Imagine getting into a car without any form of car radio system! Automatically it will feel like you have gotten into a house with no furniture hence having to sit on the bare floor or lean against the wall. All modern cars have a form of infotainment system installed on the dashboard or even on the rear of the passengers’ seats.
These car sound systems are installed for entertainment purposes to the car occupants. They offer a good, relaxing, and comfortable atmosphere, reducing the fatigue and boredom brought about by traveling in vehicles, especially on the same repetitive routes like driving to work or to the shopping center.
Car stereo history
Car stereo systems have evolved from analog AM systems into modern car stereo systems, which have all the modern technologies such as smartphone integration, voice command input options, internet radio and colored touchscreen interfaces.
Kelly’s Motors in New South Wales, Australia, installed the first car radio system in 1924. They were very expensive pieces of hardware where they would cost almost a quarter of the value of the car. Garvin Manufacturing Corporation, marketed by Motorola, installed a good example of the first car radios in 1930. These car radios used a lot of car space, about ten liters; hence some were installed behind the driver’s seat and controlled remotely on the steering wheel.
Today we have very many car radio and Bluetooth car stereo manufacturers in the market, creating a wide range of choices for shoppers. Therefore, the buyer has to be keen not to be duped by cheap car audio manufacturers who promise high-quality car sound systems yet they do not deliver. Car owners looking forward to buying new or upgrading their car radio and stereo systems can search car audio near me on the internet to source available car audio systems.
Have a look at the following top car stereo and head units and consider them during their upgrades. The following units can deliver unique and wonderful experiences to music lovers and aficionados, and they possess the latest digital audio technology in the car sound system industry.
Kenwood DDX9703S car stereo
Kenwood is a well-known car stereo manufacturer in the world. It has some of the top best car audio systems in the market today, which come at an affordable cost. This head unit is a double-DIN monitor receiver head unit.
It has a whopping 6.95-inch wide VGA color LCD with an LED-backlit touchscreen. This is a very good display when it comes to displaying information of the music playing and other car functions. This makes it easier to operate while driving the car at considerable speeds. The unit has seven motorized tilt functions to enhance clear and crisp visibility of the screen by the driver and its occupants.
The head unit also allows for camera inputs for the front and rear of the car. This makes the car easier to manoeuvre around tight parking lots and traffic jams. A rearview camera can be used as a front camera with the mirror image setting.
The car stereo system also is programmed with parking guidelines, which enhances the driver’s parking skills as they appear in cars with these systems in stock. This makes parking a car easier and safer.
The car radio unit allows interfacing with its enhanced factory infotainment features such as satellite radio, USB media player, Bluetooth car stereo, hands-free user mode to help operate the system without physical contact and also receive phone calls when driving.
It has iDatalink Maestro RR, which allows car systems to be displayed on the screen such as HVAC, TPMS and performance information depending on the vehicle. It has Android rapid charge, which allows you to charge your smartphone quickly. The head unit is Android CarPlay compatible hence allowing seamless connectivity of android operated smartphones.
- The Kenwood car stereo head unit is affordable and of high quality.
- It offers a highly responsive touchscreen display unit, which is motorized, controlled to fit the perfect angle of view. This offers crystal clear display and vivid texts.
- The parking guidelines are a plus when it comes to parking the car safely and with a lot of ease which appears on any other backup camera system.
- The display on this car radio can be used for both front and rear cameras.
- The iDatalink Maestro RR is sold separately from the Kenwood head unit, which comes as an extra expense to the customer. This will come as a drawback because if the driver wants to see the vehicle information, he or she needs to look for the feature from authorized car dealers.
Pioneer AVH-X2800BS Car Stereo
This car stereo unit comprises a 6.2-inch 16:9 WVGA display of 800x480dpi. It is a clear resistive touchscreen. It has a powerful and intuitive user interface, which is quite responsive and highly customizable. It uses the NEX user interface, which enhances and increases its touch sensitivity making it a more responsive touch panel as compared to traditional resistive touch panels.
