In this post, we’ll look at 4 of our favorite car stereos (head units) from a variety of manufacturers and categories, including Apple CarPlay, Video & DVD, Single DIN, and more.
We’ve always believed that the ‘best car stereo’ is determined by how it will be used and in which vehicle it will be installed. Almost every buyer wants Bluetooth, Aux, USB, and other features in their head unit. However, no one can claim that one particular automobile stereo is the finest in all situations.
Some units excel at networking, such as multi-device Bluetooth, while others excel at multimedia and video playback on the screen. Some excel in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while others excel at audio quality, tuning, and configuration. What we’re attempting to communicate is that the answer to the question “what is the greatest car radio” is: it depends!
When it comes to researching and compiling a list of car stereos, we at CarAudioNow attempt to cover all of the bases. We know that some people are looking for specific characteristics in a head unit, so we strive to categorize our top picks by the aspects we believe consumers want. Our duty is to keep up with the current developments in-vehicle stereo technology, and our goal is to represent those trends in our finest list here!
As a result, we’ve compiled a list of the finest car stereos that includes our top recommendations in a range of areas. The truth is that we have lists of our favorites for each of them (which we’ve linked to), but because we know that everyone’s tastes are different, this list should highlight our top picks for each head unit category.
What is the size of my dash?
But first things first. If you haven’t already, you should ask yourself this question before going through this list and purchasing a head unit. Single-DIN (SD) and Double-DIN (DD) are the two most prevalent varieties of head units on the market that fit the majority of vehicle dashboards (DD).
The bigger of the two apertures is the double-DIN. You can usually put both single-DIN and double-DIN units in your car if it has a double-DIN opening. All you have to do now is get the right dash kit. You’ll only be able to fit a single-DIN receiver into a single-DIN car radio. The single-DIN units are the topic of this list.
This List’s Content
We are really serious about our “best lists.” Our top selection of vehicle stereos on this list is based on rigorous research, our personal product experience, and testing, and, of course, our industry knowledge. This list was neither influenced nor financed by any manufacturer. The following are guidelines based on what we believe are quality head units that will operate well, endure a long time, and are produced by reputable manufacturers.
Our lists are also created in-house, rather than being plagiarized from other sites and thrown together at random. Our first priority is to ensure that the information you read here is accurate and that you have confidence in the product you choose from this list. We also keep these listings up to date, so if you’re looking for a car stereo, you’ll always find the most recent and best options here.
Best Wireless Apple CarPlay Car Stereo: Alpine Halo11 iLX-F511
Alpine takes you to the top when you want to go big. The iLX-F511 Halo11 digital media receiver has an 11″ floating touch display and fits in most single-DIN (2″ tall) dash holes, with plenty of adjustment to ensure a good viewing angle and access to your climate settings.
The screen has a greater resolution to complement your favorite media sources, as well as improved responsiveness for fast information and image delivery. You’ll get top-notch smartphone integration as well as compatibility with the iDatalink Maestro module, allowing you to preserve your factory features.
An 11-inch screen with a 2-inch chassis
The iLX-F511 is composed of two parts: a 2-inch height chassis and an 11-inch floating touchscreen display. Because there’s no disc player, the chassis should fit in most single-DIN dash openings, and mounting depth shouldn’t be an issue for most vehicles.
After you’ve installed the chassis in your dash hole, you may pick from five different vertical mounting positions and two different screen depths, allowing you to position the radio without blocking important dash temperature controls. Alpine intended the radio to work even if your vents are partially obstructed.
Enhance your perspective.
You can change the screen viewing angle up to 45 degrees forward or 20 degrees backward after you’ve selected the ideal vertical position for the display. This lets you adapt tilted dashes or simply have a better look at the display on your iLX-F511. A pressure-tilt mechanism allows you to find the ideal place with ease. Four screws hold the display firmly in place after you’ve picked the optimal placements.
