Best Head Units: Experience a Richer Sound
Our top picks for the best head units for quality sound in your car
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You may have noticed that your car has poor sound quality, even with the best subwoofers, speakers, and amplifiers. Well, the last ingredient to having a crisp, clean sound system in your car is a great head unit—one that incorporates the latest digital audio technology to make your listening experience enjoyable and easy to control. Our review features some of the best head units available today. Read on to learn more.
Has a large 6.2-inch color touchscreen. Relatively inexpensive for the features it includes. Offers a wide range of playback options.
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Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of a Head Unit
- Better sound quality. An aftermarket car head unit will improve the quality of sound you get, be it the highs or the lows. You will get modern fine-tuning options with advanced equalizer controls. Most head units come with 80- to 100-watt channels and amps to give you a better sound quality even without having to upgrade your factory speakers.
- Multiple connection options. Most head units can connect to other devices via USB cables and AUX cords. With Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, you can play your favorite music from your iPod, iPhone, and other MP3 devices. You could also stream satellite radio with SiriusXM or stream online music from Google Music, iHeartRadio, and Spotify.
- Upgrade your vehicle’s look. A new head unit is a great way to customize the look of your car to suit your taste and preferences. A head unit with a clear display will improve the look of your dashboard and add a personal touch that reflects your personality and sense of style.
- Phone connectivity. Most head units are compatible with iOS and Android devices. You can enjoy hands-free calls or play music from your phone via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Additionally, you can connect the navigation feature in your phone to the head unit for a better view of unfamiliar locations.
Types of Head Units
Single-DINs typically come in sizes of 7 by 2 inches. The unit typically fits into the dash of most standard vehicle models. These head units are popular because they are inexpensive and have easy-to-use controls.
Simply put, double-DIN head units are twice the size of the single-DIN units. These head units come with more advanced controls and features. Most have touch screens for easier operation, can play videos from auxiliary storage devices and can be used to operate backup cameras.
Pioneer Corporation is a Japanese international corporation headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. The company was established in 1938 by Nozomu Matsumoto as a repair shop for radios and speakers. Over the years, the company has introduced different electronics into the market including speakers, DJ equipment, technical audio devices, and car electronics. The Pioneer AVH-3300NEX is one of the best single-DIN head units that the company makes.
Boss Audio is an international company that manufactures audio devices such as marine audio electronics, car stereos, and Powersports products. BOSS Audio has been in operation for over 30 years and is headquartered in Oxnard, Calif. BOSS products are sold in more than 130 countries worldwide, in storefront retail centers and online shops. The BOSS Audio BV9362BI is one of its most popular and affordable head units.
ATOTO is a car electronics company with a special focus on car multimedia devices, headrests, and OEM equipment. The company was established in 2008 by Jay Yang. The company’s manufacturing base is in Dongguan, China, but its products are sold worldwide through online shops. This company has some apex head units in the market such as the ATOTO A6 Double-DIN Android Stereo.
Kenwood Corporation is a Japanese company that makes and markets a wide range of radio communication devices, Hi-Fi home audio systems, and car audio devices. The company was founded in 1946 under the name Kasuga Radio Co. Ltd, and later changed to Kenwood. It’s headquartered in Tokyo, Japan and has other operating centers in Los Angeles. The Kenwood DDX26BT is a prime example of the company’s best-selling products.
Head Unit Pricing
- Under $100: In this price category, you will mostly find single-DIN multimedia players. These are essentially great for playing music from Bluetooth-enabled devices and digital formats. You might find some double-DIN head units, but they will have more basic features.
- $100 to $300: This price range is full of high-tech single-DIN stereos that are sleek in looks. These units can play CDs and DVDs and offer a wide range of playback options. Also in this category, there are double-DIN head units that have advanced features; most come with high definition touch screens.
- Over $300: This price range is for premium head units that offer a combination of entertainment and navigation features. They play CDs and DVDs and offer a bundle of connectivity options, including wireless calling and Wi-Fi options. With these high-end units, you can seamlessly integrate your smartphone and enjoy a range of iOS and Android features and apps.
In the absence of an amplifier, the car speaker’s power will depend on the stereo’s power output. In this case, you should focus on the deck's RMS rating and watts per channel. The RMS power rating refers to the power the head unit can give at a constant rate. Additionally, higher watts per each channel essentially means that the head unit will produce enough power for the speakers without using an amplifier.
Modern head units typically come with a clear display. Basic single-DIN units have a small display, and a large touchscreen display is common with double-DIN head units. Large displays give you a better view of the music that is playing, the caller ID, and what’s behind the car through the backup camera. You can take the experience to another level with a touchscreen display or a folding screen that’s common on single-DIN units.
Playback options refer to the methods used by the head unit to play music. Some of the common examples include DVD, CD, HD Radio, MP3, Auxiliary ports, Bluetooth, Pandora, and Wi-Fi. Fortunately, most modern units offer a wide range of playback options and connectivity features that will give you access to all of your music and videos.
- Sound Quality: Go for a unit that provides the best sound quality in its price range. It’s also a good idea to choose a unit that allows for the addition of an equalizer, digital sound process, and amplifier for better quality sound.
- Smartphone Compatibility: Most new head units will allow you to integrate your smartphone, and this will give you access to online streaming applications such as Spotify and Pandora. Smartphone integration also allows you to make hands-free phone calls and to use the maps in your phone for navigation.
- Expandability: Look into how far the head unit can stretch when it comes to connecting to external components. These external components may include speakers, rear and front view cameras, microphones, and other video and audio outputs for a better listening experience.
Best Head Unit Reviews & Recommendations 2020
- Replace your car factory speakers when you get a head unit. Speakers are often not a priority when vehicle manufacturers are designing cars; most don't have great sound quality. When you get a high-quality head unit, you should pair it with strong speakers that will handle the power output of the stereo.
- Always play high-quality audio and video tracks; you will then enjoy the full potential of the head unit and feel every high and low frequency of the audio.
- Get an amplifier. Amplifiers will make a mediocre head unit better by amplifying the sound and minimizing distortion. It will also give you a better sound range and control over the sound output.
Q: Which type of head unit should I buy for my car?
A: The first things to consider are the size of your factory stereo and the space available on the dashboard. These will determine whether you get a single- or double-DIN head unit. Once you have an idea of what you are looking for in terms of size and features, decide on the price range, buy a head unit, and have a professional help you install it.
Q: Can I upgrade from a single-DIN to a double-DIN head unit?
A: Yes. It is possible to change from a single-DIN unit to a double-DIN unit in some cars as long as there is ample space for the upgrade. Double-DIN devices will require double the size, and that may require a professional to fit it into the dashboard without blocking other controls.
Q: Will I lose some functionality out of my vehicle after installing an aftermarket head unit?
A: If your factory stereo system controls important steering wheel functions like the horn, then you may risk losing the functions. But there is a way around it. You could ask a professional to connect the head unit to the steering wheel controls with a special adapter to preserve the functions.
Our top pick for the best head unit is the Pioneer AVH-200EX Multimedia DVD Receiver due to its number of smartphone connectivity features and back-up camera compatibility.
If you are looking for a head unit that combines affordability with functionality, you might want to check out the BOSS Audio BV9362BI.