In this article: We'll review 7 of our best pick single din car stereos (head units) across a variety of categories including low cost, bluetooth, volume, connectivity and more.
- Who Is This Review For?
- Best Overall Single DIN Car Stereo: Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS
- Runner Up, Best Overall Pick: Kenwood KDC-BT778HD
- Best Looking Single DIN Head Unit: Sony MEX-N5300
- Best for Sound Quality Single DIN Car Stereo: Pioneer DEH-80PRS
- Best Features Single DIN Head Unit: Alpine CDE-172BT
- Best Single DIN Car Stereo for Multi-Device Bluetooth: Pioneer DEH-S6220BS
- Best Single DIN Receiver on a Budget: Boss Audio 508UAB
- Comparing Specs
- What size is my dash?
- How We Tested
- What to Look For
The best single din car stereo should reflect the latest in digital audio technology. For example, compatibility with smartphones and the most common internet radio 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 and comes standard with certain features 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 output high quality sound, they really should incorporate the latest trends in digital tech to simplify how you listen to your music, navigate to where you're going and make wireless phone calls. In our list below, you'll find our top pick car stereos that embrace the swift changes in audio and digital technology. We're frequently updating all of our lists, so check back for updates as fresh new products get released and added!
Who Is This Review For?
There's a number of reasons why you could want or need to upgrade your car's head unit. One of the most common is to integrate Bluetooth connectivity that enables 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 regardless of the reason, the head unit you choose should really best fit the combination of your own personal needs.
Looking for a different type of head unit? Check out these lists!
Best Overall Single DIN Car Stereo: Pioneer DEH-X8800BHS
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!
- 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
- Limited to android and iOS devices
Runner Up, Best Overall Pick: Kenwood KDC-BT778HD
- Single-DIN chassis
- CD/ Multimedia receiver
- Front, Rear, Sub outputs, 4 volt
- 22 watts x 4 RMS
- Front USB, Aux input
- Bluetooth 4.3, includes a microphone for hands-free answering and calling
- HD radio, Pandora, Spotify, SiriusXM-ready
- Detachable faceplate
Kenwood KDC-BT778HD Quick Review
The Kenwood KDC-BT778HD is definitely one of the best single din CD receivers on the market right now. It combines the technology you really want with a powerful head unit that offers optimal upgrade opportunities. It’s also a good looking stereo with customization features useful for making the installation look seamless.
Kenwood builds this CD receiver with built-in Bluetooth you can use for hands-free calling and music searching. You can wirelessly connect up to five phones simultaneously for optimal road-trip DJ-ing. You can use the Kenwood app to turn your smartphone into a remote control. Drivers will enjoy built-in Alexa and broad iOS and Android compatibility.
This single-din stereo from Kenwood is a powerhouse straight out of the box. It features a factory-rated 22 watts RMS per channel as well as three sets of four-volt pre outs for powering front, rear, and subwoofer channels. The front USB and AUX input make connecting MP3 players convenient.
The KDC-BT778HD has a 13-band digital equalizer for tuning the system to your car. Variable color LED backlighting also lets the driver customize the stereo to match dash lighting. The front-loading CD, HD radio tuner, Pandora and Spotify compatibility, and SiriusXM-ready options give you plenty of ways to play music files in the car.
- Excellent sound quality and power
- Simple, aesthetic design
- Friendly user interface
- Compatible with most factory steering wheel audio controls (adapter required)
- Alexa voice control
- Faceplate does not detach
Best Looking Single DIN Head Unit: Sony MEX-N5300
- Single-DIN chassis
- CD/ Digital media receiver
- 20 w x 4 RMS, 55 w peak
- Front, Rear, Sub outputs, 2v
- Front USB/ AUX input
- Built-in Bluetooth
- Sirius XM-ready
- AOA 2.0
- 35,000 color dual-zone display
- Touch-to-connect NFC technology
Sony MEX-N5300BT Quick Review
The Sony MEX-N5300BT is another top quality single-DIN CD and digital media receiver. It's predecessor, the N5200 made our top list for 2020 and now it's latest version still tops out charts. Sony packs a ton of features that are actually useful into one of the best-looking car stereos currently on the market. Sony gives you a 35,000-color dual-zone adjustment that makes the display and buttons look like a factory stereo.
