We've always been firm believers that what defines the ‘best car stereo' is really based on it's going to be used and in what vehicle. There's obvious things that almost all buyers want in a head unit; Bluetooth, Aux, USB, and so on. But it's tough for anyone to tell you that one particular car stereo is the best in all scenarios. Some units have strengths in connectivity like multi-device Bluetooth while others are much better at multimedia and playing video on the screen. Some are better for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto while others are much better for audio quality, tuning and configuration. I guess what we're trying to say here is that the answer to “what is the the best car stereo” is: it depends!

At CarAudioNow, we try to cover all of the bases when it comes to researching and assembling a list of car stereos. Knowing that some people are looking for specific features in a head unit, we try to break out our best recommendations by the features we think consumers are looking for. Keeping up with the latest trends in car stereo tech is our job and representing those trends in our best list here is our goal!

So in this list of best car stereos, we aggregate our top picks across a variety of categories. The reality is that we have lists of our picks for each of them (which we've linked to) but since we know that different people have different preferences, this list should showcases our top picks for each category of head unit.

What size is my dash?

Fist things first though. If you haven’t already asked yourself this question, you definitely need to before reviewing this list and purchasing a head unit. In general, there are two common types of head units on the market that fit the majority of vehicle dashboards: Single-DIN (SD) and Double-DIN (DD). Double-DIN openings are the larger of the two. If your car has a double-DIN opening you can typically fit both single-DIN and double-DIN units in it. You'll just need to purchase the correct dash kit. If it's a single-DIN car stereo, you'll only be able to fit a single-DIN receiver. In this list, we primarily focus on single-DIN units. To find out exactly what size dash your car has, check out our interactive list of vehicles in our Dashboard Size: Find Your Vehicle article!

About this List

We take our ‘best lists' very seriously. Our top pick car stereos that are compiled on this list are based on extensive research, our own experience and testing of products and of course our knowledge of the industry. In no way was this list subsidized or influenced by a manufacturer. The recommendations here are guidelines, based on what we think are quality head units that will perform well, last long and are built by manufacturers that you can trust. And our lists originate here – they are not copied from other sources and thrown together without purpose. Providing you the trust that the information you read here is legitimate, and the confidence in the product you choose from this list is our top priority. We're constantly keeping these lists up to date too, so you are seeking a car stereo, you'll always find the latest and greatest here.

Best Wireless Apple CarPlay Car Stereo: Sony XAV-9500ES

See the full list of Best Wireless Apple CarPlay Car Stereos

Sony XAV-9500ES Quick Review

We chose Sony's XAV-9500ES as our best wireless Apple CarPlay stereo. It's part of their 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 iPhone's screen. Combine that with its wireless CarPlay 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 demo box 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 overview.

Head Unit Details

MakeSony
ModelXAV-9500ES
Head Unit SizeSingle DIN
Screen Size10.1″
Screen TypeCapacitive HD anti-glare
Screen Resolution1280 x 720
CD/DVDNo
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

Pros

  • High resolution, antiglare 10.1″ screen
  • Fits in single din dashes
  • Multiple camera inputs
  • Advanced audio tuning capabilities
  • Great looking design

Cons

  • 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 Car Stereo that Plays DVD & Video: Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX

See the full list of Best DVD & Video Car Stereos

Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX DVD Multimedia Player with Apple CarPlay on screen
Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX tilted view with media and clock
Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX navigation on screen
Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX back view with all wires
Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX remote control

Latest Prices

Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX Quick Review

The AVH-W4500NEX is our top pick for a multimedia player. Pioneer recently introduced the NEX line to take advantage of the newest connectivity options currently available. The 4500NEX features a sizable 6.9” capacitive touchscreen that is easily installed in many vehicles to add modern functionality. The capacitive touch screen is clear and easy to see, even in bright, direct light. It can even be adjusted to compensate for bizarre dash designs and to make viewing angles easier. It packs all the best features into an easy to use device, making it our top pick.

Out of the box, 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. What we also like about this unit is the ability to wirelessly mirror your screen from a smartphone. You can use this feature to mirror video directly from your device to the head unit.

The unit is also 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 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 or FireTVs to game consoles. Pound for pound this is our best pick option if you want video in your car.

