The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Car Stereo

I’m going to give it to you straight, guys. Searching for the best car stereo is a daunting task. Making the wrong choice could cost you time, money, and effort.

So before you spend your hard-earned buck, make sure that you are getting the best car stereo that best meets your needs and fits your vehicle.

Good thing for you, then, we’ve done the research so you don't have to. We've spent countless hours curating the top rated car stereos, and we’ve put together this resource – a one-stop-shop, all-inclusive guide to help you find the best car stereo that fits your vehicle.

Picking a new car stereo involves several steps, including determining your budget, the features you're looking for, determining your vehicle's factory car stereo setup, and determining what is the correct-fitting head unit for your vehicle.

In this comprehensive car stereo guide, we will give you all the information you need and we'll go over some of the basic steps involved in choosing the best car stereo for your vehicle.

The interactive chart of stereos below and the analysis that follows will help you decide what the best aftermarket car stereo is for you.

Ultimate Guide to the Best Car Stereos

Types of Car Stereos

Car stereos come in two varieties: Single and double DIN. We’re not going to get into the debate about which is better; they both clearly work.

Deciding between a single or double din car stereo is dictated by your vehicle's dashboard head unit enclosure.And it’s actually pretty easy to figure out which one will fit your vehicle.

Single DIN vs Double DIN Head Unit

If your vehicle has a Single DIN head unit, the front faceplate should measure about 7 inches long by 2 inches tall (180 x 50 mm.). Single DIN receivers occupy less space compared to their Double DIN car stereo counterparts. They're also less obvious to the outside world and thieves (particularly models that feature detachable faceplates).

On the other hand, if it has a double DIN head unit, the front faceplate will be twice as tall and will measure roughly 7 x 4 in. (180 x 100mm.). Double DIN stereos take up more dashboard real-estate and feature large colorful touch screen displays.

Double DIN stereos are a good choice for you if you're more into DVD playback, GPS navigation, or app mirroring.

If your car came with a single DIN head unit, you have to replace it with another single DIN head unit. Though if you prefer a large touch screen car stereo, you can opt for a flip out motorized car stereo with large touch screen.

On the other hand, if your car came with a double DIN head unit you have the choice of replacing it either with a single or a double DIN car stereo.

5 Best Car Stereo Reviews

Any of the following car stereos would be great buys. Much of it comes down to personal preference.

Like with any product, you can get some really, really nice head units if you’re willing to shell out some serious dough, but there really are great products in every price range.

Pioneer AVH 4100NEX Car Stereo Receiver

We have reviewed tons of Pioneer car stereos on this site. We generally enjoy them, and we think you guys do as well.

The AVH-4100NEX is a double DIN head unit made by Pioneer, a company known well for their high-end products. Of course, the first thing you’ll notice is the design.

The AVH-4100NEX is what you can get if you’re willing to invest a bit of cash. Our purpose here isn’t to convince you guys to go out and splurge on the most expensive car stereo possible.

Quite honestly, this double DIN stereo isn’t even close to the most expensive double DIN head units we’ve seen.

The AVH-4100NEX is not the flagship to Pioneer's NEX series of multimedia double DIN head units; it's technically the entry model. However, we do think you get a lot of bang for your buck with this double din car stereo.

The AVH-4100NEX boasts a more modest array of features when compared to its high-end siblings, most obviously being its lack of onboard GPS hardware and navigation software. But in many ways, the 4100NEX's more conservative approach to its feature set is what makes it the best buy in the line.

We believe that the inclusion of Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and MirrorLink compatibility in one box is the reason behind NEX series' stereos fame. Boasting both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto makes the NEX models ideal for cross-platform households.

The transition between the two protocols is as easy as pie.The AVIC-4100NEX is smart enough to detect that you've plugged in an IOS phone when in Android mode (and vice versa) and prompts you with a pop-up shortcut to to toggle between "Apple CarPlay" and "Android Auto".

What we love the most about the 4100NEX is that it can multitask - at least to a certain extent.

I was able to listen to music from a paired iphone using the iPod-mode functionality with one of its USB ports while running Android Auto's Maps app on its second USB port. Likewise, the receiver can play CD audio or HD Radio while running Apple or Google's navigation software.

