Reviews

Best Car Audio Systems: Find the Right System to Bring Your Car’s Audio to Life

Check out our picks for the best car audio systems on the market

Entering our 7th season of /DRIVE on NBC Sports, and with millions of YouTube and Facebook followers, The Drive is a leading authority of all things automotive.

The Drive on NBC The Drive on YouTube The Drive on Facebook

The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.

BY Bill Liktor , Linsay Thomas / LAST UPDATED ON May 28, 2019

If you drive on a regular basis, then you know how important it is to have a good-quality car stereo system. Whether you’re sitting in traffic, on a road trip, or commuting to work, listening to music or a podcast is a great way to pass the time. With that in mind, here are our picks for the best car audio systems available.

Best Overall
JVC Receiver With Two Wireless 6.5-Inch Speakers
LEARN MORE
Summary
Summary

This package deal features the KD-R370 receiver with an internal amp, pushing 50-watts per channel, and a pair of two-way 6.5-inch wireless speakers.

Pros
Pros
  • Receiver comes with a 13-digit LCD display and red illuminated buttons
  • Can play CD, MP3, WAV, and WMA formats
  • Speakers only need 1.72 inches of installation room
Cons
Cons
  • There can be some problems with the receiver getting good AM/FM reception
  • Finding the right place to mount the speakers can also be difficult
  • Occasional factory defects are possible
Best Overall
JVC Receiver With Two Wireless 6.5-Inch Speakers
Best Value
BOSS Audio Systems 616UAB Multimedia Car Stereo
LEARN MORE
Summary
Summary

This car stereo setup has all of the latest sound technology, allowing you to control and customize your audio in your car, from your phone, or via the LCD display.

Pros
Pros
  • Includes Bluetooth capability both for phone calls and stereo sound
  • Connects to USB, MP3, and smartphone apps like Pandora and Spotify
  • Comes with easy outputs for quick installation and speaker attachment
Cons
Cons
  • For best results, you’ll want to use this receiver with a subwoofer
  • Display can be prone to technical issues even when wired correctly
Best Value
BOSS Audio Systems 616UAB Multimedia Car Stereo
Honorable Mention
Pioneer Receiver With Two 6.5-Inch and Two 6x9-Inch Speaker
LEARN MORE
Summary
Summary

The MVH-295BT single-DIN receiver comes with an internal amplifier that generates 50-watts of power per channel, a pair of three-way 6x9-inch speakers, and three-way 6.5-inch speakers.

Pros
Pros
  • Receiver has a detachable face
  • Can play CDs and MP3s, and has Bluetooth
  • Speakers can handle a lot of power and deliver high-, mid-, and low-range audio
Cons
Cons
  • Once in a while, a receiver will come from the factory defective
  • There have been problems getting firmware updates from the manufacturer
  • Also, the display can seem dim on sunny days
Honorable Mention
Pioneer Receiver With Two 6.5-Inch and Two 6x9-Inch Speaker

Why Trust Us


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.

Learn more

Benefits of Car Audio Systems

  • Louder sounds. Factory audio systems are generally limited as far as power output is concerned, and less power means quieter sounds coming out of the speakers. This can make music harder to hear over other ambient noises, such as when driving down the highway or having the air conditioner on high. 
  • Better quality. The top-rated car audio systems out there come equipped with equalizers designed to produce the best audio quality possible. This will add a whole new dimension to your listening experience and an appreciation for some of the subtleties that are lost on lower-quality systems.
  • More features. While newer audio systems that come from the factory have many more options and features than their predecessors, they are still lacking when compared to some of the best car sound systems out there. Some of these features include the ability to play different media formats, higher power output, and docking stations.
  • Good investment. Putting a new audio system in your car is a great way to increase its value, which will come in handy when it’s time to sell. On the other hand, you might choose to take your audio system with you and improve the sound in your next car. Either way, a car audio system is a good investment. 

Top Brands

Pioneer

Pioneer has been in the business of making receivers, speakers, and other audio components for both the home and vehicles since it was founded in Tokyo, Japan in 1938. It is one of the premier electronics companies in the world, with a huge selection of equipment offering some of the best-sound-quality car stereos such as the AVH-1300NEX Multimedia DVD Receiver.

JBL

Since 1948, this Los Angeles, Calif.-based company has been making speaker systems for both personal and professional use in a wide array of applications. It produces tweeters, mid-range, and subwoofers designed for either home or car use and is responsible for popular products like the Flip 4 Bluetooth Portable Stereo Speaker.

