Reviews

Best Car Stereos: Upgrade Your Sound Quality

Take your vehicle’s entertainment system to the next level with these top car stereos.

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BY Andra DelMonico / LAST UPDATED ON April 18, 2019

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 a new car? You’re stuck with the old-school single-DIN radio. No fancy large screen. No 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 ride. An aftermarket car stereo can do just that. Modern Single and double-DIN units come outfitted with the latest innovative features that you’ll find in new cars. We will give you a rundown of some of the best car stereos in the market that can give you all that and more.

Best Overall
JVC KD-R792BT
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Summary
Summary

This radio is inexpensive. It has the ability to pair two phones. It also supports several media playbacks, including CD formats, MP3, WMA, and DVD.

Pros
Pros
  • Hands-free calling
  • Remote control app 
  • Steering remote ready
Cons
Cons
  • Lacks customer service support 
  • Small buttons
Best Overall
JVC KD-R792BT
Best Value
BOSS Double-DIN Digital Receiver
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Summary
Summary

Enjoy this large double-DIN stereo with its smartphone, Spotify, and Pandora capabilities. Connect wirelessly via the built-in Bluetooth.

Pros
Pros
  • Budget-friendly
  • Charge any USB device
Cons
Cons
  • No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto 
  • Preset Equalizer settings
Best Value
BOSS Double-DIN Digital Receiver
Honorable Mention
Alpine Advanced Bluetooth Mech-Less Digital Media Receiver
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Summary
Summary

Plays various files from your iPhone or Android, MP3 player, Pandora account, or USB drive. It has a high-contrast LCD display and RGB illumination.

Pros
Pros
  • Easy to read 
  • Aux input
  • 24-Bit DAC and three-band EQ
Cons
Cons
  • Unreliable Bluetooth
  • Dark daytime display
Honorable Mention
Alpine Advanced Bluetooth Mech-Less Digital Media Receiver

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Benefits of Car Stereos

  • More technology. An upgrade to your car’s stereo system means you can gain access to the latest entertainment features. These include Bluetooth, smartphone syncing, digital streaming, and navigation. 
  • Safer driving. You know you should never use your phone while driving. A stereo upgrade can sync with your smartphone for more functionality and safer driving. Voice commands keep your hands and eyes on the road.
  • Personalize your interior. You could go for a stereo that’s the same color as your vehicle’s interior to have a uniform theme going on. A car stereo with a touchscreen that allows you to change backgrounds with colors that match your personal taste is also a winner.
  • Better sound quality. Car stereos typically have a power output that averages at 50 watts by four channels. That’s enough to produce a clean, detailed and distortion-free sound that you can enjoy on your ride, and without necessarily having to upgrade your speakers.
  • Convenience. A car stereo with wireless capabilities allows you to enjoy the full advantages of your smartphone. You can take hands-free calls via Bluetooth, navigate via your phone’s screen, text, or control the volume via voice-recognition features.

Types of Car Stereos

Single-DIN

Single-DIN stereos are the smallest, as they are only 7 inches wide and 2 inches high. This smaller size makes them a direct replacement for older vehicles. They typically don’t require any additional parts, such as a new dash frame. This is the simplest direct replacement for an older vehicle. However, they do lack a screen, so while you may have built-in Bluetooth, you won’t have full smartphone functionality. 

Double-DIN

Double-DIN stereos typically measure 7 inches wide and 4 inches high. However, they tend to range in size more than their single-DIN counterparts. You’ll have to be more careful about vehicle compatibility, and you may need to buy a new dash frame. The advantage of this style is that the finished installation looks similar to new vehicles that come with a touch screen infotainment system. However, you’ll need to be careful when choosing your model because they don’t all come with the same features. 

Fold-Out

If you want touchscreen functionality but don’t have the dash space, consider a slide or fold-out option. This car stereo type is a combination of the previous two. The body of the stereo is the size of a single-DIN unit. This makes for easier installation. Then a larger touch screen will either slide or fold out. This gives you the functionality of a double-DIN unit. These are nice if you want an easier installation. However, they tend to have more problems with breaking because they have more moving parts. 

