Are you in need of an upgrade for your car’s sound system? Now is the perfect time to consider purchasing a new car stereo. With advancements in technology, car stereos today offer much more than just AM radio like they did in 1930.
Modern car stereos come equipped with features such as USB, AUX, Bluetooth connectivity, CarPlay, and Android Auto, providing an immersive audio experience on the go. Whether you’re looking for deep bass for your favorite songs or a high-quality sound for layered tracks, there’s a car stereo to suit your preferences.
We’ve compiled a list of the best car stereos on the market, ranging from compact options to smartphone-compatible models. Keep in mind, the best car stereo is subjective and will depend on your specific needs.
This article provides an in-depth look at car stereos, with a focus on the modern features that consumers want in their car’s sound system.
The Best Car Stereos in 2023
1. BOSS Audio Systems BV9976B – Best Overall
The BOSS Audio BV9976B car stereo is our pick for the best value due to its plethora of features. It offers everything you’d expect at its price point, including Bluetooth and media playback for a variety of formats.
|Brand||BOSS Audio Systems|
|Resolution||800 x 480|
|Total Power Output||340 Watts (85 Watts x 4 Ch)|
|Diemensions||7.5 x 7 x 2 inches|
One unique feature is the customizable color scheme. Additionally, the BOSS Audio BV9976B has RDS, which displays the radio station and song currently playing. The sound quality is also exceptional, a marked improvement from a stock head unit. You can also stream music directly from your smartphone via Bluetooth.
The BOSS Audio BV9976B boasts seamless connectivity, making it easy to play media content from a USB drive or stream podcasts through Pandora. Installation is simple, and the head unit fits in most vehicles. The 7″ foldable display is sleek and has a capacitive touchscreen.
This BOSS Audio BV9976B is expandable, allowing you to connect a subwoofer or game console. However, it’s slightly heavy and may skip when watching a TV series. Additionally, the USB device shuffle settings can’t be saved. Despite these minor drawbacks, the BOSS Audio BV9976B is an exceptional head unit.
2. Pioneer AVH-X390BS – Best Satellite Radio
We love satellite radios that enable us to listen to our favorite stations no matter where we might be. You won’t find many car stereos that are SiriusXM-ready like the Pioneer AVH-X390BS.
|Peak Power||50 watts|
|RMS Power||14 watts|
|Diemensions||11 x 9.5 x 6 inches|
The Pioneer AVH-X390BS double DIN car stereo offers easy customization with five color choices.
It also features the AppRadioLive App, which provides free GPS services through your phone. Installation is simple and it can easily be paired with Bluetooth for access to your smartphone playlist. Additionally, it is compatible with backup cameras for added convenience while reversing or watching vehicles behind you.
The CD/DVD player of Pioneer AVH-X390BS is equipped with various features and can play various music formats. You can enhance its capabilities by purchasing a separate backup camera, but it is not a requirement. The deck is also compatible with third-party streaming services, providing an ultimate in-car entertainment experience.
iPhone users can connect using a lightning cable and the Pioneer app for basic navigation. However, there are some minor issues, such as grainy Mirror mode navigation and a dimming head unit display when the headlights are turned on. These issues may be resolved through settings adjustments.
3. Kenwood Excelon DMX706S – Best for Smartphone Compatibility
The Kenwood Excelon DMX706S is a great value for car stereo systems. It offers Apple Carplay, allowing you to listen to music and get directions through Apple Maps. Additionally, it has various Siri-enabled features.
|Diemensions||13 x 10 x 8 inches|
To enjoy Carplay on the Kenwood Excelon DMX706S head unit, you’ll need an iOS version of 12.0 or higher. Android users can also take advantage of their smartphone features with Android Auto. This head unit supports Google Maps and Waze, but your Android device must run on PIE or higher to access this feature.
