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Car stereos today are interdependent on the latest form of digital audio. For example, smartphones with internet radio apps have become a leading medium for listening to music in cars, and pretty much everywhere else. Because of this, we've seen a shift in many features that have historically been seen as standard on head units, including:

  •  A push to standardize USB in order to charge your media or smartphone devices.
  • Standardization Bluetooth technology across all stereos to stream music and make handsfree calls.
  • Many others!

All of the best head units on the market today not only create high quality sound reproduction, they take the latest trends in digital technology to make listening to your music simple and easy. Below you'll find our current top pick car stereos that are embracing the swift progression of audio and digital technology. Check back in frequently for updates, as new products are released and added to our list!

Here's our list of the top rated car stereo head units of 2016. Click a receiver to go to the full review, or just scroll down to view all of the reviews:

Best Single Din Car Stereos | Top 6 Head Units

Car Stereo Head UnitPower HandlingEQRatingBuy Now
1. Pioneer DEH-X9600BHSRMS: 14W x 4CH
Peak: 50W x 4CH
5 Band
5 Stars
Buy Now
2. Kenwood Excelon KDC-X799RMS: 22W x 4CH
Peak: 50W x 4CH
5 Band
5 Stars
Buy Now
3. Pioneer DEH-80PRSRMS: 14W x 4CH
Peak: 50W x 4CH
16 Band
4.8 Stars
Buy Now
4. JVC KD-R970BTSRMS: 22W x 4CH
Peak: 50W x 4CH
13 Band
4.8 Stars
Buy Now
5. Alpine CDE-164BTRMS: 18W x 4CH
Peak: 50W x 4CH
9 Band
4.7 Stars
Buy Now
6. Kenwood KDC-BT758HDRMS: 22W x 4CH
Peak: 50W x 4CH
7 Band
4.7 Stars
Buy Now

Who Is This Review For?

There are many cases that can warrant upgrading your car stereo's head unit. You may need to find a way of integrating Bluetooth calling and music streaming. Or you might want to be able to use Pandora or Spotify easily in your car to give you more control over your music. You might have just purchased a used car that doesn't offer any integration with your smartphone at all, and needs an updated unit. Or you might just not like the features and functions of your car stereo's current unit. In any case, upgrading your receiver can give you the latest technology and integrate with the most popular and user-friendly applications, improving your in-car experience. But just because you'd like upgrade your car's stereo with a new and improved receiver doesn't mean you can.
There are two types of head units on the market today: single-DIN and double-DIN. If your car's dash has a double-DIN opening, you can fit both a single-DIN and double-DIN. However, if it is a single-DIN you can only fit a single-DIN receiver. You'll need to find out which size your car can fit in order to choose the right one.
Also, for people who have cars that are newer than about 10 years, your car may have multiple screens in different places on your dash that are controlled by different systems (and not just your audio). This will complicate your installation and you might even lose functionality of the screens that are reliant on the head unit you're looking to replace. But for those who have cars that are older than about 10 years that don't have multiple screens with different systems powering them, your installation and upgrade is pretty straight forward.

How We Tested

In order to find the best car stereo receiver, CarAudioNow has combined several reviews across the industry with first-hand tests. There are many criteria that we take into consideration 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 combination of sources and testing is a list of the top rated and reviewed head units. And in addition to our compilation of best rated products, CarAudioNow also provides multiple comparisons of prices from vendors to try to get you the best price for all of your products. But in the end, the best car stereo is one that meets your specific needs and is compatible with your car.

If you're 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, and our Best In-Dash GPS Navigation Players to add GPS Navigation and movie watching capability to your dash!