Alpine Electronics

Alpine started off as a joint venture between Tokyo-based Alps Electric and U.S.-based Motorola in 1967, called Alps-Motorola, and later changed to Alpine Electronics in 1978. It produces car audio and navigation systems and produces a lion's share of the factory stereos found in BMW and Honda vehicles. The company is responsible for some of the best-looking car stereos like the CDE-HD149BT Car Stereo.

Car Audio Systems Pricing

  • $50-$150: The number of stereo components you’re looking for will greatly influence how much you can expect to spend. That said, there are many bundle packages available with a receiver, speakers, and amplifier that are affordable. At this price range, you can expect receivers with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, 6x9-inch or 6.5-inch speakers with mica cones, and small external amplifiers.
  • $150-$300: Mid-range equipment will have more features that will please car audio enthusiasts. Head units that read MP3 and FLAC files, subwoofers that pump out the heavy base, and 12-band equalizers are all common at this price point.
  • $300 and up: As you go higher in price, you’ll find some of the best in-car entertainment systems in the industry. For a few hundred dollars, you can purchase aftermarket receivers that are customized to fit into your vehicle and professional-sounding speaker systems that are used in competitions.

Key Features

Receiver

Also called a head unit, this is the brains of an audio system that sits in the dash and has an interface that you can interact with. Newer receivers are referred to as infotainment systems because they provide useful information such as navigation details and vehicle status updates in addition to entertainment.

Speakers

Car speakers are separated into categories based on the frequency of soundwaves that they produce. In order from highest to lowest frequency are tweeters, mid-range, and subwoofers. Tweeters are directional and usually placed in the dash, mid-range speakers are ambient and installed in the doors, and woofers produce deep bass and are placed behind the back seat in the trunk.

Equalizer

An equalizer is the most important piece of equipment in your audio system for optimizing sound quality. Depending on your setup, you can have either an external equalizer or one that is built into the receiver. It works by using different filters to accentuate or mask different tones as well as minimize distortion.

Amplifier

This component increases the amount of wattage that is sent to the speakers. This, in turn, increases the output of the speakers, which means louder music. The amount of amplification available is measured in gain, which is the ratio of output wattage to the input voltage.

Other Considerations

  • Single- or Double-DIN: Depending on the make, model, and year of your car, it will either have a single- or double-DIN receiver slot in the dash. Double-DIN receivers are twice the size of their single counterparts and are found in most newer vehicles. Single-DIN receivers can be placed in double-DIN slots using special mounting brackets.
  • Smartphone Integration: Receiver manufacturers are increasingly offering products that come with full smartphone integration. This means you can make phone calls, play music, open apps, and scroll through your contacts list conveniently from the display on your receiver.

Best Car Audio System Reviews & Recommendations 2021

Best Overall
JVC Receiver With Two Wireless 6.5-Inch Speakers

This is one of the best music systems for cars without a lot of room to install aftermarket speakers. The KD-R370 single-DIN receiver with an internal amplifier can put out 50 watts of power per channel and features two wireless, 6.5-inch, two-way speakers. The receiver comes with a detachable face that has a 13-digit LCD display along with red illuminated buttons. There is one preamp output for extra speakers and a three-band parametric equalizer to fine-tune sound quality. The wireless speakers can handle 300 watts of peak power each and 30 watts of RMS power. 


On the negative side, the receiver tends to have some issues with AM/FM radio reception. Depending on the car, it can be difficult to find the right spot for the speakers to be most effective. Occasionally, quality defects from the manufacturer have also complicated quick and easy installation.

Best Value
Boss Audio Systems 616UAB Multimedia Car Stereo

The Boss Audio Systems 616UAB Multimedia Car Stereo is an audio setup that includes all of the latest tech you could want or need in your vehicle. This compact device, which measures just 4.88 x 7 x 2 inches in overall size, includes Bluetooth connectivity, a built-in microphone, MP3 and USB playback capability, an auxiliary input, and an AM/FM receiver. It also supports internet playback and apps, like Spotify and Pandora. With an LCD display, dimmable illuminating buttons, and even dancing LED lights, this car audio system will have you covered and look great once it’s installed. 


You have the ability to connect it to your current car speakers, though an amp is recommended in your setup so you get enough power. You can listen to music from multiple sources and customize its sound, with an equalizer that puts you in charge of the balance, fader, bass, and treble — and it can all be managed via the included wireless remote.