Top Brands

Pioneer

Pioneer is a Japanese multinational company that manufactures digital entertainment products. Nozomu Matsumoto founded the company in 1938. The company rose to fame after its role in developing the first automotive Compact Disc player. Try out the Pioneer Single-DIN in-Dash Receiver if you would like to have a feel of one of Pioneer’s top-notch products.

JVC (Japan Victor Company)

JVC is a subsidiary company of the JVC Kenwood Corporation. Kenwood and JVC merged in 2008, but JVC has been designing and developing electronics since 1927. Its headquarters are in Long Beach, Calif. Some popular products under the umbrella of the JVC Kenwood Corporation are the JVC KD-X260BT Digital Media Receiver and the Kenwood Bluetooth Digital Media Player.

BOSS

BOSS has over 30 years of experience in creating audio and video gadgets that take advantage of the latest technology. Its products are made for all lovers of great music and are sold in 130 countries globally. A great BOSS product that will trigger the audiophile in you is the BOSS Audio Double DIN Radio Receiver.

Car Stereo Pricing

  • Under $100: You can find a decent, inexpensive aftermarket stereo at this price. Most stereos at this price range have a simple and small design. The stereos may be cheap, but you will find some high-end stereos that are compatible with modern audio files and offer Bluetooth support.
  • $100 to $200: Some of the best car stereos on the market are found at this price range. You will find head units with convenience features like a touch screen, built-in navigation systems, satellite radio compatibility, and even HD radio. 
  • $300 and up: Only the best car media players are found in this range. They come with similar convenience features to the mid-range level and offer you a more personalized listening experience in your car. However, some are expensive because of the brand name. Look into the features before you commit to buying one.

Key Features

Size

While there are two main size categories, single and double DIN, this doesn’t mean that all car stereos are the same size. You first need to know about the available space you have in your dash. This included both the dimensions of the face and the depth of the entire unit. Then look at the outside unit dimensions of the stereo you are interested in. Do not buy your unit based on the screen size. Some units have a frame around the screen that can make it millimeters too large for your car. Some vehicles also require a shallow mount stereo because they lack available depth for your new unit. 

Connection Options

Most modern aftermarket stereos come with built-in Bluetooth. This lets you make and receive calls through your stereo. If you want full use of your phone, you’ll need to look for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. These let you sync your smartphone. If you have other audio devices, you may need an Aux jack or USB port. If you plan to connect a speaker system, you’ll need additional connections for this on the backside. If you want to maintain your steering wheel controls, this is a separate connection option. Generally, the more connection options a stereo has, the more expensive it is. 

User-Friendly Interface

The best stereo in the world becomes a nightmare when it’s hard to navigate. Look for a screen that has plenty of brightness so that you can easily see it during the day and night. It should have buttons that aren’t too small or too close together. The labels should be large enough to read easily. If it’s a double DIN, the user interface should be intuitive to navigate without requiring too many steps to get to what you want. The screen should be responsive so that it only requires light taps of the screen without downtime as you wait for it to respond. 

Other Considerations

  • Power Output. When buying a car stereo, look at the unit’s specification 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. 

Best Car Stereos Reviews & Recommendations 2021

Best Overall
JVC Single-Din Stereo

For a budget-friendly option, we went for the single-DIN JVC KD-R792BT that offers 50 watts by four channels of power output. It features built-in Bluetooth wireless technology and supports hands-free calls, voice-recognition dialing, Siri Eyes Free, Phone Book Access Profile, and audio streaming. It also supports Pandora Control for Android devices. The stereo can connect to a maximum of two phones.


The package 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 also 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 feature online music streaming.


You probably won’t be impressed by how small the buttons are on the stereo. The stereo also 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 a sound at the exact same time makes this product worth the money.

Best Value
BOSS Audio Systems Multimedia Car Stereo

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 wireless connectivity. A standout feature is that the USB port also charges, so you never have to worry about your device’s battery dying. There are preset equalizer settings for quick tuning of 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. This means you won’t have full functionality of your smartphone through the stereo. It also comes with preset equalizer settings, which limits how custom you can create the sound. 

