Best Car Stereos & Head Units – Our Top Picks for 2024

Why Trust Our Opinion on Car Stereos?

CarAudioNow is an awarded automotive blog, built by car enthusiasts over a decade ago. Led by our editor, Kameron, with a handpicked team of skilled writers, we’ve rolled up our sleeves to personally install and test a diverse array of car stereos – in cars and on our test bench. We’re not just acquainted with car stereos; we know how they should sound, perform, and which features they need to have to offer value for your hard-earned money. Whether they’re purchased by us or provided by manufacturers – our recommendations are a blend of real-world experiences and extensive research that guides our recommendations.

Also, no AI-generated lists or content here. CarAudioNow is committed to crafting unique meaningful lists with accurate and practical insights to help you make informed decisions. We don’t simply regurgitate information and declare a few car stereos as “the best.” Our focus is on delivering genuine, unbiased content, driven by our passion for the products we endorse. Reader trust and our reputation take precedence over quick gains or Google rankings too – though those are certainly appreciated! Read more about how we choose our top lists here.

In this article: We'll review our top pick car stereos (head units) of all types and across a variety of feature categories including Apple CarPlay, Video & DVD, iDatalink, Single DIN and more.

At CarAudioNow, we firmly believe in the idea that the definition of the “best car stereo” or “best head unit” depends on its intended use, personal preference and the vehicle it's installed in. There are definitely some common features that most buyers want in a head unit, such as Bluetooth, Aux, USB (among others), but it's a challenge to claim that one single car stereo is the ultimate choice for all scenarios and people. Some units excel in connectivity with features like multi-device Bluetooth, while others shine in multimedia and video playback. Some are tailored for Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while others prioritize audio quality, tuning, and configuration. In essence, the answer to “what is the best car stereo” is a resounding “it depends!”

Knowing that people are looking for specific features in a head unit, we aim to present our recommendations based on the most commonly sought after features on the market today. We make it our responsibility to stay updated with the latest developments in car stereo technology, and our objective here is to reflect these trends in our curated list.

In this compilation of car head units, we've compiled our top picks across a range of categories. The fact is, we have dedicated lists for each of these categories (which we've conveniently linked below). However, recognizing that different individuals have unique needs based on their vehicles, preferences, and limitations, this list serves as a valuable starting point for anyone looking to:

  1. Identify the car stereo category that suits their specific needs.
  2. Determine which head unit within that category represents the cream of the crop.

So, whether you're in search of cutting-edge connectivity, multimedia prowess, or audiophile-grade sound, our categorized list will help you find the perfect car stereo to meet your demands. If you want to learn more about head units, their core features and what we typically look for in a head unit during our own testing, check out our comprehensive guide to car stereos and head units as well to familiarize yourself!

Here Are Our Recommended Car Stereos of 2024

What Size Is My Dash?

First things first – if you haven’t already answered this question, you definitely need to check your vehicle before purchasing a car stereo. In general, there are two common types of head units on the market that fit the overwhelming majority of vehicle dashboards: Single-DIN and Double-DIN. Double-DIN openings are the larger of the two and measure about four inches tall. If your car has a double-DIN opening you can typically fit both single-DIN and double-DIN units. You'll just need to purchase the correct dash kit. If it's a 1DIN car stereo, you'll only be able to fit a 1DIN receiver, but that doesn’t mean you are limited to a small faceplate. Many manufacturers make single-DIN stereos with floating touchscreens, including some of the largest screens on the market. To find out exactly what size dash your car has, check out our interactive list of vehicles in our Dashboard Size: Find Your Vehicle!

Best Wireless Apple CarPlay & Android Auto Car Stereo

>>> See our full list of Wireless Apple CarPlay & Android Auto Car Stereos <<<

Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto head units have been the recent ‘game-changer' in the automotive infotainment world. Seamless connectivity between your smartphone and your car's infotainment system goes further than you'd think – it merges many of the features that you've come to know and love on your phone directly onto your head unit while you're driving. The tech has rapidly become mainstream, delivering a hassle-free driving experience. A couple years ago, CarPlay and Android Auto was a wired-only solution. Not anymore! Imagine no more tangled cables and instant access to your favorite apps and services on the road. We consider Wireless CarPlay and Android Auto a mainstream feature now, and almost a requirement for any ‘top rated' head unit for your car. If you're unfamiliar with this new tech, consider taking a look at our article describing why you need Apple CarPlay and everything you need to know about Android Auto. Let's dive into our favorite head unit for wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto right now:

Main image of the Sony XAV-9500ES for product review article
Sony XAV-9500ES front
Sony XAV-9500ES angle
Sony XAV-9500ES in dash
Aftermarket Sony Head Unit installed in dash
Sony XAV-9500ES side view
Sony XAV-9500ES rear view of the head unit

Sony XAV-9500ES Video Review

Join us for an exclusive unbox and first look at the Sony XAV-9500ES head unit in our latest video. We'll walk through the key features that make this head unit a great choice.

Why We Picked It

We chose Sony's XAV-9500ES as our best wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto car stereo for many reasons. It's part of Sony's latest lineup of high-end car stereo products – the Mobile ES. Shortly after the announcement and release of their Mobile ES speakers, they introduced the 9500ES head unit.

The 9500ES features a 10.1″ capacitive, antiglare touchscreen that feels almost like you're touching your smartphone's screen. It's a high-resolution audio head unit, meaning it supports the very high bitrate, hi-res sound tracks. Combine that with its wireless CarPlay and Android Auto and you really do feel like it's an extension of your phone. Although the screen is 10.1″, it will fit into any single din opening which makes it an excellent option for almost any dash. Sony knew that not all dashes are similar in shape, depth and configuration so they added a four-way mounting mechanism that allows you to shift the screen to the exact position you want with the precise tilt you need to see the screen.

We tested and reviewed the XAV-9500ES in our test bench and loved some of the unique audio tuning capabilities like the advanced crossover control, 14-band graphic EQ, and notably the parametric EQ. It's really designed for audio control so that you can get the exact sound you want out of a high-performance stereo. It also features multiple camera inputs if you want to add side or front cameras in addition to a rear view camera. Be sure to check out our full review and demo of the XAV-9500ES for the full unbox and review.

Head Unit Details
Head Unit SizeSingle DIN
Screen Size10.1″
Screen TypeCapacitive HD anti-glare
Screen Resolution1280 x 720
Smartphone IntegrationWireless Apple CarPlay / Android Auto (no wired)
InputsRear USB type-c port, rear view camera & 2 additional camera inputs
Outputs6-ch preamp outputs (4v front, rear, sub)
Power Output20W RMS x 4ch
iDataLink MaestroYes
Reasons to Buy
  • High resolution, antiglare 10.1″ screen
  • Fits in single din dashes
  • Multiple camera inputs
  • Advanced audio tuning capabilities
  • Great looking design
Reasons Not to Buy
  • High price point
  • Doesn't have video or multimedia capabilities
  • Some people don't like the look of the large clock on the homescreen background

Best Head Unit for Playing Video

>>> See our full list of Video Playing Head Units <<<

When it comes to in-car entertainment, video playback head units have taken center stage. Now that internet and streaming video can be accessed virtually anywhere from your mobile device, seamless connectivity with your tablet or phone via inputs like A/V and HDMI can really elevate your drive, particularly for passengers. Also known as multimedia head units, video-playing car stereos are designed to deliver a visual treat on the road, allowing you to enjoy movies, music videos, and much more without having to mount or prop your phone up on the dash. If you're looking for a simple way to bring your favorite streaming shows, Firestick, or even game consoles on the road for your and your friends and family, a multimedia head unit is our recommendation for how to make that happen.

Why We Picked It

The AVH-W4500NEX is our top pick multimedia player right now. Pioneer recently introduced the NEX line to take advantage of the newest mainstream connectivity options on the market. It features a sizable 6.9” capacitive touchscreen and, in general, is a pretty standard choice when it comes to installing a touchscreen in vehicles to add modern functionality. Keep in mind though that your dash must support a double din sized unit. We like that it uses a capacitive touch screen, which are more responsive than resistive screens and clear and easy to see, even in bright, direct light.