Premium Pick
Pioneer Receiver With Two 6.5-Inch and Two 6x9-Inch Speakers

This bundle includes the MVH-295BT single-DIN receiver with a built-in four-channel, 50-watt amplifier as well as twin sets of three-way 6x9-inch and three-way 6.5-inch speakers. The power supplied by the receiver adds a nice punch to the speakers which are designed to deliver clear, crisp treble, mid-range, and bass sounds inside your car. The receiver comes with a detachable face for security and is capable of playing CD and MP3 formats. Bluetooth technology lets you sync up Apple and Android devices, giving you hands-free calling as well as access to your device’s apps. USB and AUX inputs let you charge your device or hook up another device for an additional source of music. The speakers are part of Pioneer’s Alphasonik line and are designed to deliver stereo sound throughout the interior of your car. The 6x9-inch speakers have a maximum power handling capacity of 500 watts and an RMS threshold of 50 watts. The 6.5-inch speakers can handle as much as 350 watts and have an RMS rating of 35 watts. 


As far as cons go, there are some known issues with parts of the receiver not working when installed, which can be attributed to factory defects. There have also been issues with the receiver needing a firmware update that is not easy to find through the manufacturer. Lastly, the display is dim in direct sunlight.

Best Touchscreen
AboutBit Double Din Digital Media Car Stereo Receiver

The AboutBit Double Din Digital Media Car Stereo Receiver may just be one component of your whole-car audio system, but it includes pretty much everything you need. All you have to do is hook up your speakers and subwoofer to start getting versatility and plenty of customizable sounds playing from your radio or other devices.With this receiver, you’ll get a 5-inch touchscreen display, a multi-band radio, and a whole lot of tech features. You can turn on the radio as you would normally, or you can hook up your smartphone and play music. You can also play audio from the USB port included. With Bluetooth capability, you can also make and take calls without your phone in hand. 


If you need more flexibility, the remote control even lets you control your audio from outside the vehicle. The stereo receiver supports high-quality sound and bass, and it also works seamlessly with different audio and video formats so you can always play what you’re into. Though it doesn’t include speakers, a subwoofer, or other audio components, it’s a great addition to your current setup.

Honorable Mention
P.L.Z. MP-800 Car Entertainment Multimedia System

The P.L.Z.MP-800 Car Entertainment Multimedia System is one impressively versatile audio setup. Featuring a 7-inch double DIN HD touchscreen monitor, Bluetooth connectivity, MP5 compatibility, and the ability to connect to MP3, auxiliary, and USB. Compatible with iOS and Android devices, you can also play music without connecting at all. You’ll enjoy a complete multimedia experience with this car audio system. With a highly responsive interface, you can quickly take control of whatever you’re listening to and customize your settings in a number of ways. Thanks to its convenient wiring setup, you can also connect it to the steering wheel controls you have built right into your vehicle. 


With a working voltage of 12 volts DC and a maximum power output of 4x 60 watts, you’ll have everything you need. In addition to all of its great audio capabilities, this multimedia system for vehicles also doubles as in-car tech. The HD touchscreen display allows you to connect a rear or front view camera if you’d like, and it’ll double as an in-car camera display. 

Tips

  • If you are playing MP3, WMA, WAV, or other audio files and finding that your songs sound muffled or otherwise distorted, check the compression rate on the files. Higher compression rates strip away some of the low and high frequencies, which has an adverse effect on sound quality.
  • Similar to the compression rate, make sure that your audio files are recorded at a high bit rate. Recording a file in a lower bit rate may make it smaller and take up less storage space, but you will also lose quality as well.
  • An external amplifier is a great way to increase how loud your speakers sound, but make sure that the speakers can handle the extra power. Otherwise, you run the risk of blowing them out.
  • If you are installing aftermarket speakers, make sure the dimensions of the space you’re putting them into is sufficient for their output. Too small/large of an area will impede their ability to perform at peak levels. 

FAQs

Q: Is a double-DIN receiver better than a single-DIN receiver? 

A: It really isn’t a question of which one is better; it depends on which one is suited for your car. Most newer vehicles come with double-DIN slots, meaning that either version will work. Double-DIN receivers have touchscreen displays that their single-DIN siblings lack, but they are generally identical in terms of other features.

Q: Do I really need an external amplifier?

A: The short answer is “no,” but not having one could severely affect sound quality and volume. Most factory speakers will work fine with the internal amplifier that comes with a receiver, but if you buy aftermarket speakers that are designed to handle more power, then you will need something more powerful to take full advantage of them.

Q: How important is an equalizer?

A: It depends on what you are using your car stereo for. If you just want some background noise on your way to work or are strictly listening to podcasts, then you really don’t need one. However, if you’re looking for the best stereo experience possible, then you should use one. Luckily, many receivers come with an internal equalizer, so you won’t have to purchase one separately.

Final Thoughts

The JVC Receiver With Two Wireless 6.5-Inch Speakers is our top pick overall for its innovative technology.

The Boss Audio Systems 616UAB Multimedia Car Stereo kit is a great value with a powerful receiver and lots of features.