The Kenwood Excelon DMX706S allows for simultaneous connection of up to five Bluetooth devices, making it easy for multiple users to stream media content. However, we did have some issues with the design. The GUI is lacking in visual appeal and looks cheap. Additionally, we would have preferred a capacitive display instead of the resistive one on the unit. Installation is made easy with standard wiring colors.
Despite these drawbacks, the Kenwood Excelon DMX706S can greatly enhance your car’s entertainment system. We did encounter some connectivity issues with Android Auto and Spotify, but we expect these to be resolved with future firmware updates. The sound quality is up to par with other Excelon units and the compact design is suitable for vehicles with limited dash space.
An additional USB port would be a useful addition for the Kenwood Excelon DMX706S, allowing for Carplay or Android Auto use without disconnecting a USB drive. However, overall, this deck is almost flawless, and the anti-glare screen is among the best on the market.
4. JVC KD-X360BTS – Best Mechless Receiver
The JVC KD-X360BTS mechless receiver offers a variety of features to keep you entertained during long trips. One of its key features is Bluetooth connectivity, which allows for easy pairing with both iOS and Android devices. Additionally, the receiver also offers XM radio capabilities.
|Connectivity||RCA, Bluetooth, Auxiliary, USB|
|Peak Power||50 watts|
|RMS Power||22 watts|
|Diemensions||9 x 4 x 7.5 inches|
The JVC KD-X360BTS boasts exceptional connectivity with a signal strength that can reach up to 45 feet. It excels in picking up AM channels that competitors struggle to find. While it doesn’t have a CD player, it still offers a great value for those looking for a budget-friendly, all-in-one package.
The JVC KD-X360BTS also has a 13-band EQ for customizing sound output and advanced audio distribution for maintaining audio fidelity when streaming from external devices. The head unit is compact and lightweight, taking up minimal space in your car. You can also enhance the audio quality with the addition of a subwoofer or amplifier.
However, the buttons have a cheap appearance and may not hold up well to extended use. The unit also doesn’t come with screws for installation. Additionally, switching between audio sources can be tedious as Spotify, iHeartRadio, and Pandora are constantly present. Despite these drawbacks, the JVC KD-X360BTS is still an excellent product for the price, especially with the option to match the radio colors to your vehicle.
5. Kenwood KMM-BT325 + ALPHA – Best Compact Stereo
The Kenwood KMM-BT325 + ALPHA digital receiver offers a peak power of 50 watts and an RMS of 22 watts, ensuring clear audio without distortion at maximum levels. Additionally, it grants access to popular third-party apps such as Spotify and Pandora, and allows for satellite radio listening options.
|Connectivity||Bluetooth, Auxiliary, USB|
|Peak Power||50 watts|
|RMS Power||22 watts|
|Diemensions||11 x 10 x 4.5 inches|
The Kenwood KMM-BT325 + ALPHA head unit offers a unique feature, turning your smartphone into a wireless remote. Kenwood has removed the CD player to save space, resulting in a 3″ deep stereo with more room for customization. The slow-changing lights add to the ambiance in your vehicle and the ability to turn off the display is a standard feature.
Customization options are plentiful with the Kenwood KMM-BT325 + ALPHA, allowing for easy changes to the display color and sound options. Bluetooth functionality is also impressive, with the ability to see who’s calling and use hands-free commands. However, the remote could use improvement.
Installation isn’t as straightforward as other head units and a harness is required for connections. Additionally, the remote must be pointed directly at the stereo for a response. Overall, the Kenwood KMM-BT325 + ALPHA offers a unique and customizable car stereo experience with impressive Bluetooth functionality.
6. Alpine UTE-73BT – Best Audio
Car stereo brands understand that the majority of people no longer listen to CDs. The Alpine UTE-73BT is a great option for those who prefer to stream or play media content from their smartphones.
|Output Wattage||72 Watts|
The Alpine UTE-73BT digital media receiver is a lightweight and easy-to-install car stereo that offers a range of features for music lovers. It supports third-party streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, as well as USB compatibility with audio formats like FLAC, WMA, and MP3. Known for producing high-quality sound systems, the Alpine UTE-73BT is no exception.