A necessity in our opinion today on any head unit – the W4500NEX is equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, making it a great option for those who want GPS along with all of the latest audio streaming capabilities from your mobile device. What we also like about this unit is the ability to wirelessly mirror your screen from a smartphone if you wanted to. You can use this feature to mirror video directly from your device to the head unit and display virtually anything from your phone directly onto the unit.

Another important factor for us is iDataLink compatibility. This Pioneer is iDataLink friendly, so you can integrate various system controls like climate control, heated seats, vehicle data like RPM and speed and much more. A vehicle specific iDataLink Maestro unit will be required to make this available.

What also makes this unit an ideal multimedia or video player, in our opinion, is the expandability options that it has. Dual USB ports allow you to connect to multiple devices like MP3 players, smartphones and tablets. An HDMI input, along with 2 rear A/V inputs enable practically any video input source from Firesticks and FireTVs to game consoles. Pound for pound this is our top pick head unit if you want video in your car.

Head Unit Details
Head Unit SizeDouble DIN
Screen Size6.94″
Screen TypeCapacitive
Screen Resolution1920 x 1080
Smartphone IntegrationWireless Apple CarPlay / Android Auto
InputsDual rear USB inputs, HDMI input, dual A/V inputs, dual camera inputs
Outputs6-ch preamp outputs (4v front, rear, sub), dual-zone A/V out
Power Output14W RMS x 4ch
iDataLink MaestroYes
Reasons to Buy
  • Excellent screen
  • Sound quality of a higher-priced unit
  • Tons of connectivity options
Reasons Not to Buy
  • Some users report connectivity with Apple CarPlay
  • Some buttons can be difficult to use while driving

Best Touch Screen Car Stereo

>>> See our full list of Touch Screen Car Stereos <<<

Some of us favor screen size and image quality over everything else. Who doesn't enjoy looking at an oversized head unit in their dash, anyway? Pretty much all of the modern cars feature a 10in+ screen today, so for the majority of people who might be stuck without a touchscreen or a 5-7in screen – a 10in head unit upgrade is huge deal. This category is all about the screen and bringing the biggest, baddest touchscreen to your dash so that you can enjoy all of the latest tech without squinting to see an icon.

Why We Picked It

Pioneer's DMH-WT8600NEX is the most comprehensive feature-packed unit with an oversized screen that we could find on the market today. What we love about this Pioneer is that the screen on this receiver measures 10.1 inches and it attaches to a single-DIN chassis. So not only do you get one of the largest screens in the aftermarket realm, you can also install it in virtually any vehicle dash since it's on a 1DIN chassis.

The DMH-WT8600NEX is more than just a big touchscreen though – critically, it combines the most in-demand tech such as Bluetooth, HD Radio, video inputs and wireless music streaming capabilities with its responsive and bright screen. It's one of the few that we've found on the market with literally everything we look for in a head unit.

Among our growingly required features of this titan of touchscreens is the inclusion of wireless and wired Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa. Its a quickly and increasingly important feature that we recommend on any device you purchase. You’ll also find dual camera inputs, a mini HDMI input for playing video, and a 3.5mm A/V input.

Thinking about running video to a rear headrest monitor or flip down monitor for your rear passengers in your SUV? The DMH-WT8600NEX is an excellent option for this and has a video output to make it simple to hook it up. And iDataLink is of course another important feature we like to look for – it'll help retain a number of features and functionality that your OEM head unit might have.

For us, this Pioneer really checks the boxes on almost every feature that we like to see in a modern head unit.

Head Unit Details
Head Unit SizeSingle DIN
Screen Size10.1″
Screen TypeCapacitive
Screen Resolution1920 x 1080
Smartphone IntegrationWired or Wireless Apple CarPlay / Android Auto
InputsRear USB-C port, rear-view and 2nd camera inputs, rear A/V (3.5mm), rear micro-HDMI input
Outputs6-channel preamp outputs (4-volt front, rear, sub), A/V video output
Power Output14W RMS x 4ch
iDataLink MaestroYes
Reasons to Buy
  • Massive touchscreen that gives you lots of room to organize apps and take full advantage of features
  • The inclusion of wireless streaming for practically any device makes this a great choice for multi-device drivers
  • Excellent choice for upgrading any vehicle, even the most modern cars on the road
Reasons Not to Buy
  • Screen brightness might be distracting to some drivers. Use brightness settings
  • Some reported issues with software updates that might create connection issues

Best Built-In GPS Navigation Car Stereo

>>> See our full list of In-Dash GPS Navigation Car Stereos <<<

You can use your phone for just about everything today – including navigation in your car. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto make adding GPS to your existing touchscreen pretty simple. Nonetheless, we still think some of the traditional GPS navigation head units are relevant today to some people, and continue to update this list with the latest built-in GPS head units.

