When it comes to car audio, it can be a bit tough putting it all together. There are quite a few factors to take into consideration when piecing the gear into a complete car audio system to make sure it works properly. The most important part of your system by far in our opinion is the stereo — it’s what merely completes the entire package. To our advantage, many are not only affordable, but very high quality nowadays with the advancement of technology. Today we found the top 10 best to help your search.
If you haven’t already grabbed your new car speakers, car subwoofer or car amplifier, be sure to read our shopping guides to help you with those endeavors as well. Today however, we took the time to find the backbone of your car audio system — the top 10 best car stereo receivers to make the whole thing actually work.
Selecting the best car stereo
- Pricing – Your budget is the most important factor of buying a car stereo, and the range we’ve found in the 10 best isn’t too daunting. We’ve seen some extremely solid stereo receivers priced at under $100, while many (with extra features and bells and whistles) go above and beyond that if it’s what you’re looking for. We found the best car stereo within numerous price points to give you some options.
- Bluetooth? About 8 out of 10 models in here have Bluetooth functionality. Even almost 5 years ago, having BT in your stereo was a bit of a rarity, but luckily nowadays it’s quite common. Is this important to you? Our best Bluetooth car stereo guide also highlights this type of model.
- CD compatibility? With the widespread and ever-growing popularity of our smart phones, streaming services and Bluetooth technology, the good ol’ (can’t believe we’re using that phrase with them) compact discs are becoming so unwanted, many manufacturers aren’t even building CD players into their decks anymore! Some popular car stereos don’t even provide CD\DVD compatibility, so we made sure to state if they did or not, in case you wanted it (we still use our CD players in case of emergencies if we have Bluetooth or cell service problems, or if we want to throw it back and play that old mix our ex-girlfriend made us in 2007).
- Make sure it fits – Single or double DIN? This means that you’ll have to determine what type of mounting kit you’ll need. The smaller stereos you’ll see below are single-DIN, while the bigger models (that are twice the height) are double-DIN. If you’re installing your car stereo yourself, you’ll need to follow some crucial steps. If you’re getting it professionally installed, they can definitely help you out more with this.
- Extra features? Touch screen, video, phone call support, voice recognition, USB control, DVD receiving, HDMI inputs, and more — some may find these overkill, while others quite essential. Which are important to you and worth the price increase? We highlight the main features of each model.
The top 10 best car stereo receivers
This is one of the best car stereos for the money based on its super high ratings and the essential features it brings our car audio systems. With it, there is no need to plug anything in anymore because your favorite music, podcasts and music services can be streamed wirelessly from your phone with the Bluetooth tech built-in. You’re also equipped with USB direct control of your smart devices (which in most cars will also charge it), support for Pandora, as well as some Siri Eyes free voice recognition if you’re into that sort of thing. Like the other best stereos for cars, the receiver also has an FM and AM tuner. It has a built-in MOSFET amplifier and uses a multi-line display with different color illumination options. When a phone call comes in, it is easy to talk hands-free as well. The awesome Pioneer DEH-X6800BT is recommended for those who wanted an answer for the best car stereo receiver that provides only the essential features (it also supports CDs) without much fancy tech that falls within an amazing price-point. The model just above this also made it into WireCutter’s best bluetooth car stereo article.
The CDE-W265BT is the best double-DIN car stereo that you can find in the market. It is a one stop music player, has a sleek 2-line LCD display and an adjustable RGB button with display illumination. It has a signature rotary knob to make it easy to control the music and a convenient front panel with auxiliary input. This means that you or the passenger may plug-in a portable media player for an additional entertainment source if you weren’t feeling Bluetooth or it was seeming to be a bit choppy. This is one of the best stereos for cars since the price is very affordable and it has many needed and common features, including a front USB with 3.5 mm input, 3 Pre-Out, Bluetooth tech, radio\CD, and 50 Watts x 4 power. It also has an optional remote control, app direct mode and a KTP-445A power pack cable to top it off. The Alpine CDE-W265BT is again another immediate answer for the best car stereo if you were in need of a double-DIN as opposed to the previous single-DIN model listed.
This one by JVC is a great car stereo to check out and it comes with sound and music tweaking options in its receiver. All can be accessed through the use of the driver friendly controls. It has our beloved Bluetooth technology, can charge your smart device with the USB cable, and something called “K2 technology” which gives the sound some nice digital quality. You may choose from different radio options, including AM/FM, satellite and internet radio. There are also different color settings that let the user choose the look he wants in different areas with the detachable faceplate if you’re into aesthetics. It has an adjustable dimmer with different brightness settings which will deliver the best amount of light during the day or night. It is one of the best stereos for cars that can play CD-RW discs, CD-Rs and CDs, and it comes with discs that are loaded with data (AAC, WMA and MP3) music files. This JVC KD-R970BTS is a big rival of the previously listed single-DIN Pioneer car stereo.
Now we’re starting to get into the category of the nicer car stereo receivers out there if you have the budget. The Pioneer AVH-4200NEX includes a beautiful 7″ display, DVD compatibility, Apple CarPlay built-in, and it is the safer and smarter way to use the iPhone in the car since it requires less tampering with your device (please always be safe). This best car stereo offers iPhone users an incredible and intuitive way to make calls, listen to music and get access to their messages with the extra built-in touchscreen functioning. The stereo also comes with Android Auto and it extends the Android platform to deliver useful information and ease of use. The sound quality is also a lot more clear than others that are priced below this. It has something called Auto EQ, Time Alignment and a 13-band graphic equalizer to allow you to customize the sound of what you’re listening to. The Pioneer AVH-4200NEX is one of the best stereos for cars if your budget allows and it is compatible with Android phones as well.
