If you’re a music lover, finding the best car stereo can be tough. Do you want Bluetooth, navigation, and a video monitor all-in-one? Or is a simple aux input and a volume dial all you need?
This product review will examine five of the best car stereos on the market and help you decide which setup would be best for your vehicle.
In this article:
- Our Review Standards
- #1 Overall Best Car Stereo: Kenwood Excelon DMX706S
- #2 Best Premium Stereo: Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX
- #3 Best Budget Stereo: Boss Audio Systems 616UAB
- #4 Kenwood KMM-BT328U
- #5 Alpine ILX-W650
- Buying Guide: Best Car Stereo
Our Review Standards
When selecting the best car stereo systems in this review, we started by browsing Amazon’s top-selling products. We assessed stereo systems based on key features, connectivity options, strong customer reviews, and overall value.
#1 Overall Best Car Stereo: Kenwood Excelon DMX706S
We named the Kenwood Excelon DMX706S the best car stereo overall for its competitive price, build quality, and superior features. This digital car stereo receiver boasts a nearly 7.0-inch wide video graphics array (WVGA) touch screen and supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. For audiophiles, Kenwood includes a 13-band graphic equalizer with dedicated loudspeaker and subwoofer adjustments.
The Excelon series also incorporates high-quality parts like gold-plated preamp outputs, which the manufacturer says enhances sound quality.
For drivers with a rear-view camera or a dashcam, the Kenwood has dual camera inputs and adjustable rear parking guidelines. It supports certain video files too, and customers can upload JPEG photo files either to view or set as a custom background.
Absent from the package are things like HD Radio and wireless smartphone connectivity. But being able to charge your phone while using GPS navigation isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
- Cost: $600
- Wireless Bluetooth
- High-quality audio components
- Supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with standard radio
- Dual camera inputs
- USB port connection
What Customers Are Saying: With over 350 ratings on Amazon, the Kenwood averages a 4.6- out of 5.0-star rating, with 80 percent of reviewers awarding it 5.0 stars. Many customers highlight the stereo’s overall value for the price, sound quality, and touch screen performance. Complaints mention the lack of wireless smartphone connection and a hard-to-read owner’s manual.
#2 Best Premium Stereo: Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX
We awarded the Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX best premium purchase because it has the bells and whistles to make you look forward to any drive. Besides wireless smartphone connections and dual camera outputs, it has a built-in HD Radio tuner and buyers can listen to SiriusXM satellite radio if they have a subscription.
In addition to hands-free texting and voice control, the display has 112 different color options to match your vehicle’s factory illumination scheme. Drivers that still have a CD collection can rejoice, as Pioneer includes a CD/DVD player in this model.
- Cost: $750
- Highly customizable display
- Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity
- DVD/CD capabilities
- 24 radio preset options
- Includes remote control
- Includes Weblink-enabled Pioneer multimedia in-dash receivers
- Comes with a one-year warranty
What Customers Are Saying: The Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX is rated 4.5 out of 5.0 stars on Amazon with over 360 verified customer reviews. Build quality and adjustable features are well received by customers, whereas interrupted phone connections are a common complaint.
#3 Best Budget Stereo: Boss Audio Systems 616UAB
Maybe your idea of the best car radio is a system that doesn’t care if you own an iPhone, Android, or a classic iPod. The Boss Audio Systems 616UAB wins our award for best budget stereo. It has a simplistic, low-profile design at an affordable price. This car stereo has Bluetooth connectivity (if you want to go wireless), an aux port, a USB input port, and a standard radio tuner.
What limits this stereo is that it only has two audio outputs and a barely adjustable equalizer. You can make hands-free phone calls and play music, but that’s about it.
- Cost: $35
- Illuminated display and buttons
- High power output to car speakers
- Dimmable display
- Instant mute button
- Music data storage
- Includes remote control
What Customers Are Saying: With over 12,400 reviews, the Boss 616UAB is one of the more well-reviewed stereos on Amazon. It has an average rating of 4.2 out of 5.0 stars, and customers applaud the simple design and sound quality. Common issues reported by customers include a lack of longevity and visual issues with the display.
#4 Kenwood KMM-BT328U
If a touch screen doesn’t appeal to you, or your car’s radio chassis isn’t large enough to support one, the Kenwood KMM-BT328U is one of the best car stereo options. The Kenwood comes with Pandora, Spotify, and Amazon’s Alexa compatibility, as well as standard Bluetooth connectivity for audio streaming and hands-free calls.
Audio playback is where this Kenwood model shines. It’s equipped with a 13-band equalizer and Digital Time Alignment, so you can fine-tune your stereo system’s sound across the vehicle. Customers have access to more control over the stereo with a downloadable mobile app that works as a remote control. Kenwood also sells a physical remote separately.
One drawback is that this Kenwood can’t support video, so if you’re looking for something to work with a backup camera, this isn’t for you. The same is true if you want visible GPS information.
