LAST UPDATED: April 18, 2019
Best Car Stereos: Upgrade Your Sound Quality
Take your vehicle’s entertainment system to the next level with these top car stereos
The Review Team
How We Decided
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PUBLISHED ON April 18, 2019
Are you doing some performance upgrades to your car? Consider improving your car audio experience with a top-of-the-line car stereo. Modern car stereos are Bluetooth compatible, can take voice commands, and can transmit and receive audio and videos from your smartphone. We will give you a rundown of some of the best car stereos in the market that can give you all that and more.
Display is easy to read. Has an auxiliary input. Features a 24-Bit DAC and three-band EQ.
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Benefits of Car Stereos
- More music sources. Gone are the days of only relying on your AM/FM radio for entertainment. Stereos are now capable of playing file formats like MP3, WMA, and AAC and can support content from Google Android devices and Apple iOS. You will also have access to satellite radio and online streaming services like Pandora, iHeartRadio, and Spotify.
- Customize your entertainment experience. If you hate sticking to one playlist for your entire ride, then you need to upgrade your car stereo to control your music. Aftermarket car stereos come with remote or voice controls, parametric equalization, and other sound-setting options that allow you to customize your audio files.
- 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 stereos are the smallest, as they are only 7 inches wide and 2 inches high. With such a small configuration, they are sure to fit in almost every vehicle, and that’s why they come as a factory stereo system for most vehicles.
Double-DIN stereos have a height advantage to the single-DIN radios. They typically measure 7 inches wide and 4 inches high. The extra height creates room for a touchscreen interface.
OEM replacements are for vehicles that are not compatible with single or double-DIN stereos. They are the best aftermarket replacements for OEM stereos, as they are customized to be the same size.
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 AVH-1300NEX 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, California. Some popular products under the umbrella of the JVC Kenwood Corporation are the JVC KD-R792BT and Kenwood DPX502BT.
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 Car Multimedia Player.
ATOTO is a new company in the electronics industry, but it has hit the ground running by launching innovative accessories that are chic, ergonomic, and reliable. Mr. Jay Yang founded the company in 2008, and its manufacturing base is in Dongguan, China. One product that will show you just how much ATOTO is holding up against its competitors who have a longer run in the industry is the ATOTO A6 Stereo.
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-$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.
- Over $300: 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.
Most vehicles come designed with different front panels, and that is why you should consider the size of your stereo system. You should know the minimum and maximum space allowed for a head unit in your car and get one that fits the space. Single-DIN stereos are for the smaller panels and double-DIN stereos are for cars with a larger panel.
Always go for modern stereos that have a plethora of connection options including USB ports and auxiliary input systems. Some stereos also have audio/video outputs that allow you to connect rear-set video screens or portable music players. Best of all are stereos that support Bluetooth for the convenience of wireless music streaming and can pair more than two phones to give you a great road trip playlist.
A great car stereo gives you what you want with minimal distractions. We are talking about easy-to-read fonts, correct lighting, intuitive controls, and large on-screen buttons. A 6.4 to 7-inch touchscreen display is easy to operate while you are driving and is often clear and responsive. Buttons should be easy to identify by touch, and a knob could come in handy when adjusting the volume.
- 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.
- Phone Compatibility: Ensure that the stereo is compatible with your Android or iPhone so that you can also play the music on your phone. It would also be convenient if the stereo has a USB port for charging your phone.
- Anti-Theft: It would be a shame if your stereo was stolen, so that’s why you should go for stereos that have security codes. Sure, most stereos are detachable and it’s easy to steal them, but you will have peace of mind knowing that there is an anti-theft code preventing unauthorized access.
- CD/DVD Player: A stereo with a CD/DVD player could benefit classical music lovers who would like something different from the music on their phone. If the stereo comes with a video input, you could play a movie for the rear-seat passengers to entertain them.
Best Car Stereo Reviews & Recommendations 2020
The Pioneer AVH-1300NEX is a great combination of superb video and sound quality to give you the ultimate entertainment experience in your car. It has a highly responsive and customizable touchscreen that makes it easy to switch between apps and select actions. A Bluetooth connection allows you to connect your smartphone to the head unit. That will give you access to the apps on your phone and you can take hands-free calls as well for safe driving.
