Reviews

Best Stereo Receivers: Get the Most out of Your Audio System

Choosing the right stereo receiver will enhance your listening experience

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BY Bill Liktor , Linsay Thomas / LAST UPDATED ON April 25, 2019

There was a time when replacing the simple stereo receiver in your car was a commonplace solution for poor sound quality and a lack of acoustic abilities. However, modern OEM stereo receivers have integrated features that can make upgrading to an aftermarket receiver difficult. Luckily, there are many stereo receivers available that provide superior audio quality while keeping all the bells and whistles of OEM equipment.

Best Overall
Pioneer Stereo Single DIN
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Summary
Summary

This single DIN car stereo receiver comes as a complete set with a built-in amplifier. It has AM/FM radio, USB input, Bluetooth, and aux-in.

Pros
Pros
  • Four included speakers 
  • Pure MOSFET power
Cons
Cons
  • Doesn’t come with a wiring harness
  • No CD player 
  • Speakers are weak
Best Overall
Pioneer Stereo Single DIN
Best Value
BOSS Audio Systems 616UAB Multimedia Car Stereo
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Summary
Summary

Replace your stock stereo with this affordable single-DIN option. It comes with a USB port, Bluetooth, AM/FM  radio, and Aux-in port. 

Pros
Pros
  • Front and rear pre-amp outputs
  • Dancing LED lights
Cons
Cons
  • Spotty functionality 
  • Display is dim
Best Value
BOSS Audio Systems 616UAB Multimedia Car Stereo
Honorable Mention
JVC KD-R480
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Summary
Summary

This single-DIN receiver is versatile, has many features, and comes with a wireless remote and free earbuds.

Pros
Pros
  • Has Bluetooth with the ability to connect to two phones
  • Easy to install
Cons
Cons
  • No support for Apple CarPlay
  • Issues with Bluetooth connectivity.
Honorable Mention
JVC KD-R480

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All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

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Benefits of a Stereo Receiver

  • Better sound quality. Perhaps the single most important reason to buy a new stereo receiver for your car is to improve sound quality. High-quality stereo receivers are more powerful and specifically designed to produce a cleaner, richer, and louder sound.
  • Better access to playback options. A big advantage of purchasing an aftermarket stereo receiver is all the different listening options. While OEM receivers have options like satellite radio and streaming services through mobile devices, they still miss out on a bunch of music sources. For MP3/WMA/AAC/FLAC, RCA inputs, surround sound, and internet radio, you need an aftermarket AV receiver.
  • Advanced features. There are features like digital time correction and parametric equalization that car manufacturers don’t offer in factory stereo systems. Features like these allow you to fine-tune your music listening experience.
  • More available options. A great thing about shopping online for the best stereo receiver is all the choices that are available. Everything from multimedia receivers with 12-inch touchscreen displays, to basic CD/radio receivers, are available to fit every possible need.
  • Customize your car’s look. When it comes to our cars (as with most things in life), we like to have them represent our unique personalities as much as possible. A great way to personalize your car is to install a custom stereo receiver that reflects your style. 

Types of Stereo Receivers

Single-DIN

DIN is an acronym for Deutsches Institut für Normung, the German standards body that came up with the international criterion for car stereo receiver sizes back in the 1930s. Single-DIN receivers have been the norm in the automotive industry since that time and remain so to this day. The faceplate on a single-DIN receiver measures 7-inches wide by 2-inches high.

Double-DIN

Measuring twice as high as their single-DIN counterparts, these receivers are the standard size for the infotainment systems that are widely popular in modern automobiles. The extra room is used to pack in more features like a touchscreen display and advanced audio circuitry. 

OEM-DIN

Some car manufacturers can be finicky about their stereo receivers and will build custom-sized models that are not easily replaceable with either a single- or double-DIN. There are kits available to wedge a regular-sized receiver into the hole in the dash, or you can buy an aftermarket receiver specially designed to fit into the custom slot. 

Top Brands

Pioneer

Pioneer has been in the audio business since 1938 when the Tokyo, Japan-based company was founded by Nozomu Matsumoto as a radio and speaker repair shop. Since that time, Pioneer has grown into a multinational industry leader in audio and visual equipment. It produces some of the best stereo tuners on the market like the Pioneer MVH-S215BT Stereo Single DIN.