One of the standout features of this head unit is its lighting, which looks impressive in low-light settings. Despite being a single DIN receiver, it offers Bluetooth connectivity as strong as premium double DIN options on the market. And at a more affordable price point.
The Alpine UTE-73BT is perfect for those who spend a lot of time on the road and want to make the most of it. With Siri integration, you can make phone calls or reply to text messages easily, and the Quick Bass Boost button allows you to inject your music with bass on demand.
However, there are a few drawbacks to consider. The 3-band EQ is less than many competitors’ standard 5 to 7 bands, and the screen can be hard to read in low light conditions. Additionally, some users may prefer to use an AUX cord instead of Bluetooth as it can be difficult to pair.
7. Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS – Best for HD Radio
The Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS car stereo may not stand out with its flat design, but it quickly comes to life with a vibrant illuminating display that illuminates your entire vehicle interior.
|Connectivity||RCA, Bluetooth, Auxiliary, USB|
|Detachable Face Security||Yes|
The Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS car stereo allows you to customize the display colors and text on the screen. Additionally, it has an adjustable brightness feature that can be adjusted to fit your lighting conditions. With a USB port, you can play various music formats such as AAC, WAV, MP3, and WMA. The stereo also has an AUX input for listening to satellite radio or streaming music via Bluetooth.
One of the standout features of the Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS is MIXTRAX, which transforms your music library into an endless playlist with club-like lighting and transitions. The stereo also seamlessly connects to Spotify, Alexa, and Pandora, which can be enjoyed with Android Auto or Apple Carplay. The built-in HD Radio tuner improves the AM/FM radio experience without the need for a subscription.
Pioneer is a reputable brand known for exceptional audio quality. The MOSFET amplifiers in this unit are a benchmark in the industry, and the 13-band EQ is more than sufficient for audiophiles. You can even upgrade the unit by adding a preamp or powered subwoofer.
The Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS is lightweight at 3.19lbs and is more lightweight than many competitors. The display may appear dim initially, but this can be easily adjusted. However, it may have difficulty syncing with Android Auto and the Bluetooth call-answering feature could use some improvement. Despite these minor issues, the Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS is still a decent head unit with an unbeatable price.
8. BOSS Audio Systems 508UAB – Most Affordable
BOSS is a globally recognized brand for producing affordable car stereos. The BOSS Audio 508UAB is one of their most budget-friendly options. It includes essential features such as Bluetooth connectivity and hands-free calling, while also maintaining a CD player for those who prefer compact discs.
|Brand||BOSS Audio Systems|
|Diemensions||7 x 7 x 2 inches|
The BOSS Audio 508UAB head unit offers streaming services like Pandora and Spotify for seamless music enjoyment. Alternatively, you can connect an mp3 player or smartphone via the AUX/IN. However, while installation is possible on your own, BOSS recommends hiring a professional for optimal performance and to access their extended warranty.
The unit does have a few drawbacks, such as static noise on the radio and the need to press a button to view the time. Additionally, the Single Din car stereo may not fit in all vehicles. Despite these issues, the BOSS Audio 508UAB offers an incredibly affordable price and an efficient tuner for picking up radio stations. However, it is prone to sudden failure and may not have the best quality.
9. BOSS Audio Systems 820BRGB – Best Customization
The BOSS 820BRGB is a budget-friendly car stereo system that offers great value for its price. Despite its low cost, it still packs a punch with its features. One notable feature is its Bluetooth capabilities, allowing for hands-free calls.
|Brand||BOSS Audio Systems|
|Diemensions||7 x 5.8 x 4.5 inches|
The BOSS Audio 820BRGB car stereo stands out from the competition with its easy Bluetooth connection. Installation is quick, taking less than 20 minutes with the right tools. However, for a flawless dash fit, you may need to purchase a wiring harness and dash kit. Despite its low price, the sound quality of this head unit is impressive. The controls are easy to learn and navigation is straightforward. The AUX-in feature allows for expanded entertainment options, but you will need to purchase an antenna for AM/FM radio.