The Best Car Stereos List

Editor's Rating:

5 Stars

- Single Din CD Receiver With AM/FM Radio
- Output: 14 watts (RMS) x 4 channels
- Built-in Bluetooth
- 5 Band Equalizer

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Pioneer DEH-X9600BHS Quick Review:

Modern, sleek and packed with new features, the DEH-X9600BHS is part of the latest line of receivers released from Pioneer. It's an all around good pick. With hands free calling and audio streaming Bluetooth built-in, you can keep your eyes on the road at all times and never have to pick up your phone. It comes with Pandora Internet radio integration, bringing all your internet radio music to the car in an integrated fashion. HD Radio comes built in as well, and gives high quality radio. And with dual USB inputs, you can connect and charge multiple devices at once. Pioneer has always made high-end and top rated car stereo head units and the DEH-X9600BHS is a prime example of a unit that meets that solid reputation.

Editor's Rating:

5 Stars

- Single Din CD Receiver With AM/FM Radio
- Output: 22 watts (RMS) x 4 channels
- Built-in Bluetooth
- 5 Band Equalizer

Kenwood Excelon KDC-X799 Quick Review:

The Kenwood Excelon KDC-X799 car stereo is designed with the latest technology to integrate with all of your favorite music applications. You can connect your iPod or iPhone or other device to the front-panel USB input to make searching, scrolling and playing music easy and right from the unit. It’s compatible with Pandora Internet and iHeart radio and gives you built-in controls, allowing you to thumbs up or down your music right from the head unit. The KDC-X799 is also compatible with Android, and enables music control directly from the head unit when it’s plugged in. And for satellite radio subscribers, you can enjoy all of your favorite satellite radio stations from coast to coast.

For those who are looking to upgrade all of your car's stereo components, the KDC-X799 comes with 4-volt RCA outputs that will give your amplifiers the strong signal they need to perform well. And, it also comes with a 3-band parametric equalizer, giving you the ability to tweak the high, mid and low end frequencies to optimize your car’s speaker setup.

Editor's Rating:

4.8 Stars

- Single Din CD Receiver With AM/FM Radio
- Output: 14 watts (RMS) x 4 channels
- Built-in Bluetooth
- 16 Band Equalizer

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Pioneer DEH-80PRS Quick Review:

Great looks, great features, and most of all superior sound quality; that's what you get with the Pioneer DEH-80PRS. The 80PRS is an very well-rounded head unit, featuring built-in Bluetooth, Pandora Internet radio, USB connectivity and more. It has been ranked the number one head unit by many and holds its reputation as a high quality, high performing car stereo for a very reasonable price.

Editor's Rating:

4.8 Stars

- Single Din CD Receiver With AM/FM Radio
- Output: 22 watts (RMS) x 4 channels
- Built-in Bluetooth
- 13 Band Equalizer

JVC KD-R970BTS Quick Review:

JVC, the company that created the VHS, is known worldwide for its excellence in sound fidelity and the overall appearance and quality of their products especially their car receivers. The JVC KD-R970BTS is the ‘second’ best car stereo among the JVC car receivers. The only differences between the top of the line, the 975BTS, are two USB ports in the 975BTS and the higher price tag, so if you don’t need more than 1 USB port, you are getting a better deal with the 970BTS.

Other than the USB, the 970BTS offers satellite radio, Internet access, and several ways to listen to music. This range of listening options combined with the JVC sound system means real value for your money without settling for less than outstanding audio sound. This JVC model is also fancier in the sense that it has 3 zone color settings on the detachable front panel with 50 preset patterns and 32 colors which make a bold, personalized style statement.

The top features of this single DIN best car head unit:

  • 13-band graphic equalizer and 8 tone curves
  • 50W x 4 channel MAX /22W x 4 channel RMS built-in MOSFET amplifier
  • Sirius XM, iHeart Radio
  • Accepts MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC, and FLAC files
  • Android, iPhone, and iPod friendly with Siri Eyes Free Call
  • Bluetooth Auto Pairing for wireless audio and call streaming with wired microphone
  • Capable of linking 2 phones at the same time
  • Steering Remote Ready
  • Rapid smartphone charging

Performance-wise, the 970BTS is one of the best plug-and-play stereo receivers. It has the much-envied K2 technology that can optimize the sound quality by stretching the frequency range and bit rate resulting in crystal clear sound that doesn’t require you fiddling around with the control.

