Reviews

Best Aftermarket Car Stereo: Upgrade Your Stereo’s Sound Quality

Upgrade your car’s old stock stereo to one with modern features.

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BY Andra DelMonico , Nikola Petrovski / LAST UPDATED ON June 28, 2021

New cars come with a large touchscreen that allows you to control the vehicle’s stereo and several other functions. If you have an older car, you don’t have this modern feature, but you can change that fact. Buying and installing an aftermarket car stereo can breathe new life into your car. This will give your car a modern touch and improve the functionality of your car’s stereo. Check out these car stereos to replace your old one.

Best Overall
Pioneer In-Dash Car Stereo Receiver
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Summary
Summary

This single DIN car stereo comes with built-in Bluetooth, USB input, AM/FM radio, and an aux input. You can connect your Android smartphone through the front USB.

Pros
Pros
  • Built-in amplifiers
  • Supports Android open accessory 2.0
Cons
Cons
  • Weak microphone 
  • Instructions aren’t intuitive 
Best Overall
Pioneer In-Dash Car Stereo Receiver
Best Value
Jensen MPR210 Multimedia Single DIN Car Stereo Receiver
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Summary
Summary

Install this single DIN stereo unit in your car and enjoy the seven-character LCD display. It comes with a built-in Siri/Google Voice assist button, Bluetooth, USB port, AM/FM tuner, and aux port. 

Pros
Pros
  • Four preset EQ curves
  • Two band tone control
Cons
Cons
  • Overly bright blue light display 
  • Extra flare around the outside edge
Best Value
Jensen MPR210 Multimedia Single DIN Car Stereo Receiver
Honorable Mention
Alpine UTE-73BT Digital Media Receiver 
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Summary
Summary

Upgrade your stereo with this digital media receiver. It comes with an AM.FM tuner, USB port, smartphone compatibility, Bluetooth, and voice command controls. 

Pros
Pros
  • RBDS information
  • Works with Pandora
Cons
Cons
  • Auto switches 
  • Small controls
Honorable Mention
Alpine UTE-73BT Digital Media Receiver 

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Benefits of Aftermarket Car Stereos

  • More entertainment choices. Aftermarket car stereos are compatible with many devices, giving you more entertainment options. You can play music from your phone, USB storage device, or PC. You can also listen to AM/FM radio. 
  • Improved audio. Since aftermarket car stereos are designed to replace stock car stereos, they deliver high-quality audio. The settings are usually preset so you can get the best audio, no matter the input device you’re using.
  • Optional GPS navigation system. Some aftermarket stereos are equipped with large screens and pre-programmed maps. These maps are vital when you need directions or when you’re looking for cool stopovers on the road. 
  • Enhanced car value. A high-quality stereo can improve the value of your car. You save the potential buyer the hassle of buying another stereo. A good car stereo is one of the features audiophiles look for in cars. 
  • Improved car aesthetic appeal. When you buy an aftermarket car stereo, you buy more than an audio component. Aftermarket stereos can enhance the look of vehicles. Some have changing light schemes, superb displays, and interactive controls. They add a touch of class to the car’s interior. 

Types of Aftermarket Car Stereos 

Single DIN Car Stereos

DIN stands for Deutsches Institut für Normung, a standard used by Germans for the radios used in cars. Single DIN car stereos are typically 7 x 2 inches. They have small display screens. 

However, this limitation does not compromise their audio quality or multi-device compatibility. Single DIN car stereos can be used with phones, music apps, and USB devices. Some vehicle owners prefer single DIN units for their ease of use and classic appeal. 

Double DIN Car Stereos

Double DIN stereos, or 2 DIN car stereos, are bigger than Single DIN systems and measure 7 x 4 inches. They are more preferable to single DIN stereos due to their added features and functionalities. They have larger displays—sometimes touch screens—that can serve as navigation systems. 

If your car came with a double DIN system, it is recommended that you replace it with an aftermarket double DIN system. You’ll enjoy better connectivity, faster control, and great audio. 

Top Brands 

Kenwood

Kenwood is one of the top-rated brands in the car audio industry. It was founded in Japan in 1946. Although it is headquartered in Tokyo, it has a global presence with offices in the U.S. If you’d like to experience Kenwood audio, get a system like the Kenwood Digital Media Player Dual Phone Connection Pandora Car Stereo Receiver. Its features include internet radio and hands-free calling.

