Car audio stereo systems are no longer the old dial and tune car radios. Today these units are systems that provide a range of services that make them IoT devices. A really good system will come with a plethora of features and include the latest electronics all designed to deliver high-quality multimedia sound. In fact, a modern system is comparable to a home theatre system but miniaturized for the smaller space of your vehicle. In this guide, we provide some basic buying tips and review the top 10 systems on the market today.
To have an overview of this article, feel free to use the navigation table below. If you have limited time and want to explore our top recommendations, please check our comparison table. We prepare it to give you the clear and informative comparison between each type of car audio stereo.
Why do you need a car audio stereo?
Car stereo systems are powerful multimedia platforms that provide you with a more complex and enhanced audio-visual experience than your mobile device. The car-based system is powered by your car battery and has more juice to deliver a powerful and smooth signal continuously. The most attractive features from which you will benefit in a car audio system are:
Improved Sound Quality
The electronics of modern multi-media systems will always outperform mobile devices. When coupled with good speakers and a subwoofer, you essentially end up with full theatre experience, but in your car. A quality equalizer will provide you with the setting control to ensure you have the exact quality of sound your ears are attuned to.
New and Emerging Technologies
The newer the system, the more chance of gaining access to emerging technologies that are all designed to improve the overall delivery of multimedia. These technologies include:
- MP3/WMA/AAC playback
- iPod® and iPhone® support
- Android™ support
- Satellite radio connectivity
- DVD playback
- Bluetooth® connectivity
- GPS & map navigation
- Pandora® Internet radio support
The list continues and will grow every year as new technologies emerge.
Types of Car Audio Stereos
Essentially there are two main categories of car audio stereo systems today, and they have been carefully selected over time as a standard of performance. Car manufacturers prepare their dashboards to accommodate these types, which originated in Germany and are essentially the way the multimedia system is physically built:
The single DIN format is size, and this one is 7 X 2 inches size or 180 X 50mm.
The double is a 7 X 4 inches or 180 X 100 mm. This DIN comes with a large screen, in most cases a touch screen for easier finger navigation.
Tip: “Mechless” only means the system comes without a CD/DVD player, as in mechanical-less, or no mechanical components only electronics.
Key Features of a Car Audio Stereo
The decision of what are key features is actually reliant on the buyer. Every buyer has different needs, some want radio, others want connectivity to a mobile device, while others might want DVD and Bluetooth. Therefore, the key features are always personal.
Now, the rule of thumb is not to be drawn into buying what you don’t need or don’t use. The first step you must take is making a list of what you use the most, and then put these down as must-have features. Then make a list of technologies you would like to use or use more often and make these key upgrade features. These are the two lists you need, anything not listed is not relevant and it’s therefore not a key feature.
OK, with this stated, let’s take a look at most of the key features a car audio stereo system might contain:
iPod® and iPhone® support
Support for Android™ phones
GPS for navigation
Pandora® Internet radio support
When looking at the list above and considering emerging technologies that are not listed there, all you need to do is considering what the features you use now are. Add to that the features you want to have in the new system, and that will give you what you need.
Remember, key features are your keys to your enjoyment, not the advertisers.
A tip: Design is also a key feature, it’s an aesthetic one, and design is important for your overall eye enjoyment.
What should you look for when choosing a car audio stereo?
The first thing you need to start with is price. You have to look for a car audio stereo system that sits within your price range. In most instances, you would set a top bracket, but we strongly urge you to consider a lower bracket too. By setting a range you can focus on both quality and features that are key components to what you require.
After determining your budget price range, look at the key functions that you need, as mentioned above in the key components section. However, there are basic standard functions that you want in your system, and these include:
USB port: This is a hard connection between your mobile or memory stick that provides you with a seamless performance standard. USB can also be used to charge mobile devices, so it has a double functionality. There are different types of USB ports, so try to find a system that has the standard USB-A and possibly Mini-USB port.
For a more restricted budget, you might seek a system that has a 3.5mm Aux jack, this will connect to your iPod and iPhone but will not charge them as a USB port does.
HD radio tuner: An HD radio tuner is a must for the serious radio listener and provides a much more coherent and consistent tune than the standard AM/FM tuners.
Bluetooth: Bluetooth is a hands-off way to connect the system to your Bluetooth earbuds as well as providing connectivity with smartphones without using a USB port.
GPS: This is an excellent function for navigation, especially if you prefer it to be in the system and not on your smartphone.
For long-distance travelers that drive across mobile dead zones, you might consider a system that has satellite connectivity. This will ensure you get satellite radio all the time, the most common versions are Sirius and XM. These components come with a monthly subscription price.
