Obviously, you’ll need to have an outstanding set of speakers or subwoofers for the best audio experience in your vehicle; even so, you should not overlook the significance of a car stereo.
Truth be told, there are quite a lot of these on the internet and sadly, not all the car stereos are the best car stereos as they claim to be. Other than the possibility that most of these are likely substandard products, a car stereo may not offer you as much as you’d expect it to; considering that your taste in music is entirely a personal opinion.
That being said, it’s clear that unless you are quite lucky, you cannot simply stumble onto exactly what you need but on the contrary, it will take a lot of effort for you to get what you really want.
To cut to the chase, how about I let you in on a little secret of mine that’s going to take your car audio system to a whole new level? Here’s what you should focus on if you really do want the best.
Before we move on to the buying guide, we’ve sampled out 3 of our best each of which is definitely worth every cent.
Pioneer DEH-150MP Single DIN Car Stereo With MP3 Playback
JVC KD-R370 Single DIN In-Dash CD/AM/FM/ Receiver
Kenwood KDC-168U In-Dash 1-DIN CD Car Stereo Receiver with Front USB Input
Moving on to the first section of our review, let’s have a look at what you should exactly look into if you really do want the best car stereo.
A car stereo or head unit/ receiver as some people like to refer to it is simply the backbone of every vehicle’s audio system. It is therefore important that you pay utmost attention to this if you want to have the best sound quality in your vehicle.
Regardless of the level of complexity of a head unit, it always has got 3 different sections- the source, the preamp and the amplifier.
This is basically what allows us to choose what we want to listen to. different car stereos will come with different sources and the most basic of these are a USB input, a satellite radio, AM/FM tuner or a CD/DVD player.
The stereo does not need to have exclusively one of these and if you’re lucky, you may get even all of them on your unit.
Still, at the source, it is also important to consider how exactly you'll want to use your head unit. Regarding your preference, here are some of the things you should consider looking into before making your purchase.
This is unlike the AM/FM radio that you’re basically used to; think of it as an incremental upgrade to the conventional radio.
The downside to this is that it may not be able to have a wide coverage as compared to the AM/FM radio. If, however, you’ll be spending most of the time moving around in an area with an outstanding HD radio coverage, getting a car stereo with HD radio coverage will be highly beneficial.
Everyone definitely has that radio station that gets them excited, right? Whether it’s about the music or the programs on the radio, poor network coverage may be quite disappointing and the only solution to this may be getting a head unit with the internet radio.
If you love the radio but you don’t really have good stations, this is the best thing to go for at any place ant time.
As much as you can listen to almost anything on the internet radio, it won’t do you much good if you don’t have a good internet connection. If your head unit has a Bluetooth connectivity, then you can use your smartphone to stream internet radio to them
Now here's an alternative to the traditional radio and probably the best thing to have in your vehicle if you travel long distances.
With this, you can travel for miles without having to change the station. You won’t have to worry about not listening to your favorite radio station once you are in an area with a spotty radio coverage.
The only thing that’s different in the satellite radio is that unlike the others, you’ll be needing a monthly subscription for this one. Spending a little cash with the guarantee of getting to listen to your favorite station isn’t that bad now, is it?
Besides the radios, here’s another thing that’s been around for quite a while. Most head units will include a CD player in them.
If you’ve got a large CD collection that you still want to hold on to, then this is definitely something you should go for. Before you get a radio head unit with a CD player, go ahead and check whether it supports the audio files you’ll be playing on it. The most basic of these are MP3, ACC, and WMA formats.
Simple as they are, they still stand out to be one of the best choices as far as playing your favorite music on the road is concerned.
All you need to use these is simply your smartphone, an MP3 player or a tablet; the next thing you should consider looking for is a head unit that has got a front facing auxiliary input. These are much simpler to use as compared to those with rear-facing auxiliary inputs.
An even better head unit you should consider looking for is one with Bluetooth connectivity. This is so because such will allow you to go ahead and stream not only MP3 music files but much more than this.
Ever wondered where all the sound adjustments are made on your car stereo? Well, this just so happens to be in the preamp section.
This basically handles most of the controls. The fader, the equalizer, the source selection, tone adjustments, the crossover, time correction and even the simple volume adjustments are taken care of by the preamp.
