There is no better time to consider getting a car stereo than now. The world had come a long way since 1930 when the first car stereo only had AM radio.
Today, the best car stereos offer so much more than music, providing performance upgrades over your stock equipment.
Features like USB, AUX, Bluetooth connectivity, CarPlay, and Android Auto come standard with current technology, providing you with an immersive experience anywhere you go.
Do you want to feel the deep bass as you jam out to your favorite song? Or maybe you prefer the depth of sound when listening to the beautifully layered tracks of the song that gets you through your day.
No matter what your preference is, there’s a car stereo that caters to your style. From compact to smartphone adaptable, you may find more than what you’re looking for in the best car stereos we’ve chosen.
That said, the best car stereo is at best subjective and will depend on your needs.
The Best Car Stereos in 2022
This article takes a deep dive into all things car stereos, keeping in mind the modern features that consumers want in such hardware.
1. BOSS Audio Systems BV9976B – Best Overall
We picked the BOSS BV9976B as our best value car stereo because it’s fully loaded with many features. You’d expect this car stereo to have all the features at its price, and it doesn’t disappoint.
We aren’t going to talk about the Bluetooth and media playback that allows you to play a variety of media formats. Instead, we will look at the subtle features like the color scheme, which is easily customizable to any color you want.
Additionally, this stereo receiver has RDS, which means it will tell you the radio station’s name, including the song playing.
The stereo sound quality is pristine and clean, there’s a massive improvement on your stock head unit, and you can stream your music directly from your smartphone through Bluetooth.
One standout feature with the BOSS Audio system is the seamless connectivity. Everything works without hiccups, whether playing media content through a USB drive or streaming podcasts via Pandora.
The head unit is easy for a homemaker to install, and the head unit fits almost any vehicle type, whether large or small. The 7″ foldable display is sleek, with crystal clear pictures and a capacitive touchscreen.
This unit is expandable, allowing you to hook up a subwoofer or game console. That said, the BOSS BV9976B does have niggling issues. Firstly, the head unit is slightly on the heavy side.
The stereo receiver also tends to skip when you watch a TV series, and you can’t save your USB device shuffle settings. But these minor drawbacks don’t devalue what’s 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.
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.
While it’s easy to customize the colors, the customization scheme is limited, with only five choices. However, this unit features the AppRadioLive App that gives you free GPS services via your phone.
Moreover, this double DIN car stereo is easy to install, and while it doesn’t come with Android Auto, you can easily pair it with Bluetooth to enjoy your smartphone playlist. It’s also backup camera compatible, making it easy to reverse or watch vehicles behind you.
You’ll love how easy it to set up this unit, and you can play music or other media content through Bluetooth. The CD/DVD Player comes with bells and whistles, and you can enjoy almost any type of music format on this car stereo.
You can increase the capabilities of this equipment by buying a separate backup camera, but that’s not a necessity. The deck is compatible with third-party streaming services providing you with the ultimate in-car entertainment experience.
If you’re an iPhone user, you can connect it with a lightning cable, get the Pioneer app and enjoy basic navigation.
However, there are a few minor issues. For instance, Mirror mode can be grainy for navigation even though it will still get you to your destination. Sometimes, the head unit displays dims when you switch on the headlights, though we suspect this to be a settings issue.
3. Kenwood Excelon DMX706S – Best for Smartphone Compatibility
You’d be searching for a needle in a haystack to find another car stereo that edges the Kenwood Excelon for value. Apple Carplay is just the tip of the iceberg, with the ability to listen to music, get directions via Apple Maps, and other Siri-enabled features.
However, you’d need to have iOS 12.0 or higher to enjoy Carplay. In the same vein, Android users can get the best out of their smartphone features using Android Auto.
Kenwood Excelon supports Google Maps and Waze, and your Android device needs to run on PIE or higher to enjoy this feature.
The head unit can connect five Bluetooth devices simultaneously, allowing you and your loved ones to take turns streaming media content. That said, there are some issues we didn’t like.
