Last updated on August 8th, 2019 at 02:22 pm

The Best Car Stereos reflect the latest in digital audio technology. For example, smartphones with internet radio apps. Smartphones have become the medium for listening to music in cars, and everywhere else. Because of this shift, we've seen many features that have become standard on head units. This includes:

  • A push to standardize USB to charge and connect your media or smartphone devices.
  • Standardization of Bluetooth technology on all car stereos to stream music and make handsfree calls.
  • Many others!

The best head units don't just create high quality sound, they incorporate the latest trends in digital tech. All to make listening to your music simple and easy. Below you'll find our top pick car stereos that embrace the swift changes in audio and digital technology. Check back in frequently for updates, as new products get released and added!

Here's a list of CarAudioNow's best car stereos and head units for this year. Click on the product title to be anchored down to the review.

Our RankModelPower HandlingEQBluetoothPreamp OutputPrice
1Pioneer DEH-X8800BHSRMS: 14W x 4CH
Peak: 50W x 4CH
13 BandYes4-volt front, rear, subwoofer$$
2Kenwood Excelon KDC-X702RMS: 22W x 4CH
Peak: 50W x 4CH
13 BandYes5-volt front, rear, and subwoofer$$
3Sony MEX-N5200BTRMS: 20W x 4CH
Peak: 55W x 4CH
10 BandYes2-volt front, rear, subwoofer$$
4Pioneer DEH-80PRSRMS: 14W x 4CH
Peak: 50W x 4CH
16 BandYes5-volt front, rear, sub — switchable to high, mid, low$$$
5JVC KD-T905BTSRMS: 22W x 4CH
Peak: 50W x 4CH
13 BandYes5-volt front, rear, subwoofer$$
6Alpine CDE-HD149BTRMS: 18W x 4CH
Peak: 50W x 4CH
9 BandYes4-volt front, rear, subwoofer$$$
7Pioneer DEH-S6010SRMS: 14W x 4CH
Peak: 50W x 4CH
13 BandYes4-volt front, rear, subwoofer$$
8Kenwood KDC-BT758HDRMS: 22W x 4CH
Peak: 50W x 4CH
7 BandYes2.5-volt front, rear, and subwoofer$$$

Who Is This Review For?

There's numerous reasons why you would want or need to upgrade your car's head unit. One of the most common is to integrate Bluetooth connectivity to enable wireless calling and music streaming. But you might also:

  • Want to enable streaming and easy control of music through Pandora or Spotify on your head unit.
  • Need to upgrade your car stereo due to compatibility issues with your smartphone or wireless device.
  • Just want a new, fresh look and the latest technology.
  • Need to replace a head unit that recently broke or is experiencing issues.
  • Want to improve the quality of the music that you listen to.

The list is endless, but no matter what the reason you want to upgrade or replace your car stereo you'll want to find the best one that fits your needs.

What size is my dash?

If you haven’t already asked yourself this question, you may want to confirm it before you buy 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!

How We Tested

In order to find the best head unit for our list, we read through hundreds of reviews across the industry and combine 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 a price comparisons from multiple vendors to help you find the best deal. But in the end, like anything, the best car stereo is one that meets your specific needs and one that's 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 6.5″ 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!

CarAudioNow is a professional review site that combines insights from our experts, tests and consumer feedback to generate comprehensive How-To and Buying Guides for automotive and boat/marine electronics and accessories. Once we assemble our lists using our set criteria, being part of the Amazon Services LLC Associates program (and other affiliate programs) allows us to provide our audience with quality content via affiliate links in the “Price Comparison” section with no additional cost to you. This allows us to earn small fees to keep us growing and also to continue to bring you new and exclusive content. Check out our Affiliate Disclosure for more info.
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Unsure what size head unit will fit your dash? Search for your year, make and model using our Dash Size Search Tool to find out if the head units on this list match the dash opening of your car!

Best Car Stereo & Head Units List

1. Best Overall: Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS

Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS Best Car Stereo

Quick Stats

  • Single Din CD Receiver With AM/FM Radio
  • Output: 14 watts (RMS) x 4 channels
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • 13 Band Equalizer
  • 6-channel preamp outputs (4-volt front, rear, subwoofer)

Price Comparison

$157.95 on Amazon.com
$179.99 on Crutchfield.com
Last Amazon price update was: August 18, 2019 6:12 am

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 delivers solid. Some of the key features of the X8800 include:

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

But there are other features that complete the system which makes the Pioneer DEH-X8800 great. 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 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 on the top of our list. Truth is, you don’t need anything else to create a great in-car experience!