We all know about the amplifier, right. Anyone looking for the best car stereo should go ahead and look at how good the amplifier on one really is.
The amplifier is what boosts the low-voltage signal from the preamp to a high-voltage audio signal that is then sent out to the speakers. Taking this into account, I’d highly recommend that you first get yourself a head unit then go ahead and upgrade your speakers while taking into account the power rating.
Think about it- is getting a head unit too complex to use really worth having? From a personal point of view, I'd say that you won't be fair to yourself if you go ahead and get a stereo that would require you to go back to the user manual at most times.
I think the best thing to do is to actually go ahead and try out the head unit yourself. This way, you’ll know whether or not it’s easy enough for you to find your way around it.
Other than the ease of use, you obviously should go ahead and consider the sound quality you desire to hear from the head unit.
Though it is not always the case, you’ll find that most of the low-priced head units will tend to compromise the sound. This is mostly because of a poorly constructed amplifier which ends up dragging behind all the other audio components in your sound system such as the speakers.
That being said, I’d highly recommend that you go ahead and consider looking for a head unit with an outstanding built-in amplifier.
Basically, if you spend more on your head unit, then it is bound to be much better looking as compared to spending less money on the same.
If you want a better-looking head unit, then you should be ready to go deeper into your pockets.
Even though you will be mainly using your head unit to listen to music, there’s plenty more to consider other than music when it comes to buying one.
Though you don’t necessarily need this, it’s important that you get a head unit with one of these. Of course, you’ll have to spend some more cash on one since most of these have a touch screen display which is much easier to use.
It’s important to go ahead and consider some additional features such as the presence of a USB or a micro-SD card slot. This will only need you to have a micro-SD or a USB stick. As compared to having a collection of DVDs, this is definitely a much more portable option.
Something else you should consider having in your head unit is utmost protection. The more secure it is, the better off you are.
For the touchscreen head units, it's best that you only go for the ones with a pin protection. If otherwise, you can go ahead and look for one with a detachable faceplate which you can always take off if you think it is compromised.
Coming up below is a listing of 10 of the best stereos each of which will definitely give you a kick for your buck. Let’s count them down, shall we?
Starting us off on our list today is one of the best from JVC- the KD-R370. I’ve got to say, as far as receivers are concerned, this one will definitely give you a kick for your buck.
From the title alone, the KD-R370 is designed in such a way that you can remove the faceplate at will. This comes in handy especially when you don’t want anyone to mess around with the settings.
Being one of the most important things when it comes to radio head units, the display on this stereo is an outstanding 12-digit display. This should be enough for you to see the track info and more so, it’ll be easy to change the different modes on the receiver.
Probably one of the best things about this receiver is the fact that it allows you to play almost anything from CDs, CD-Rs and CD-RW discs to MP3 and WMA formats. If you love listening to the radio, it’s got you covered since it comes with an AM/FM tuner. There is also a 3-position loudness control and has a front facing auxiliary input for utmost convenience.
Convenient as it will be to have this receiver on your dash, it weighs only 3.2 pounds and more so, it measures 10.8 x 4.4 x 9.8 inches. It is also compatible with most of the stock audio controls.
Coming up second on our list is the pioneer DEH-150MP- one of the best brands as far as car audio I concerned, right? Well, let’s see what else it packs under the hood, shall we?
Starting with probably the most convenient feature, it comes with a front facing auxiliary input. As compared to having it in the back, it will undoubtedly be much easier for you to use it- all you’ll be needing is a 3.5mm mini-jack stereo cable and your music collection.
The Pioneer DEH-150MP features both the MP3 and WMA playback and being coupled up with the front auxiliary input, it won’t be hard for you to find your way around when using this even for the first time.
Possibly one of the first things you should look into, the power handling on this head unit is 50 watts x 4 channels for the peak and 14 watts x 4 channels for the RMS. This should be enough to compliment your speaker setup for optimal performance.
For security purposes, it does come with a detachable faceplate. This keeps anyone from messing around with the dials or even worse- damaging your head unit.
There is also a wireless remote that comes along with the stereo. This makes it easier and much more convenient to work with.