The GUI doesn’t have any wow factor and looks cheap. Also, we’d have preferred a capacitive rather than the resistive display on this head unit. Wiring colors are pretty standard, making it easy to install the DMX706S without any trouble.
Despite its apparent flaws, this car stereo will breathe new life into your vehicle’s entertainment system. Another thing worth mentioning is the niggling issues with Android Auto and Spotify. Both apps seem to have connectivity issues on this head unit.
However, since this is more on AA’s side, we expect a few firmware updates to fix this issue. The sound quality is what you’d expect from an Excelon unit, and the short compact body makes it suitable for vehicles with little dash space.
The Kenwood DMX706S can do with an additional USB port so you can enjoy Carplay or Android Auto without disconnecting your USB drive. But this deck is almost flawless, and the anti-glare screen is still one of the best on the market.
4. JVC KD-X360BTS – Best Mechless Receiver
This mechless receiver has all the features to keep you busy on a long trip. Let’s talk about the connectivity; Bluetooth allows seamless pairing with iOS and Android devices, including XM radio capabilities.
The connectivity is exceptionally strong, allowing you to walk up to 45feet before losing signal strength.
Amongst other car stereos, the JVC is a specialist in picking up AM channels competitors cannot dream to find. And while it doesn’t have a CD Player, it’s still an excellent purchase for anyone who wants the full package on a budget.
Moreover, it has a 13-band EQ for audiophiles who prefer to customize the sound output. You’ll also be amazed by the Advanced Audio Distribution that maintains audio fidelity even when streamed from an external device.
The head unit is compact and lightweight, occupying minimal space in your car. You can also expand this JVC stereo with a subwoofer or amplifier to elevate the audio quality.
However, the buttons look overly cheap and don’t look likely to survive extended abuse. Another minor annoyance is that you’d need to purchase screws because it doesn’t ship with the head unit.
Whenever you switch between audio sources, you’ll be confronted with Spotify, iHeartRadio, and Pandora, making the JVC unit tedious to use. On the flip side, you can match the radio colors to your vehicle, and even with the drawbacks, it’s still a fantastic product for the price.
5. Kenwood KMM-BT325 + ALPHA – Best Compact Stereo
The single DIN unit has 50 watts peak power and 22 watts RMS, which delivers clear audio at maximum levels without distortion. The digital receiver gives you access to third-party apps like Spotify and Pandora, and you can switch up your entertainment by listening to satellite radio.
An amazing feature is the ability to turn your smartphone into a wireless remote for this head unit. Kenwood has gotten rid of the CD Player on this product mainly because only a fraction of users play CDs. The result is a well-decked stereo that’s only 3″ in-depth!
As a result, you get more room to play with, especially if your space is premium. The car stereo also has slow-changing lights that enhance the ambiance of your vehicle.
The ability to turn off the display is one feature that should come standard with all car stereos, and luckily, it’s a feature you’d find on this unit.
If you like to fiddle with the customization, get this unit. It’s easy to change the display color options, and you can spend a good while playing with the sound options and button color coordination.
Bluetooth is another feature that deserves high praise. You get to see who’s calling, including voice dialing and intuitive hands-free commands. The remote needs improvement to elevate this head unit to an all-time great.
Unlike other head units on this list, this Kenwood player requires you to point the remote directly at the stereo to get any kind of response. Installations aren’t as easy as most, and you’d need a harness to fix up all the connections.
6. Alpine UTE-73BT – Best Audio
Car stereo brands know most people don’t listen to CDs, and the UTE-73BT is an excellent upgrade for users who prefer streaming or playing media content from their smartphone devices.
This digital media receiver weighs 3lbs and is one of the more straightforward car stereos to install. Of course, the head unit supports third-party streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, allowing you to enjoy your playlist in transit.
Another option is to play your music through USB, and the receiver is compatible with various audio formats, including FLAC, WMA, and MP3. The truth is, Alpine makes some of the best-sounding stereo systems, and the UTE-73BT is cut from the same cloth.
The lighting is one of the coolest features of this head unit and looks spectacular in low-light settings. Most people look down on single DIN receivers, but this car stereo is not to be scoffed at.