Pioneer

Pioneer is an aptly named audio company that is credited with developing devices such as GPS navigation systems and car CD players. It started as a repair shop in 1938 and has grown to be a market leader in car audio solutions. In 1993, it established the U.S. division. The Pioneer AVH-210EX Double DIN Stereo and the Pioneer Single DIN In-Dash Stereo Receiver can be great additions to your vehicle. 

Alpine

Alpine’s roots go back to 1967 when it was founded in Tokyo, Japan. It changed its name to Alpine Electronics a decade later. Alpine stereos have a great reputation for high-quality audio. Popular car manufacturers such as Jaguar and Jeep have even collaborated with the company in the past. If you are willing to forego CDs and play digital media only, the Alpine UTE-73BT Digital Media Receiver is worth getting.

Boss Audio

Boss has been in the audio industry for three decades, etching a name for itself as a provider of top-notch audio equipment. The California-based outfit is known for its speakers, headphones, and car stereos. It has affordable sound systems and a great brand reputation. Give the Boss Double DIN Audio Receiver a try and experience great visuals and quality audio output. 

Aftermarket Car Stereo Pricing

  • $50-$100: Most good car stereos sell for $70 and above. As you edge closer to $100, you’ll find stereos with more features. Most stereos here have a single DIN system and features such as Bluetooth, iOS, and Android compatibility.
  • $100-$200: Car stereos in this range are usually made by reputable brands—like Sony, JVC, JBL, Rockford, Morel, Polk—and have a 2 DIN system. They offer superb sound quality and visuals. Some audio systems can play Spotify music and have interactive HD displays. 
  • $200-$300: Further up the price bracket you’ll get a premium car stereo that perfectly fits a more expensive vehicle. Some stereos here are custom-made for specific vehicles and can’t fit other vehicles. However, if the unit can be installed in different vehicles, it may have larger displays, video output, camera integration, and even voice control. 
  • $500 and up: One of the reasons you may want to consider getting a car stereo in this price bracket is its compatibility with Sirius XM satellite radio. Features such as phone control and Wi-Fi connectivity are commonplace in this price category.

Key Features 

Audio Sources

When buying an aftermarket car stereo, you need to think about the various audio sources it can work with. Most car stereos can play AM/FM radio, audio CDs, and media on digital storage devices. However, higher-end ones offer Spotify compatibility and can play Sirius XM radio. All these features affect the quality and price of an aftermarket car stereo.

Display

Display is a key influencer of how you interact with a car stereo. Single DIN aftermarket stereos typically have LED display panels, while double DIN audio systems have large color displays. In some cars, these displays function as screens that show navigation maps. However, this cool feature has to be enabled. 

Amplifier

Car stereos do not produce the loudest sound on their own. To that end, you will need an amplifier to boost the power from the head unit for better audio output. You may be fortunate enough to find a good stereo with an amplifier, but amplifiers are usually sold separately. If you buy an amplifier separately, be sure to select a good one or you risk frying the entire system. Its power output and input must be compatible with that of your stereo.

Control Options

These play a big role in your comfort and driving experience. Single DIN units use buttons and dials while most double DIN systems use touch screens and on-steering controls. If your budget allows, get a stereo with an interactive touchscreen as you’ll have faster access to features. However, it’s also important to note the response levels of the controls. This will ensure you don’t play very loud music and stay focused on the road. 

Other Considerations 

  • Security Features. Cool accessories come with security concerns. Fortunately, some aftermarket car stereos have features such as detachable faceplates and passcodes. Whichever security feature you choose, make sure your vehicle also has a good security system.
  • Compatibility with Phone Operating Systems. If your car stereo is compatible with Android and iOS operating systems, you can easily connect to different apps. You can make the most of Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Siri, and Mirrorlink. 
  • GPS Navigation. In this age of digitalization, GPS navigation is a feature you cannot live without. Getting an audio system with GPS navigation puts you at an advantage. You can easily access unknown locations as you listen to great music. 

Best Aftermarket Car Stereo Reviews & Recommendations 2021 

Best Overall
Pioneer In-Dash Car Stereo Receiver

This single DIN stereo unit gives you hands-free calling and audio streaming ability. You can connect your phone to the unit with the built-in Bluetooth. You can also use the USB port, aux-in port, or AM/FM radio. You can connect your Android smartphone through the front USB input port and stream music while also charging. A standout feature is that this unit is compatible with Android open accessory 2.0 (AOA 2.0). It also has built-in amplifiers for a crisp and clean sound. Hook this stereo up to the rest of your stereo system with the RCA pre-out hook up and have even more power. 