Kenwood is known for not only producing some of the best car speakers but also other outstanding products in the car audio line. That being said, let’s have a look at what the Kenwood KDC-168U has in store for us, shall we?
This receiver just so happens to be one of the few with a MOSFET amplifier. This makes it much better to have as far as input impedance is concerned. For the power handling, it has 22 watts RMS/50 watts peak voltage x 4 channels.
This head unit has got smartphone features i.e iPod/iPhone control and is also compatible with the music app for most Android phones. You can also use it with Pandora and iHeartRadio control for the iPhone
This equips the head unit with 8 EQ curves and 3-band equalizer. The Kenwood sound reconstruction makes audio files encoded at low bitrate sound much better. You’ll also be able to play most audio formats- MP3, WMA, WAV and FLAC files simply by plugging your USB drive in, a memory card reader or a plugged-in android device.
There are also the bass boost and loudness controls as well as the low pass filter and the subwoofer level control.
We’re almost halfway done through our list already. Coming up fourth is a double DIN CD receiver. Here’s what you should be getting from it.
First of all, if you are all about the aesthetics and have got some extra cash to spend, then this is definitely something you should take a look at. The ability to switch the colors of the receiver to 5 different types allows you to be able to match it to your vehicle’s appearance.
From hands-free calling to wireless audio controls, simple pairing and voice recognition, the Bluetooth control feature makes this receiver much more comfortable and easy to work with.
With the Pandora internet radio included, you’ll be able to discover new music and listen to your favorite radio station at all time. The touchscreen display of the receiver makes it even better to operate since you can simply rate a song and purchase it with the thumbs up and thumbs down touch controls.
With this feature, you’ll be able to listen and view the content on different apps directly on the receiver’s display from a connected iPhone or iPod touch. Though not all apps are compatible, the app mode will provide limited control where possible.
To keep things interesting, MIXTRAX’s pioneer technology creates a non-stop mix of your music library with a range of DJ-inspired effects. You can use it from the iPhone, iPod or with a USB device and some Android devices.
Another outstanding double DIN stereo from pioneer is the FH-X730BS. Let’s see what you’ll be getting from it, shall we?
First off, it does come with a Bluetooth functionality. With this, you can be able to stream audio files from your smartphone and more so, pick incoming calls. Convenient as it is, it sure is worth every cent.
With the receiver, you'll also be getting the pioneer remote control app. This allows you to control a few select functions on your receiver without actually having to lean and touch the dials on the receiver installed on your dash- quite handy, wouldn’t you agree?
Another added feature you'll be getting from this head unit is easy personalization. You can change the colors so that the stereo's display matches that of your vehicle or simply set it to your favorite color.
Something else that’s worth pointing out is the ease of installation you get to enjoy upon getting the FH-X730BS. Even for the first timers, it won’t be a hassle at all. The stereo measures 7 x 7 x 4 inches and weighs only 2.95 pounds.
If you love listening to the radio most times when in your vehicle, then this is definitely what you should go for. Considering it has got the HD radio, you’ll be able to enjoy your favorite radio station with utmost clarity- all you need is a HD radio coverage and you’re good to go.
As for the external media control features, it does come with a built-in Bluetooth that allows you to use it hands-free with iOS and Android devices as well as NFC. Both of these allow for wireless media browsing. Something else that’s worth mentioning is that you can also connect two phones for an even better audio experience.
Possibly one of the best things you could have on your receiver, the fact that the Kenwood KDC-BT768HD is able to handle most formats makes it one of the best car stereos. It’s able to handle MP3, WMA, ACC, WAV and FLAC playback formats. On top of these, it comes with an ID-3 tag display.
For this, you’ll be getting a MOSFET circuitry and a maximum power output of 50 watts x 4 channels. it surely is almost impossible to damage.
The stereo comes with a rear dual USB and a rear auxiliary cable input. You’ll also be getting a 13-band equalizer as well as a bass boost from the stereo. There is also the android rapid charge technology for added convenience as well as a bass boost which is definitely something you’ll not be getting in most stereos.
Another outstanding head unit and probably one of the best double DIN stereos for your money is the Kenwood DPX530BT. Here’s all you’ll be getting from it.
As far as stereos are concerned, the playback flexibility is one of the most important things you should take into account. For this one, you can use the CD, CD-R, CD-RW, MP3, ACC and WMA formats which are clearly what most of us prefer to listen to.