The Bluetooth connectivity is as strong as premium double DIN on the market. It’s way more affordable, offering many features you’d see on other more expensive units for less than a fraction of the price.
The car stereo is suitable for people who spend a lot of time behind the wheel and need to make that time enjoyable.
Moreover, the unit is lightweight and a breeze to install, and you can use Siri to make phone calls or reply to text messages. The Quick Bass Boost button is another interesting feature to inject your music with bass on demand.
Perhaps, one drawback is the 3-band EQ when many of the competitors have 5 to 7 bands as standard. The screen is also smallish and can be hard to make out in low light conditions. You may also prefer to use the AUX cord to Bluetooth as it’s notoriously difficult to pair.
7. Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS – Best for HD Radio
This car stereo doesn’t grab attention with its flat design. However, the Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS is quick to burst into life with a dashing illuminating display that lights up your entire vehicle interior.
You can play with the display colors and customize the text on the screen. The car stereo also has adjustable brightness you can tweak depending on the lighting conditions.
The USB port accepts flash drives, allowing you to play different music formats like AAC, WAV, MP3, and WMA. If music isn’t your thing, consider using the AUX to expand the capabilities of this stereo and listen to satellite radio or stream music via Bluetooth.
This Pioneer car stereo comes with MIXTRAX, a feature that transforms your music library into a never-ending Playlist with club-like lighting and transitions.
You’ll appreciate the seamless connection with Spotify, Alexa, and Pandora, which you can enjoy with Android Auto or Apple Carplay. The HD Radio tuner is a game-changer that allows you to enjoy vastly improved AM/FM radio and doesn’t require a subscription-like satellite radio.
Pioneer is a renowned brand, and the brand’s MOSFET amplifiers continue to remain the benchmark for exceptional audio quality. The 13-band EQ is more than enough to satisfy an audiophile, and you can upgrade the entire unit by adding a preamp or powered subwoofer.
It’s not the lightest at 3.19lbs, but it’s still more lightweight than many competitors. The unit may have a dim display initially, but it’s a simple matter of adjusting the brightness and not what you’d consider an issue.
A recurring problem with car stereos, in general, is the difficulty syncing with Android Auto, and this is true for the DEH-X8800BHS, as well. Another issue is the Bluetooth call-answering feature.
Ironically, the button to reject a call is still the same one to answer it. Although the software needs major upgrades, it’s still a decent head unit with an unbeatable price.
8. BOSS Audio Systems 508UAB – Most Affordable
BOSS is known globally for making the most affordable car stereos, and the 508UAB might be the most affordable yet. It has the basics like Bluetooth and hands-free calls while retaining the CD player for users who enjoy compact discs.
Further still, the head unit supports streaming services like Pandora and Spotify giving you a seamless way to enjoy your music. You can also connect the AUX/IN to an mp3 player or smartphone if that’s the option you prefer.
While you can install this head unit yourself, BOSS recommends hiring a professional – and if you don’t, you can’t access their extended warranty. This product is one head unit with a few drawbacks for all its goodness – to start with the radio makes a significant amount of static noise.
It also doesn’t help that you need to push a button to look at the time every time. Single Din car stereos are meant to have a standard fit, but the 508UAB doesn’t fit some vehicles.
The equipment is also prone to sudden failure, and it feels like there’s a drop in quality to ensure the incredibly affordable price. On the bright side, the head unit is hard to ignore for the price, and the tuner is extremely efficient at picking up radio stations.
9. BOSS Audio Systems 820BRGB – Best Customization
The BOSS 820BRGB is arguably the cheapest car stereo system you can find on the market, and it still manages to punch above its weight. Like its predecessors, you can make hands-free calls courtesy of Bluetooth.
Unlike the competition, this car stereo’s Bluetooth connects easily. You can install this head unit in less than 20 minutes if you know your tools. You might still need to buy a wiring harness and a dash kit if you want a flawless dash fit.
Unfortunately, the price is so low that it scares buyers who think it’s a junk product, but the sound quality is over and beyond the cost of this head unit. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to learn the controls, and the navigation is a breeze.