The AVH-4100NEX boasts a very respectable set of audio and video sources. It features built-in HD Radio, two USB ports,an optical drive that supports CD, DVD playback, an HDMI video input, and a 3.5mm analog auxiliary input for connecting legacy devices.

On top of everything else, there's Bluetooth audio streaming and hands-free calling.

The AVH-4100NEX comes with a detachable 7" motorized touchscreen with multi-angle adjustments that looks identical to the top-tier 8100NEX. The 7" touch screen supports multitouch pinching, scrolling and zooming and is fairly smooth in operation.

The 4100NEX is the only double DIN head unit in the lineup to feature a detachable faceplate.

The entire 7" screen can easily be pulled off the chassis simply by touching the eject button.This great theft-deterrent feature will come in handy in various situations, particularly if you have to park in a shady neighborhood.

Pioneer 6.8" Double DIN Touchscreen...
  • Car Audio 6.8-inch Touchscreen Double DIN Apple and Android Support In-Dash Car Stereo Receiver with Bluetooth
  • Built-in Bluetooth technology for hands-free talking and audio streaming
  • MP3 ID3 Tag Display (Title/Artist/Album) AM/FM tuner with 18FM/6AM presets
  • Android Music Support Compatible with Apple iPhone 6/6+ and iOS 8 software

The Kenwood KDC Series is one of the best single DIN head units on the market. Most forums agree. We personally think it’s the best, all things considered.

It features a sleek and functional look, and an easy to read 3-line display that can be easily switched to a 2-line format with a larger font for phone numbers, song titles, and source data.

Kenwood KDC-BT958HD Car Stereo Head Unit

You can tone it down to just show the clock or a blank display or jazz it up with the bouncing graphics of the spectrum analyzer.The display and illumination colors can also be customized to match match your car's dash or your mood.

Like many high-end car head units, the KDC-BT958HD boasts a huge array of features and options including HD Radio for high quality digital AM and FM reception, Bluetooth for hands-free calling and wireless music streaming convenience as well as two versatile front and rear USB ports.

Drive Change is another cool feature from Kenwood — it allows you to connect a memory card reader or USB hub to the Kenwood's USB input and select music from up to five sources.

Rounding out the smartphone connectivity list is compatibility with Pandora®, iHeartRadio®, and Aha™ radio.That said, you can scroll through your stations, bookmark songs, and give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down right from the receiver's display.

For you long-distance drivers out there, you can add a satellite radio tuner to this head unit, so you can tune into the in-depth music, news, and entertainment programming from SiriusXM anywhere you go.

On top of everything else, and with all of these onboard audio sources, you'll also appreciate the refining audio tools that this Kenwood receiver comes with. Adjusting the time alignment, the 7-band equalizer,high- and low-pass filters, and the bass boost levels will help you easily hit the sweet sound spot.

Kenwood KDC-BT958HD CD Receiver
  • Built In Bluetooth
  • Built-in HD Radio
  • SiriusXM Ready
  • 50W x 4 Chan. MAX
  • Blue Illuminated Button Lighting

The Boss Audio BV9364B is one of the best selling double din car stereos on the market.It made our list for its combination of price and quality; it’s also just really popular. We think this one is great for the price.

So what’s so special about this bad boy? First of all, like many high-end double DIN car stereos, the Boss Audio BV9364B features a 6.2" touch screen and boasts a decent list of features when compared to some expensive car stereos we've reviewed here.

That said, we really believe that you aren’t forfeiting quality for price in this instance.

Unlike other 2 DIN head units, the BV9364B is a 'True Fit Double-DIN'. This feature will make the installation an easy process, and you won't need to purchase any installation mounting kit or additional trim ring.

Boss Audio BV9364B Double DIN Head Unit
Boss Audio Systems BV9364B Car...
  • Bluetooth - Answer/make calls and be hands-free with no distractions. The external included microphone picks up your voice and the speakers let you hear the caller. You can also play and control your music and apps like Spotify/Pandora wirelessly
  • Media Playback - Watch your choice of videos through the DVD player, play music through your Bluetooth device, pop in a CD or use the USB and SD ports for more audio alternatives. Tune into the AM / FM radio stations for up to date music/news/sports
  • Auxiliary - Compatible with the audio output from smartphones as well as MP3 players
  • Inputs - USB charging, USB/SD, AUX, rearview camera (camera sold separately). The steering wheel interface allows you to use the existing functions on your steering wheel (interface module sold separately. We recommend the Metra ASWC-1)
  • Outputs - Use the front, rear & subwoofer pre-amp outputs to hook up your speakers (Front Left/Front Right and Rear Left/Rear Right) and subwoofer. The video output allows you to connect an extra screen for more viewing capability

You may be asking yourself what this car receiver is doing on the list. It’s clearly outclassed by most of the other ones on the list. So why did we list it? Price. Plain and Simple. 