The head unit is packed with lots of features, which are user-friendly and easy to use. It has AppRadio One, which allows cable connectivity to a smartphone with the unit. This allows an easy digital lifestyle from the receiver’s touchscreen using one cable connection.
The drawback is that it only allows iPhone 5 and above users and select new android devices using special cables. For iPhone users, they can use Pioneer CD-IU52 lightning to USB cable while Android users can use Pioneer CD-MU200 USB to micro USB cable.
Other features that come stocked with the system are Bluetooth car stereo capability, Spotify app control, Pandora, and Android music support. These features allow you to listen to music while driving comfortably, and they also enhance smartphone integration which boosts on music quality. They also allow bookmarking of music, giving thumbs up or down, switching between personalized radio stations and music.
The touch screen allows the user to open folders of music and access music via the internet using apps such as Spotify. The system also allows Bluetooth dual device connection where you can connect two smartphones at the same time. This also allows picking of calls without unpairing either of the phones hence easy usage of the devices.
This Pioneer head unit allows Satellite Radio. It uses SiriusXM, where the car owner can listen to commercial-free music, comedy, entertainment talks, news, traffic, and weather updates. The system is easy to fix where it has a dedicated port on the rear of the receiver, which requires no additional translators and cables. The SiriusXM Connect Vehicle Tuner is sold separately, and the user needs to subscribe to SiriusXM radio.
The unit also allows a navigation system to be installed. The AVIC-U260 is an add-on unit that allows the driver to select navigation mode by touching a button. The driver can navigate to the location without music interruptions.
- The Pioneer AVH-X2800BS allows many capabilities by use of its touch display unit.
- It offers satellite radio capabilities by use of SiriusXM, Pandora and navigation capabilities by use of the AVIC-U260 add-on.
- It allows smartphone connectivity by use of USB cables for both Android and iPhone smartphone devices.
- Mixtrax is an inbuilt feature that allows you to mix your music library with DJ-inspired effects, which work with multi-color effects which display various colors depending on the music to match its mood.
- Not all smartphones are compatible with this Pioneer car stereo head unit as only iPhone 5 and later and other select Android devices are compatible.
- When in navigation mode, the displayed information might appear smaller which may strain drivers with eyesight problems or distract the driver at critical points of driving.
- The voice recognition feature might take time to get used to, especially due to accent and pronunciation issues.
- For satellite radio experience, the owner will need to pay for subscriptions to SiriusXM radio.
Alpine is a top car stereo and head unit manufacturer in the world. They produce some of the top-of-the-range and affordable car audio systems in the market today. This head unit is very versatile, and it does not restrict what type of music format your music is in or in what form it exists.
Alpine CDE-175BT is a single-DIN head unit. This system plays both CD/DVDs and soft copy music in FLAC/MP3/WMA/AAC via USB. It has a front USB and AUX ports. A 1-line, high contrast LCD display with RGB illumination enhances the crisp visibility of the information on display. This display has five times the contrast of a conventional screen, which enhances readability and visibility at different angles.
The unit comes with a steering wheel remote and wireless remote in addition, which are sold separately. It has a built-in amplifier 18W x 4 which has CTA-2006 rating. This allows for customization of crossover adjustments in order to control high and low frequencies distributions. It is also upgradable if the car owner needs more power by adding KTP-445A power park, which instantly adds power to 45W x 4 RMS.
Alpine has beautiful and responsive control interfaces. It has its Alpine signature knob, which is easy to reach out and hold while driving. This makes access to music an effortless task. The unit has Bluetooth car stereo capabilities, which enhance music access and hands-free receiving of calls; hence no need to buy additional adapters. It also has NFC (Near Field Communication) protocol, which allows pairing the device with a compatible device. The unit also has a microphone with noise interference, and cancelation features hence making receiving calls a breeze.
Car audio streaming is made easy by features like Android AOA (Android Open Accessories) 2.0. This is accessible by use of a USB cable connected to the phone. The Alpine car radio is SiriusXM ready, works with Pandora internet radio, which works on both iPhone and Android devices. The RBDS information is unique to Alpine car audio systems since it can display the song name, artist name and radio station name as it is broadcasted by the radio station in real-time.