An in-dash GPS navigation head unit is the safest way to get turn-by-turn directions without the added distraction and frustration of carrying a portable nav unit or using your smartphone. While your smartphone can give you directions through numerous apps, a head unit that has built-in GPS navigation provides you with numerous features beyond what you will get from a smartphone. In-dash units can also add Bluetooth connectivity and allow the use of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to further enhance your drive if you wanted.

Why We Picked It

We’ve had Pioneer’s AVIC series somewhere on the top of our list of best in-dash GPS car stereos for some time now. The most recent navigation head unit from Pioneer brings the same solid performance as the outgoing 8500 model and continues to streamline the user experience while providing tons of features. This is a high-end car stereo, but it’s really built more around functionality than it is raw power to pump tunes. The first thing you notice about the 8600 is the large motorized 7” WVGA touchscreen that hides the CD/DVD port and an SD card slot. The screen is bright and vivid, and remains easy to view in direct sun and at angles.

This head unit is a feature-packed powerhouse. From the ability to play CDs and DVDs, to Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, the W8600NEX has it all. Some of our favorite features include the hidden SD card slot and the dual rear USBs. You can connect two phones at once now via Bluetooth, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay apps makes it simple to run almost any content from your phone onto the touchscreen and have control using voice commands or directly from the head unit’s touchscreen. And if your phone is MiraCast-compatible, you’ll have even greater options for streaming content on screen directly from your phone.

Of course, the reason a person buys this stereo is for the navigation and Pioneer does a top-notch job executing a user-friendly nav system. The directions are clear and easy to see with user-selectable 2D head-up, 2D North-up, and 3D display modes for all points in the U.S. including Hawaii & Puerto Rico, and Canada, too. Pioneer owners get lifetime map updates for free, so you won’t need to worry about outdated system software every time there’s a new freeway. It features a built-in RDS-TMC traffic tuner that uses a special FM band to interpret satellite data for real-time traffic updates. 

This is an excellent choice when you want the a touchscreen navigation unit, and you’re willing to pay for it. It’s got dual camera inputs, dual RCA connections, and a dedicated subwoofer channel for expansion. To ease connectivity to factory steering wheel controls and features, the W8600NEX is iDatalink Maestro-compatible.

Head Unit Details
Head Unit SizeDouble DIN
Screen Size6.94″
Screen TypeCapacitive
Screen Resolution1920 x 1080
Smartphone IntegrationWireless Apple CarPlay / Android Auto
InputsDual rear USB inputs; HDMI input, dual rear A/V inputs; one camera input (A/V input can be used for a 2nd camera)
Outputs6-channel preamp outputs (4-volt front, rear, subwoofer), rear A/V output (mini audio, RCA video)
Power Output14W RMS x 4ch
iDataLink MaestroYes
Reasons to Buy
  • Feature-rich head unit that perfectly combines user-friendliness with functionality
  • Excellent options for connecting devices and using features you already love
  • Simple to use navigation system is spot-on and has great options for traffic and road avoidance
Reasons Not to Buy
  • Limited to five preset background choices
  • Screen is non-adjustable and doesn’t work well when not mounted flat.
  • Pricepoint

Best Single DIN Head Unit

>>> See our full list of Single DIN Car Stereos <<<

Despite their size, single din car stereos should reflect the latest in digital audio technology and connectivity. Even if they don't have a touchscreen, they should offer compatibility with smartphones, and the most commonly used streaming music apps. Smartphones are really the single and only medium for listening to music in cars at this point, so a head unit that supports connected devices is a must. This includes:

  • USB port to charge and connect your media or smartphone devices.
  • Bluetooth technology to stream music and make handsfree calls.
  • Integrated music app functionality like Pandora and Spotify.
  • + more

But your head unit shouldn't just incorporate the latest trends in digital tech to simplify how you listen to your music, help you navigate to where you're going and make wireless phone calls – it should output high-quality audio and signal. This category represents our top pick single din car stereo that embraces the swift changes in audio and digital technology. Without the flash of a 7in or 10in touchscreen.