- Cost: $160
- Can pair up to five devices via Bluetooth
- 13-band equalizer and Digital Time Alignment
- Dedicated button to swap between phones
- Variable color display
- Three preamp outputs
- Short chassis design
What Customers Are Saying: The Kenwood KMM-BT328U has strong reviews, with customers on Amazon rating it 4.6 out of 5.0 stars and buyers on the audio website Crutchfield giving it an average of 5.0 stars. The easy-to-use design and flexibility between aux ports and Bluetooth connection resonate with customers. Some gripes include disruptions in the wireless connection and the system lacking in volume.
#5 Alpine ILX-W650
The Alpine iLX-W650 is an impressive digital media receiver that supports video and most audio files. One premium feature on this large-display car stereo is the capacitive touch screen, which allows for more of a smartphone-like user experience and multi-touch options.
What kept this model from ranking higher on our list of the best car stereo systems is its low wattage. Straight from the manufacturer, it runs 16 root mean square (RMS) watts and 45 watts at peak power. Most stereos run between 20 to 25 RMS watts, but you can purchase an Alpine amplifier to boost performance.
- Cost: $520
- Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Bluetooth connectivity
- Dual camera ports
- Adjustable parking guidelines
- Shallow mount design
- 7.0-inch WVGA display
- SiriusXM compatible without the need for adapters
What Customers Are Saying: The Alpine iLX-W650 has an average rating of 4.4 stars on Best Buy with more than 700 reviews. Customer reviews on Amazon rate it similarly, with 4.5 out of 5.0 stars. Accolades include the intuitive design, sound quality, and price, but some customers mention issues with the device maintaining a connection to a phone.
Buying Guide: Best Car Stereo
While picking the best car stereo for your audio system, remember that not all products are a perfect match for your vehicle. Some stereos may not be the correct size for your vehicle’s infotainment center, or they could be optimized for a certain smartphone manufacturer. Here are some things customers should look out for when choosing the best aftermarket car audio system for their vehicle:
Unlike a subwoofer or an external amplifier, installing a car stereo is a fairly complicated procedure. It involves removing the current sound system from the radio chassis, along with making sure the system is properly wired and powered.
Unless you’re familiar with the factory installation process, it’s probably best to let a professional swap out the stereos. Average installation prices vary from $50 to $200 or more depending on the complexity of the stereo, so you’ll want to factor that cost into your upgrade budget.
DIN is a phrase you’ll often see when reading about car stereos. It refers to a standard unit of measurement within the automotive industry, specifically the size of radio chassis.
Stereo receivers typically come in “single DIN” and “double DIN” models. A single DIN car stereo measures around 7.0 by 2.0 inches. These are commonly found in older vehicles that have traditional radios with things like CD players and cassette tape players.
A double DIN car stereo offers more real estate for features at 7.0 by 4.0 inches, and many touch screen options offered by manufacturers today are this measurement. That said, there are a few touch screen single DIN options as well.
The best car audio system should complement factory features, not inhibit them. Features like steering wheel controls are fairly commonplace, so if you want to keep easy audio adjustments, make sure whatever stereo you buy is equipped for that functionality.
The same goes for any other audio modifications you’ve made to your vehicle. If you buy a head unit without enough preamp outputs to support a subwoofer, that speaker will just be taking up space in your trunk.
If you have an affinity for CDs, plenty of manufacturers include CD and DVD players in head units. Although, if music is your main reason for the upgrade and you don’t mind cables, aux ports are a common analog workaround.
The ability to connect to a smartphone is a common feature of modern car stereo systems. You’ll see features like Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto advertised by manufacturers, but what do they mean?
The best way to think about it is that it’s expanded access. Bluetooth will allow you to stream music, other audio, and phone calls over your car’s stereo system. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto let you do similar things, but with added features like voice texting, using phone-based GPS, incorporating Spotify, and performing other voice commands.
While Bluetooth is a completely wireless connection, your head unit may not support a wireless connection for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Some manufacturers require users to download a specific app to grant the stereo access to their phone.
The display screen will vary depending on the model you choose, but those with interactive touch screen displays are usually double DIN models. Besides offering more compatibility for smart devices, buyers can customize color themes on the LCD display.
Capacitive touch screens are the same type of screens used in smartphones. These allow for multi-touch commands, like pinch-zooming on maps, and generally offer a more intuitive user experience. That said, it might come at a premium cost.
Another selling point some manufacturers may hammer on is the product having a high-definition screen. While this means solid picture quality, a roughly 7.0-inch screen isn’t large enough to show a noticeable difference between a 1080p and 4K display.
While Apple CarPlay and Android Auto pull navigation data from your smartphone, some stereos come with built-in GPS units. This keeps the phone from using data and could mean better navigation performance, although it usually raises the price of a stereo unit.