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LAST UPDATED: February 26, 2020

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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PUBLISHED ON February 26, 2020

New car models come with a large touchscreen that allows you to control the car’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 yours.

  • Best Overall
    Sony 6.2" Apple CarPlay Media Receiver
    Sony 6.2" Apple CarPlay Media Receiver
    Summary
    Summary

    This receiver works with Apple CarPlay, has a rearview camera, a 6.2-inch touchscreen, extra bass, and dynamic amplification to make your music pop.

    Pros
    Pros

    The interface is user-friendly, and Apple CarPlay works seamlessly. The backup camera is easy to install, and the unit isn't overly stocked with complicated controls.

    Cons
    Cons

    The touchscreen is capacitive and can be difficult to see when it's very sunny outside. There's no USB plug in the front.

  • Best Overall
    Sony 6.2" Apple CarPlay Media Receiver
    Sony 6.2" Apple CarPlay Media Receiver
  • Best Value
    Pioneer in-Dash Stereo Receiver
    Pioneer in-Dash Stereo Receiver
    Summary
    Summary

    Replace your car’s stereo with one that comes with Bluetooth, a CD receiver, and an AM/FM tuner. It also has a built-in amplifier.

    Pros
    Pros

    You can play files stored on a USB drive for more audio options. It also works with Spotify and Pandora.

    Cons
    Cons

    Installation can be challenging and confusing. There is an issue with the unit not turning on after a few months of use. 

  • Best Value
    Pioneer in-Dash Stereo Receiver
    Pioneer in-Dash Stereo Receiver
  • Honorable Mention
    Kenwood In-Dash Car Stereo Receiver
    Kenwood In-Dash Car Stereo Receiver
    Summary
    Summary

    Fit this stereo into the stock space in your dash. Then you can use the CD player, AM/FM radio, or USB input to play music. There are 2.5V preamp outputs and a three-band graphic equalizer.

    Pros
    Pros

    This unit is easy to install and connect to your iPhone. It will play and charge your phone at the same time. The display is bright and easily read during the day.

    Cons
    Cons

    This unit will only work with certain Android phones, so be sure to check compatibility before you purchase. You may also find that the unit won’t turn on after the initial installation. 

  • Honorable Mention
    Kenwood In-Dash Car Stereo Receiver
    Kenwood In-Dash Car Stereo Receiver

    New car models come with a large touchscreen that allows you to control the car’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 yours.

    Best Aftermarket Car Stereo Reviews & Recommendations 2020 

    Best Overall

    Sony's receiver is compatible with Apple CarPlay and features Bluetooth technology, voice control, an ergonomic rotary volume dial, added bass for low-end power, and a rearview camera. It has a 6.2-inch touchscreen and strong 4 x 55 W amplification, so your music sounds clear and powerful. You can also use the Dynamic Stage Organizer to put virtual speakers on your dashboard.


    The stereo's interface is simple to navigate, which isn't always the case when it comes to aftermarket units. The Apple CarPlay works effortlessly, and it's easy to connect the backup camera. It's very reliable for the price, the physical controls are very good, and it is not overly complicated with too many options. Essentially, if you have it paired with the right speakers, it's a great little unit.


    A couple of downsides are that the touchscreen is capacitive instead of resistive touch, and the screen is a little hard to see if you're driving in the bright sunlight. Also, it doesn't have a front USB plug, and the screen may be intermittently glitchy.

    Best Value

    For a single DIN car stereo, this unit is quite the powerhouse. It looks like your average stereo, but once you examine it further, you discover more features that make it worth buying. It not only has radio, CD, and Bluetooth, but its small screen shows details about the audio source with clearly-labeled control options. 


    The stereo features Pioneer’s technology, Smart Sync, which lets you view data from your smartphone. The rotary knob activates a feature that reads your messages out loud so you can focus on the road. This audio system is compatible with Spotify and Pandora if you prefer to stream your music. Use the small screen to customize the color whenever you want. The stereo delivers smooth bass thanks to the bass boost feature. Pair it with a nice set of subwoofers to create the best car stereo system. The Alphasonik earbuds only make it more desirable. 


    However, this stereo isn’t easy to install, as the instructions aren’t very clear. It may also stop working after only a few months of use.

    Honorable Mention

    This Kenwood single DIN stereo is designed to look like a classic. But despite its simplistic design, you can play HD radio, MP3 files, CDs, and iPod music. Its iPhone compatibility makes it easy for you to stream music on Pandora and iHeartRadio. You can also connect auxiliary cables. The controls are quite easy to use. 


    In addition to playing standard file formats, the stereo also plays FLAC files. The built-in amplifier gives it much-needed extra power. A reconstruction feature makes the sound output even clearer, you won’t have to worry about not hearing background sounds. A three-band graphic equalizer and 2.5V preamp output balance sound for brilliant sound quality across different genres. 