- Alpine car stereo systems have an easy user interface and responsive quality buttons.
- They allow smartphone integration where Android and iPhone smartphones are compatible.
- It allows Siri Eye free mode.
- It has Radio Broadcast Data System (RBDS) text information which helps the driver to identify various information concerning the music and channel selected.
- Power output, RMS can be boosted by the additional KTP-445A which enhances the audio experience.
- The Alpine steering wheel remote and wireless remote are sold separately hence an additional cost to the buyer.
- Third-party apps not available in certain areas may hinder the usability of the head unit.
- The unit has limited internal amplifier power, which needs the KTP-445A power pack to enhance the audio experience.
SONY DSX-GS80 car stereo
Sony audio systems have a huge market presence and footprint in the car radio industry. Most vehicles have an audio component made by Sony Audio. It has a wide variety of car sound systems from premium to low-end systems. It all depends on the buyer to choose an audio system.
The DSX-GS80 is a top choice to consider if you are shopping to upgrade an old car stereo system to modern standards. It is an affordable and high-quality single-DIN head unit the only drawback being that it does not handle CD/DVD input.
This is a digital media receiver with a built-in MOSFET amplifier of 45RMS and a Peak of 100W x four channels. Bluetooth 3.0 allows two devices to be connected simultaneously where the passenger can receive a phone call while connected as the driver’s phone continues playing music through the car stereo system.
The head unit also allows AUX and USB connectivity input. It can play a wide variety of music formats from MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC and WAV from USB drives. It also has AM/FM radio presets.
The face of the head unit is detachable with dual-zone variable color key illumination. It allows change of color of the lights with the synchrony of the music beat. This is a popular and among the best and affordable single-DIN units in the market. It has the supreme built quality and low noise electric power transmission, oversized heat sink and precision power block placement ensures that you can use the unit for optimal performance for years.
It allows smartphone integration where the unit can be used with either iPhone, iPad, iPod or Android capable devices. Pandora internet radio is also accessible depending on location. Voice recognition is capable by use of Android and Siri Eyes Free. It is compatible with SiriusXM satellite radio tuner, front and rear USB ports for input and 6-channel preamp outputs that are 5-volt front, rear and subwoofer.
DSX-GS80 is packed with audio enhancement features such as EQ10, which is a 10-Band equalizer with a digital sound enhancement engine, which improves digital file sound quality. Extra bass is provided with a dedicated button at the middle to squeeze out more bass juice from the mid-bass and subwoofer speaker units.
- The car head unit is easy to use and has a sleek design, which blends easily with the car interior.
- Sony uses a class D amplifier producing a massive 45 watts per channel continuously, which does not require an additional external amplifier.
- It plays a wide range of music; hence at no one time will the driver and the occupants fail to get entertained.
- The Extra Bass feature allows you to add more audio output out of your speaker units.
- A wireless remote is provided, which can be used to control the unit wirelessly even by rear passengers.
- The unit comes with a 3-year warranty, which proves the quality of the device.
- The Sony head unit does not have a CD/DVD drive input therefore, it will render those drivers with music in compact discs not to play their favorite tunes.
- The LED display falls short of clarity and brightness, especially in sunny days.
- The buttons may fade out the printing on them with time of normal usage.
BOSS Audio 508UAB
Boss Audio is a very common car stereo system popular in North America. This sound system is one of the most affordable car stereo systems on the market. You do not have to break into a bank to afford this car stereo head unit. This system is packed with many features despite being a single-DIN.
It has Bluetooth connectivity combined with A2DP technology providing wireless audio files streaming via smartphone apps. This can work with Pandora and Spotify apps wirelessly. It has USB and AUX-in port modes, which makes it easier to play music files. It also has a CD/DVD drive, which allows access to music stored on compact discs.