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
  • Possible to customize the text colors on the screen
Cons
  • Limited to android and iOS devices

2. Runner Up, Best Overall: Kenwood Excelon KDC-X702

Kenwood KDC-X702 front and back view with RCA inputs/outputs and wires for best car stereos

Quick Stats

  • Single Din CD Receiver With AM/FM Radio
  • Output: 22 watts (RMS) x 4 channels
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • 13 Band Equalizer
  • 6-channel preamp outputs (5-volt front, rear, and subwoofer)

Price Comparison

$168.00 on Amazon.com
$179.99 on Crutchfield.com
Last Amazon price update was: August 18, 2019 7:12 am

Kenwood Excelon KDC-X702 Quick Review

The Kenwood KDC-X702 is a car stereo that packs plenty of features for all music lovers and folks looking for a wide range of wireless compatibility options. It's predecessor, the KDC-X701 made our list in 2018. The unit’s most significant attribute is its ability to offer hands-free calling for two phones via Bluetooth, and also pair up to 5 different Bluetooth devices simultaneously. This enables you and your passengers to enjoy audio streaming of different favorite playlists from separate devices wirelessly. The receiver also gives your friends and family control over most of the unit’s basic functions directly from their Smartphone. Simply install the Kenwood free Remote app in their phones (Android or iPhone) and give them the power to access the stereo via the Bluetooth connection of the paired phone.

The KDC-X702 features a detachable faceplate with a cool display and well-defined function buttons for easy stereo control. It has variable color illumination technology that allows you to customize it to your needs – whether to match your current moods or interior car lighting or just to enhance the receiver’s looks. The unit has a built-in HD radio tuner and you can access Spotify, Pandora, and iHeartRadio from your Smartphone using the controls on the stereo. It is also compatible with the SiriusXM tuner and comes with dual rear USB ports for charging or connecting to portable music devices.

If you are looking for optimal sound performance, the KDC-X702 is a great option to consider. It comes with a 13-band equalizer with Drive EQ and digital alignment capabilities, allowing you to adjust and personalize the sound quality of your music to your unique preferences. The 3 sets of 5-volt RCA preamp outputs are designed to give your amplifiers strong signals and enable them to perform at their best.

Pros
  • Great sound quality
  • Excellent Bluetooth and Smartphone connectivity
  • Simple, aesthetic design
  • Friendly user interface
  • 2 year warranty
  • Compatible with most factory steering wheel controls (adaptor needed)
Cons
  • Inconvenient USB placement

3. Best Volume: Sony MEX-N5200BT

Sony MEX-N5200BT Best Head Unit

Quick Stats

  • Single Din CD Receiver With AM/FM Radio
  • Output: 20 watts (RMS) x 4 channels
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • 10 Band Equalizer
  • 6-channel preamp outputs (2-volt front, rear, subwoofer)

Price Comparison

$92.00 on Amazon.com
$98.00 on Crutchfield.com
Last Amazon price update was: August 18, 2019 3:11 am

Sony MEX-N5200BT Quick Review

If your goal in upgrading is primary to get Bluetooth functionality this single DIN receiver/head unit works well. It actually pairs with two phones, putting an end to arguments about who gets the hands-free functionality. And if better sound quality is your goal, the MEX-N5200BT delivers there too.

A CD player is built in, along with Aux and USB inputs and with a 4-channel amplifier you've got plenty of power for either the factory speakers or higher quality replacements. There are three pre-amp outputs plus a dedicated subwoofer connection. iPod controls are included and Audiophiles will be happy to learn that this will play FLAC files from a USB drive.

The tuner has 18 FM presets and the unit provides voice control with both Siri Eyes Free and Android. Sound quality is managed through a 10-band equalizer, plus high- and low-pass filters and an “Extra Bass” bass boost function.

The removal LCD screen/faceplate has a dot pattern display that's clear and legible if uninspiring. If matching head unit lighting to that of car's interior is important the MEX-N5200BT lets you do just that.