It can be surprisingly difficult to find a decent single DIN head unit that won’t totally break the bank.

Pioneer DEH-150MP Single DIN Head Unit

It’s one of the best single DIN head units at this price point, and it’s a good entry-level head unit if you want to test the waters before upgrading to something a little more sophisticated.

Pioneer Single Din In-Dash...
  • Single-line, multi-segmented LCD display with LED back light is 35% larger
  • CEA-2006 Compliant amplifier
  • Power output: peak: 50 watts x 4 channels/ RMS: 14 watts x 4 channels
  • Detachable face plate. D/A Converter 24-bit
  • Wireless remote control included
Pioneer FH-X820BS Car Stereo Receiver

The FH-X820BS is a showstopper car stereo.It made our list for its combination of price and quality.

We've reviewed a lot of Pioneer double din stereos on this site, and this car stereo is very much like the rest of the double DIN headunits in the Pioneer line, with one exception.

Its screen size is a little bit smaller than the other double DIN head units we previously reviewed. That’s not a bad thing at all, and might even be good if your car has a narrower stereo opening.

It's no surprise this is the best selling aftermarket car stereo on the market, probably because it's in more of a middle-high price range. It’s not outrageous – and if you’re on the lookout for a decent car stereo, it could be a great investment. We do think you get a lot of bang for your buck with this receiver.

Pioneer Double DIN In-Dash Built-in...
  • Built-In Bluetooth for Hands-Free Calling and Wireless Audio Streaming. Built-in HD Radio, Spotify, Works with Pandora, SiriusXM Ready
  • USB Direct Control For iPOD/iPHONE
  • 3 RCA Preouts (2V) Pioneer ARC App Compatible FLAC Audio Playback
  • Dual-zone color illumination allows you to customize the color of the text on-screen as well as select another color for the button illumination
  • Over 210,000 colors are available. The 10-level brightness control allows you to customize the brightness of your screen.

The DEH-X6700BS is one of the best car stereo out there. It’s another expensive one, but again, it’s very well-engineered and would be a great investment.

The DEH-X6700BS is the sophisticated version of DEH-150MP and it comes with a huge array of features compared to its less sophisticated versions.

DEH-X6700BS Pioneer Car Stereo Single DIN Receiver
Pioneer DEH-X7800BHS CD Receiver...
  • Built-In Bluetooth for Hands-Free Calling and Wireless Audio Streaming
  • Built-in HD Radio
  • Spotify, Works with Pandora, SiriusXM- Ready
  • Pioneer ARC App Compatible
  • FLAC Audio Playback

What Should You Look For When Choosing a Car Stereo?

The headunit is both the brain and heart of your car audio system, and the part you will directly interact with the most from behind the steering wheel. That said, and in order to make an informed decision, there are a few attributes that you'll need to take into consideration.

These attributes include but not limited to: features , audio sources, expandability options, power...etc

Audio sources 

The audio sources you most often use are the most important bits you should be looking for in a head unit.

Are you on the lookout for a CD/MP3 player? Do you still keep a book of CDs in your car's glove box? Or you've ditched them in favor of digital music formats? Will you be using your head unit for DVD playback when parked?

Will you Tune in to satellite or HD Radio™ broadcasts? Do you want to make calls and stream music using a Bluetooth® connection?

Answering these questions will help you narrow down your choices.

Depending on your answers to the preceding questions, you can decide on what car stereo headunit is for you. A traditional CD-receiver with a slot for your discs,a digital media receiver(also known as Mecheless receiver) or a larger A/V colorful touchscreen stereo.

We believe that even if you still have that book of CDs in your vehicle's glove box, odds are quite high that you or a friend of yours will want to plug a phone or media player up to your car at some point.