DEH-X8800BHS front main image
DEH-X8800BHS front angle view
DEH-X8800BHS Rear view with rca inputs and usb wire

Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS

Why We Picked It

When you're looking for a head unit, power, function, and aesthetics are all important factors to consider. Across the board, it’s hard to beat the Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS.

But there’s more to this CD receiver than what meets the eye. Granted, its appearance is nondescript and traditional. As soon as you turn on this stereo is nothing short of amazing. Starting with the aesthetics, the X8800BHS gives you the option of dual-zone color illumination, allowing you to customize the text colors on your screen. This gives you have an extensive color combination range of over 210,000. In addition, the unit has a 10-level brightness control, helping you create the perfect visual setting.

In terms of audio, the Pioneer DEH-X8800 really delivers. Some of the key features of the X8800 include:

  • Built-in Dual Bluetooth
  • Wideband Handsfree 1.6
  • Audio streaming
  • Access to Siri Eyes Free, Pandora, Spotify, Android Music Support

But there are additional features that complete the system which makes the Pioneer DEH-X8800 even better. Including:

  • Built-in MOSFET amp
  • AM/FM/CD, and HD Radio with 100% free subscription on selected stations
  • MIXTRAX for DJ-inspired technology
  • FLAC playback
  • Compatibility with several audio files such as WAV, WMA, AAC, and MP3
  • 13-band Equalizer with 7 preset curves
  • 3 pairs of preamp outputs.

The system also has a remote control, giving you complete control of the head unit without laying a finger on it. It's compatible with most steering wheel controls, has a 12-month warranty, and is CEA-2006 compliant. Toss in that the fact that you can link two phones to the unit at once and the ability to use Guest Mode for a third phone. You’ll understand why this is undoubtedly on the top of our list. Truth is, you don’t need anything else to create a great in-car experience!

Head Unit Details
Head Unit SizeSingle DIN
Screen SizeN/A
Screen TypeN/A
Screen ResolutionN/A
Smartphone IntegrationN/A
InputsFront USB port, rear USB port, front aux input
Outputs6-channel preamp outputs (4-volt front, rear, and sub)
Power Output14W RMS x 4ch
iDataLink MaestroN/A
Reasons to Buy
  • Fully packed with essential and extra stereo features
  • Great audio quality
  • Ability to link 2 phones to the unit at once and use guest mode for a third phone
  • Simple-to-use interface
  • Customizable text colors on the screen
Reasons Not to Buy
  • Limited to android and iOS devices

Best Overall High-Res Head Unit

>>> See our full list of High-Resolution Car Stereos <<<

High-resolution car audio is becoming increasingly common in the newest vehicles. Once reserved for high-end luxury cars or cinema-quality stereos, audiophile-quality car stereos can be found in numerous mid-range vehicles these days. If you have considered adding high-resolution capabilities to your car or truck, installing an aftermarket head unit is likely the best solution today. This category is dedicated to the latest and highest regarded high-res head units on the market.

Alpine Status HDS-990
Alpine HDS-990 Screen Angle
Alpine Status HDS-990 front screen
Alpine Status HDS-990 control unit front
Alpine Status HDS-990 control unit rear

Alpine Status HDS-990

Why We Picked It

Alpine uses the technology and experience gained from the world’s most impressive high-resolution car audio system, the Alpine F#1, to develop this control unit. You can check out our review of the most recent Alpine F#1 system here. The HDS-990 isn’t exactly a head unit in the classic sense. Rather, it is a control panel that connects to a black box for providing in-car high-resolution audio. Right out of the gate, you should know that this unit doesn’t do a lot of the things most head units today are known for. Instead, this should be seen as a dedicated high-resolution option that can work alongside a typical car stereo. 

High-Resolution Playback Capabilities

The Status HDS-990 is the pinnacle of current high-resolution car audio playback. There simply is nothing on the market today quite like it. As you likely know, high-resolution playback requires that a player have the capability to produce high-bitrate data. This unit can handle up to 24bit/ 192 kHz resolution with ease. That means you will get the ultimate in sound quality and you’ll hear the music just the way the artist intended it to sound. 