Pros
  • Compatible with SiriusXM satellite radio tuner
  • Can be paired with two phones
  • Offers plenty of power
  • Voice control with Siri Eyes Free and Android
  • High-power amplifier that lets you deliver clear and natural audio
  • Dual USB ports
Cons
  • Nothing truly unique or proprietary from other units

4. Best Performing: Pioneer DEH-80PRS

Pioneer DEH-80PRS

Quick Stats

  • Single Din CD Receiver With AM/FM Radio
  • Output: 14 watts (RMS) x 4 channels
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • 16 Band Equalizer
  • 6-channel preamp outputs (5-volt front, rear, sub — switchable to high, mid, low)

Price Comparison

$298.49 on Amazon.com
$349.99 on Crutchfield.com
$349.99 on Bestbuy.com
Last Amazon price update was: August 11, 2019 10:11 pm

Pioneer DEH-80PRS Quick Review

In the market for a head unit with a solid performance and wicked sound? Definitely consider Pioneer DEH-80PRS. We place the 80PRS among the best car stereos today because of it’s simple yet powerful features. It rival even the newer models that boast more modern functionality.

If you are like most music lovers, you would want a car stereo with a full sound. One that's built with high quality parts and components. You also want one that's carried by one of the most respected names in the music stereo industry. The DEH-80PRS is just that.

The Pioneer DEH-80PRS is not without its goodies. For instance, you have Android support and hands-free Bluetooth connectivity, which recognizes compressed audio files. It boasts clean sound thanks to the Pioneer 40later circuit board, which reduces the internal noise with copper foil. Combined with a set of 3 24-bit D/A converters to capture the low, mid, and high ranges and you have outstanding clarity.

We were impressed with the 16-band EQ which allows for independent output adjustment on both the left and right channels. And when tested the Pioneer DEH-80PRS, we noticed that it has Auto Time Alignment so you avoid static and garbled audio.

Aside from Bluetooth to access your apps, you also have:

  • CD playback
  • 2 Rear USB outputs
  • 2 Rear aux inputs
  • SD card slot

The Pioneer DEH-80PRS is already great out of the box. But it could even be greater when you spend time tweaking it to your satisfaction. What makes this unit quite spectacular and one of the best head units is the customization options you have in adjusting the audio. And being able to customize without having to run to your nearest Pioneer dealer. It’s user-friendly and designed to last for a great many years!

Pros
  • Simple, classic design and with plenty of features
  • Quality material build
  • Appealing aesthetics
  • Compatible with most factory steering wheel audio controls though an adapter is required
  • Subwoofer level control
Cons
  • Time alignment and DAC needs improving
  • Menus and display are hard to read for some
  • A little difficult to navigate while driving
  • Expensive

5. Best Budget: JVC KD-T905BTS

JVC KD-T905BTS front view and back view with wires and RCA outputs for best car stereos

Quick Stats

  • Single Din CD Receiver With AM/FM Radio
  • Output: 22 watts (RMS) x 4 channels
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • 13 Band Equalizer
  • 6-channel preamp outputs (5-volt front, rear, subwoofer)

Price Comparison

$136.98 on Amazon.com
$139.99 on Crutchfield.com
Last Amazon price update was: August 18, 2019 11:11 am

JVC KD-T905BTS Quick Review

The JVC KD-T905BTS is a great stereo at a relatively affordable price. It has plenty of features and connectivity options that will surely leave you delighted as a music enthusiast. It offers many ways to listen to your favorite music – whether its from a Smartphone, USB, CD, or different kinds of input. Some of these radio options (accessible through a Smartphone) include Spotify, Pandora, and iHeartRadio Internet. The unit is also compatible with the optional SiriusXM tuner.

The KD-T905BTS has a detachable faceplate which acts as a theft-deterrent measure. It has a 13-digit, 2-line vertical alignment LCD display that offers broader view angles and hence delivers better visibility. The display also offers 2-zone variable color illumination that enables you to customize the accent lighting of the unit’s front panel to suit your tastes. The on-screen display menu is available in both English and Spanish, so you can make a point of referring a friend who speaks Spanish to consider this stereo.

If you want great Bluetooth connectivity in a receiver, the KD-T905BTS delivers just that. One of the notable features is that it lets you connect to two phones via Bluetooth and easily switch between them for hands-free calling. And to spice the unit’s Bluetooth capabilities, JVC added a streaming DJ feature that allows you and your passengers to play music from up to 5 different paired Smartphones. The unit also links to iPhone and Android phones via a JVC free Remote app – and can be controlled from here. But without Bluetooth, you can still connect to the unit via its front aux input, as well as front and rear USB ports.