A crystal-clear display
Because we now live in an 8K world, there’s no reason why the screen on your stereo can’t appear a little better. With a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, your album artwork and other information will be sharp and clear. The iLX-F511 may double as a drive-in theater when you’re parked and watching a movie — just bring your own popcorn.
Take your music for a spin.
Even without a disc player, the iLX-F511 allows you to enjoy your media in a variety of ways. You can connect your smartphone or a thumb drive with your favorite music or video files to the dual rear USB connections. An optional CD/DVD or Blu-Ray player can be connected to the back HDMI port. Auxiliary inputs allow you to play audio from a different source, such as an old portable disc player.
Owners of rear-view cameras will appreciate the camera inputs and distance guiding display that are included. It pairs with Alpine’s sophisticated HD dashcam/rear-view cam combo for complete vehicle coverage. You’ll also need this 2-camera switcher (not included) if you want to add Alpine’s optional HCE-C2100RD multi-view camera.
Both wired and wireless networks are supported. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both available.
The iLX-F511 is compatible with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, allowing you and your passengers to use your smartphone for messaging, navigation, music selection, and more without touching any screens. Voice commands are supported on both platforms, which you may activate by uttering a keyword or pushing the special “Voice” button on the stereo’s bezel.
You can complete tasks without being distracted by your phone, and you can utilize either platform with or without your phone hooked in. More information is available at www.apple.com/ios/carplay and www.android.com/auto.
Hands-free streaming and calling with Bluetooth®
Alpine’s long association with Bluetooth communication continues with the iLX-F511. With the inbuilt microphone, you may make or receive hands-free phone calls and stream music from your phone. Use the bundled microphone to activate Apple CarPlay and Android Auto voice commands.
Best Car Stereo that Plays DVD & Video: Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX
Our favorite multimedia player is the AVH-W4500NEX. The NEX line was just introduced by Pioneer to take advantage of the latest networking opportunities. The 4500NEX has a large 6.9″ capacitive touchscreen that can be simply placed in a variety of automobiles to provide modern functionality. Even in bright, direct light, the capacitive touch screen is clear and easy to view. It can even be tweaked to compensate for odd dash patterns and improve viewing angles. It is our top recommendation since it combines all of the best features into a simple-to-use tablet.
The W4500NEX comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto out of the box, making it an excellent choice for individuals who want GPS and all of the newest audio streaming features. This machine also has the ability to wirelessly mirror your screen from a smartphone, which we enjoy. This feature allows you to reflect video from your smartphone to the head unit.
The unit also supports iDataLink, allowing you to connect system controls such as climate control, heated seats, vehicle statistics such as RPM and speed, and more. This will require an iDataLink Maestro unit that is specific to the car.
The expandability possibilities on this machine also make it great multimedia or video player. Multiple devices, such as MP3 players, smartphones, and tablets, can be connected via dual USB ports. Practically any visual input device, from Firesticks or FireTVs to game consoles, can be used with an HDMI port and two rear A/V inputs. If you want video in your car, this is the greatest option pound for pound.
For a long time, Pioneer’s AVIC series has been near the top of our list of best in-dash GPS car stereos. Pioneer’s newest navigation head unit offers the same great performance as the previous 8500 model, while also streamlining the user experience and giving a wealth of functions. This is a high-end car radio, but it’s designed more for functionality than for raw audio strength.
The big motorized 7″ WVGA touchscreen that hides the CD/DVD connector and an SD card slot is the first thing you notice about the 8600. The screen is bright and colorful, and it’s easy to see even in direct sunlight and at odd angles.
This head unit is a powerhouse of features. The W8600NEX has it all, from CD and DVD playback to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The concealed SD card slot and dual back USBs are two of our favorite features.
You can now connect two phones via Bluetooth, and the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay apps make it simple to stream practically any content from your phone to the head unit’s touchscreen and control it using voice commands or the touchscreen. If your phone supports MiraCast, you’ll have even more possibilities for streaming entertainment to your screen directly from your phone.