Unfortunately, the microphone is a bit weak in this unit. This can make it hard to use the voice commands. The installation instructions are also not intuitive, making it hard to install it into your car. 

Best Value
Jensen MPR210 Multimedia Single DIN Car Stereo Receiver

Enjoy the seven-character high-resolution LCD display on this single DIN stereo. With a simple touch of a button, you have Siri and Google Voice Assistance at the ready. You’ll appreciate the upgraded Bluetooth for hands-free calling and music streaming. You can also use the USB port to stream music and charge your device. It also has an AM/FM tuner with 30 channel presets. What’s nice about this stereo is that you can customize the sound of the music you’re playing with two-band tone controls and four preset EQ curves. 


The downside of this stereo unit is that the lights on the display are overly bright and blue. This makes it harder to drive at night when the stereo is on. It also has an extra-large flared outside edge. This affects the size of the unit and can make it not compatible with your vehicle’s dash.

Best Upgrade
Alpine UTE-73BT Digital Media Receiver

Give your car stereo a modern look with this bright blue single DIN unit. It comes with a mach-less AM/FM tuner that displays RBDS information. It can also play flak, MP3, and WMA audio files through the USB port. You can use this stereo with your iPod, iPhone, or Android. It’s compatible with Android AOA 2.0. The high contrast LCD display makes it easier to read and lets you choose the color of the display to match the rest of your vehicle’s interior. You can fine-tune the sound of your music with the built-in three-band parametric EQ and high pass/low pass crossover.


One issue with this stereo is that it can Bluetooth sync simultaneously with two smartphones. The problem with this is that it will stop playing music from one phone to answer a phone call from the other. This may not be how you want it to function. The controls on the unit’s face are also small and can be challenging for those with larger hands and fingers.

Most Compatible
BOSS Audio Systems 616UAB Multimedia Car Stereo

This next-generation single-DIN stereo unit has an illuminated LCD display with dancing lights and a mute function. Use the built-in Bluetooth feature to make and receive calls hands-free. Play music through the Bluetooth, USB port, aux-in port, or AM/FM tuner. You can also connect this stereo to your entire sound system with the front and rear preamp outputs. You’ll have plenty of sound with the 50 watts and four Max power from the 616UAB to power. What’s nice about this unit is that it comes with multiple wiring harnesses, installation hardware, and a remote for easier installation. 


Unfortunately, the microphone isn’t powerful, making it difficult to use voice commands when there’s ambient sound. This is made more frustrating when there are a limited number of buttons and they are small in size for alternative functionality. 

Honorable Mention
Pyle In-Dash Radio Receiver System

This attractive radio is a 12-volt marine radio, but that makes it durable enough for use in vehicles that are open and going off-road where the radio could get exposed to water. The stereo is a standard single DIN size. It comes with Bluetooth built-in for streaming music through your iPhone, Android, or another Bluetooth-enabled device. It also comes with a microphone for hands-free calling. The face of this unit has an LCD display, USB port, aux-in, SD slot, and AM/FM radio. This unit comes ready to connect to the rest of your system with a radio antenna socket, RCA audio output, and wiring harness port. 


One drawback of this unit is that the installation instructions are complicated. It can be more advanced than what the average car owner can do. Thankfully, there are several videos online to help you.

Honorable Mention
Kenwood Car Stereo Receiver

Experience high-quality sound with this digital media player. It comes with a front USB port, Bluetooth, AM/FM radio, and aux input. It also comes ready for connection with Amazon Alexa and Spotify. You can customize the illumination color on the face of the unit. A standout feature of this stereo is that you can connect two smartphones at once. It also delivers impressive sound quality thanks to the six EQ curves and a 13-band equalizer. You can also connect this stereo to the rest of your system with three 2.5-volt pre-outs. 


One drawback of this unit is that it doesn’t have a CD player. It also doesn’t have voice control ability or a built-in microphone. This makes it less functional for smartphone usability.

Honorable Mention
JVC KD-X260BT Car Stereo Receiver

Enjoy simple functionality with this single DIN stereo unit. It comes with built-in Bluetooth, AM/FM tuner, USB port, and digital media receiver. You can stream Pandora, Spotify, and iHeartRadio. What’s nice about this unit is that the face is detachable, so you can remove it when you park and question the area’s safety or security. This unit comes with built-in iPod control and two-way iPod and iPhone control. A standout feature of this stereo is the short depth body, making it perfect for installation in vehicles with limited space. 