The KD-T905BTS delivers great sound quality through its K2 technology. With its 13-band graphic equalizer and digital alignment, you can balance and refine the stereo’s sound quality to suit your liking. The unit also offers Sound Lift technology to help you manipulate the height of your speakers (technically raise them) by adjusting sound frequencies.

Pros
  • Spanish menu available
  • Remote control (optional)
  • One front USB port
  • Low phone battery information display
  • Music sync with stereo lighting
  • DJ mode for streaming from multiple devices
  • 2 year warranty
Cons
  • No HD radio

6. Best Features: Alpine CDE-HD149BT

Alpine CDE-HD149BT front view and back view with rca outputs and wires for best car head units

Quick Stats

  • Single Din CD Head Unit With AM/FM Radio
  • Output: 18 watts (RMS) x 4 channels
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • 9 Band Equalizer With Zone Control
  • 6-channel preamp outputs (4-volt front, rear, subwoofer)

Price Comparison

$214.20 on Amazon.com
$299.95 on Crutchfield.com
$299.99 on Bestbuy.com
Last Amazon price update was: August 18, 2019 6:12 am

Alpine CDE-HD149BT Quick Review

The Alpine CDE-HD149BT is a great-looking stereo loaded with plenty of features. It comes with a detachable faceplate to help you avoid theft in case you are in a questionable neighborhood. It also has a well laid-out display for easy use and control. The menus weren't the most user friendly on our list, but they are fairly simple to understand.

The CDE-HD149BT receiver is a great platform for you to tune the system’s sound to your preferred tastes. Through the Alpine TuneIt App, suitable for both iPhone and Android, you can create a user profile that lists your personal information, vehicle, alpine system, and allows you to adjust your system’s sound settings – up to 100 different settings – to suit your preferences to the max. You can also choose from over 3,000 sound setting options stored in the Alpine’s database.It also gives you a wide range of audio control and sources to play music from. This includes: Bluetooth, built-in HD radio tuner, CD player, USB (MP3, WMA and M4A files supported), and an AM/FM tuner. If you want to stream audio, it supports Pandora (usable via Bluetooth for Android and Blackberry phones – iPhone users have to connect their devices via USB) and App Direct Mode for select music apps. Bluetooth also saves you the hassle of having to manually pick your phone to receive or make calls.

The unit delivers great sound quality and comes with a 9-band parametric equalizer to set your own preferences if the presets are not to your liking. It also has high and low crossover filters to help fine-tune sound delivery.

Pros
  • Clean and clear music clarity
  • Plenty of fine tuning audio adjustments
  • Appealing looks
  • Highly compatible with external devices
Cons
  • FLAC files not supported via USB
  • Inconvenient USB and auxiliary inputs placement
  • Not the most user friendly menus

7. Best Bluetooth: Pioneer DEH-S6010BS

Pioneer DEH-S6010BS

Quick Stats

  • Single Din CD Head Unit With AM/FM Radio
  • Output: 14 watts (RMS) x 4 channels
  • Built-in Bluetooth (Pairs with 2 phones)
  • 13 Band Equalizer
  • 6-channel preamp outputs (4-volt front, rear, subwoofer)

Price Comparison

$104.37 on Amazon.com
$120.00 on Crutchfield.com
Last Amazon price update was: August 18, 2019 10:11 pm

Pioneer DEH-S601BS Quick Review

The Pioneer DEH-S601BS head unit plays CD's, pairs with two phones simultaneously, handles the music on your iPod and even lets you listen to the radio. It's compatible with most factory steering wheel audio controls, although an adapter is needed, and a removable faceplate helps keep it safe.

Inputs include USB and Aux ports and the DEH-S6010BS will play FLAC files on USB drives. The interface is a crisp and clear multi-line display with variable colors and separate adjustment of display and buttons. Output is 14 watts RMS per channel and there are four channels. At the rear you'll find 6 preamp outputs, divided into 4Vvolt front, rear, and subwoofer.