Pioneer is the world’s leader in quality audio stereo systems. They have it all, the electronics, the displays, the designs, and the various key features. They also deliver so many different models, it becomes hard to choose which one is best just from within their line, never mind the competition.
JVC is a direct competitor to Pioneer for the top spot, and they usually come in at a slightly lighter budget which makes them a strong top contender for restricted budget markets seeking high quality.
Alpine is a high-quality audio system manufacturer that has a limited range when compared to JVC and Pioneer, but their systems are all exceptionally good, and they come in a very handy price range.
What can I add, the name says it all; Sony. Sony is the Japanese powerhouse that is definitely a leader in car audio stereo systems, and they provide systems for a wide market range and most of their systems today are touch screens.
Kenwood is another Japanese leader and well-respected name in the audio stereo sector. To be honest, comparing Kenwood and Pioneer is like comparing two different apples, it’s down to personal taste since the quality is equally good, the design is what makes them different
|- CD receiver with AM/FM tuner|
- 14 watts RMS/50 peak x 4 channels
- Bluetooth: hand- free calling, audio streaming
- FLAC file playback
|- Dual-Core MP5 Stereo|
- BT stereo car and hand free calling
- TF memory card slot up to 32G
- High quality sound and bass
- 24-hour technical support
| - Front AUX|
- USB interface
- Downloadable app
|- Full-touch screen.|
- Working Voltage: DC 12V; Max Power Output: 4x 60Watt
- High-performance radio receiver chip
- 24H technical support
|- High-quality digital stereo|
- Bluetooth 5.0 – More Speed, More Distance, and More Throughput
- RGB Light
- Wireless Remote Control
| - Supports BT and hands-free calling, back-up camera.|
- Support PhoneLink and navigation
- Available for many audio format
|- Qualcomm Bluetooth 5.0|
- 178° full-viewing angle IPS
- Dual Wi-Fi band connection support
- Exclusive hands gesture recognition sensor
| - Bluetooth and microphone|
- Includes a mini rear-view camera
- Automatic search station, save station
|- New Tooling Design|
- Multi fuction
- Suitable for all universal single din in dash
- 1 years warranty
| - rear/Front view camera|
- Phone Mirror Link
- Various format
Top Best Car Audio Stereo Reviews
When it comes to absolute quality, then a Pioneer system is what you want to aim for. This particular model, the DEH-S5100BT is full of functionality that includes Pandora and Spotify and the ability to personalize your radio stations as well as thumbs up and down tracks for future reference.
This model comes with their Smart Sync feature that essentially links the system with your smartphone or other media devices for both Apple and Android OS. It is Bluetooth compliant and provides a 3.5mm Aux jack.
Other functionality includes a CD/DVD playback as well as multiple file playback from a USB source. It also comes with a 13-band graphic equalizer and has 7 selectable tone curves, and this is just scratching the surface of its functionality.
This 7” two din system provides excellent quality at a very affordable price. This is an MP5 player with remote control and steering wheel functionality. There is also a free camera that allows you to view your rear for parking. The functionality includes a USB port, a TF card, and an Aux In jack. It also comes with a PhoneLink for most smartphone OS types and is Bluetooth compliant.
For visual, you get a 7” screen that provides both video and photo playback, and for design compatibility, you get so select between seven different LED light color options.
This Kenwood model is another leader in the pack, and it comes with a 6.2” LCD VGA display with an additional LED backlight for easy control. This is a single din model, and its focus is on radio and music playback. You get a hands free experience with both Bluetooth and wireless calling features as well as a language select for additional localization.
A nice addition is the inclusion of an HD rearview camera with a wide-angle view and night vision. So when you buy this Kenwood model, you get that extra security while enjoying an impeccable audio surround experience.
This PLZ double din model delivers an exciting and refreshing punch of color together with a deep and crisp audio experience. It has a TFT HD LCD screen that is 7” wide and is full touchscreen capable. The resolution is 800×480, providing an Android mirror link for navigation. The rearview camera delivers an excellent view too.
This model delivers all the functionality you could desire, including USB, Bluetooth, & HD receiver. An equalizer, multiple outputs including Aux and steering wheel control and is Pandora and Spotify compatible too.
This is a classic single din receiver that gives with a lot of functionality. As it is “mechless”, it doesn’t have a CD/DVD, but it comes with everything else. The AboutBit CA-10BT includes Bluetooth, AM/FM receiver, FLAC/APE/WAV/WMA/MP3 playback, and a wireless remote. It has a USB slot, an Aux jack, and an equalizer.