The HDS-990 is compatible with AAC, AIFF, ALAC, APE, DSD, FLAC, LDAC, MP3, M4A, WMA, and WAV files for high-resolution playback. It is also compatible with AAC, aptX/aptX HD, LDAC, and SRC formats for streaming high-resolution audio using a Bluetooth connection. 

Built-in two-way and three-way crossovers are ideal for tuning the system to your speakers. The unit also has a built-in 10-band EQ with 10 presets and individual controls for bass/treble and balance/fade. The unit features time alignment technology to tune the timing of each speaker based on your location. 

Connectivity Options

The HDS-990 offers a few interesting options for connecting and expanding your car audio system. The unit includes a high-level 4-channel input to connect to a factory or aftermarket head unit. Three USB ports offer plenty of connectivity for a thumb drive or hard drive loaded with high-resolution audio files. Two USB ports are located on the rear of the control box with a third on the front. There is also a digital coaxial and a digital optical output on the control box. A six-channel, 4v RCA output rounds out the connectivity options. 

Power and Frequency Specifications

The HDS-990 has a built-in amplifier that provides 25 watts to four channels with a max output of 50 watts per channel. This is a modest amount of power that gives the unit great volume. Upgrading to more powerful amplification is simple by using the 6-channel RCA outputs though if your speaker setup requires more power. 

You’ll get an astounding range of frequency production from the HDS-990, well beyond the capabilities of the human ear, so even audiophile listeners are going to love the sound. It can support frequencies from 20 Hz up to 40 kHz. 

Screen, Controls, and Function

The control panel is smaller than a traditional single-DIN car stereo and is roughly five inches by two inches. Since it is not meant to be mounted in the dash, you’ll need to find a spot to surface mount the control panel. The panel has six buttons for controlling the playback, a large multifunction dial, and a small, high-resolution screen that displays the artist's information and album artwork.  

There are no tuning controls for an AM/FM radio since the HDS-990 does not provide AM/FM reception, nor is the unit compatible with hands-free calling or camera inputs due to the minuscule screen. This is why the HDS-990 is often installed alongside a factory radio. It does have connections for steering wheel controls. 

Head Unit Details

Screen SizeN/A
Screen TypeHigh-resolution, full color (no touchscreen)
Chassis SizeN/A (not 1DIN or 2DIN)
Apple CarPlay/Android AutoNo/No
Camera Input/#No/0
Equalizer10-band (upgradable to 31 w/ HDP-D90)
Power Output25W RMS, 50W Peak x 4
iDatalink CompatibleNo
Reasons to Buy
  • The very best-performing high-resolution option available
  • Easy tuning and upgradability make this the ideal choice for audiophiles who demand the best
  • Works alongside a factory radio
Reasons Not to Buy
  • No radio tuner or hands-free abilities
  • Won’t fit in dash openings
  • Lacks many of the modern features other head units have

Decide on one that you like and plan to purchase? If you think you're going to take a stab at installing one of these head units yourself, check out our How to Install a Car Stereo guide where we'll walk you through the basics. At the very least, you'll know if you want to hire a professional or not!

CarAudioNow is an award winning automotive blog, founded and built from the ground up by car enthusiasts over a decade ago. Between our editor, Kameron, and a few selected qualified writers, we’ve installed and tested a wide variety of speakers in cars in person. We know our speakers, how they should sound and perform and what’s a good value for your dollar. We get our hands on every product that we test in person – many of which are purchased and some provided by a manufacturer. Its a combination of these tests and extensive research that lead us to our recommendations. And we’re frequently testing new speakers for our lists.

CarAudioNow and its writers don’t use AI to throw regurgitated information about a few car speakers on a list and say they’re “the best”. We’re focused on providing meaningful lists, with accurate and useful information that will help you make an informed decision on a product. And we do this because we genuinely enjoy or highly regard the stuff we add to our lists. Our readers and our reputation are both more important to us than a quick buck or the top rank on Google – although both of those would be nice!

Other Articles We Think You Should Review About Car Stereo Receivers & Head Units Protection Status      © 2024