Also included is a microphone for hands-free calls and a remote control. A 13-band equalizer with seven presets plus 3-level loudness control and low-pass and high-pass filters take care of any adjustments you might want to make. There's also a subwoofer level control, memory for 10 phones and the ability to listen to Pandora and Spotify.

Pros
  • Pairs with two phones simultaneously
  • Detachable faceplate
  • Compatible with most factory steering wheel audio controls – though you need an adapter
  • Keeps memory for up to 10 phones
Cons
  • Low on power compared to other stereos at this price range

8. Best for Customizing: Kenwood KDC-BT958HD

Kenwood KDC-BT958HD

Quick Stats

  • Single Din CD Receiver With AM/FM Radio
  • Output: 22 watts (RMS) x 4 channels
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • 7 Band Equalizer With Zone Control
  • 6-channel preamp outputs (2.5-volt front, rear, and subwoofer)

Price Comparison

$210.48 on Amazon.com
on Crutchfield.com
Last Amazon price update was: August 18, 2019 6:12 am

Kenwood KDC-BT958HD Quick Review

The Kenwood KDC-BT958HD lands on our top list for many reasons. For one, it delivers more than what you would expect from a single DIN head unit. Its minimalist design and array of features make it a perfect choice for listening to music on the road.

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

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. The only shortcoming we found is the lack of a full instruction manual. However, you can access one by downloading one from the website of Kenwood. On a scale of 1 to 10, this one gets the top score. It's an excellent choice and upgrade to your car stereo.

Pros
  • Sleek, stylish design
  • Detachable faceplate
  • Multi-color display
  • Great sound quality and performance
  • Many features and expandability options
Cons
  • Display sometimes dim during daytime

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 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 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.

How to Install a Car Stereo

Installing a head unit or replacing one can range in difficulty. Personally, I've spent as little as 30 minutes replacing a head unit, all the way up to 4 or 5 hours for the same job on a different car. 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, there are cars that I'd recommend upgrading or replacing a stereo, and cars that I would not recommend. In this guide, we'll not only walk you through the process of deciding whether you should upgrade your car's head unit we'll walk you through the process if you decide to do it!

Should I Upgrade My Head Unit?

Before you buy and install one of our recommended best car stereos or gps navigation units, you need to ask yourself the following questions to determine IF you should upgrade or replace your stereo and what kind of stereo you should upgrade it with.

  1. First question – Does your car already have an aftermarket head unit? If this is the case, your installation is greatly simplified because the wiring and mounting is already done. All you have to do is replace it. Note that you may have the change out the wiring harness that connects into the back of the unit. In this case, just cut and match up the wires color for color.
  2. Will upgrading my head unit cause my vehicle to lose any features/functionality? Many of the new vehicles have interdependent systems that rely on the stereo. For example, my Ram 1500 has settings for whether the horn chirps when I lock it, whether the locks automatically lock after a certain period of time, if the lights stay on after I lock the truck. All of this is controlled through my factory head unit. Many vehicles have this. If your car has features like this that are dependent on the head unit, I'd recommend keeping the stock stereo. If you're looking for more sound, you can do it without upgrading your stereo.
  3. Does my vehicle have multiple screens? In some cases cars have multiple screens that are interlinked. For example on many Hondas there is a head unit, then there's a display screen that displays information from the head unit like the radio station or the CD. Replacing the stereo may render the display useless. There are cases where adapters have been made, you'll want to research whether it has before you decide to replace your head unit. Or, if you don't care go ahead!
  4. Why am I upgrading my car stereo? If you want a subwoofer, or louder speakers, a head unit isn't your only option. If you want features that you currently don't have, like Bluetooth or an AUX input, there's also adapters for that. Figuring out if a replacement stereo is the best option for your needs is key.
  5. How large is my stereo opening? There's two main sizes in head units: 1DIN and 2DIN. 1DIN is the smaller of the two. It can fit in both 1DIN and 2DIN openings. 2DIN is larger and is typically dedicated to units with a touchscreen and larger screens. Here's an example of what a 1DIN (left) and 2DIN (right) look like:

 

If, asking yourself all of these question, you still feel it's necessary to buy and install a new head unit, here are the next steps!