Head Unit Details

MakePioneer
ModelAVH-W4500NEX
Head Unit SizeDouble DIN
Screen Size6.94″
Screen TypeCapacitive
Screen Resolution1920 x 1080
CD/DVDYes
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

Pros

  • Excellent screen
  • Sound quality of a higher-priced unit
  • Tons of connectivity options

Cons

  • Some users report connectivity with Apple CarPlay
  • Some buttons can be difficult to use while driving

Best Touch Screen Car Stereo: Pioneer DMH-C5500NEX

See the full list of Best Touch Screen Car Stereos

Pioneer DMH-C5500NEX with carplay apps on screen
Pioneer DMH-C5500NEX angle view with media playing
Pioneer DMH-C5500NEX with turn by turn instructions on screen
Pioneer DMH-C5500NEX rear view with screen and chassis
Pioneer DMH-C5500NEX with chassis and screen separated

Latest Prices

Pioneer DMH-C5500NEX Quick Review

Pioneer has been an industry leader in automotive audio equipment for decades. Leadership requires innovation, and the DMH-C5500NEX is among the most innovative touchscreen head units on the market today.

Many modern car owners have problems installing an aftermarket stereo because of limited space behind the factory head unit. Pioneer has solved every problem in the book with the C5500. The 1” thick capacitive touchscreen is wired to a “black box” that can be located where space allows. It can even be mounted horizontally or vertically.

The screen is a hefty beast. Measuring at eight inches, it gives you plenty of room to view Android Auto or Apple CarPlay on most smartphones and tablets. WebLink provides access to YouTube and many other apps. The screen can be controlled with gestures and swipes for a seamless and intuitive user experience.

Pioneer managed to get plenty of power into the C5500NEX, too. With an RMS of 22 watts per channel and a peak of 50 watts per channel, the C5500 is ready to rock. Three pairs of 4V preouts offer adaptability for subwoofers and amplifiers.

Head Unit Details

MakePioneer
ModelDMH-C5500NEX
Head Unit SizeDouble DIN
Screen Size8″
Screen TypeCapacitive
Screen Resolution1920 x 1080
CD/DVDNo
Smartphone IntegrationWired Apple CarPlay / Android Auto
InputsRear USB input, two rear audio/video inputs, dual camera inputs (second input uses a rear A/V input)
Outputs6-channel preamp outputs (4-volt front, rear, sub), A/V video output
Power Output14W RMS x 4ch
iDataLink MaestroYes

Pros

  • Separate, oversize 8″ screen that allows for custom installation in virtually any vehicle
  • Highly responsive touchscreen
  • Intuitive user interface featuring Pioneers exclusive NEX technology

Cons

  • Remote chassis mounting can require additional wiring not included with the head unit

Best Built-In GPS Navigation Car Stereo: Pioneer AVIC-W8600NEX

See the full list of Best In-Dash GPS Navigation Car Stereos

Pioneer AVIC-W8600NEX angle view with gps nav on screen
Pioneer AVIC-W8600NEX carplay on screen with apps
Pioneer AVIC-W8600NEX android auto on screen with apps
Pioneer AVIC-W8600NEX rear view of unit
Pioneer AVIC-W8600NEX package contents

Latest Prices

Pioneer AVIC-W8600NEX Quick Review

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 best 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

MakePioneer
ModelAVIC-W8600NEX
Head Unit SizeDouble DIN
Screen Size6.94″
Screen TypeCapacitive
Screen Resolution1920 x 1080
CD/DVDYes
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

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • Limited to five preset background choices
  • Screen is non-adjustable and doesn’t work well when not mounted flat.
  • Pricepoint

Best Single DIN Digital Media Receiver: Alpine UTE-73BT

See the full list of Best Single DIN Digital Media Car Stereos

Alpine UTE-73BT angle view
Alpine UTE-73BT front view with screen on
Alpine UTE-73BT rear view of outputs and inputs

Latest Prices

Alpine UTE-73BT Quick Review

The Alpine UTE-73BT is an upgrade from the previous 63BT model and provides better connectivity options while retaining all the features that made the previous model a top pick. Alpine added Android Open Accessory tech to the receiver which streamlines connecting your Android smartphone to play music from your favorite streaming apps like Pandora or Spotify.

Alpine also kept some of the best features from the 63BT, like the physical multifunction knob and a clean layout that looks correct in most dash panels. The single line LCD display now lets you change colors of the backlit buttons and is five times more readable than previous models, making it easier to quickly read information.