JVC

The Japan Victor Company got its start producing phonographs and records in Yokohama, Japan in 1927. It helped innovate the consumer electronics industry worldwide throughout the last century and was the first company to sell televisions in Japan. One of its popular receivers is the KW-M24BT.

Sony

Sony began just after World War 2 as an electronics boutique inside a department store in Tokyo, Japan. Originally named Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo, it settled on Sony as a western-sounding name to attract customers from the United States and Great Britain. It sells some of the best wifi stereo receivers in the world like the MEX-XB100BT.

Stereo Receiver Pricing

  • $20-$100: At this price range, customers can expect to find some decent stereo receivers, though they won’t have many of the features of higher-priced models. You can expect to find CD players, Bluetooth, and USB inputs on these receivers. Some models will have extras like Google Auto, Apple CarPlay, and a wireless remote.
  • $100-$300: The mid-pricing point has higher-end audio features as well as multimedia receivers. In fact, you can find some of the best stereo receivers for the money at this price point. These receivers will also be better equipped to integrate with your car’s innate features such as steering wheel mounted controls and GPS tracking.
  • $300 and up: This price range has high-end sound systems that produce amazing sound with the latest features. These receivers are for the hardcore audiophile who wants all the extras. If you want some of the best-rated stereo receivers on the market, then this is the price point to look at.

Key Features 

Bluetooth

Most stereo receivers have wireless connectivity through Bluetooth. Using Bluetooth, you can sync up a smartphone to take advantage of hands-free talking. The receiver uses the car speakers and a microphone so you can comfortably talk while driving. Some of the best stereo receivers with Bluetooth will also have A2DP audio streaming so you can use Pandora and other music apps for added entertainment options.

USB Inputs

These digital inputs give you the option of hooking up a flash drive, smartphone, or music device using a USB cable. This is an excellent way to bring a bunch of music on the road with you instead of lugging around a bunch of CDs.

CD/DVD Player

A CD player is standard fare in almost every stereo receiver on the market and still a favorite source of music for millions of people. DVD players are a great option if you have kids or go on long road trips. Many factory and aftermarket receivers have DVD players installed in them or have HDMI inputs to plug an external model into.

GPS Navigation

A necessary feature for people on-the-go who need help finding their destination. A GPS antenna located in the receiver sends and receives information from satellites to give an exact location on the map. Generally, you will only find GPS navigation on double-DIN receivers or single-DIN models with a flip-out face because of the extra space needed for the map.

Other Considerations 

  • Compatibility: Many cars come equipped with features such as steering-wheel-mounted controls or voice controls that are custom-tailored to work with the OEM receiver. There are aftermarket receivers available that will work with your car’s features with the right adaptor kit.
  • MirrorLink: This burgeoning technology is quickly becoming a must-have for Android smartphone owners. It connects through a USB cable and lets you use all your phone’s apps through the touchscreen on the receiver. You can access everything the phone has to offer (Spotify, Waze, etc.) without ever having to touch it. 

Best Stereo Receiver Reviews & Recommendations 2021

Best Overall
Pioneer Stereo Single DIN

This single DIN car stereo fits directly into your stock stereo slot in the dash. What’s nice about this stereo is that it comes as a complete stereo system with four speakers. The stereo can stream audio via Bluetooth or from the front-facing USB port. It also has aux-in and AM/FM functionality. You can connect your Android smartphone through the Android Open Accessory 2.0. The built-in amplifiers with 4 x 50 watts of pure MOSFET power give you pristine sound quality. 


One drawback of this unit is that it doesn’t come with a wiring harness. You’ll need to purchase this separately. It also doesn’t come with a CD player, which can be disappointing for some people. You may also find that the included speakers aren’t the best quality due to a small magnet size

Best Value
BOSS Audio Systems 616UAB Multimedia Car Stereo

This single DIN car stereo is a direct replacement for your stock system. It comes with a dimmable LCD screen and dancing LED lights. The built-in Bluetooth gives you hands-free functionality for answering and making phone calls. You can play music through Spotify and Pandora with the media playback ability. You could also use the auxiliary or USB ports. There are rear and front pre-amp outputs for wiring this stereo to your speakers. You can get 50 watts x 4 Max power from the 616UAB to power your speakers.


