Reviews

Best Aftermarket Radios: Rock Out in Your Ride

Install an aftermarket radio and enjoy all of the modern features

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 Andra DelMonico , Daniel Rika , Linsay Thomas / LAST UPDATED ON December 23, 2019

If the radio in your vehicle lacks features, then it may be time to upgrade it with an aftermarket option. You can replace your stock radio with one that has modern features and capabilities. You can buy one that has smartphone connectivity or enables you to listen to satellite radio. Look for one that will fit into the original stock radio space with minimal effort required at installation. Check out these top aftermarket radios and their many features.

Best Overall
Unitopsci Car Stereo In-Dash Radio
LEARN MORE
Summary
Summary

Blending modern and traditional, this single-din multimedia player is Wi-Fi compatible and incorporates a GPS system, hands-free and manual radio controls. 

Pros
Pros
  • 18-station memory 
  • Includes rear view camera
  • Built-in Bluetooth function
Cons
Cons
  • Doesn’t have a CD or DVD player
  • Seven-inch screen may obstruct some air vents
Best Overall
Unitopsci Car Stereo In-Dash Radio
Best Value
Sound Storm ML41B Wireless Remote Control Stereo
LEARN MORE
Summary
Summary

A budget-friendly pick, this 5- by 7-inch aftermarket stereo is Bluetooth compatible and can connect with smartphones and MP3 players, as well as any FM station.

Pros
Pros
  • Comes at an affordable price point
  • Easy to install and control
  • Compatible with Bluetooth technology
Cons
Cons
  • Only fits single-din setups
  • Buttons on remote wear down with ongoing use
Best Value
Sound Storm ML41B Wireless Remote Control Stereo
Honorable Mention
Boss Audio Systems Multimedia Car Stereo
LEARN MORE
Summary
Summary

Sleek and easy-to-control, this aftermarket radio is compatible with both Bluetooth and USB. It features two outputs for well-balanced sound. This 50-watt radio makes for a powerful sound.

Pros
Pros
  • Supports Bluetooth and USB connections to smartphones
  • Comes with built-in microphone
  • Adjustable backlighting
Cons
Cons
  • Works better if vehicle has an amplifier
  • Can damage speakers due to high
Honorable Mention
Boss Audio Systems Multimedia Car Stereo

Benefits of Aftermarket Radio

  • Customized experience. An aftermarket radio gives you the option to customize your music the way you want it. You don’t have to constantly switch out CDs or scan the radio for music anymore. You can create your own playlist with built-in smart features of the radio that include music streaming services.
  • Add personality. You can get an aftermarket radio that matches that color and style of your vehicle. Many can even be set to flash and change colors with the beat of the music. Units with large touchscreens can even be modified to include pictures or videos that match your taste.
  • Improved audio quality. By getting a new aftermarket radio, you could also boost the sound quality of your speakers without ever having to upgrade them. The radio lets you configure sound settings so you get a richer and cleaner sound throughout the vehicle.
  • Versatile. An aftermarket radio gives you several options when it comes to listening to music. You are no longer limited to surfing AM/FM radio station after radio station until a song comes on. You can also skip commercials, advertisements, and DJs. Your new radio should come with Bluetooth connectivity so you can play anything on your phone or MP3 player, plus it will give you access to Pandora, Spotify, and other streaming services.

Types of Aftermarket Radios

Single DIN

Single DIN head units are small and compact enough to fit in the majority of vehicles without much hassle. They are seven inches wide and two inches tall. Single DIN radios can feature Bluetooth, AUX and USB inputs, and built-in streaming services. These are the factory standard in most older vehicles.

Double DIN

A double DIN radio is larger than their single DIN counterpart. These feature big touch screens that are customizable to your liking. They can be found in most newer vehicle models and feature many streaming options, rearview cameras, and customizable displays. However, they are more difficult to install in vehicles without them already.

Top Brands

Pioneer

Opening its doors in 1983 in Tokyo, this Japanese brand quickly became a prominent player in the consumer electronics market. It focuses on innovating and manufacturing all types of digital tech, ranging from car radios to commercial stereo systems. Among its best-favored aftermarket radios is the Pioneer Stereo Single-Din In-Dash Car Stereo

Kenwood

Though Kenwood’s history dates back to 1947 with its innovative toaster technology, it has since expanded into a wide variety of markets, including tools and electronics. Merging with JVC (another prominent company) in 2008, the corporation grew stronger from there. Growing into one of the best-known names in the consumer electronics market, JVC Kenwood has a wide array of aftermarket radios. One of its top selections is the Kenwood Bluetooth Car Stereo.  

