermarket car stereo can do just that. Modern Single and double-DIN units come with the latest innovative features that you find in new vehicles. Allow us to give you a rundown of some of the best car stereos in the market that can give you all that and more.

Summary List

Our Methodology

To figure out these top four units, we read through a bunch of reviews, utilized a bit of our own experience, and sprinkled in some consideration for what the modern car stereo enjoyer wants in their single or double-DIN head unit. These all worked out to be top-rated options, so we ranked them in accordance to their strong suits versus price and number of features. For more on how we select products, check this out.

Best Car Stereos: Reviews & Recommendations

Best Overall: JVC Single-Din Stereo

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We chose JVC’s single-DIN stereo, which offers 50 watts via four channels of power output, as the best overall option. It features built-in Bluetooth wireless technology and supports hands-free calls, voice-recognition dialing, Siri controls, phone book access, and audio streaming. It also supports Pandora control for Android devices. The stereo can connect to a maximum of two phones. The stereo comes with a handheld remote to make it easy for rear-seat passengers to change the channels. It also includes subwoofer direct connections. The design of the stereo is appealing with a glossy black frame, clear LCD display, and contrasting color illumination. The USB and auxiliary inputs are located at the face of the stereo for easy access. On top of that, it features an Android Open Accessory Protocol (AOA2) and JVC’s Streaming DJ for online music streaming.

However, the buttons on the stereo are small, and it doesn’t have a clock display when it’s turned off. You may also experience poor customer service from the manufacturer. Nevertheless, the fact that the head unit adjusts the timing of the sound output to ensure that each speaker receives sound at the exact same time makes this product worth the money.

Best Value: BOSS Audio Systems Multimedia Car Stereo

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Upgrade your car’s outdated stereo with this affordable option. It comes with built-in Bluetooth for streaming your favorite audio from your MP3 player or smartphone. The front of the stereo has a USB port, so you can directly connect your devices without the need for wireless connectivity. A standout feature is that the USB port also acts as a charger, so you don’t have to worry about your device’s battery dying. There are preset equalizer settings to tune your music. ID tagging displays your stored artist and title data. 

The drawback of this car stereo is that it doesn’t come with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto capability. That means you won’t have full functionality of your smartphone through the stereo. It also comes with preset equalizer settings, which limits how much you can customize the sound. 

Best Display: Alpine Advanced Bluetooth Mech-Less Digital Media Receiver

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This stereo from Alpine plays various files from your iPhone, Android, MP3 player, Pandora account, or USB drive. Music plays via audio streaming, FLAC support, or Bluetooth wireless technology. The stereo features a high-contrast LCD display and RGB illumination in the color of your choice. The display is easy to read because it has five times more contrast than a standard screen. You control the music with a rotary knob, and it has an auxiliary input for portable media players. It features a 24-bit DAC for the best sound quality. You can also fine-tune your audio system with its three-band EQ and high pass/low pass crossover.

The biggest complaint about this device is that the Bluetooth is hit or miss and can be difficult to connect. It connects automatically half of the time but can’t find a device the other half. It can also be hard to see the display during the daytime due to sun glare.

Best for Streaming: Kenwood Bluetooth Digital Media Player

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Kenwood’s car stereo system is a single-DIN device built for the modern age. As all up-to-date media receivers should be, this stereo comes with Bluetooth for quick and simple connectivity to any smart device. You can even connect up to two phones at a time, which is great if you have friends or a significant other that has a different taste in music than you do. Another great addition is the stereo comes with earbuds, so you can continue listening to your music on the go. The stereo also features six EQ curves and a 13-band equalizer that improves music playback. Plus, you get a USB and AUX port in the front of the device. Another benefit is that there is plenty of room behind the device to stuff cables out of sight.

However, it may be a little too high priced based on its simplicity. Another issue is it can be rather confusing to figure out all the settings. To get it to turn off, you have to cycle through a few settings. The same can be said for configuring the sound.

Our Verdict on the Best Car Stereos

We picked the JVC KD-R792BT as the best car stereo because it comes with the connectivity and media playback that you want. Its dual phone connectivity means you and your significant other can both connect without repeatedly repairing your phones. For a more budget-friendly option, the BOSS Double-DIN Digital Receiver is also a great choice.

Features to Know for the Best Car Stereos

Power Output. When buying a car stereo, look at the unit’s specifications and focus on the watts per channel. A higher watt per channel means that your head unit will have enough power for your speakers, and you won’t need an amplifier.

Customizable. If you’re looking to make a statement with your car’s interior, then look for a customizable stereo. Some have lighting features that let you choose the color of the illuminated buttons and the screen. Others let you choose the background image displayed on the screen. High-end stereos will have imagery that can move in time with the music playing.

CD/DVD Player. A CD player may seem like outdated technology, but for some, it’s the ideal solution. Perhaps you have a large collection that you’ve never bothered to make digital. Or maybe you’re upgrading someone’s stereo who isn’t exactly tech-savvy. Whatever the reason, you can still buy a high-quality stereo with a CD/DVD player. Look for one with stability controls to minimize skipping and damage to the disks. 

FAQs

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: Will my factory speakers handle a high-powered stereo?

Most factory speakers work well with aftermarket stereos, but there may be limits to the speaker’s performance. After you install the new stereo, crank it up to different volume levels and note when the speaker starts to give off a distorted sound, then avoid turning up the volume past that level.

Q: Will I have better bass with an aftermarket stereo?

To get great bass, you do need a powerful stereo and a combination of other factors like high-quality speakers, a subwoofer, and a powerful amplifier. Moreover, it all depends on who is listening. Great bass to one listener may seem average to another, so you won’t know if your stereo has great bass until you install it and listen.

Q: How do I know it’s time to buy a new stereo?

The first obvious clue is a radio that fails to turn on. Unwanted noises like screeches and an audio system that doesn’t produce any bass at any volume level is also an indicator that you need to get your stereo replaced.

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Andra DelMonico has dedicated her writing career to sharing her passion for cars and motorcycles. She has 15 years of experience owning, riding, and working on both sportbikes and cruisers, at one point rebuilding her Kawasaki ZX14. She also has a fully modified Toyota XRunner. As a young girl, she would routinely attend classic and high-end car shows with her father, who she credits with instilling her passion for automobiles. As a writer, Andra has utilized her knowledge and passion to write compelling and detailed content for a wide variety of automotive and motorcycle industry clients.