    You can connect the stereo to an adapter and enjoy steering wheel control. However, you must ascertain if it is compatible with the Android version of your phone; otherwise, it won’t work. It may also fail to work after you’ve installed it.

    Honorable Mention

    Alpine's multimedia receiver has a 9-inch touchscreen with an oversized interface. It's the company's most customizable unit, and you can create three different home screens as well as drag-and-drop audio sources. It features a chassis and touchscreen, the former of which fits into most single-DIN dash openings. There are five different vertical mounting positions, and it has a backup camera.


    You can adjust the angle of the screen up to 45 degrees forward or 20 degrees backward. It's very easy to see, and it's so big that it's great for showing maps and directions. The screen is glass, not plastic, and it works with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and more. Many users love the way it looks and sounds, and the picture quality is really good.


    However, the touchscreen is so large that it may block your vehicle's vents. It looks like it's floating in front of your dashboard, which some users may not like. Also, it doesn't have a CD player, and it is a little expensive. In addition, there may be a delay when you start your vehicle.

    Honorable Mention

    Kenwood's multimedia receiver features a 6.8-inch resistive touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, dual USB inputs, a DVD/CD player, built-in Bluetooth, a built-in amplifier, a 13-band equalizer, Pandora and Spotify app control, and a rearview backup camera. It fits double-DIN dashboard openings and can be used with factory steering wheel audio controls if you purchase an adapter.


    The stereo sounds great, the touchscreen is very responsive, and the unit works quickly. Both CarPlay and Android Auto work well, and the backup camera immediately loads when you turn it on. It has a lot of neat features, the display is clear, and it's easy to install and use.


    The receiver, however, does have some issues. It is a little slow when loading some web pages, and the picture quality isn’t very good. It may also display pop-up messages that quickly become annoying.

    Honorable Mention

    Pioneer's double-DIN, 7-inch touchscreen Bluetooth car stereo receiver is compatible with CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Spotify and Pandora. It's SiriusXM ready and features an AM/FM tuner. The interface is customizable, and the unit was designed with smartphones and tablets in mind. It has AppRadioLive, hands-free calling, audio streaming, and Siri Eyes Free functionality for iPhone users.


    This head unit works really well and is easy to install and use. It boots up quickly compared to some other models and has a lot of features. The picture is very clear, the equalizer works well, and the audio sounds great through the pre-outs, which is impressive for a receiver in this price range. The custom screen-tilt feature is also really nice, and it's very clear if you're making a phone call.


    One downside is that it does not have an HDMI input. Also, the screen sometimes lags, and on the rare occasion, it may lock up and require a reboot to get going again. In addition, the crossover can be a hassle to adjust.

    Honorable Mention

    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. 

    Honorable Mention

    Pioneer's 7-inch, single-DIN receiver is compatible with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Spotify, and is SiriusXM and FLAC Audio ready. It has an 800 by 480 resolution and a partially detachable display that is motorized. The screen tucks away when the unit is off. The receiver features both auxiliary and USB inputs. It comes with a wireless remote, harness, Bluetooth microphone, and USB extension cable.


    One of the best things about this receiver is that it boots up quickly. It also plays DVDs, and the sound quality is excellent, which is helped by its good-quality equalizer. It’s bright enough to see during the day with sunglasses on, and it's dim enough at night so you hardly notice it’s there.


    One downside is that your iPhone or Android must be plugged in to access Carplay or Android Auto, and connectivity can be an issue. If the unit loses power, it takes a while to reboot, and the updating process is a little cumbersome.

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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 KDCMP375BT 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 2020 

    Best Overall
    Sony 6.2

    Sony's receiver is compatible with Apple CarPlay and features Bluetooth technology, voice control, an ergonomic rotary volume dial, added bass for low-end power, and a rearview camera. It has a 6.2-inch touchscreen and strong 4 x 55 W amplification, so your music sounds clear and powerful. You can also use the Dynamic Stage Organizer to put virtual speakers on your dashboard.


    The stereo's interface is simple to navigate, which isn't always the case when it comes to aftermarket units. The Apple CarPlay works effortlessly, and it's easy to connect the backup camera. It's very reliable for the price, the physical controls are very good, and it is not overly complicated with too many options. Essentially, if you have it paired with the right speakers, it's a great little unit.


    A couple of downsides are that the touchscreen is capacitive instead of resistive touch, and the screen is a little hard to see if you're driving in the bright sunlight. Also, it doesn't have a front USB plug, and the screen may be intermittently glitchy.

    Best Value
    Pioneer In-Dash Stereo Receiver

    For a single DIN car stereo, this unit is quite the powerhouse. It looks like your average stereo, but once you examine it further, you discover more features that make it worth buying. It not only has radio, CD, and Bluetooth, but its small screen shows details about the audio source with clearly-labeled control options. 