Of course, the navigation is why many buy this stereo, and Pioneer does an excellent job of implementing a user-friendly navigation system. With user-selectable 2D head-up, 2D North-up, and 3D display modes for all points in the United States, including Hawaii and Puerto Rico, as well as Canada, the directions are clear and easy to see.
Pioneer owners get free lifetime map updates, so you won’t have to worry about outdated system software when a new motorway opens up. It has an RDS-TMC traffic tuner built-in, which interprets satellite data for real-time traffic updates using a unique FM channel.
When you want the best touchscreen navigation unit and are prepared to pay for it, this is a great option. Two camera inputs, dual RCA connections, and a dedicated subwoofer channel for expansion are all available. The W8600NEX is iDatalink Maestro compatible, making it easy to connect to OEM steering wheel controls and functions.
Best Single DIN Digital Media Receiver: Alpine UTE-73BT
The Alpine UTE-73BT is an update over the previous 63BT model, offering improved connection while keeping all of the features that made the previous model a popular pick. Alpine equipped the receiver with Android Open Accessory technology, which makes it easier to connect your Android phone to play music from your favorite streaming apps like Pandora or Spotify.
Some of the best features from the 63BT have been retained, such as the tactile multifunction knob and a streamlined layout that looks good in most dash panels. The single-line LCD display now allows you to customize the color of the illuminated buttons and is five times more readable than prior generations, making it easier to read information rapidly.
Alpine created this radio to operate smoothly with Apple and Android smartphones, and Bluetooth connections are reliable and quick to set up. A USB connector on the front panel enables for charging and playback of audio data from flash drives, smartphones, and compatible MP3 players. For even greater sound quality, the Alpine UTE-73BT now supports lossless FLAC files.\
There are a few simple but crucial head unit specifications that will help you choose the finest solution for you. Among them are:
This is vital for those of you who want to power your speakers directly from the head unit.
Pre-out voltage is necessary for those who will enhance their speakers. Generally, the higher the voltage, the better.
Bands of equalizer: This may or may not be significant to you, but for audiophiles, it will allow you to fine-tune your sound at all frequency levels.
We put created a few simple charts to assist you to compare the units on our list more simply. You’re welcome, we know!
How We Make Decisions About the Best Car Stereos
We studied hundreds of reviews across the industry and incorporated user feedback with our own first-hand testing to come up with the top head units for our list. When assessing and reviewing each car stereo, we take into account a number of key factors. Including:
Style (Looks, Design)
Type of Display (LCD, Dotted, LCD Text, etc.)
Specifications (Bluetooth, Smartphone Compatibility, Equalizer, etc)
Ratings of Strength (Peak, RMS)
Expansion (number of RCAs, XM/Sirius Ready, Steering Wheel Control Ready, and so on)
Quality (Materials used, manufacturer, etc)
Online testimonials (From multiple vendors such as Sonic Electronix, Crutchfield, Amazon, and more)
Our investigation and testing yielded a list of the best-rated and reviewed head units. We also give price comparisons from multiple sellers in addition to our list of best-rated products to assist you in finding the best deal. Finally, the greatest car stereo is one that fulfills your unique requirements and is suitable for your vehicle.
If you decide to buy and install your own car stereo, be sure to read our Easy Guide to Car Stereo Installation. With useful hints along the way, this book will surely save you time.
What to Watch Out For
To sound fantastic, each car requires a unique combination of car stereo components. In one automobile, car audio may sound great, while in another, it may sound dreadful. Furthermore, the size and wire arrangement constraints make choosing the optimum head unit much more challenging.
A good car stereo will provide you with the features you want while also adjusting to the surroundings of your vehicle and producing a superb representation of your favorite music. You may custom tailor frequencies to your car, integrate your favorite music/media device, connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth, and much more with the correct car stereo.
When assessing products in our top lists, we consider a variety of factors. The parameters that we evaluate while selecting the best car stereos for your vehicle are listed below.
