In your quest for the best car stereo, it’s important to remember one crucial fact: the more features, the greater the cost. Sure, some stereos perform better than others, but there really are great products in every price range.
Luckily, there are various car head units to choose from. After all, aftermarket stereos come with huge advantages over factory-installed car stereos. And with more consumers switching to digital audio format downloads over CDs and to keep up with the increasing array of portable digital audio players and formats, more and more stereo manufacturers and brands had to go along with the trends and move away from the old standard auxiliary input, and implement USB inputs and iPod connections instead.
Additionally, and because Bluetooth® is becoming one of the most widespread wireless technology, we’re also seeing plenty of receivers that support Bluetooth® connectivity for hands-free calling and wireless music streaming (A2DP).
That being said, choosing the best aftermarket car stereo for your vehicle can be a tedious task. Making the wrong move could cost you time, money, and effort. So before you spend your hard-earned buck, make sure that you are getting the best car stereo that meets your needs and fits your vehicle. Good thing for you, then, we’ve done the research, so you don’t have to; we’ve compiled a list of the top-rated car stereo of 2021 to help you make your decision.
The interactive chart of receivers below and the analysis that follows will help you decide what the best aftermarket car stereo is for you.
Top rated Car Stereo Reviews
Any of the following would be great buys. Much of it comes down to personal preference and the budget devoted to this upgrade. Like with any product, you can get some really, really nice receivers if you’re willing to shell out some extra dough, but there really are great products in every price range.
The guys over at Kenwood know what they’re doing. This receiver is impressive. And it’s gorgeous. We have reviewed many Kenwood receivers on this site before, and the story hasn’t changed.
Kenwood receivers, particularly eXcelon receivers, cost an arm and a leg. So if you want to go balls-to-the-wall and buy one of these state of the art, you’ll be looking at a $100-$200 price tag.
However, you’ll be getting a well-engineered receiver loaded with a huge array of features, including a multi-line display, dual USB ports, and built-in Bluetooth for hands-free calling and music streaming.
You’ll also be happy to know that the KDC-X998 comes with a few advanced features such as digital time alignment, a 3-level bass boost as well as a full complement of 4-volt pre-amp outputs complete with integrated high-pass and low-pass filtering.
If you’re an audiophile who likes tweaking the receiver EQ to get the optimal sound balance, you’ll be happy to know that the KDC-998 features a 13-band equalizer to let you tweak the sound further to your musical taste.
To put it plainly, the eXcelon KDC-X998 comes with all the features you’ll ever need. And Kenwood backs up this versatile receiver with a 2-year warranty.
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You’ll find a wide variety of decent and reasonably priced car stereos on the market that offer solid sound quality, futuristic design, and a rich blend of features and entertainment options.
But if your sights are set on getting a receiver that’s built from the ground up with high-quality sound in mind, then “DEH-80PRS” is your best bet. This receiver goes beyond almost all receivers with the quality of its audiophile-grade internal components and architecture, which significantly improves sound quality. Moreover, Pioneer’s exclusive technologies in this field, such as Auto EQ and Auto Time Alignment, are what make this receiver stand out among the crowd.
Auto-time alignment automatically estimates the delay from each speaker to the driver’s seat. It precisely adjusts speakers’ sound output timing accordingly so that sound output from all speakers reaches the driver’s ears in a perfectly synchronized way.
Auto EQ, on the other hand, comes with specific musical characteristics according to your musical taste. It uses the microphone to monitor, analyze and adjust the equalization according to your vehicle’s interior and acoustics; then, it automatically fine-tunes all frequency bandwidths, front and rear speakers digital parametric equalization to get the perfect stereo sweet spot.
The DEH-80PRS receiver comes with a wide array of features, unparalleled sound controls, and plenty of expansion opportunities, which account for a lot of the cost. Unfortunately, at around $250, the price is fairly steep – which is in fact our only complaint about this stereo, but it’s a very well-engineered stereo that you can’t go wrong with.
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This is virtually the same product as the receiver we reviewed above (eXcelon KDC-X998). We think it is important for you fellas to be aware of all available options so you can make the right decision. The KDC-BT958HD is the flagship of Kenwood’s single DIN head units lineup. It’s less expensive than the eXcelon series receivers. At around $180, the price isn’t anything to sneeze at, but this receiver is impressive, and it’s a great deal for the buck.