The head unit can take voice commands so you can always keep your eyes on the road when texting or making calls. You can also connect it to the internet if you have a portable wireless connection option on your phone. The stereo plays MP3, WMA, and FLAC files without converting them and its compatible with crossover networks such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It is also compatible with online streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora and can switch to SiriusXM satellite radio for music playback.
The downside of this stereo is that the handheld remote is sold separately, which is inconvenient and an extra cost to the buyer. On top of that, the stereo is expensive and that may be because it’s a new and improved NEX model from Pioneer. The faceplate is also not detachable as with other double-DIN stereos. Other than that, you will be impressed with its sound quality when paired with some good speakers.
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.
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.
This large double-DIN car stereo from JVC is equipped with more than just enhanced music options for your drive. It also doubles as an in-dash receiver. The device is capable of putting out a peak of 50 watts with four channels and 22 RMS watts. The 6.8-inch VGA display is wide and easy to read, too. All of this is powered through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
It even comes with text that automatically knows the song that is currently being played through the radio, CD, or any external device. You will also find easy-to-access controls for leveling out bass, treble, sound, and crossover, all which plays at a high resolution for an even better listening experience. One of the best features is that it comes with a phone mount so you can store your phone in an easy-to-access place.
However, you may experience slower startup times when compared to OEM stereos. Also, the screen isn’t the most sensitive, so you may need to calibrate it or press harder to access different settings. It also may not have the best anti-glare features, as it can be bright in direct sunlight.
Jensen’s car stereo is a single-DIN device that comes with a lot of features for you to enjoy. The first thing you should notice is the price. It’s on the lower end, but still a great little stereo for your vehicle. It includes a seven-character high resolution LCD screen that is comfortable on your eyes and displays easy-to-read text.
One of the most interesting and best features of the stereo is the built-in voice assist system. By simply touching a button, you can use Siri or Google Voice to choose songs, podcasts, or turn on the GPS. It also pairs with any Bluetooth device so you can go completely hands-free on the road. Plus, it comes with a USB port for fast charging and direct connectivity.
One of the biggest concerns may be the lighting the screen gives off. It may be considered too bright for some drivers, especially at night. It may also be a bit confusing to wire up. Unless you’re an expert, you may need to bring it to a certified shop so they can connect everything for you.
BOSS is one of the most well-known car stereo and speaker manufacturers in the world. Its single-DIN LCD car stereo is reasonably-priced and features all the modern equipment needed to make a drive a connectivity.
One great feature this stereo has—which isn’t included with a lot of stereos—is the ability to dim the brightness of the screen and the buttons. It produces 50 watts and four max channels for the best high resolution listening experience possible. Plus, you can control it with the included remote.
However, the screen may be considered too dim for daylight driving. Plus, it doesn’t really seem to enhance the audio all that much. You’ll need to take it to a professional if you want a more enhanced sound quality.
This is another great car stereo choice from Sony. The double-DIN media receiver, as the company calls it, is large, impressive, and looks great. It comes complete with Apple CarPlay and can even be used with Android Auto. It includes a 6.2-inch touchscreen that is simple to read and navigate.
You can even use voice control to pick and choose your own music, making it hands-free and safer to use while driving. It also comes with a GPS navigation system. You can even set up your own personal music settings and choose speakers to send certain sounds to. Also, it is rearview camera-ready, so you can easily connect a backup camera when you’re ready.
The price is one of its downfalls, but double-DIN stereos typically do come with a higher price tag. You will also have to pay more if you want it to be installed. It may be a bit difficult to install if you aren’t too familiar with stereo systems.
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.
- Some modern cars have factory stereo systems that work with the steering wheel controls. You risk losing this functionality if you replace the factory stereo. In that case, you should go for the best replacement car stereo and connect it to the steering wheel controls with a special wiring harness to maintain the steering wheel and media player functionality.
- Car acoustics play a major part in the sound quality you get in your car, meaning that the same stereo may have great bass in a large SUV but not in an extended cab truck. Consult with your nearest car audio expert who has experience in installing audio systems to get the right fit for your car.
- 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.
Q: Will my factory speakers handle a high-powered stereo?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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.
We picked the Pioneer AVH-1300NEX as the best car stereo system. It has a highly responsive touchscreen, can support most audio files, and has a user-friendly interface.
Our best budget car stereo is the Alpine Advanced Bluetooth Mech-Less Digital Media Receiver. It delivers more value for a car audio system in its price range with built-in Bluetooth, voice-recognition dialing, and can support online music streaming.