One downside to the BOSS Audio 820BRGB is that it doesn’t have Android Auto or Apple’s Carplay. Additionally, the controls and volume knob may feel cheap in quality. The USB can only handle thumb drives up to 64GB and there is no preamp output for hooking up a subwoofer.
Overall, the BOSS Audio 820BRGB is a great option for those on a budget but may lack some features and quality compared to more expensive options.
10. Pioneer DEH-S1100UB + ALPHA – Best Single DIN
Single DIN car stereos may be losing popularity, but the Pioneer DEH-S1100UB + ALPHA head unit is an exception. It offers a variety of features that can enhance your in-car entertainment experience.
|Peak Power||50 watts|
|RMS Power||14 watts|
|Diemensions||7 x 2 x 6.5 inches|
The Pioneer DEH-S1100UB + ALPHA is a single-DIN unit that offers CD playback and an AUX input for playing music from an mp3 player. It also has smartphone compatibility and an RDS tuner for a fuller, richer bass when paired with a subwoofer or amplifier.
With a 50-watt peak output, it provides decent power and clear audio at high volumes. The detachable faceplate is a added feature that helps prevent theft.
Installation is easy and the functions are simple to navigate, including switching between the Auxillary and Tuner. However, there have been complaints about the dark display but the display can be adjusted.
With the right speakers, the audio quality is impressive, making the Pioneer DEH-S1100UB + ALPHA a great car stereo at a reasonable price.
Cruising in Style: A Guide to Choosing the Best Car Stereo Unit
When searching for the best car stereo for your vehicle, keep in mind that not all head units will be a perfect fit. Some may not fit your vehicle’s dash, while others may be optimized for a specific smartphone operating system. To ensure you make the best choice, consider the following factors:
Types of Car Stereo
The four main types car stereos are CD receivers, digital media receivers, DVD receivers, and navigation receivers. Each type has its own unique features and benefits. For example, CDs are becoming less popular as many people now rely on their stereo for satellite navigation instead of their phone or a passenger.
CD receivers are a classic option for car stereos. While many have transitioned to digital media, CD receivers remain a popular choice for those who still rely on CDs. When shopping for a CD receiver, look for features such as AUX and USB inputs and a standard radio tuner.
Digital Media Receivers
A digital media receiver is the perfect solution for those who have gone digital with their music collection. Connect your smartphone through AUX, USB, or Bluetooth and enjoy your music on the go. Additionally, screenless receivers can easily fit into any dash, making them a great option for classic cars that need a modern stereo upgrade.
In-Dash DVD Players
DVD receivers are a great choice for those who want to play DVDs and CDs, as well as have inputs for digital media. They come with a large screen for optimal viewing experience. These receivers also have convenient features such as touchscreen adjustment and integration with smartphones using Android Auto.
A navigation receiver is a great upgrade for your car stereo. It includes built-in GPS and a large display, making it easy to navigate without relying on your smartphone. These receivers also typically have digital inputs for playing music through your smartphone, such as AUX and USB, as well as a radio tuner. Some even come with integrated CD and DVD players.
The Soundtrack to Your Drive: Key Factors to Consider When Buying a Car Stereo
Unlock the perfect car stereo for you, by considering these key factors:
Compatibility: Making Sure Your Car Stereo Fits Your Vehicle
When buying a car stereo, it’s crucial to ensure it’s compatible with your car’s make and model to enhance the factory equipment instead of conflicting with it. Some car stereo systems may not fit properly or work correctly with certain car models, leading to issues with functionality and installation.
To ensure compatibility, check the dimensions of the stereo and compare them to the dimensions of your car’s dashboard. Also, ensure the stereo has the right connectors and wiring harnesses to match your car’s audio system.