The AUX-in allows you to expand your entertainment offerings, but you’ll need to buy an antenna if you enjoy listening to AM/FM radio. BOSS 820BRGB is significantly more affordable than the competition. So, you’d expect it to be lacking in some features.
The most noticeable absence is the lack of Android Auto and Apple’s Carplay. However, this isn’t a drawback if you have this info beforehand. The controls also look and feel cheap because, let’s face it, it’s lacking in quality.
Moreover, the volume knob looks like something you’d find on an inexpensive plastic toy. The USB can’t handle thumb drives 64GB or higher, and you won’t find a preamp output if you’d need to hook up a subwoofer.
Overall, get this car stereo if you aren’t willing to spend a lot of money for a head unit.
10. Pioneer DEH-S1100UB + ALPHA – Best Single DIN
Single DIN car stereos may be going out of fashion. Still, this Pioneer DEH-S1100UB + ALPHA head unit has continued to buck the trend with many features that can elevate your in-car entertainment system to the next level.
The DEH-S1100UB is one single-DIN unit that has a CD playback function. You also have AUX input to play your music via an mp3 player even though there isn’t USB support.
In addition to smartphone compatibility, the RDS tuner will give you a fuller, richer bass that is further enhanced when you hook this machine with a subwoofer or amplifier.
The 50-watt peak output provides decent power and crystal clear audio at high volumes. It’s worth mentioning that the Pioneer DEH-S1100UB comes with a faceplate you can detach, which works well against theft.
The installation is straightforward, and you don’t need prior experience installing a similar unit. One factor going for this car stereo is how all the functions work.
Settings are easy to navigate, and the source button simply switches you between the Auxillary and Tuner. Unlike others on this list, you can revert to the old school and play your CDs without hiccups.
There have been complaints about the dark display, but this car receiver brightens up fine. You can also adjust the equalizer and sound, and you’d be amazed at the audio quality if you could get decent speakers. In sum, this is a great car stereo you can purchase at a reasonable price.
Before You Buy: The Buyer’s Guide to Choosing Best Car Stereo Unit
If you decide to pick the best car stereo for your vehicle, consider that some head units might not be the perfect fit for your car.
Some products may not fit your vehicle dash, while others may be optimized for a specific smartphone Operating System. As a result, consider the factors below when searching for the best car stereo.
Types of Car Stereo
There are four main types of car stereo to consider: CD receivers, digital media receivers, DVD receivers, and navigation receivers. When considering a new car stereo, it’s important to hone in on what’s right for you and your vehicle: CDs are increasingly obsolete while many people now look to their stereo for Sat Nav – rather than their phone (or passenger!).
Let’s take a closer look.
CD receivers are the classic car stereo (tape decks went from classic to ancient some years ago!) but nowadays we’re increasingly shifting to digital media. But if you’re still living a CD-centric life, then look out for this type of car stereo. Mose contemporary CD receivers will include AUX and USB input, and a radio tuner remains standard.
Digital Media Receivers
If you’ve gone digital with your music collection, then a digital media receiver will do the job. You can connect your smartphone with AUX, USB, or Bluetooth. An upshot of opting for a digital media receiver is that screenless receivers can fit into any dash – including classic cars that need a 21st-century stereo.
DVD receivers play DVDs as well as CDs (and usually have inputs for digital media too). Because they feature a screen of significant size for your viewing pleasure, they are often packed with handy features including touchscreen adjustment and integrated smartphone use with Android Auto head units. Check out our top picks in this category right here.
If you use your car stereo to get from point A to B as well as to keep you entertained along the way, then a navigation receiver will be an ideal upgrade. With built-in GPS and a sizeable display, you never have to worry about planning your route with your smartphone again. Navigation receivers will always have some digital inputs for playing music through a smartphone – think AUX and USB – as well as a radio tuner and you might find integrated CD and DVD receivers too.
Sources For Your Music
Nowadays we’re spoiled for choice with streaming services and satellite radio. The number one reason for upgrading your car stereo is to tap into these resources, so think about what sources you need access to. These can include:
- CDs: don’t throw out your collection yet!
