The 10 Best Car Stereos
10. Pioneer DEH-X4900BT
- 10-level illumination dimmer
- energy-efficient mosfet amplifier
- instructions are a bit confusing
|Rating||4.7 / 5.0|
9. Kenwood DPX502BT
- price is quite affordable
- can pair 2 phones simultaneously
- screen is hard to see in sunlight
|Brand||Kenwood Package X1|
|Rating||3.8 / 5.0|
8. Sony MEX-N5200BT
- siri eyes free voice control
- 55-watt power output
- usb connection is rather slow
|Rating||3.5 / 5.0|
7. Boss 508UAB
- comes with a remote control
- 3-year warranty
- takes a while to install
|Rating||3.9 / 5.0|
6. Alpine CDE-W265BT
- 3-way crossover functionality
- works with siriusxm satellite radio
- microphone is flimsy
|Rating||3.8 / 5.0|
5. Atoto A6
- firmware is easy to update
- 7-inch high-definition screen
- volume control is finicky
|Rating||4.4 / 5.0|
4. Kenwood DDX774
- variable key illumination
- offers bass boost controls
- takes a long time to power up
|Rating||4.0 / 5.0|
3. Pioneer AVH-X490BS
- plays lossless flac music files
- usb port for charging mobile devices
- display is motorized
|Rating||4.7 / 5.0|
2. Jensen VX7020
- bluetooth functionality
- built-in dvd player
- audible navigation prompts
|Rating||4.8 / 5.0|
1. Sony XAV-AX100
- integrated 10-band equalizer
- 3 pre-outs for subwoofers
- dynamic stage organizer function
|Rating||4.9 / 5.0|
Make Friends With Your Stereo
You might have that one person in your group of friends who, when you're all leaving the movie theater, won't shut up about all their favorite parts of the movie, even if it spoils the film for the people waiting outside.
Your CD, MP3, or any sound file sent through your stereo is like that movie, and most of the stereos that come installed as part of your car's standard package are like that friend. All the information goes in, but what comes out is a shell of the original intention.
A good stereo, then, is like a brilliant film critic, whose insights into what you've just experienced actually make the film stronger and stronger with each viewing.
It takes the signal from a given source and reinterprets it into digital information that's relayed to the magnets in your speakers and comes out as specific sounds.
The best critics not only give you new eyes through which to see a film, they usually also point you in the direction of other films, book, experiences, even other critics, that they admire. You can even think of that as a good touch screen stereo's navigation and menu system.
The cheap touch screen systems, like that same shallow, loquacious friend, are hard to be around. They don't seem to know what they want and they never react to you the way you expect them to. They're downright annoying.
But a quality touch screen friend seems to know what you want to do before you even do it, and the menu systems of the touch screens in our top five make for some of the most streamlined user experiences out there.
A Wall Worth Wanting
Let's paint a picture: You walk into a little shop that sells car stereos. The AC is turned up just a bit too high, and the room smells vaguely of metal and old carpeting.
There's a stereo system throughout the store that's playing Hall & Oats, but it's a deep album cut that you can't quite recognize.
Suddenly a salesman appears in a cheap button down shirt with the store's name embroidered over his heart. And he's sweating. He's sweating a lot, especially considering how cold it is in the store. He greets you, and you respond in kind.
"What are you looking for today?" he asks, full of hope.
"Well, I'd like to upgrade my car stereo," you reply with some hesitation.
A slow, knowing grin stretches his face into something almost sinister, and behind him a wall begins to open, revealing at least 100 different car stereos, most of which land in the same price range, with few discernible differences from one to the next.
Laughing maniacally, the salesman hits a button that causes all of the stereos on the wall to play a different Hall & Oats song all at the same time. Not one of them plays any of the hits.
You run out of the store, no closer to your goal.
The salesman knew you weren't ready to make a specific decision, so he sent you packing. What you needed to do before going in was to ask yourself what you wanted in a new stereo, and how much room you have in your car for it.
If you have one small, standard slot–or din–your options are more limited. If, however, you have the space to install a navigation screen and its related components, your options increase significantly.
As the price point increases, just make sure that the reasons for which the price is going up are features you actually want.
Then you can go back into the store, demand that the salesman apologize for subjecting you to so much obscure Hall & Oats, and tell him exactly what it is you need.
Driven By Demand: How Audio Met The Auto
Cars weren't around for very long before they got themselves some form of audio component added to them. The first of these was an enormous unit created by the Galvin brothers (who became the Motorola brand).
It was so big that it couldn't even be placed in the driver's vicinity, and so was operated by remote control. This was in 1930, and the radio cost nearly a quarter of the value of the car itself.
FM radio hit the scene in the 1950s along with a single car radio that could switch from FM to AM. The biggest development in the 1950s, however, was ambitious but ultimately pretty stupid: an in-car vinyl record player. You think CD skipping was a problem? Wait till you try playing Chubby Checker while doing 50 MPH on a county road. The Twist quickly becomes The Seizure.
Eight-Track showed up in the 1960s, cassette tapes in the 1970s, and CD players by the 1980s, though each took time for its prices to come down enough that everybody could have them. Currently, CDs are in their dying days of a fight against portable music.
If wearables do what they want to do to the market, it could mean the end of the car stereo as we know it, especially if sight and sound become integrated into wearable entertainment systems.
For now, we have our car stereos, and we should cherish them while they last.