Additionally, consider any other aftermarket modifications you plan to make to your vehicle. For example, if you want to install a subwoofer, look for a car stereo with built-in preamp outputs to make installation easier. Also, if you prefer third-party streaming services over CDs, consider a unit without a CD player. Many car stereos now feature steering input controls, so if you want the ability to adjust settings while on the road, look for a head unit that’s compatible with this feature.
Importance of Sound Quality and Audio Features
When it comes to car stereos, sound quality is key for an enjoyable listening experience. To ensure the best sound, look for a stereo with a high power output. A peak power rating of around 50 watts is considered good. Additionally, consider the RMS power, which is the amount of power the stereo can sustain continuously. Standard models typically have 8-10 watts RMS, while premium models can offer up to 22 watts.
Adjustability is also important when it comes to sound quality. Look for a stereo with a wide range of EQ bands that allow for fine-tuning of the audio. Standard models usually have 5-7 bands of EQ, but premium units can offer up to 13 bands, providing a more personalized audio experience.
Single DIN and Double DIN Car Stereos
When shopping for a car stereo, you may come across the terms “single DIN” or “double DIN.” These refer to the size of the stereo unit.
A single DIN is 2 inches wide and is commonly found in older vehicles from the 90s to early 2000s. A double DIN, on the other hand, is 4 inches wide and offers more space for additional features. Most touchscreen car stereos are double DIN, but some models may also be available in single DIN format.
Bluetooth connectivity is also crucial, as it allows you to stream music and make hands-free calls. Look for a stereo that supports the latest Bluetooth version (5.0 or higher) for better connectivity and sound quality. Additionally, opt for a stereo with a built-in microphone to enable easy and clear communication during calls.
USB and Auxiliary Inputs
Connecting external devices like smartphones, MP3 players, and USB drives to your car stereo is made easy with USB and auxiliary input options. The auxiliary input allows you to play music without the need for wireless connections, and USB inputs allow you to access your digital files from a drive without a smartphone.
Look for a stereo that has multiple USB and auxiliary inputs and support for different file formats such as MP3, WMA, and AAC. This way, you can enjoy your music from various sources and in different formats.
Compatibility with Smartphone Apps
Decide whether you want a dedicated app on your head unit or if you’re comfortable connecting through your smartphone. Smartphone apps can greatly enhance the functionality of a car stereo.
Look for a stereo that’s compatible with popular apps such as Spotify, Pandora, and Google Maps. Additionally, look for a stereo that supports Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which enables you to access your phone’s apps directly on the stereo’s screen.
Satellite Radio and AM/FM
Satellite radio and AM/FM offer a wide range of options, making it easy to find something you like. For example, satellite radio providers like SiriusXM offer hundreds of channels to choose from. If you prefer traditional radio stations, ensure the unit has a radio tuner. Additionally, a lower FM sensitivity will give you a better connection and access to more channels. An ideal sensitivity range is 8 to 12 dB.
Ease of Installation
Installation of a car stereo can vary in complexity. Some brands may recommend hiring professional installers to avoid voiding the warranty. For those who prefer to do it themselves, a dedicated guide and DIY videos on YouTube are available for guidance.
When shopping for car stereos, it’s easy to get caught up in all the extra features available. However, these added features can quickly drive up the cost. If you’re on a budget, don’t worry. There are now high-tech car stereos available at different price points. We’ve compiled a list of the most affordable options for you. You can even find options for under $100 if you’re looking for a basic digital media receiver.
Technology has advanced significantly since the 1930s, and the car stereo market is no exception. Today, there are many high-quality car stereos available that can make you feel like you’re at a live concert while driving. However, it’s important to understand your needs and preferences before making a purchase.
When looking for a car stereo, consider features such as Bluetooth connectivity, easy installation, and customization options. The BOSS BV9976B offers all of these features and more, making it a great choice for those looking for a high-quality car stereo.
If you’re on a budget or looking for other features, there are many other options available. Review our list of the best car stereos to find the perfect one for you. No matter which one you choose, these head units will add value to your vehicle and provide premium entertainment.