Make sure the car receiver you're buying at the very least has a USB port for MP3, AAC, or WMA playback from flash storage devices and a 3.5mm analog auxiliary input for universal connectivity.

Apps and smartphone integration

Nowadays, mobile devices and, particularly, smartphones are becoming universal and omnipresent. They have become important gadget in today's world since they allow us to access various ubiquitous services.

To put it clearly, they've even invaded our personal lives and now they're making their way into our vehicles.

Right now, there's a good chance you're reading this article on your smartphone that you'll want your new car stereo to play nice with.There's even higher chances that you have stored many music tracks on your smartphone that you'd want to play while you're driving. Am I right?

Well, if that's the case, then having a receiver with Bluetooth connectivity is an excellent way to wirelessly stream music from your smartphone or tablet to your receiver.

Additionally, heavy users of streaming apps like Pandora or iHeart Radio should look for headunits that feature controls for those apps, putting your custom stations, pause/skip controls, and rating tools in the dashboard, where they can be more safely (and legally) accessed when on the road.

HD Radio & Satellite Radio

Every car headunit on the market features an AM/FM radio that will tune into your local stations. However, some of you may want to improve on that. Opting for a car receiver with built-in HD Radio will make a day and night difference in the audio quality of local radio stations.

If audio clarity is high on your list of requirements, a car stereo with built-in HD Radio is the way to go. HD Radio is an improvement of the way AM and FM radio signal weaves are transmitted. It offers an incredible sound clarity when compared to AM/FM radio broadcasting.

Additionally, if you're a frequent road tripper who's travelling long distances, you may see value in being able to have your favorite radio stations being beamed to you from space to anywhere you're.

Satellite radio, much like satellite TV or cable in your home, offers listeners hundreds of channels of music, news, sports, weather and talk, and plenty of other entertainment programming.

GPS and Navigation

Car audio receivers, particularly high-end headunits can do more than just playing your music; they can also come in handy, helping you to get where you're headed with turn-by-turn GPS navigation.

And yes, your smartphone navigation apps such as google maps, Apple Maps and Waze stand head and shoulders above even then best aftermarket car stereos with GPS capabilities that we've ever tested and reviewed, offering more up-to-date and accurate maps with fresher traffic data, voice commands, and better destination search.

That said, and in order to get the best of both worlds - your headunit's larger touch screen and the superior software of your smartphone app, consider purchasing a head unit with some sort of app mirroring technology.

Or you could simply mount your tablet or smartphone on the windshield or dash while outputting the audio to your car stereo's Bluetooth or auxiliary input - provided, of course, that your interactions with your smartphone fall within local legal limits.

Single And Double DIN - What to Choose ?

Double DIN head units with a large touch screen will bring you much convenience and satisfaction,but, let's not downplay the ease of use of good physical controls mainly when you're driving at high speed.

Likewise, a non-user-friendly interface or a touch screen that's feels slow to recognize or sluggish to recognize your inputs will cause you to be distracted and spend more time fiddling with the receiver when you should be focusing the road.

Bluetooth For Hands-Free Calling & Music Streaming

Using mobile electronic devices while on the road has become a modern epidemic across the world. While the best choice is to completely avoid calls altogether while you're driving, hands-free calling may be the next best thing.

Having that said, and since safety is the number one priority on the road, we are seeing more and more vehicles come equipped with Bluetooth technology.

If you own an old vehicle and Bluetooth isn't factory installed, you can opt for a new car stereo with Bluetooth capabilities.

Most Bluetooth stereos require the purchase of add-on Bluetooth receiver modules, which enable calls to be routed from a connected cell phone through the stereo to the car speakers.

These Add-on Bluetooth kits often come with an external microphone, which can be attached to the car's dashboard or sun visor. Some other high-end systems do come with Bluetooth calling capabilities built in.

We’ve all seen the commercials.The driver takes his eyes off the road and starts fidgeting around or searching through the purse to find that ringing phone,three seconds, maybe four... and suddenly the driver’s life is changed by a horrific accident.

Taking your eyes off the road to dial or answer a mobile is never a good decision.

Furthermore,with more states enacting laws that prohibit driving while talking on handheld cell phones, getting a hands-free calling solution integrated with your car will save you hefty fines or possible imprisonment for violating these laws.

Last update on 2020-08-08 at 10:14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API