BOSS Audio 625UAB
The 625UAB is considered by many to be the best car stereo if you’re on a super strict budget. It has quite a few different (and essential) features, which include 4 Max Power, 50 watts, treble, bass, fader and balance. It does not support a DVD or CD player, but it plays audio via SD or USB, smartphones, FM/AM and WMA. It is compatible with MP3 players as well. The stereo has SD and USB inputs, a wireless remote, a detachable panel and a front pre-amp output. The Bluetooth audio streaming can play music from Pandora or Spotify wirelessly. This is one of the best stereos for cars for those wanting to find a simple solution and it will help you pump out digital music quite easily. Grab the BOSS 625UAB if you didn’t want to break your wallet and don’t need any bells and whistles alongside your car stereo receiver.
The AV7225BH uses ‘DualMirror TM technology’ and it has both wireless and wired connectivity. The technology mirrors a screen of an iPod, iPhone and Android smart phone that can be connected using the HDMI to reach the receiver screen. The pictures from the mirrored devices are high quality, and this is because of the HDMI video converter that not many competitors have. There’s a built-in 6-band graphic EQ, 7 EQ presets, Bluetooth tech, an RDS Tuner and 340 watts of peak power. This is one of the best car stereos with dual EQ software that maximizes the adjustability of the sound process, which means that the sound processor will be fine tuned to your liking. Like other best stereos for cars, the EQ frequencies can be adjusted in the ASP settings. The Axxera AV7225BH is a bit more rare when compared to others, but if you can find it for a cheap price, it’s especially great for those into the quality of their screen in front of them.
The Sony MEX-XB100BT is considered to be a solid stereo receiver for your car and it comes with enough power to rival the more popular single-DINs that are priced a lot lower than this (since it has 4 x 100 Watts of power). It has an extra feature called “SongPal“, which is Sony’s software to browse through your music library in a pretty convenient manner. The Bluetooth technology follows our guidelines for musts in a receiver, and the sound is considered ‘punchy’ since has decent quality class-D amps built-into the unit. It has vibrant LED lights that splash colors for each track and a voice control function that can help to be safe behind the wheel. The Sony MEX-XB100BT has all of the essential features of the best stereos for cars and a few additional features if you think they’re worth the price increase.
The Jensen VX4012 is another high-quality (and quite affordable compared to others in its class) DVD receiver that is ideal for people who want to have touch screen functionality and also a stylish look on the dash of their cars. It provides Bluetooth, CD/DVD playing, AM/FM tuner, a built-in internal amp at 13 watts RMS, retractable 7″ screen and a convenient remote control. The 10-band equalizer with 6 preset tone curves is great for custom sounds, and you also get some subwoofer controls built-in. Pandora control is also provided and if you’re a SiriusXM user it has that too. This receiver has the latest capabilities and connections, as well as the more rare MHL and HDMI ports. The navigation app can be accessed quickly on the big screen and also display if the parking brake has been engaged, which obviously isn’t a complete must but pretty cool if you fancy it. The Jensen VX4012 is definitely worth it if the specific features catch your eye.
Sony CDX G3100 UP
The Sony CDXG3100UP is considered to be among the best car stereos for someone who wants a strong sound as they drive from point A to point B. It has a robust amp design and delivers surprising power for the price that combines a deep and accurate sound while delivering the punch that most stock radios can’t match. For someone who likes to tweak the sounds, the receiver has a 5-band equalizer to shape the tone curve and its built-in ‘MEGA Bass’ feature can be used to pump up low sounds for those who are into that. The receiver is among the best stereos for cars within the lower price-point (it’s a bit cheaper than the first single-DIN model listed, so grab it if that one was too expensive). Besides having a CD player, WMA and MP3 playback, the playback supports USB input where smartphones, iPhones or iPods can be attached. The Sony CDX G3100 UP is just another car stereo receiver that offers the essentials for a decent price.
Pioneer Stage 4 DEX-P99RS
To top off our list, we have one of the nicest and top-of-the-line car stereo receivers out there right now. The Pioneer Stage 4 DEX-P99RS is a dual L/R receiver and has an amazing 31-band equalizer. It is equipped with an independent 4-way crossover with a slope setting, auto-EQ and auto-time alignment technology. This is the best car stereo if money didn’t exist, especially when it comes to reproducing original source materials in an authentic and natural manner. It’s for true audiophiles who can tell the difference between a $100 car stereo and something like this. It offers powerful digital tools that allow the installer to do the setup right and tune up the system. It is one of the best stereos for cars with a time alignment feature that can estimate the delays for every speaker according to the position of the driver, and it will adjust the sound of the speaker output accordingly (this is to ensure that the sound will reach the ears of the driver in a genuine manner). Grabbing the Pioneer Stage 4 DEX-P99RS is like installing some of the best studio headphones that portrays accurate frequencies but for your entire car. Check out this video of the DEX-P99RS for some more info.