Editor's Rating:

4.7 Stars

- Single Din CD Head Unit With AM/FM Radio
- Output: 18 watts (RMS) x 4 channels
- Built-in Bluetooth
- 9 Band Equilizer With Zone Control

Alpine CDE-164BT Quick Review:

The Alpine CDE-164BT is all about high-quality audio with innovative features. Combined with the TuneIt 2.5 app for smartphones, the CDE-164BT is an incredible acoustics tool for music lovers. This Alpine includes features such as a touchscreen interface, hands-free calling, and audio streaming through several Bluetooth technologies like the A2DP, AVRCP, and HFP. It has controls for bass, volume, treble, balance and fader and comes with a microphone. The display has three custom colors: red, blue, and green and the receiver supports WMA, MP3, and AAC.

Some of the other outstanding features of this best car head unit are:

  • Compatible with Pandora, Internet radio, Sirius satellite radio, iPhone and iPod
  • CD Text capable
  • Detachable faceplate
  • 9 band equalizer with 10 presets
  • 80 dB signal to noise ratio
  • 50 Watts x 4 Max power or 18 Watts x 4 Continuous power
  • Front USB port, front and rear channel output, audio line-in, subwoofer output

Considering all that you are getting with this best stereo receiver, it is no wonder that it is among the best. Add to the fact that its price is attractive and the product has proven to be extremely reliable. It would be safe to say that the only way you will be frustrated with the Alpine CDE-164BT is the lack of a remote but other than that it’s an amazing product that gives you dynamic and clear output for years.

Editor's Rating:

4.7 Stars

- Single Din CD Receiver With AM/FM Radio
- Output: 22 watts (RMS) x 4 channels
- Built-in Bluetooth
- 7 Band Equilizer With Zone Cont

Kenwood KDC-BT958HD Quick Review:

The Kenwood KDC-BT958HD lands on our list of best car stereo units because it delivers more than what you would expect from a single DIN head unit. Its minimalist design and array of features make it the perfect choice for listening to music on the road.

Unlike many other stereo receivers, the Kenwood KDC-BT958HD with removable faceplate has a simple, intuitive USB folder navigation with several shuffle settings. It also has Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free calling, mood display, and dust covers. It features that full Kenwood audio sound with its signature focus on mid-high, highs, and sub-lows which let you appreciate your music even more.

Some of the other stand-out features of this unit include:

  • 3 line LCD
  • Easy rotary control and Direct Key (TEL)
  • Accepts AAC, WMA, MP3 and can play CD-RW, CD-R, and CD discs
  • 2 USB ports (front and rear), 1 Auxiliary port, 3 pre-amp outputs
  • Two memory audio setting
  • Compatible with iPod, iPad, and iPhone and the Siri Eyes Free with built-in controls
  • Compatible with Pandora, Sirius satellite radio, iHeart and Aha
  • 7 band equalizer with sound reconstruction and high and low-pass crossover

The Kenwood KDC-BT958HD is remarkably sleek, stylish and delivers incredible sound quality. Its versatility is what you would expect from a top-of-the-line car receiver with its only shortcoming being the lack of a full instruction manual. However, that can easily be remedied by downloading one from the website of Kenwood. On a scale of 1 to 10, this one gets the top score and is definitely an excellent choice and upgrade to your car stereo.

Best Car Stereos & Head Units: 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 car stereo even more difficult for you.
The best car stereos 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, including our Best Car Stereos and Head Units. 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 best car stereos will 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 in the best car stereos:

  • 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.
  • 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 best car stereos allow you to fully integrate with your smartphone, enabling the best features such as Pandora and Spotify while allowing you to answer phone calls without touching your smartphone. 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.

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