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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
    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 Overall
    Pioneer in-Dash Stereo Receiver
  • Best Value
    Aigoss Car Stereo Digital Player
    Summary
    Summary

    Upgrade your stock stereo to one with a touchscreen. This unit is compatible with MP5 players, Bluetooth, AM/FM radio, and USB storage devices. 

    Pros
    Pros

    You can connect this stereo to your front and rearview cameras and have a 360-degree view of your car. You can also connect your phone to make hands-free phone calls.

    Cons
    Cons

    You don’t have custom control over the bass and treble—only pre-programmed music profiles. The instructions aren’t clear and lack detail.

  • Best Value
    Aigoss Car Stereo Digital Player
  • Honorable Mention
    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

    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

    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. 

    Best Value

    This is a cost-effective unit for the car owner looking for a fully digital stereo with a touchscreen. It plays plenty of file formats, including MP5. It works with Android and iOS operating systems and plays digital media. It also accesses maps directly from Android. 


    Bluetooth connectivity and a microphone enable hands-free calling. If you’re not keen on external media, a quick scan will give you access to about 18 radio frequencies. One of the best perks of the large-screen display is its ability to transform into a rearview camera. It automatically does this any time the car is in reverse mode. That way, you can maneuver out of tight spots quickly.


    The stereo has Bluetooth connectivity and is compatible with USB storage devices. Steering wheel controls make a great addition. 

    On the downside, the manual is not up to standard and lacks crucial details. Also, the preset audio settings don’t guarantee the best sound output.

    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 outputs balance sounds 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.

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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

    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. 

    Pioneer In-Dash Stereo Receiver}
    Amazon

    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. 

    Click Here to See Prices on Amazon

    Best Value

    This is a cost-effective unit for the car owner looking for a fully digital stereo with a touchscreen. It plays plenty of file formats, including MP5. It works with Android and iOS operating systems and plays digital media. It also accesses maps directly from Android. 


    Bluetooth connectivity and a microphone enable hands-free calling. If you’re not keen on external media, a quick scan will give you access to about 18 radio frequencies. One of the best perks of the large-screen display is its ability to transform into a rearview camera. It automatically does this any time the car is in reverse mode. That way, you can maneuver out of tight spots quickly.


    The stereo has Bluetooth connectivity and is compatible with USB storage devices. Steering wheel controls make a great addition. 

    On the downside, the manual is not up to standard and lacks crucial details. Also, the preset audio settings don’t guarantee the best sound output.

    Aigoss Car Stereo Digital Player}
    Amazon

    This is a cost-effective unit for the car owner looking for a fully digital stereo with a touchscreen. It plays plenty of file formats, including MP5. It works with Android and iOS operating systems and plays digital media. It also accesses maps directly from Android. 


    Bluetooth connectivity and a microphone enable hands-free calling. If you’re not keen on external media, a quick scan will give you access to about 18 radio frequencies. One of the best perks of the large-screen display is its ability to transform into a rearview camera. It automatically does this any time the car is in reverse mode. That way, you can maneuver out of tight spots quickly.


    The stereo has Bluetooth connectivity and is compatible with USB storage devices. Steering wheel controls make a great addition. 

    On the downside, the manual is not up to standard and lacks crucial details. Also, the preset audio settings don’t guarantee the best sound output.

    Click Here to See Prices on Amazon

    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 outputs balance sounds 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.

    Kenwood In-Dash Car Stereo Receiver}
    Amazon

    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 outputs balance sounds 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.

    Click Here to See Prices on Amazon

    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 Pioneer in-Dash Stereo Receiver will give you all of the features you’ll find in a modern car stereo.

    The Aigoss Car Stereo Digital Player will give you a nice balance between features and affordability.