Best Display
Alpine Advanced Bluetooth Mech-Less Digital Media Receiver

This stereo from Alpine plays various files from your iPhone or 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 very 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 Car Stereo Receiver

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 machine 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.


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 there is plenty of room behind the device to stuff cables due to it being so thin.


However, it seems a little too high-priced for as simple as it is. 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.

Honorable Mention
Power Acoustik Double Din Car Stereo

The unique design of this stereo makes it stand out with a swivel base for the oversized touch screen. This makes it ideal for dashboards that aren’t compatible with traditional double-DIN stereos. You can install the stereo and then swivel the screen to where you need it. The 10.6-inch HD LCD screen has a resolution of 1024 x 600 and supports 1080p video playback. You can play a range of file formats, including DVD, CD, MP3, MP4, and 64GB SD/USB. It has built-in Bluetooth and Android Phonelink. 


One potential drawback of this stereo is that it doesn't come with smartphone syncing for iPhone smartphones. It also lacks buttons on the unit, which makes you totally dependent on the screen for functionality. 

Honorable Mention
Pyle Single-DIN In-Dash Receiver

This stereo lets you enjoy the full functionality of a double-DIN stereo while only taking up the space of a single-DIN stereo in your vehicle’s dash. It has a fold-out seven-inch responsive touchscreen monitor with a multi-color LCD display. It comes with built-in Bluetooth that’s compatible with iPhone and Android devices. This 320-watt system gives you plenty of power for quality sound. Your stereo will come with a detachable faceplate, remote, microphone, and wiring harness. 


The downside of this stereo is that the microphone isn’t very sensitive, so you’ll want to install it near you to pick up as much as possible. It also doesn’t have custom lighting options, so you’re stuck with the blue lights it comes with.

Honorable Mention
Pioneer Single-DIN In-Dash CD Receiver

This single-DIN stereo comes with a multi-segmented LCD display with an LED backlight. The display is 35 percent larger than previous models for better visibility. Use the front controls to adjust the five-band equalizer for a custom sound. A standout feature is a built-in MOSFET 50W x 4 Amplifier that gives you better sound quality. There is an Aux input jack on the front. Included with your stereo is a remote control. You’ll appreciate the anti-duct design that protects your stereo and helps it to be more durable. The faceplate is detachable for added security. 


Unfortunately, while the sound quality is powerful, it lacks some of the lower range tones. This can leave your music sounding high-pitched. It also is a bit complicated to use, which can be distracting while driving.

Honorable Mention
Dual Electronics LED Touch Screen Double Din Car Stereo

This innovative double-DIN stereo has a 7-inch touchscreen and voice activation for Apple Siri or Google Assistant. In addition, you can stream music from Pandora, iHeartRadio & Spotify apps directly from the home screen. Built-in Bluetooth lets you easily pair your stereo with any Bluetooth-enabled device. The screen measures 6.2 inches, making it a decent size for the on-screen turn-by-turn navigation. The stereo is also backup camera-ready, giving you the ability to modernize your entire car. 


Unfortunately, this unit doesn't come with a CD/DVD player. The screen is also dim, making it harder to see in bright light. This stereo is best for those with experience because it doesn't come labeled, making installation difficult. 

Tips

  • To make installation easier, look for a car stereo that’s compatible with your vehicle. The manufacturer should be able to tell you this. You should also be able to buy wiring harnesses for plug-and-play installation. This is cleaner and ensures reliable functionality.
  • Remember that modern stereos have safety fail stops built into them. If you find that some features don’t work or it doesn’t work at all, you might have installed it incorrectly. Certain wires need to be connected in a specific way to indicate to the stereo that it’s safe for use.
  • Connect the stereo to subwoofers of the same size to get the best sound quality. Same-size subwoofers offer better sound due to similar parameters and frequency response.

FAQs

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.

Final Thoughts

We picked the JVC KD-R792BT for 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.