Unfortunately, the dimmable feature isn’t great because the screen display is already dim. It can also have spotty functionality with starting and stopping playback. You’ll also need to buy an amplifier if you want to get the best sound and plenty of power to the speakers.

Most Versatile
JVC KD-R480

This single DIN JVC model that offers some solid features while also being relatively cost-effective. Being a single-DIN receiver, the KD-R480 is more versatile than its double-DIN counterparts, which makes it perfect for older model cars. It has Bluetooth, USB inputs, and comes with a wireless remote control as well as free Alphasonik earbuds.


This is a powerful receiver that produces great sound and comes with a lot of extras to customize your listening experience. There is a subwoofer direct connection if you want to add some low-frequency thump, wireless streaming via Pandora controls that are available through Bluetooth, dual phone connection, audio streaming with control, voice recognition dialing, and Siri EyesFree. It is easy to install and has superior sound quality compared to other similar models.


There are some drawbacks to the KD-R480 that are worth pointing out. There is no support for Apple CarPlay which really limits the potential of this receiver if you’re not an Android owner. Also, the Bluetooth has been known to cut out periodically depending on where the phone is in the car. That said, this is a great receiver for the price and definitely worth looking into if you’re planning on upgrading your car’s audio without spending hundreds of dollars.

Best Compact
Alpine iLX-W650 7

This stereo receiver is perfect for vehicles that have limited space in the dash. The shallow-mount design means it has a short chassis that measures 2-7/16 inches deep. It has a large touchscreen that has swipe controls. You can use this unit as an AM/FM tuner. It comes ready to work with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You can also connect via Bluetooth and stream Pandora, SiriusXM, and Spotify. For safer vehicle operation, it comes with hands-free controls. This lets you access your apps with your voice and keep your hands on the wheel. The entire unit measures 10 x 8 x 7 inches. 


One drawback of this stereo is that it doesn't have any fancy animations or custom lighting. It also can’t play CDs.

Honorable Mention
Kenwood Bluetooth Stereo Receiver

This single DIN car stereo receiver comes with Bluetooth that can connect to two phones at once. It has USB and AUX inputs on the front. It has six EQ curves and a 13-band equalizer. It’s ready for connecting to your Amazon, Pandora, and Spotify accounts. The display is a variable color illumination for a customized look that matches your car’s interior. There are three pre-outs that are 2.5 volts for wiring it to the rest of your system. The dimensions for this receiver are 11 x 10 x 4.5 inches. 


Unfortunately, this receiver cannot play CDs. The USB plug does not charge your smartphone’s battery while connected. You will also need to buy a wiring harness that’s compatible with the make and model of your vehicle. 

Tips

  • Not all audio files are created equally. If you are using lower-quality compression rates, that will translate into your music not sounding as good. There are a lot of different programs available to create better-sounding audio files.
  • Sometimes, the problems with your audio system have nothing to do with your receiver or speakers. Vibrations and road noise can partially drown out the stereo, making it sound terrible. Products like Dynamat and Hushmat can help.
  • Upgrading your stereo receiver is one great way to improve sound quality, but if your speaker system isn’t up to the task, then it won’t matter how good the receiver is. Getting a solid set of speakers can make all the difference in the world.
  • Depending on what you’re listening to, you might need a subwoofer to hear all the deep tones that the other speakers can’t hit. 

FAQs

Q: How hard is it to install a stereo receiver?

It all depends on the make and model car you have, but generally speaking, it doesn’t involve much more than a screwdriver, some wire crimps, a wire harness, and a mounting kit.

Q: Will I need to upgrade my speakers along with my receiver?

Probably not. Your factory speakers should be able to handle the extra power and still produce good sound. Test them by sitting in your driveway and turning up to a high volume until they start to distort. That is their upper limit.

Q: Can I keep my steering wheel controls?

Yes you can, though you might need to install a special adapter. You can find out more information from the manufacturer.

Final Thoughts

The Pioneer Stereo Single DIN is a top choice stereo receiver with its many audio options and included speaker set. 

For a more affordable option, the BOSS Audio Systems 616UAB Multimedia Car Stereo has plenty of front and rear outputs and the ability to choose a custom light display.