Recommended Tools for Installing a Car Stereo

1. Removing the Head Unit

Well, the first step to installing your new head unit is to remove the old! To do this, we recommend you pop the hood and disconnect your battery before anything. This way, you don't short any fuses. Finding a blown fuse can be time consuming and frustrating so take our word that this will save you time in the long run. Once you have done this, start to remove the trim from around your stereo to access the mounting screws. I've found the trim removal instructions from Metra to be very helpful when you do this. In many cases, trim needs to be pulled in a certain direction to prevent cracking or breaking it. Metra does a great job at helping you visualize how to pull your trim off and where. Go to http://metraonline.com/, scroll down to the vehicle fit guide and enter your car. Once you've done this, click on one of the dash kits (this is the piece of plastic that you'll mount your head unit into. It replaces many parts of your trim to make a seamless fit for your new stereo). If you haven't already bought one of these dash kits, we HIGHLY recommend you do. It will simplify your install by 10 fold. Once you've selected one of the dash kits, click on the PDF link under the “Documents” on the left. You'll find full instructions for removing your trim step by step!

Your head unit will be mounted in one of two ways:

  1. Bolted to the dash with brackets and screws. This is the more difficult option to removing and where the Metra instructions will be extra helpful.
  2. Secured with mounting sleeve and spring clips. For this type, you'll want to purchase our recommended stereo removal keys.

sleeve-and-spring-vs-bolted-stereo

Sticking and Stubborn Dash Trim

It's worth noting that removing trim is probably one of the more difficult tasks in removing your car stereo. You're going to be lucky if you don't hit at least one trim piece that isn't a pain. In these cases, you really want to use a trim removal tool to wedge in between the gaps and gently work your way around the trim piece. Patience is key because once you break a trim piece, there's no turning back. Start in a corner and work your way around the piece.

Once you've removed your trim according to the instructions, dismount your factory stereo and disconnect the wiring on the back of the unit.

2. Wiring Your New Stereo

If Metra or Scosche carries a wire harness for your vehicle, we highly recommend purchasing one along side the dash kit. Again, you can use the same link from Metra (www.metraonline.com) to find the one for your vehicle. In the case that you can't find one, you'll need to do a little research on the web to find a list of stereo wire colors on your harness and match them up with the corresponding ones on the car stereo harness. You can find a diagram here of aftermarket car stereo wires. This will help you match the aftermarket up with your factory ones.

If you find that there is a custom wire harness for your car, it's very simple, just match up color for color the wires from your aftermarket head unit harness to your custom wire harness for your car.

Connecting the Wires

There's two options for connecting the wires that you can use:

  1. Soldering – For all of the professional installs that I have done I would solder the two together. This ensures a permanent connection that will never short over time. It's more time consuming though. Here's how you do it:
    1. Strip the two wires 1/2 inch back.
    2. (Optional) Place 1 1/2 inch of shrink wrap on one side at least 4 inches behind the end of the wire.
    3. Overlap the two exposed wires and twist the two together until they are interconnected.
    4. Using a soldering iron or a soldering torch, heat the wire and feed in your solder slowly until it absorbs into the wire.
    5. Let cool and test the solder job by tugging on the two wires.
    6. After the wires cool, move your shrink wrap back over the soldered area. If you didn't use shrink wrap, apply electrical tape.
    7. Do this for each wire until all have been connected.
  2. Connectors – You can use butt connectors or crimp caps as well. This is a much more efficient way to connect the wires but in many cases I've seen these fail after a few years on the road. In any case, you'll either crimp the two wires together in a clamp by placing the wires in and clamping down on the crimp clam. Or your use but connectors to insert both ends into the connector and clamp both sides.

3. Installing the New Head Unit

Now that your wires are all completed you're ready to install the head unit. Connect all of the wires first. Ensure that there are no exposed wires that may be in contact with any part of the vehicle. We recommend connecting your battery and testing the stereo out prior to fully installing it back into the dash.

Once you've tested it (and it works!) you'll want to add the mounting brackets to your new head unit. If you have a dash kit, use the ones that come with the kit. If not, use the ones off of your factory stereo. If you have the dash and mounting kit, follow the instructions in the manual. If not, you'll need to test where the new head unit sits, and adjust your factory trim to make it fit. This is normally a difficult task. I'd recommend using a Dremel to make cuts and adjustments to the plastic.

Slide the stereo into the opening in the dash, ensuring that the wires behind are tucked and not pinched. Sometimes this may take a few times when the vehicle has a tight dash opening. Tuck the wires back into an opening behind the unit.