Alpine designed this stereo to work seamlessly with Apple and Android devices, and you’ll find that connections through Bluetooth are stable and simple to set up. A front panel USB port allows charging and convenient playback of music files from thumb drives, smartphones, and compatible MP3 players. The Alpine UTE-73BT now offers playback of lossless FLAC files for even better sound quality too.

Head Unit Details

MakeAlpine
ModelUTE-73BT
Head Unit SizeSingle DIN
Screen SizeN/A
Screen TypeN/A
Screen ResolutionN/A
CD/DVDNo
Smartphone IntegrationN/A
InputsFront USB port, front aux input
Outputs6-channel preamp outputs (2-volt front, rear, and sub)
Power Output18W RMS x 4ch
iDataLink MaestroN/A

Pros

  • Upgraded model now plays FLAC files and offers steering wheel controls
  • Clean sound even without an amplifier, chassis is designed to accommodate KTP-445A power pack for true 50wx4 RMS power
  • AOA 2.0 simplifies Bluetooth connections

Cons

  • Requires an adapter (KCU-445A) to play music from Apple products
  • Alpine reduced the voltage of expandable preouts from previous model (4V to 2V)

Best Single DIN Car Stereo with CD Player: Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS

See the full list of Best Single DIN Car Stereos

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

Latest Prices

Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS Quick Review

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

MakePioneer
ModelDEH-X8800BHS
Head Unit SizeSingle DIN
Screen SizeN/A
Screen TypeN/A
Screen ResolutionN/A
CD/DVDNo
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

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • Limited to android and iOS devices

Comparing Specs

There are a few simple, but important specs to head units that will make all the difference in selecting the best option for you. These include:

  • Power output: For those of you who would like to power your speakers directly from the head unit, this is important.
  • Pre-out voltage: For the people who will amplify their speakers, this is important. The higher the voltage, typically the better.
  • Equalizer bands: May or may not be important to you, but for the audio enthusiast this will give you the granularity to tweak your sound at all frequency levels.

We put together a few quick charts to help you easily compare across the units that are on our list. We know, you're welcome!

How We Choose

In order to find the best head units for our list, we read through hundreds of reviews across the industry and combined users' opinions with our own first-hand tests. There are many important factors that we consider when rating and reviewing each car stereo. Including:

  • Style (Looks, Design)
  • Display Type (LCD, Dotted, LCD Text, etc.)
  • Features (Bluetooth, Smartphone Compatibility, Equalizer, etc)
  • Power Ratings (Peak, RMS)
  • Price
  • Expandability (# of RCAs, XM/Sirius Read, Steering Wheel Control Ready, etc)
  • Quality (Materials used, manufacturer, etc)
  • Online Reviews (From multiple vendors such as Sonic Electronix, Crutchfield, Amazon and more)

The result from our research and testing is a list of the top rated and reviewed head units. And in addition to our list of best rated products, we provide price comparisons from multiple vendors to help you find the best deal. In the end, like anything, the best car stereo is the one that meets your specific needs and is compatible with your car.

Looking for a Head Unit with even more features? Check out CarAudioNow's Best In-Dash Car DVD Players for units that you can watch your favorite movies on. Or our Best In-Dash GPS Navigation Players to add GPS Navigation AND movie watching to your dash! We also recommend upgrading your car's speakers with your car stereo with one of our Best Car Speakers.

And, be sure to take a look through our Easy Guide to Installing a Car Stereo if you do decide to purchase and install yourself! This guide will undoubtedly save you time with helpful tips along the way.

What to Look For

Every car requires a unique combination of car stereo components to sound great. A car stereo may sound excellent in one car, but sound terrible in another. Additionally, the limitations in size and wiring configuration make selecting the best head unit even more difficult for you.
A quality car stereo will give you the features you love while conforming to the environment of your car and create an excellent reproduction of the music that you love. With the right car stereo, you'll be able to custom tailor frequencies to your car, integrate your favorite music/media device, connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth and much more.
At CarAudioNow, we use multiple key criteria when rating products in our top lists. Below is a list of criteria that we take into consideration while choosing the best car stereos for your vehicle.