This model has a variable LED color illumination for a more personalized design. The tuner gives you up to 30 preset channels to store, making this single din system an excellent and extremely budget-friendly option.
The Asukala double din cart audio stereo system comes with a very attractive price tag when considering the functionality, you get included in the package. This system delivers a multifunction hands-free and BT support with a TF card reader, an Aux In jack, a video and music player as well as connectivity to your steering wheel and a camera. It connects to both Android and iOS smartphones.
The multimedia support includes MP3/WMA/WAV/MKV/FLAC/OGG/APE and RM/RMVB/DVD(VOB)/VCD(DAT)/MP1/MP2/DIVX/XVID/MP4/H263/H264/FLV/3GP/SWF/AVI/ASF/MJPEG.
This is a mechless device, using a standard 7” double din screen width and featuring 7 LED backlight options.
The ATOTO PRO A6Y2721PRB-G is a comprehensive double din multimedia car system that delivers emerging technology and high-quality functionality. This model comes with an RDS AM/FM tuner, GPS, Aux, Camera with Camera input, Qualcomm Bluetooth 5, steering wheel connectivity, and a 178° full-viewing angle IPS display. It has a dual Wi-Fi that can simultaneously connect to two cameras.
The added emerging technology functionality included is the hand gesture control and it has aptX and wake up voice assistant for Siri and Google as well as a Phone Bluetooth unlock feature the moment the smartphone connects to the system.
The Aigoss is a double din system, coming with a 7” touch screen as well as multiple features including an MP5 multi-channel music streamer. It provides a Bluetooth connector and a rearview camera. The receiver is an FM tuner and has automatic search capabilities.
The touchscreen provides a hand free, and BT support environment and you get a TF Card slot, an Aux In, and steering wheel connectivity. This model also gives 7 LED backlight options to select from. In terms of price, it is extremely affordable and considered to be an excellent choice for limited budgets.
When it comes to simple and straight forward with no fancy design, this is the model you want. It is the ultimate low budget receiver that provides you with exceptional quality performance and functionality. This model comes with Bluetooth connectivity, an SD card slot, USB and an Aux input. It has a remote control and delivers 1080P support for video. The screen is a stable 4.1” with a standard LED display. In other words, this is as simple as it gets but comes with all the key features you would expect for connectivity to your smartphone.
This is the AboutBit double din car audio stereo system, and it has an impressive 7” screen that delivers 1920x1080P HD. The model supports MP3/WMA/WAV/MKV/FLAC/OGG/APE and RM/RMVB/DVD(VOB)/VCD(DAT)/MP1/MP2/DIVX/XVID/MP4/H263/H264/FLV/3GP/SWF/AVI/ASF/MJPEG.
This model is Mechless and integrates all the electronic gadgetry you would hope for in a budget-friendly package. These features include iPhone and Android 9.0 support, an HD receiver and a rearview camera package. It comes with a USB, memory card slot and Bluetooth connectivity and a built-in equalizer and provides a phone mirror experience.
Tip #1: Install new Speakers
If you are already investing in a new car audio stereo system, you should invest in new speakers too. The quality of your speakers is essentially what will deliver the final experience. Just like tires on the road, speakers are what connect the music to your ears.
Tip #2: Make sure you have an amp
Amps boost the signal and provide you with that extra juice of power. You don’t need to go overboard, but adding a good amplifier will give you more power and a cleaner listening surround.
Tip #3: Set your tone controls
One of the worst mistakes anyone can make is maxing out the tone controls of your equalizer and expecting to have amazing results. Every ear is different and requires fine tuning for an optimized experience. When you set your systems tone controls, listen to different types of music and casts and adjust it, so you gain the best results.
Tip #4: Install a Sub-Woofer for a full sensory experience
Subwoofers are the rumble in the thunder. With a good sub-woofer, you get that amazing body vibrating thrum that blasts music into another level of experience. Essentially, when set properly, a sub-woofer converts music from single audio to full sensory experience.
Tip #5: Install a Capacitor if you have Sub Woofers
Big bass is an energy drinker, and a capacitor provides a buffer between your car battery and the amplifier. The capacitor stores up power and releases when required, reducing strain on your car electrical system.
Selecting a new car audio stereo system is harder today than it was a decade ago and will continue to get harder to choose as the technologies ramp up and more manufacturers enter the market. To make it simple to select, consider what you use, not what you don’t use. Make a list of what features you use and how often you use them and factor these as the decision-making process for selecting what you want. The next step is adjusting your budget and selecting the brand you can afford.