Bluetooth control is built-in and lets you make hands-free calls, change tracks, and even search songs by title or artist. The stereo can connect two phones simultaneously through the Bluetooth connection. A really slick feature is the NFC wireless pairing- just touch your compatible smartphone to the volume knob and you’re paired up. I don't think it gets any easier than that!
Front-facing USB and AUX inputs let you stream music files from MP3 players. Sony rates the stereo for 20 watts per channel with a peak of 55 watts. Two-volt outputs for front, rear, and subwoofer channels let you customize your setup. A 10-band digital equalizer gives you control over how your music sounds.
The N5300BT is SiriusXM-ready and is compatible with Siri Eyes Free and Android Voice Control for over-the-speaker command of music, navigation, and messages. Android Open Accessory (AOA 2.0) lets users stream music from popular smartphone apps using the USB input.
- Attractive stereo with fantastic color tuning
- NFC connectivity is super convenient and works great
- Bluetooth pairing isn't as intuitive as it should be
- No HD radio
- 2v preouts
Best for Sound Quality Single DIN Car Stereo: Pioneer DEH-80PRS
- 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)
Pioneer DEH-80PRS Quick Review
In the market for a head unit with a solid performance and wicked sound? Look no further than the Pioneer DEH-80PRS. We still place the 80PRS among the best car stereos today because of it’s simple yet powerful features. Featured on our list for a few years now, and it still rivals even the newest models that boast more modern functionality.
If you are like most music lovers, you 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 packed with awesome features. 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. It's also important to note that when tested the Pioneer DEH-80PRS, we noticed that it has Auto Time Alignment so you avoid static and garbled audio. It makes for a seamless and clear sound.
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 as is, but it could be even greater when you spend time tweaking it to your satisfaction. What makes this unit quite spectacular and consistently one of the best head units available is the customization options you have in adjusting the audio. It's a time saver and super convenient to be able to customize it to your own liking without having to run to your nearest Pioneer dealer. It’s user-friendly and designed to last for a great many years!
- 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
- Time alignment and DAC needs improving
- Menus and display are hard to read for some
- A little difficult to navigate while driving
Best Features Single DIN Head Unit: Alpine CDE-172BT
- Single-DIN CD receiver
- 18 watts x 4 channels RMS
- Compatible with KTP-445 hang-on amplifier for 45 watts x 4 RMS
- Plays CDs
- Front USB and Aux-in
- Built-in Bluetooth
- Made for use with iOS devices
- AOA connectivity for Android streaming and control
- Multi-function rotary knob
- Detachable faceplate
- Compatible with third-party steering wheel control converters
Alpine CDE-172BT Quick Review
The Alpine CDE-172BT is an affordable head unit that has features you really want in a convenient to use package. The Alpine-signature rotary knob does way more than just turn up the volume- it is now used to control your tracks, switch inputs, and numerous other features with a simple turn. The rotary knob makes the 172BT one of the easiest units to use without getting distracted by having to look for small buttons while driving.
Built-in Bluetooth is a vital feature of any modern head unit, so Alpine gives you the most modern, advanced Bluetooth connectivity possible. Syncing your Android or iOS device has never been easier than this. You can make phone calls, navigation, and change tracks with simple voice commands.
The LCD screen is a high-contrast design that makes reading the text much faster and easier over conventional head units. The buttons for voice command and source are on either side of the knob, making it easy for the driver to find them without looking away from the road ahead. It’s an easy to use head unit perfect for road warriors who want a convenient, distraction-reducing car stereo.
Playback features include iPod and iPhone compatibility and Android Open Accessory (AOA) that allows you to easily play music from your compatible smartphone using Bluetooth and a USB connection. The CD slot is through the detachable faceplate, so you don’t have to remove the face or operate a mechanism to switch discs. The tuner even has RBDS information, so your stereo will display artist, track, and album information on screen.