Ratings of Strength
When purchasing a car radio, power ratings are an important factor to consider. The power output of your car audio, without an external amplifier, determines the power of your speakers and, ultimately, the power of sound. When it comes to car stereos, there are usually two power output ratings:
The maximum amount of power that the car radio can output for brief periods of time is known as the max power rating. The maximum amount of power that will be supplied to your speakers is this value (without an external amplifier)
RMS (Continuous) Output Power: The RMS power rating of a car radio refers to the amount of power it can provide at a constant or continuous pace. The most essential power output rating is this one.
Along with power management and output, the level of control over the contour of the produced sound is critical. A built-in equalizer is usually used to achieve this control (EQ). It will allow you to customize the sound’s shape by boosting or lowering the level of various frequencies to best optimize the output sound for your car’s environment. The more bands the equalizer on your car audio offers, the more you’ll be able to adjust the frequencies and shape of your music and sound.
The display elements of car stereos have a significant impact on how elegant and user-friendly they are. High-end car stereos will contain a large number of LED pixels and configurable capabilities such as color and brightness to match the color scheme of your interior.
The means through which your car radio can playback audio can be defined as playback. A single din head unit should normally have CD, DVD, MP3, HD Radio, Pandora, Auxiliary (Aux) Ports, and Bluetooth as examples of playback kinds.
You should make sure that the playback methods you wish to use are compatible with the car stereo’s playing functions. Otherwise, you can end up with a head unit that doesn’t play your music in the format you like. The following is a list of the most common playback characteristics we recommend looking for:
HD Radio is the same radio station you listen to on the radio, but with better audio quality and more metadata than traditional radio. Titles, artists, albums, and other metadata are included.
CD Player: CD players can play CDs, CD-R/RWs, MP3, AAC, WAV, and WMA files in a variety of formats.
Auxiliary (Aux) Port: Auxiliary ports allow you to connect any audio device that has a headphone connector to your computer. Auxiliary ports are typically found on the front of the top car stereos (in our opinion).
Bluetooth music allows you to connect to your music on a smartphone or other Bluetooth-enabled device, allowing you to play all of your music wirelessly from your device.
A USB port allows you to connect your music devices to your computer through USB. It will allow you to listen to your favorite music while charging your device for an indefinite amount of listening time.
XM Radio: XM radio, often known as SiriusXM, is a satellite radio service that allows you to connect to and listen to thousands of radio stations via a satellite link. This enhances the amount of radio coverage you have, but it requires a paid subscription.
Integration with Smartphones
All of the best-reviewed head units will fully interface with your smartphone, allowing you to use the best services like Pandora and Spotify while also answering phone calls hands-free. With new laws making it illegal to use your phone while driving, it’s become more necessary than ever for the best car stereos to properly integrate with your smartphone. They will also include noise-filtering microphones that will focus on your voice while canceling out background sounds.
The ability to add external components to your car stereo is known as expandability. At least three 4volt RCA outputs (Front, Rear, Subwoofer), Audio/Video (AV) input/outputs, rearview camera inputs (with compatible displays), and microphone input are included in the top car stereos.
Installing a Car Stereo
The difficulty of installing or changing a head unit varies. Depending on the sort of automobile you have and the complexity of the system, replacing a head unit could take anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 or 5 hours. There are several factors that can influence how difficult and time-consuming an activity is:
Dash and trim components — In our experience, German automobiles are the most difficult to work on. Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen. The components of the dash and trim are extremely stubborn and difficult to remove.=
Wiring – Wiring varies from vehicle to vehicle. This is highly dependent on the car’s number of features. For example, on GM vehicles, OnStar, or simply an OEM amplified stereo. These are the things you should know before wiring your automobile and ordering appropriate harnesses (we’ll go over this in greater depth later).
Installing the new head unit — This is extremely difficult if you do it yourself. In most cases, though, you’ll find adaptable ‘Dash Kits’ from companies like Metra and Scosche that will make mounting and installing the audio much easier.
In the end, some vehicles are better candidates for a Car Stereo upgrade than others. If you want to install one of these head units yourself, check out our How to Install a Car Stereo tutorial for a step-by-step approach.