- Bluetooth: gives you wireless connectivity from a digital device.
- AUX input: this can be handy if you want your passenger to choose the music without connecting to your vehicle wirelessly.
- USB inputs: lets you access your digital files from a thumb drive without a smartphone.
- Streaming services such as Pandora or Spotify: do you want a dedicated app on your head unit or are you happy connecting through your smartphone?
- Satellite radio: SiriusXM radio has made a big splash and this in-car service gives you access to hundreds of tuneful channels.
- AM, FM, and HD radio: if you still like tuning in, then make sure your unit has a radio tuner. A lower FM sensitivity will give you a better connection and access to more channels across the FM frequency: 8 to 12 dBf is an ideal sensitivity.
Sound Quality and Adjustability
Despite an increasing number of fancy features, a car stereo is all about sound. So it should sound great! That means you’ll want to check that it’s appropriately powered so you can turn up the tunes.
While most stereos advertise peak power (around 50 watts is considered good), RMS power is just as important: this is the amount of power the stereo can sustain continually. 8 – 10 watts RMS is standard, but top-end models can offer up to 22 watts.
Second to power is adjustability: a wider range of EQ bands lets you fine-tune your sound. 5 to 7 bands of EQ are standard, but 13 bands are available on premium units and will give you sound curated to your tastes.
Single DIN or Double DIN
Familiarize yourself with this word because you’re sure to come across it when buying the best car stereo.
Stereos, in general, come in two sizes—single or Double DIN. A single DIN is 2″ in width, and you can find these car stereotypes in older vehicles from the 90s right up to early 2000s.
A double DIN is 4″, twice the size of the former, and offers more room for features. Most touchscreen car stereos are double DIN, but you can find a few models in single DIN format.
The best car stereo should enhance your factory equipment, not clash with them. It’s now commonplace to find car stereos with steering inputs, so if you want to adjust your settings on the wheel, find a head unit with such features.
The same goes for other after-market modifications you’d like on your vehicle. If you want to install a subwoofer on your car, get a car stereo with built-in preamp outputs, or you’d have difficulty installing the equipment on your vehicle.
You can also opt for a unit that doesn’t have a CD Player if you have no use for a CD Player and prefer third-party streaming services.
Installation can be straightforward or a fairly complicated affair, depending on the type of car stereo.
Some brands might recommend hiring professional installers, so you don’t void the warranty. You can also check our dedicated guide and DIY videos on YouTube to help with the car stereo installation.
But on a basic level, Bluetooth also offers similar functionality albeit with lesser features. Your car stereo manufacturer might require you to download an app to sync your smartphone with the car stereo.
Many single DIN car stereos don’t offer screen display, and those that do either have a capacitive or resistive touch screen. Whatever you decide, make sure it’s suitable for your vehicle.
As with any in-car accessory if you get carried away with extra features the costs start racking up. If you’re looking for WiFi, touch screen integration, and an HD screen, you may end up racing to the bank. Fortunately, there are new high-tech car stereos available for any budget: we’ve broken down the most affordable options here. You’ll find options for well under $100 if you’re looking for a simple digital media receiver.
Technology has come a long way since the 1930s. There are many advanced car stereos in the market offering quality that can make you feel like you’re at a live show. There’s nothing like cruising down the street and jamming out to your favorite song with a high-quality car stereo.
To make sure your purchase is checking all your boxes, it’s essential to understand what you need in a vehicle and car stereo in today’s world. You want something that will enhance the equipment you have, provide the features you’re looking for, and offer a straightforward installation process.
Car stereos like the BOSS BV9976B provide high quality and an array of features. The Bluetooth connectivity offers a hands-free experience, while the head unit is a quick and easy installation process. Customize the color scheme to suit your mood, and put on the song that reflects it!
If you’re looking for something more affordable, compact, or satellite radio, review some of the other best car stereos on our list. With so many top-notch car stereos to choose from, you’re sure to find the one that suits your needs.
The head units on this list are sure to add value to your vehicle while providing you with premium entertainment, so if you’re on the market for a new car stereo give one a try!