Power Ratings

Power ratings are extremely important feature to consider while choosing a car stereo. Without an external amplifier, the power output of the car stereo is what dictates the power of your speakers and ultimately the power of sound. There are typically two power output ratings that are given with car stereos:

  • Max Power Output: Max power rating is the maximum amount of power that the car stereo can emit for short periods of time. It is the maximum amount of power that will be sent to your speakers (without an external amplifier)
  • RMS (Continuous) Power Output: RMS power rating is the amount of power that the car stereo can emit at a constant or continuous rate. This is the most important power output rating.

Along with power handling and output, the level of control of the output sound's shape is also very important. This control is typically made through a built-in equalizer (EQ). It will allow you to tailor the shape of sound, raising or lowering the level of certain frequencies in order to best optimize the output sound for the environment of your car. The higher the number of bands that the car stereo's equalizer has, the more you will be able to customize the frequencies and shape of your music and sound.

Display

Display features play a huge role in how stylish and user-friendly car stereos are. High end car stereos will have a high LED pixel count, and give customizable features like color and brightness in order to match the color of your interior.

Playback

Playback can be defined as the methods that your car stereo is capable of playing back audio. CD, DVD, MP3, HD Radio, Pandora, Auxiliary (Aux) Ports, Bluetooth; these are all examples of playback types that the a single din head unit should typically have.
You will want to make sure that the playback methods that you intend on using is consistent with the playback features of the car stereo. Otherwise, you may be stuck with a head unit that doesn't play your music in the format that you have it. Here is a breakdown of the most popular playback features we recommend you look for:

  • HD Radio: HD Radio is the same radio stations that you listen to, but with a higher audio quality and more metadata than tradition radio. Metadata includes titles, artists, albums and more.
  • CD Player: CD players will play your favorite CDs in multiple formats, including CD,CD-R/RW, MP3, AAC, WAV and WMA.
  • Auxiliary (Aux) Port: Auxiliary ports allow you to connect any music device that you may have using a headphone connector. Typically, the best car stereos will have an auxiliary port on the front of the unit (in our opinion).
  • Bluetooth: Bluetooth music allows you to connect to your music on a smartphone or other bluetooth enabled device, playing all of your music wirelessly from your device via a Bluetooth connection.
  • USB Port: A USB port will allow you to connect your music devices via a USB connection. It will allow you to listen to your favorite music from your device, while charging it for endless listen time.
  • XM Radio: XM radio is satellite radio such as SiriusXM, that allows you to connect and listen to thousands of channels of radio via a satellite connection. This increases the coverage of radio that you have, however requires a paid subscription.

Smartphone Integration

All of the top reviewed head units will allow you to fully integrate with your smartphone, enabling the best features such as Pandora and Spotify while allowing you to answer phone calls hands-free. With recent legislation prohibiting you from using your phones while driving, it is becoming increasingly important for the best car stereos to fully integrate with your smartphone. Additionally, they will come with microphones with noise-canceling technology that will hone in on your voice and eliminate road noise.

Expandability

Expandability is what allows you to connect external components to your car stereo. The best car stereos will have at least three 4volt RCA outputs (Front, Rear, Subwoofer), Audio/Video (AV) input/outputs, rear view camera inputs (with compatible displays) and a microphone input.

How to Install a Car Stereo

Installing a head unit or replacing one can range in difficulty. A head unit could take you as little as 30 minutes to replace, or all the way up to 4 or 5 hours depending on the type of car you have and the complexity of the system. There's a number of variables that can dictate how difficult and time consuming the task really is:

  • Dash and trim components – In our experience, the most difficult cars are typically German. Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen. The dash and trim components are very stubborn and tight and difficult to remove.
  • Wiring – Wiring can vary from car to car. This really depends on the number of features that the car has. For example OnStar on GM cars, or just an OEM amplified stereo. These are the things you need to know prior to wiring your car and ordering the adapting harnesses (we'll get more into detail on this soon).
  • Mounting the new head unit – This can be especially difficult if you choose to DIY. However, in most cases you'll find that there are adapting ‘Dash Kits' from providers like Metra and Scosche that will simplify the mounting and installation of the stereo.

At the end of the day, some vehicles are better candidates for an upgraded Car Stereo than others. If you're looking to install one of these head units yourself, check out our How to Install a Car Stereo guide where we'll walk you through the basics.