It combines all the desired features along with a sleek and functional look. It provides an easy-to-read multi-line display that can be jazzed up with the bouncing graphics of the spectrum analyzer or toned down to show the clock or a blank display. The KDC-BT958HD also features an HD radio, Bluetooth® connectivity, and two versatile USB ports (front and rear). You’ll also be able to sculpt your sound according to your preferences by tweaking the time alignment, the 7-band equalizer, high and low-pass filters, or the bass-boost levels. Additionally, if you’re into serious amplification, you’ll be happy to know that this receiver comes with 4-volt pre-amp outputs that provide a clean signal for all your amps.
If you’re logging many hours behind the wheel traveling long distances and you don’t want to miss your favorite radio program, you can enjoy satellite radio simply by adding a tuner to this receiver (sold separately), so you’ll have access to hundreds of stations, and plenty of entertainment programming from SiriusXM wherever you are.
Otherwise, if you’re a big fan of internet radio, you’ll be happy to know that this great-sounding receiver supports both Pandora®, iHeartRadio® as well as Aha™ radio. The KDC-BT958HD is, by all means, one of the best car stereos out there.
- Built In Bluetooth
- Built-in HD Radio
- SiriusXM Ready
- 50W x 4 Chan. MAX
- Blue Illuminated Button Lighting
This is another top-rated car stereo by Pioneer. If you happen to pick up a set of their fantastic speakers, you might want to get this receiver to accompany it (though if you like, any double or single-DIN head unit will work with them).
The DEH-X9600BHS comes with all the convenient features you’ll ever need in a modern car stereo, including Bluetooth® for hands-free calling and wireless music streaming, an HD Radio tuner for listening to your favorite HD stations with noise-free and near CD-quality sound, Pandora® Internet radio as well as dual USB ports.
Moreover, the DEH-X9600BHS is SiriusXM ready, plug the SiriusXM tuner into the dedicated port on the rear of the receiver, and you’re good to enjoy commercial-free music, exclusive talk and entertainment, news, weather, and more!
In terms of look and design, the DEH-X9600BHS features a variable-color,full-dot display enhanced by MIXTRAX – a leading-edge Pioneer’s exclusive technology that creates an endless mix of your music playlists complete with a range of visual transitions and effects which result in a DJ-like experience.
Our only complaint was that this receiver becomes a kind of hard to see in bright sunlight, especially if your vehicle has no window tint.
Pioneer, a company we are rather enamored with, makes some of the best single DIN head units in addition to the best double DIN head units. The AVH-X5600BHS is what you can get if you’re willing to shell out big bucks. It’s one of the best touchscreen stereos on the market; bar none. We’ve covered this head unit before in previous reviews, but it bears repeating – it’s one of the best double DIN head units out there.
The AVH-X5600BHS features a 7″ motorized LCD touchscreen display with variable color choices and backgrounds. In addition, the display’s angle can be adjusted with a touch of a button (5 angle settings), ensuring you’ll have the most convenient and comfortable viewing angle in your car.
What we love the most about this head unit are its huge expandability options. Its video output, for example, will allow you to keep your backseat passengers happy by sending a movie from the receiver to a rear-seat screen. Additionally, you can plug in a rear-view camera – which a handy add-on in crowded parking lots.
The AVH-X5600BHS touchscreen car stereo is the most expensive pick of the lot by far. If you’ve read some of our reviews of Pioneer touchscreen car stereos, you will know why. You truly get an impressive experience with these centers of entertainment, and that’s no coincidence. Pioneer boasts a proven record making the best car stereos. They’ve mastered the art of providing above-par stereos. The AVH-X5600BHS is no exception.
Pioneer developed the AVH-X5600BHS with a rich blend of features and functionality designed to make your life a lot easier and, more importantly, enjoyable!!. I’d say this is one of the best Pioneer car stereos. Here’s a rundown of what you’ll get if you decide to purchase this versatile head unit:
- Built-in Bluetooth® for hands-free calling and wireless audio streaming
- HD radio for high quality music
- MirrorLink™ (to provide easy-to-use in-dash control over compatible smartphones)
- Advanced App Mode
- Optional satellite radio
- Siri-Eyes Free
The FH-X700BT is a showstopper double DIN head unit. It made our list for its combination of price and quality. We’ve reviewed tons of Pioneer audio products on this site, and this car stereo is very much like the rest of the double-DIN head units in the Pioneer line, with one exception; its screen size is a little bit smaller than the other double DIN head units we previously reviewed.
That’s not a bad thing at all and might even be good if your car has a narrower stereo opening.