- Clean and clear music clarity
- Plenty of fine tuning audio adjustments
- Highly compatible with external devices
- FLAC files not supported via USB
- Not the most user friendly menus
- Look is becoming a little dated
Best Single DIN Car Stereo for Multi-Device Bluetooth: Pioneer DEH-S6220BS
- Single-DIN chassis, CD receiver
- Dual zone illumination with 210,000 colors
- Built-in Bluetooth for hands-free calling and track selection
- Compatible with Apple and Android smartphones
- Includes Pandora and Spotify, ready for SiriusXM
- MOSFET amplifier, 50 w x 4 peak
- Front, rear, and subwoofer outputs, 4 volt
- Front USB and Aux-in
- Detachable faceplate
- MixTrax technology for custom DJ-inspired playback
Pioneer DEH-S6220BS Quick Review
Pioneer made sure to cover as many playback options as possible while crafting one of the most modern and attractive car stereos while somehow keeping the price affordable with the DEH-S6220BS. Dual zone color control and more than 210,000 color combinations means you’ll love the way your interior looks when you install the S6200BS.
Pioneer also sets you up for a great listening experience by providing built-in Bluetooth and ready-to-use access to Pandora, Spotify, and SiriusXM. The S6220BS is compatible with most Apple and Android smartphones, so you can play your music the way you want. Your device connects with a USB and Bluetooth using Pioneer Smart Sync, giving you full artist and album information right on screen.
A built-in MOSFET amplifier gives you great power, too. Pioneer rates the S6200BS at 50 watts peak by four channels. Front, rear, and subwoofer 4V outputs also let you add amplifiers to your system easily. Pioneer’s exclusive MixTrax technology even lets you easily set up a DJ-inspired playlist of your favorite music complete with remix effects.
On top of all these fantastic features, the built-in Bluetooth connection lets you make and answer phone calls hands-free. You can use your voice to search for tracks, change playlists, and do lots of things without picking up your phone. And the head unit will automatically connect to two devices simultaneously. This allows you to stream music or talk from either one that's connected. The Pioneer S6200BS is an excellent way to add playback options you don’t have while providing distraction-free access that will keep you safe and may even help keep you from getting a ticket.
- Excellent connectivity options built-in
- Beautiful dual-zone color options
- Excellent sound quality
- Some users report the display isn’t bright enough in the sunshine
Best Single DIN Receiver on a Budget: Boss Audio 508UAB
Boss Audio 508UAB Quick Review
Sometimes you're really just looking to install a budget-friendly stereo in your car. While there are often some drawbacks to low-cost options like lack of features or low quality construction- we understand there's always a market for affordability and we've got you covered! If you are looking for a less expensive way to get great features and sound in your dash, you should check out the Boss Audio 508UAB. It has all the important features and a glorious wallet-gracing price tag.
Bluetooth is now an essential feature, and the Boss 508UAB gets it right with A2DP technology providing wireless streaming of audio from your smartphone apps. This means that you can run Pandora or Spotify wirelessly and use your voice to answer calls using the built-in microphone.
A front-mount USB and Aux-in port make it a snap to play music from MP3 players or thumb drives. It even plays CDs, which many more expensive head units do not. Front and rear outputs let you build your car audio system how you want. Boss even includes a wireless remote that comes in handy when you don’t want to reach for the radio.
Power ratings from Boss are 50 watts x 4 channels peak. You may think that audio quality suffers when you buy an inexpensive head unit, but the 508UAB may be a pleasant surprise. Playback using Bluetooth or MP3 is quite good and is comparable to units costing twice as much. While the head unit lacks some features for connectivity, including built-in Pandora and Spotify, and SiriusXM compatibility, the Bluetooth connection is excellent and allows for easy media selection.
- Good sound quality and features for the price
- Bluetooth quality is good and streaming works flawlessly
- Stylish faceplate and design
- Basic, no-frills stereo with limited tuning capabilities
- No on-screen control of Pandora, Spotify, or other streaming apps
- No clock display when using Bluetooth
- Can’t customize the button or screen color
- No dedicated subwoofer output
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!
What size is my dash?
If you haven’t already asked yourself this question, you definitely need to before 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!
How We Tested
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)
- 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 recommended 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.
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 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 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 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.
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 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.