It has front and rear output channels that allow connectivity with more speakers hence increasing the capacity of expanding the car sound system to your liking. Boss includes a wireless remote for seamless control of the car radio. This allows you to control the device from any part of the car even when driving.
They also included a Pre-Amp output, which allows the car owner to add two amplifiers to the music system in combination with or two signal processors. A switchable tuner function allows the user to adjust the radio tuner in order to receive radio broadcasts in either the US or Europe. A unique feature added to this radio is the ID3 TAG, which allows the radio file to store and display additional data such as title, artist, album, and track number.
For those car owners who like the traditional way of listening to music via compact discs should not worry anymore since the Boss 508UAB has this technological feature, known as ESP (Electronic Skip Protection), which stores music for an extra five seconds just in case the compact disc buffers while playing. This allows the player to momentarily use the stored data in case disc reading is interrupted. It uses the tracking circuitry to find the passage prior to the interruption on the compact disc for continuous performance.
- Boss sound systems are reputable for quality audio experience and good value for money.
- The Bluetooth connectivity in this head unit is seamless since it works and streams audio files flawlessly.
- The built design is stylish, especially the faceplate and overall design.
- There is no screen present to allow access of apps via the head unit; hence apps like Pandora and Spotify and other streaming apps can only be accessed via a smartphone.
- The clock does not display when using Bluetooth.
- The main button cannot be customized also the screen color too.
- There is no dedicated subwoofer output hence a drawback to those who love bass music.
JVC KD-T91MBS car stereo
For quality and enhanced car radio experience, JVC KD-T91MBS is the brand to shop for. It is a single-DIN head unit with a pack of features. It is designed to survive in harsh environmental conditions during operation; hence the manufacturer has dubbed it the Mariner-grade stereo system. It is made to survive harsh conditions such as rust and corrosive marine and outdoor environments, as it is water and dustproof.
It has a 2-line vertical alignment display with a white background and black text, which are easy to read even in sun glare. It has a conformal-coated main printed circuit board, which can tolerate adverse humid conditions and corrosion. It is compact in size; hence it can be installed in tight and confined spaces.
The head unit is Amazon Alexa compatible, an application where the car radio user can play music, audiobooks, listen to the news, check weather updates, control smart home devices, get navigation directions, and find secure parking spaces.
This is achievable by smartphone integration with iPhone and Android compatible devices. The device has a dedicated Amazon Alexa key which, once pressed, it activates voice control. The good thing is the app is free for installation; hence no subscription fees.
JVC streaming DJ allows users to connect up to a maximum of five Bluetooth devices simultaneously. Hence, the car occupants can enjoy music for maximum entertainment. It allows the car occupants to stream music with a DJ effect hence creating a party experience.
Two phones can be connected full time via Bluetooth; hence one device can be streaming music while the other is receiving a call. The Bluetooth also allows hands-free phone calls with a crisp and clear audio experience where HPF 1.7 wideband speech is supported. This reduces background noise as well enhancing voice quality. A smartphone connected via Bluetooth to the JVC head unit, once it is almost drained off its battery, gives a low battery alert beep and indicates on the head unit screen, “low battery”.
The receiver on this car radio also has two language options: English and Spanish. 2-zone variable color illumination synchronizes with the music with an animation effect, which creates that soothing light output while driving. The panel can be set to display two separate colour zone effects, while the RGB lighting can be set manually to display many colour variations up to a maximum of 32,768 different colors on each zone.
K2 digital technology made by JVC for enhanced digital sound quality makes the car stereo head unit reproduce the original master sound by expanding the frequency range. An audio compact disc recorded at 44.1kHz is expandable to 192kHz by use of K2 technology.
The JVC head unit designers put in mind a lot of sound enhancement features. Some of these features include time alignment, space enhancement, space response and sound lift. The time alignment feature allows the unit to automatically adjust the sound output from each speaker to arrive at the same time to the centre of the listening position.
Space enhancement is a virtual surround technology where the user selects the vehicle size and the receiver automatically adjusts the sound effectively. Sound response function boosts the low frequencies, which can be lost during compression of audio files to MP3 or AAC formats. Sound lift is a technology where the sound speakers’ height are virtually lifted by adjusting the sound frequencies.