It’s no surprise this is the best-selling aftermarket car stereo, probably because it’s in more of a middle-high price range. At around $120, it’s not outrageous – and if you’re a serious audiophile, it could be a great investment. However, we do think you get a lot of bang for your buck with this receiver.
- Built-In Bluetooth for Hands-Free Calling and Wireless Audio Streaming
- Voice Control for iPhone
- Enjoy Your Favorite Music in a Non-Stop Mix with MIXTRAX
- 2 RCA Preouts (2V)
Things to consider when you’re looking for a car stereo
Your car receiver is both the brain and the heart of your car audio system and the part you’ll directly interact with the most from behind the wheel. For this reason, there are a few factors you’ll need to take into account to make an informed decision. These factors include but are not limited to: available audio sources, expandability options, features, look and design …etc.
One of the most crucial features you should take into consideration is audio sources that you often use. For example, do you need a CD player? Will you be using your head unit for DVD playback when parked? What about discs? Do you still have them, or you’ve ditched them in favor of digital music formats? The answers to these questions will help you narrow down your choices, so you can decide whether to go with an old-school traditional CD receiver with a slot for your CDs, a digital media receiver(AKA Mecheless receiver), or a larger colorful touchscreen stereo.
CDs are definitely not cool anymore – they are taking up lots of space and are very hard to manage. In fact, CDs lost their luster, and with the advent of MP3 players, USB fingers, iPods, smartphones, you might not even own CDs anymore. However, even if you still keep hundreds of CDs in your car’s gloves box, there’s a fair chance you or a passenger will want to plug in a smartphone or media storage player into your car’s receiver at some point, so make sure the receiver you’re about to buy includes a USB port at the very least and an analog auxiliary input for universal connectivity.
Apps and smartphone integration
Nowadays, mobile devices, mainly smartphones, are an important part of our everyday busy lives since they enable us to access many ubiquitous services. To put it plainly, they’ve even invaded our personal lives, and now they’re making their way into automobiles.
The odds are good there’s a smartphone right now in your pocket or purse. Moreover, there’s a great chance you’d want to play music stored on it while you’re driving. Therefore, having a receiver with Bluetooth connectivity is an excellent way to wirelessly stream music from your smartphone or tablet to your receiver.
Additionally, If you are an excessive user of streaming apps such as Pandora or iHeart-Radio, then you should look for a receiver that supports and features full control for those services, by this I mean being able to pause/skip stations, create favorite stations, rate a song, tag a song for later purchase through iTunes right from your smartphone’s display for more safety and convenience.
HD Radio & Satellite Radio
Satellite radio offers a wide variety of additional programming and stations. If you’re a road tripper who’s logging hours behind the wheel traveling long distances, you might see value in being able to have your favorite radio stations broadcasted to you wherever you are. Satellite Radio also allows users to rate songs and tag them for later purchase.
Additionally, if sound clarity is your major concern, look for a car stereo featuring HD radio capabilities.HD Radio is an improvement of the way AM and FM radio signals are transmitted. As a result, it offers incredible sound clarity when compared to AM/FM radio broadcasting.
Bluetooth For Hands-Free Calling & Music Streaming
Nowadays, cellphone communication – be it texting or talking or using other mobile electronic devices while driving is becoming a huge epidemic worldwide. And since safety is the number one priority on the road. We see more and more cars come equipped with Bluetooth technology. Unfortunately, old vehicles with factory-installed head units weren’t equipped with Bluetooth. Luckily those old stereos could be ditched in favor of an aftermarket receiver with modern features, futuristic design, and convenience.
Car stereos with Bluetooth will save you from the hassle of fidgeting around looking for a ringing phone in your pocket or purse. Furthermore, with more states enacting laws that prohibit driving while talking on handheld cell phones, getting a hands-free calling solution integrated with your car will save you hefty fines or possible imprisonment for violating these laws.
Double DIN or Single DIN Headunit ?
Deciding between a single or double din head unit is dictated by your car’s dashboard stereo opening. Single DIN head units occupy less space in the dash and are less obvious to the outside world and wannabe thieves (particularly models with detachable,theft-deterrent faceplate options). In addition, single DIN head units can fit in almost all openings, even in wider openings dedicated to double DIN receivers using a mounting bracket.
On the other hand, double DIN head units take up more dashboard real-estate and feature large color touchscreen displays. If you want your receiver to include GPS and DVD playback or app mirroring we discussed above, you’ll most likely end up with a double-DIN head unit.