Alpine

Commencing operations in 1978, this brand is based in the United States, though is a reputable name in the global marketplace. With consumer electronics geared towards automotive purposes, it manufacturers whole electronics and key components. One of its popular aftermarket stereos is the Alpine CDE-172BT Bluetooth Receiver for its sleek design and compatibility with older vehicles. 

Boss

With a proud history in the automotive audio industry, Boss opened its doors in 1973 in Japan. Though it originally focused on musical equipment, it has since expanded into the vehicular market. If you can think of a music electronic, chances are that Boss sells it, whether that be a speaker for your boat or an aftermarket radio. The Boss Audio Systems Multimedia Car Stereo is a leading contender for its sleek yet effective design. 

Aftermarket Radio Pricing

  • Under $100: If you’re looking to save on cash, you can find a decent aftermarket radio at this price point. They will generally be single DIN radios and feature simple interfaces with a compact design. Many may even come with Bluetooth connectivity to stream from your phone.
  • $100-$200: You’ll find some high-quality aftermarket radios in the middle price region. They can range from single DIN to double DIN and will come with several features. These can include Bluetooth, AUX inputs, built-in streaming services, voice control, and navigation systems.
  • $200 and up: The best car stereo will be more expensive yet more functional. They will come with all the features mentioned above plus more. You can customize their large screens to fit your style and personality.

Key Features

User Interface

Understanding how to operate your new aftermarket radio heat unit is important. You don’t want one that is too complicated to figure out. If you’re looking for a simple radio to stream music, then look for ones with Bluetooth so you can connect your phone or device to it. Many also come with built-in options so you don’t have to use a device. Larger screens can make things easier to see while driving but be careful when messing with it while behind the wheel. Buttons—whether physical or digital—should be easy to find and operate.

Type

You should take note of how large the radio panel is in your vehicle. Not all are designed the same, so you may not be able to fit a double DIN radio into your car. Measure the space in your vehicle and compare it with the size of your preferred aftermarket radio to see if there is enough room for it.

Connectivity

The whole point of a new aftermarket radio is to take control of your music. The best radio will come with a number of ways to stream songs to your speakers. Whether you use Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, USB or AUX cables, use the radio itself, find one that best fits your needs. The radio should let you connect multiple devices to it so you can switch them out during your drive without a problem.

Other Considerations

  • Power: To get the best possible sound output, you need to look at the radio’s watts per channel. If the system features a higher watt per channel output, you shouldn’t need an amplifier.
  • Compatibility: Not all radios will be compatible with your specific iPhone or Android device. Make sure the model you are looking at will pair with your phone or tablet. The best radios will come with a USB port so you can connect them physically.
  • Storage: Aftermarket radios are one of the first things stolen by thieves. They can be easy to remove if they aren’t properly locked away. Many come with anti-theft codes that lock them down when not in use, while others are detachable and can be taken with you.

Best Aftermarket Radio Reviews & Recommendations 2021

Best Overall
Unitopsci Car Stereo In-Dash Radio

The Unitopsci Car Stereo In-Dash Radio is a fantastic way for those with a single-DIN setup to upgrade their car’s audio equipment. It features a seven-inch touchscreen that is Bluetooth compatible and connects with GPS navigation. Supporting all FM radio stations, it has an 18-channel memory. Both manual dials and touchscreen controls enable you to use the system with ease. It’s designed to mirror an Android phone, though you can hook it up with the included USB. Coming with remote control for added ease, you can opt to control it using buttons and dials or the push of a button on your smartphone. Complete with a camera to monitor your rearview, it also facilitates safety on the road. A worthwhile investment, this model is an ideal way to enhance both your car’s audio and its overall abilities. 


It’s worth a note that, while this aftermarket radio blends old and new well, it favors modern technology. There’s no DVD or CD player, meaning you would have to opt for digital versions of movies and music

Best Value
Sound Storm ML41B Wireless Remote Control Stereo

Whether your stereo broke or you simply want an upgrade, the Sound Storm ML41B Wireless Remote Control Stereo is a great pick on a budget. It features a simple and straightforward design, ringing in at 5 x 7 x 2 inches. The single-DIN setup is compatible with most older vehicles, though this aftermarket radio has quite a few upgrades from the factory model. For starters, it’s Bluetooth compatible. You can connect to your music streaming apps like Spotify or Pandora, as well as taking phone calls. It also connects via USB, letting you hook your phone in easily. The remote makes light work of changing stations without your phone. Running on 40 watts, this radio features well-balanced audio and an easy-to-install design. At an extremely competitive price point, it’s a worthy value pick. 