- Has highly advanced sound technologies such as K2 sound enhancement technology, sound lift, sound response, space enhancement and time alignment features are available in this car radio.
- The head unit is made to work seamlessly in harsh weather conditions. It can work in outdoor environments such as marine conditions, moisture and chemical contaminants.
- This car radio has a readable display even in sun glare conditions.
- The head unit buttons might feel tightly packed by some users during operation while driving. This might feel awkward to use while driving.
- The unit has easy to install but sensitive wiring, which might get shaken off during driving hence causing loose connectivity.
ATOTO SA102 car stereo
Atoto is a low-priced car radio stereo head unit available in the market. It is available in two variants: Atoto SA102 Starter and Atoto SA102 Classic. The main difference between the starter and classic version is screen resolution, user interface and availability of CD/DVD drive.
I will focus on the starter version because the Classic version was discontinued in December 2018.
It features a HD 7-inch capacitive touch screen display. It has a resolution of 1024 by 600 pixels per inch. The display is IPS with a viewing angle of 1780. This is a good display when it comes to GPS/Navigation which integrates with a smartphone either Android Auto or iOS CarPay where maps can be loaded to aid navigation. The head unit also allows phone mirroring or casting where the displayed content of the phone can be on the ATOTO screen. This is compatible with most Android phones with 4.4 versions of Android and above. The application used for the job is EasyConnect.
The head unit comes with a Linux operating system, which aids with the flawless operation of the system without lags. The system is loaded with many international languages such as English, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, German, French, Portuguese and Russian hence it can be used conveniently worldwide.
The radio tuner can receive both AM and FM radio frequencies. The radio also shows the radio station’s name, track playing and music information if it is available. Bluetooth connectivity is seamless where it has Bluetooth 4.2 with aptX codec, which supports a wide range of audio formats such as HFP/HSP/A2DP/AVRCP/PBAP.
The head unit features a pre-amplifier, which has an RMS of 4 x 24W output. This provides a good car audio experience while driving or just seated in the car. The unit features reverse camera input, which aids in parking the car in tight spaces and low visibility areas. It has internal hard drive storage of 32GB maximum, which is plenty of space for the car owner to store music. It has two USB interfaces with one dedicated for phone connectivity.
- The ATOTO car stereo head unit has a crisp, clear and vibrant display and an interactive graphics user interface. This enhances maps readability during driving even in sunny conditions.
- It allows Apple CarPlay and Android Auto via smartphone connectivity.
- Reverse and front camera inputs come in handy to drivers who have trouble when parking their vehicles in tight and confined spaces.
- ATOTO SA102 requires the car owner to use the factory USB cable to connect their phones using EasyCon Mirroring connection. Otherwise, the screen will have connection issues such as a black screen after minutes of playback and when the phone connection is unstable, which can be experienced when the car is shaking while driving.
- The head unit is a double-DIN; hence the buyer should be certain of his or her dashboard size before purchase because the unit might fit or not fit.
- The Starter version measures 173mm by 97mm, where most car dashes are 174mm by 98mm openings for double-DIN head units. An extra plastic frame is included to extend the unit’s size.
Jensen Heavy Duty JHD1635BT car stereo
This car stereo head unit is a heavy-duty model manufactured to be used in the most adverse conditions that the car owner can throw at it. This is a top-notch car stereo packed with great features built with the motive to supply the consumer with the best audio experience. It supports satellite radio, which is essential for caravan touring or road trips since it does not lose network. This keeps you entertained throughout the journey.
It features Bluetooth audio streaming as well as a hands-free calling; hence you can receive calls when you are driving. Smartphone connectivity is available via USB cable; hence streaming of audio files and music is not hindered. SiriXM comes ready and fully installed to offer great entertainment capabilities. The head unit has a maximum power of 180 watts; 45W x 4 output which is a DC-powered system. It has an electronic AM/FM tuner, which works well in the USA and Europe. It has a 7-channel NOAA weather band with SAME technology hence you cannot be ambushed by sudden changes of weather conditions because you will always be updated periodically.
