LAST UPDATED: April 25, 2019
Best Stereo Receivers: Get the Most out of Your Audio System
Choosing the right stereo receiver will enhance your listening experience
The Review Team
How We Decided
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PUBLISHED 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.
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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
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.
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.
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.
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 DEH-80PRS.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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 2020
Our top choice is this sleek looking double-DIN Pioneer multimedia unit with an optional DVD player, 7-inch WVGA display with 800x480 resolution, and an array of features offering superb functionality and excellent sound. It has full compatibility with both Android and Apple smartphones, built-in Bluetooth and audio inputs, iPod support, is SiriusXM-ready and has AppRadio Plus.
There are a number of reasons why this receiver earns top billing in our product review. For starters, the user interface has been completely redesigned in the NEX (Networked Entertainment eXperience) series, giving users complete control over customizing the interface. AppRadio is Pioneer’s software to sync up an Android phone and use the touchscreen on the receiver to control the phone. The unit is highly customizable and can support external hardware like a rearview camera and iDataLink Maestro which lets you retain steering wheel controls and other factory features.
On the negative side, there are known issues with the operating system running slowly or even crashing. This can remain an issue even after firmware and software updates. Also, it lacks the ability to cast a streaming video to the display, which is odd considering the unit has both video and streaming features. That said, the AVH-2300NEX is a pretty amazing stereo receiver that will take your multimedia automotive experience to the next level.
Winning our vote for the best stereo receiver for the money is this single DIN JVC model that offers some solid features while hovering around the $100 mark. 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 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.
Earning our honorable mention slot is this Sony, double-DIN, multimedia receiver with a 6.4-inch touchscreen and a ton of features. It has great power output from an internal 55-watt amplifier with 10-band EQ that produces crisp, clear sound, and loudspeaker output. There is a built-in SiriuxXM receiver with a free three-month subscription, which is a great way to stream music. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also supported with audio level adjustments ranging from -8 dB to 18 dB.
Both Android and Apple phones are able to fully sync up through Bluetooth and users will benefit from the extended music choices, hands-free dialing, voice recognition, and a fully accessible phonebook. There are extra inputs in the rear of the device for USB, microphone, and steering wheel controls as well as a front USB input. This receiver is easy to install and leaves a bit of extra space for the wiring harness in the dash due to its length.
There are some issues worth pointing out about the XAV-AX200. There have been issues with the FM tuner not getting good reception of available stations. Also, you can’t sync up or even store the data from two or more phones in the Bluetooth settings. Finally, the faceplate doesn’t remove, which makes it attractive to thieves. These negatives are minor, and this Sony receiver is still a great deal with a lot going for it.
- 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.
Q: How hard is it to install a stereo receiver?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: Yes you can, though you might need to install a special adapter. You can find out more information from the manufacturer.
The Pioneer AVH-2300NEX has great multimedia features and a highly customizable look that gets our vote for best overall stereo receiver.
The JVC KD-R480 is versatile, has great features, and is our pick for best value stereo receiver.