Now, it’s worth noting that, compared to some other products available, this tech is pretty outdated. It’s terrific if you want a quick, low-cost way to get sound back in your car, but it remains a very basic selection.

Honorable Mention
Boss Audio Systems Multimedia Car Stereo

Compatible with most single-DIN setups, the Boss Audio Systems Multimedia Car Stereo is a powerful option, running on an impressive 50 watts. Working with all radio frequencies, as well as standard audio files, it connects via Bluetooth or USB. The radio itself includes two output channels, meant to hook up to the different speakers in your vehicle. It results in a well-balanced sound that optimizes the quality of the music. Equipped with a built-in microphone, you can easily make voice commands to control the system. There are also dials directly on the face of the radio, controlling the stations and the media playback function. Compatible with most popular music apps, this aftermarket stereo touts intuitive functions and a straightforward installation. 


Bear in mind that, though the thought of blasting 50 watts worth of audio might sound good, your speakers may not agree. This radio works best when used in conjunction with an amplifier. If your speakers are up to the task, however, this is a terrific aftermarket option.

Honorable Mention
Jensen Character LCD Single-DIN Car Stereo

Featuring a sleek appearance and crisp LCD display, the Jensen Character LCD Single-Din Car Stereo lets you make the most of voice commands. It stands out through compatibility with both Siri and Google Assistant, letting you control navigation and your music. The built-in microphone and advanced Bluetooth design simplify the pairing process. It is even compatible with double-DIN stereo head units, making it a good choice for most rides. The radio itself works with all FM and AM stations, while the dual-band tone controls let you customize the treble and bass. Doubling as a phone charger, if connected via USB, you can also take manual control over the system. Equipped with a 30-station memory, it’s easy to find preferred music. At 8 inches long and 3 inches across, it works in most vehicles. Once installed, the responsive voice controls and intuitive dials make it a very user-friendly selection. 


One issue with this setup is that, while the LCD screen is nice, it’s a more basic selection than a touchscreen. The quality of this equipment is decent, though it lacks some of the more advanced abilities of other models.

Honorable Mention
Minye Stereo Touchscreen Radio

Compatible with most double-DIN stereo setups, the Miyne Stereo Touch Screen Radio has all the modern features you could ask for. In terms of safety features, it comes with an innovative reversing camera, shining an LED light at night so you can see when backing up. The radio connects to your phone via mirror link, working with most Androids and iPhones. Connecting to navigation and radio, this model is reasonably compact. At only 7 inches, it doesn’t take up much space and is less likely to obstruct an air vent. It results in quality sound, access to digital media, both video, and audio, and enables full voice controls via Bluetooth. It supports just about any file format, relaying sound crisply and images in good resolution. Ideal for travel with passengers, this aftermarket setup will significantly update your ride.


It’s worth a note that, while this radio will drastically improve your car’s multimedia system, it will likely take some time to set up. That said, once it’s in place, it is designed to last for a long time. With the number of audiovisual features it incorporates, the time spent in setup is well worth it.

Tips

  • Look for a radio that has the features you need, such as Apple or Android connectivity, Bluetooth, or SiriusXM radio. You should also pay attention to the ports so you can plug devices directly into it. 
  • Measure the space your stock radio takes up in your dash. Then look for a radio that will fit in that space. This will make for a direct replacement and the easiest install. 
  • Plan for the future and expanding your car’s stereo system beyond the radio. Look at the back of the unit for audio jacks for connecting additional speakers and a subwoofer. 

FAQs

Q: Won’t an aftermarket radio attract thieves?

A: Not necessarily. You can buy an aftermarket radio that has a detachable faceplate and security codes. You can then detach your radio and hide it away when you park. This will deter thieves from breaking into your car. 

Q: What’s the difference between single and double DIN?

A: Single DIN radios are about 2 inches tall and won’t have a touchscreen. They typically fit into the same space as your stock radio. A double DIN unit can be anywhere from 4-8 inches tall. Modern double DINs have a touchscreen. 

Q: Can I buy an aftermarket radio on a limited budget?

A: You can buy a quality unit for an affordable price. You may find low-cost units have reduced sound quality and usability when compared to more expensive units. However, that doesn’t mean that the unit is bad. 

Final Thoughts

All set to deck out your dashboard and blast that road trip soundtrack? The Unitopsci Car Stereo In-Dash Radio is excellent for multimedia while the Sound Storm ML41B Wireless Remote Control Stereo is perfect for those on a budget.