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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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.
- Best OverallPioneer AVH-1300NEXSummarySummaryPowerful 6.2-inch touchscreen stereo that easily connects to your phone via Bluetooth. Can play MP3, WMA, and FLAC files without converting them.ProsProsWireless connectivity. Hands-free calling option. Large screen display. Highly responsive touchscreen. User-friendly interface.ConsConsExpensive. Doesn’t include a remote control. Non-detachable faceplate.
- Best ValueJVC KD-R792BTSummarySummaryThis radio is inexpensive. It has the ability to pair two phones. It also supports several media playbacks including CD formats, MP3, WMA, and DVD.ProsProsBudget-friendly. Wireless connectivity. Hands-free calling option. Voice recognition dialing.ConsConsPoor customer service from the manufacturer. Small radio buttons.
- Honorable MentionKenwood DPX502BTSummarySummaryThis model can play AAC, WMA, FLAC, WAV, and MP3 files. It has an ID3 tag that displays the song titles and album information on the screen.ProsPros
Wireless connectivity. Large multi-line display. Great sound quality.
Satellite radio-ready.ConsConsDim display. Slippery volume button. Not so helpful user manual.
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 2019
Best Car Stereo Overall: Pioneer AVH-1300NEX
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.
Best Value Car Stereo: JVC KD-R792BT
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 Car Stereo Honorable Mention: Kenwood DPX502BT
The Kenwood DPX502BT is a double-DIN car stereo that has superb sound quality and aesthetics. The head unit features smartphone Bluetooth connectivity and can play WMA, MP3, and AAC files. Bluetooth allows you to make hands-free calls, and you can stream music from compatible apps. The stereo has USB inputs and a front-panel auxiliary that’s compatible with iPhone and Android phone controls.
This model has a built-in AM/FM tuner with access to local radio stations that are listed on a 13-digit backlit display. You could store the stations on one of the eight side-mounted buttons on either side for quick access. This Kenwood Stereo also plays CDs, CD-Rs, and CD-RWs and can support iHeartRadio and Pandora Control. The Kenwood Music Play app makes browsing of music in Android devices easy.
The main drawback of this product is that it doesn’t have an Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration as with other advanced car stereo systems. The volume button is slippery and the display is dim and hard to see in the sunlight. Beyond that, it has a great build quality and has a retro style for anyone who likes to keep it old school with his or her entertainment experience.
- 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 JVC KD-R792BT. 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.
How do you feel about our top picks? Get in the discussion and tell us what you think in the comments below.
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