The 10 Best Car Stereos
This wiki has been updated 23 times since it was first published in December of 2015. Give yourself the most immersive listening experience possible while on the road with one of these modern car stereos. Our selection includes everything from models with large touchscreen interfaces and wide compatibility with many audio formats and mobile devices, to affordably-priced, single-DIN head units that may be limited in features, but still offer excellent sound quality. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
December 08, 2020:
With the advancement of modern technology, car stereos are one of those products that are constantly updated by their manufacturers. Features like Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Sirius XM satellite radio, and Alexa all demand upgraded systems and software, so many of our additions to this list replace outdated models, while some simply offer better value.
The Sjoybring Bluetooth is excellent value for the extensive list of features it has. Hands-free operation, two preamp outputs, smartphone connectivity, and two USB ports make it an excellent package for the price. The Kenwood DPX304MBT replaces the Kenwood Excelon DMX905S for availability issues and has a dedicated app to control nearly all of the functions on the head unit.
The Sony WX920BT is a popular brand with audiophiles everywhere and is much better than the Sony MEX-N5200BT it replaces, which was more for marine use. The Sony WX920BT has simple Bluetooth connectivity to two smartphones, as well as an LED system that pulses and changes color in time to your music. The Sony XAV-AX5000 is even better, though pricier. It made the list due to the fact that is more internet-radio ready, with functions such as Apple CarPlay and Sirius XM satellite connectivity. It will also display maps for navigation when paired with your smartphone.
The JVC KW-R940BTS offers nearly all of the features that every other car stereo on the list does, but at better value. It was an easy addition to the list as it can compete with models that are twice the price. It is also popular and well made.
November 22, 2019:
During this update, we focused on removing outdated or discontinued models that we had previously recommended. Sometimes, like in the case of the Sony XAV-AX100, we were able to replace it with a newer model in the same line but with more features, in this case the Sony XAV-AX5000. Other times, though, we found better options from different companies entirely, such as in the case of the Atoto A6, which was replaced with the Eonon GA2176, both of which are Android car stereos.
When comparing the discontinued Sony XAV-AX100 to the Sony XAV-AX5000, the latter simply offers better functionality. Some of the improvements in the XAV-AX5000 include a second USB port, Siri control, and a half-inch larger screen. It is also SiriusXM satellite ready.
Unlike the Atoto A6, which comes with Android 6.0 installed, the Eonon GA2176 is running Pie 9.0. Considering most of the other specs are nearly identical, like a 4 x 45W amplifier output, 2GB of RAM, and a nine-band EQ, it seemed like a no brainer to go with the one running the newest software.
The Kenwood DPX502BT is another discontinued model that we replaced with one of its newer iterations. Taking its place is the Kenwood DPX593BT, which has a more powerful preamp voltage and the ability to play FLAC files.
The Alpine iLX-F309 Halo9 is making its debut on our list this year and is ideal for someone who wants a really massive screen. It also mimics the design of many newer car models that have a floating display rather than one integrated into their dashboard. You can expect the exceptional sound quality from it that this brand is known for, too.
We haven't forgotten about the budget-conscious consumers out there either, which is why we included the affordable JVC KWR930BT. It offers Bluetooth functionality, a customizable multi-color panel, and works with most steering wheel controls.
Rockford Fosgate RNGR-stage 4 Rockford Fosgate is a manufacturer of heavy-duty car stereo kits for heavy-duty sports vehicles. Although they are expensive compared to other brands, they offer a complete package including speakers, amplifiers, and subwoofers. Many of their sporting models are vehicle-specific, although they can also equip your sedan, coupe, or SUV with up to 400 watts of clean sounds. rockfordfosgate.com
Make Friends With Your Stereo
They don't seem to know what they want and they never react to you the way you expect them to.
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.
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.
"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.
For now, we have our car stereos, and we should cherish them while they last.
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.