Unfortunately, while this unit is compatible with Apple products, it has limited functionality with Android smart devices. The radio tuner isn’t as strong as an OEM option, making radio reception spotty.

Honorable Mention
 Sound Storm Laboratories Single Din Car Stereo Receiver

This single DIN car stereo makes it easy to make and answer calls with the built-in Bluetooth and microphone. Easily control music streaming apps like Spotify and Pandora. This unit stands out because it comes with a CD player and a USB port, giving you plenty of options for how you enjoy your music. It also has an AM/FM radio and front and rear preamp outputs for connecting your stereo to a speaker system. You can then use the built-in equalizer to custom tune your music to the ideal sound balance. This stereo system also comes with a remote. 


Unfortunately, the microphone doesn’t have noise-canceling abilities. This can make it hard to communicate when there’s ambient noise in your car cabin. You may also notice more static when listening to local radio stations.

Honorable Mention
Unitopsci Store Single DIN Car Stereo

You only need enough room to mount a single DIN unit in your dash with this aftermarket stereo. It has a fold-out 7-inch touchscreen. This gives you the ability to connect it to a rearview camera and GPS navigation. It comes with built-in Bluetooth and a mirror link for Android smartphones. The built-in microphone makes it easier to speak clearly on calls. This stereo stands out because it also comes with an IR rearview camera that’s IP67 waterproof and has a 170-degree lens. This gives you a completely modern system. It also comes with an aux-in port, USB, and SD ports. 


One problem with this stereo is that it won’t support the charging of all smartphones. The fold-out action is a manual one and not automatic.

Honorable Mention
Pioneer In-Dash Multimedia Receiver

This Pioneer receiver has a 7-inch resistive touchscreen and built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. It works with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, is SiriusXM ready, and has a built-in HD radio. It also features a 13-band graphic equalizer, a built-in high/low pass crossover, a dual USB, an SD card slot, and dual-zone capability, so front and rear-seat passengers can enjoy different types of entertainment.

It has tactile volume buttons and other easy-access buttons, and the screen is very good quality. The settings and on-screen controls are simple to operate, the steering wheel controls work well, and the microphone is very clear when you're making phone calls. Also, it automatically connects to multiple phones and it lets you choose the one you want to use.


One downside is the installation may be complicated if you're not mechanically inclined. It can also get a little sluggish at times, and the glare can be quite bad on sunny days.

Tips

  • A single DIN unit will be a direct replacement for your stock stereo. A double-DIN will require you to make some adjustments, as it is usually double the size. Single DIN stereos won’t have a touchscreen, while double DINs will. 
  • Pick a unit that has good sound quality if you enjoy listening to music. You don’t want the sound to become distorted when you adjust the volume. Look for features like bass and treble adjustability. 
  • Not all units will provide you with full phone functionality. Pay attention to how the manufacturer describes this. It could be compatible for playing music, or it could give you full hands-free control over your phone. 

FAQs

Q: What features are most important for a car stereo?

A: This completely depends on what you like to listen to. If you enjoy listening to the radio, then AM/FM is important. If you listen to satellite radio, then you’ll need a compatible unit. For others, full phone integration is the most important feature. Other great features include MP3 playback, DVD playback, Bluetooth, or GPS navigation. 

Q: Will I get better sound quality with an aftermarket stereo?

A: This depends on the unit you buy. If you buy a quality unit, it will have a better circuit design and more built-in power. This will give it a louder and cleaner sound than your stock stereo. If sound quality is critical for you, look for preamp features that let you further control the sound. 

Q: Can it match my interior?

A: An aftermarket car stereo will never exactly match the interior of your car like your stock stereo. However, it can enhance the look of your interior with full-color animated displays and custom color schemes. If you choose a touchscreen model, then you can select a unit that lets you customize the background. 

Final Thoughts

Our top pick for the best aftermarket car stereo is the Pioneer In-Dash Car Stereo Receiver. It has built-in amplifiers and several audio features for plenty of versatility. 

For a more affordable option, the Jensen MPR210 Multimedia Single DIN Car Stereo Receiver will deliver impressive audio quality. It comes with four preset EQ curves and two band tone control.