To make things much easier and more enjoyable for you, the Bluetooth connectivity on the DPX530BT allows you to wirelessly play audio media from your mobile phone.
For those who love listening to the radio, it does come with the AM/FM radio. On it, you'll be getting 18FM and 6 AM presets.
To spice things up, even more, this stereo has got a built-in control for both the iPhone and Android devices. Provided you’ve got the PANDORA and iHeartRadio, you can enjoy limited control of your music from your head unit.
It’s not good enough unless the power handling is at its best. well, as compared to other stereos in its class, the peak on the DPX530BT is 50 watts x 4 channels and the RMS is 22 watts x 4 channels.
Meant for anyone who wants to step out of the box and get themselves possibly everything that a car stereo can offer, the Jensen VX7020 might just do the trick.
Starting with the display, you’ll be getting a large 6.2-inch LCD TFT high-resolution touchscreen display. This will provide a comfortable viewing experience while at the same time allowing you to reach all the functionalities with just your finger
Being one of the features that make it stand out, the Jensen VX7020 has got the iGo Primo Navigation which allows you to find your way in the open roads with utmost confidence. The navigation has got as much as 11 million points of interest with audio prompts to ensure you never miss your destination.
Besides just playing your music via the SiriusXM, Pandora, iHeartRadio and Spotify apps and streaming music via Bluetooth from your iOS or Android devices, you can also enjoy video playback. The latter is made possible via the built-in DVD player which simply transforms your vehicle into a mobile entertainment system.
At the front of the stereo is a 3.5mm audio/video input. It also does come with a remote-control feature hence you won’t need to lean in and tweak the settings all the time.
The stereo does come with a manual that allows you to set it up in a jiffy though it’s highly recommended that you seek out a professional’s help while installing it. Along with the stereo are also most of the installation hardware you’ll need to set things up.
We’re almost done with our list now, coming up 9th is the Alpine CDE-HD149BT. Despite being a single DIN stereo, it surely does have a lot to offer.
Let’s have a closer look, shall we?
Though it’s highly overlooked, a clear display is one of the things that sets apart the best from the worst. On the front face of the CDE-HD149BT is an LCD text display. the display color you’ll be getting is white for clear visibility 24/7. As for the button colors, you can select between any 4 of the selectable colors.
The peak power output on the CDE-HD149BT is 50 watts x 4 channels and the RMS is 18 watts x 4 channels. as for the preamp RCA outputs, you’ll be getting 3 pairs on the front, the rear as well as the subwoofer. The dedicated subwoofer preamp RCA is 4 volts which means you’ll be getting an outstanding bass.
The CDE-HD149BT allows for CD-R, CD-RW and MP3 playback. There is also a USB input at the rear. The audio and video inputs are also located at the rear and you’ll be needing a 3.5mm jack for this.
One of the most convenient features that you’ll be enjoying with this stereo is the iOS and Android compatibility.
It’s now time to wrap things up. The final item on our best car stereo review is the Kenwood KDC-MP368BT. Here’s what you’ll be getting from it.
This is an outstanding 13-digit display which allows you to see most of the track info and more so, you’ll be able to change between different settings with utmost ease.
Still, at the front face of the stereo, an added bonus is the color variation. You can be able to change this to whatever suits you best.
Though you won’t be using it that often, the remote-control feature. This works quite well which is a plus for you when you don’t want to lean in and press the buttons on the stereo.
Another outstanding feature is the wireless audio streaming capability. Provided your device is Bluetooth-capable, streaming audio will be possible.
Something else that’s worth pointing out is that the stereo is both iPod and iPhone ready. There is also a standard USB-to-iPod cable and USB-to-Lighting cable compatibility.
Coming to the end of our best car stereo review, it’s clear that getting a head unit entirely depends on your own personal preference.
It’s quite simple actually- knowing what you’d really love to get from your head unit then you simply have to go ahead and get your hands on it. Above all, it’s important that you take into account your vehicle’s current audio system. This way you’ll know the head unit that’s going to get your system to achieve.
Above all else, you should, most importantly, take your time when shopping for one- even the tiniest detail does matter when it comes to getting the best sound from your car.