    The stereo features Pioneer’s technology, Smart Sync, which lets you view data from your smartphone. The rotary knob activates a feature that reads your messages out loud so you can focus on the road. This audio system is compatible with Spotify and Pandora if you prefer to stream your music. Use the small screen to customize the color whenever you want. The stereo delivers smooth bass thanks to the bass boost feature. Pair it with a nice set of subwoofers to create the best car stereo system. The Alphasonik earbuds only make it more desirable. 


    However, this stereo isn’t easy to install, as the instructions aren’t very clear. It may also stop working after only a few months of use.

    Honorable Mention
    Kenwood In-Dash Car Stereo Receiver

    This Kenwood single DIN stereo is designed to look like a classic. But despite its simplistic design, you can play HD radio, MP3 files, CDs, and iPod music. Its iPhone compatibility makes it easy for you to stream music on Pandora and iHeartRadio. You can also connect auxiliary cables. The controls are quite easy to use. 


    In addition to playing standard file formats, the stereo also plays FLAC files. The built-in amplifier gives it much-needed extra power. A reconstruction feature makes the sound output even clearer, you won’t have to worry about not hearing background sounds. A three-band graphic equalizer and 2.5V preamp output balance sound for brilliant sound quality across different genres. 


    You can connect the stereo to an adapter and enjoy steering wheel control. However, you must ascertain if it is compatible with the Android version of your phone; otherwise, it won’t work. It may also fail to work after you’ve installed it.

    Honorable Mention
    Alpine Halo9 9

    Alpine's multimedia receiver has a 9-inch touchscreen with an oversized interface. It's the company's most customizable unit, and you can create three different home screens as well as drag-and-drop audio sources. It features a chassis and touchscreen, the former of which fits into most single-DIN dash openings. There are five different vertical mounting positions, and it has a backup camera.


    You can adjust the angle of the screen up to 45 degrees forward or 20 degrees backward. It's very easy to see, and it's so big that it's great for showing maps and directions. The screen is glass, not plastic, and it works with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and more. Many users love the way it looks and sounds, and the picture quality is really good.


    However, the touchscreen is so large that it may block your vehicle's vents. It looks like it's floating in front of your dashboard, which some users may not like. Also, it doesn't have a CD player, and it is a little expensive. In addition, there may be a delay when you start your vehicle.

    Honorable Mention
    Kenwood Excelon 6.8

    Kenwood's multimedia receiver features a 6.8-inch resistive touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, dual USB inputs, a DVD/CD player, built-in Bluetooth, a built-in amplifier, a 13-band equalizer, Pandora and Spotify app control, and a rearview backup camera. It fits double-DIN dashboard openings and can be used with factory steering wheel audio controls if you purchase an adapter.


    The stereo sounds great, the touchscreen is very responsive, and the unit works quickly. Both CarPlay and Android Auto work well, and the backup camera immediately loads when you turn it on. It has a lot of neat features, the display is clear, and it's easy to install and use.


    The receiver, however, does have some issues. It is a little slow when loading some web pages, and the picture quality isn’t very good. It may also display pop-up messages that quickly become annoying.

    Honorable Mention
    Pioneer 7

    Pioneer's double-DIN, 7-inch touchscreen Bluetooth car stereo receiver is compatible with CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Spotify and Pandora. It's SiriusXM ready and features an AM/FM tuner. The interface is customizable, and the unit was designed with smartphones and tablets in mind. It has AppRadioLive, hands-free calling, audio streaming, and Siri Eyes Free functionality for iPhone users.


    This head unit works really well and is easy to install and use. It boots up quickly compared to some other models and has a lot of features. The picture is very clear, the equalizer works well, and the audio sounds great through the pre-outs, which is impressive for a receiver in this price range. The custom screen-tilt feature is also really nice, and it's very clear if you're making a phone call.


    One downside is that it does not have an HDMI input. Also, the screen sometimes lags, and on the rare occasion, it may lock up and require a reboot to get going again. In addition, the crossover can be a hassle to adjust.

    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. 

    Honorable Mention
    Pioneer 7

    Pioneer's 7-inch, single-DIN receiver is compatible with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Spotify, and is SiriusXM and FLAC Audio ready. It has an 800 by 480 resolution and a partially detachable display that is motorized. The screen tucks away when the unit is off. The receiver features both auxiliary and USB inputs. It comes with a wireless remote, harness, Bluetooth microphone, and USB extension cable.


    One of the best things about this receiver is that it boots up quickly. It also plays DVDs, and the sound quality is excellent, which is helped by its good-quality equalizer. It’s bright enough to see during the day with sunglasses on, and it's dim enough at night so you hardly notice it’s there.


    One downside is that your iPhone or Android must be plugged in to access Carplay or Android Auto, and connectivity can be an issue. If the unit loses power, it takes a while to reboot, and the updating process is a little cumbersome.

    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

    The Sony 6.2" Apple CarPlay Media Receiver will give you all of the features you’ll find in a modern car stereo. 

    The Pioneer in-Dash Stereo Receiver will give you a nice balance between features and affordability.