The radio has output and input modes via AUX and USB ports where two are located at the front and the other at the rear.
Jensen car radio has an amber-backlit control panel for easy visibility of the buttons during both the day and night. The device can display time in both twelve and twenty-four-hour time formats, which has a super backup power mode of thirty days without any power supply. It is compatible with an infrared-controlled remote or a wired remote, which is sent separately. The unit has a conformal-coated PCB non-volatile memory preset tuning channel lock.
- The Jensen head unit is heavy-duty; therefore water and dustproof. It can be installed even in motorcycles or even heavy machinery such as construction and agricultural machinery.
- The buttons are long-lasting and durable.
- It works on DC voltage directly hence easy installation.
- It offers satellite radio connectivity; hence radio stations are always available despite the geographical location.
- The head unit has only one backlit color that is amber.
- It is made heavy-duty; therefore, aesthetically, it might appear unappealing to the eyes.
Planet Audio PB455RGB car stereo
This is a double-DIN car stereo head unit. It lacks a big display like other double-DIN car head units. It only has an LED display to show various information about the operation of the system. It produces a maximum power of 60 watts x 4 with balance, fader, treble, and bass modes, which are combined with a pre-set, built-in equalizer.
It is compatible with audio of various formats such as MP3 and WMA. It processes digital media from smartphones and Bluetooth capabilities hence streaming wirelessly. This allows access to Spotify and Pandora apps. That is not the only connectivity option, the unit allows AUX input to be connected to external devices such as laptops and tablets. I
Planet Audio has illuminated colors as backlit for the unit, which create ambient mood lighting. It has no CD/DVD drive; therefore, the car owner has to have music stored digitally. The device also is wireless remote compatible and has ID3 TAG, which shows information about the audio file’s title, artist, album, track number, and much more information.
- The head unit allows many connectivity modes such as aux, USB and Bluetooth modes.
- The multi-colour RGB lighting is easy to set and adjust.
- The device being a double-DIN unit, offers a small LED display screen, which is small as compared to other units of the same class category.
Key aspects to consider when selecting head unit car stereo
Whether the car stereo head unit is a single-DIN or a double-DIN. This is the size of the unit where 1DIN is smaller, about 2 inches in height, while 2DIN ranges from 2-6inches in height hence most popular with head units with screens. Single-DIN can fit in any car, but double-DIN can only fit in cars with space on the dashboard.
Built quality of the car radio head unit is a major factor to put into consideration because this is a unit frequently used; hence it should be constructed with good quality and durable materials.
Ease of use
The buttons, knobs and touch screens should be intuitive to use while driving to avoid driver distractions. The touch screens should be easier to navigate the menus and operate. Common car-phone integrations are Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. They enhance easy usage of smartphones with the car audio system.
Cost factor is also an issue when it comes to the purchasing of car radio systems. The car owner should choose the most affordable and pocket-friendly system to avoid breaking the bank. The car stereo and head units should also be easier to install and also easy to find a technician if the buyer cannot install them by themselves.
Power output of the car stereo head unit is an important factor to put into consideration if the buyer will not install an external amplifier. The RMS power output is the power produced by a car stereo system constantly as it plays music. This will influence the sound of music power produced by the car speakers.
The display of the head unit is an important factor to consider. Some emit LCD dotted, LED light while others are full touchscreen display units. If the driver needs to see what he or she is doing when operating the head unit, it is better to choose a unit with a good display capacity.
Design of the car radio unit is also important. A car owner should select a head unit most appealing to them and the occupants. Most current systems have smart LED lighting with different color variations and modes where the driver or occupants can change the color of the light depending on the mood. Some systems allow the music to integrate with the lighting; hence, they pulsate depending on the rhythm and beats of the music.
Music playback modes capacity of the car radio head units is also a factor worth considering. Some systems have CD/DVD drives, USB drives, Bluetooth, smartphone integration and auxiliary input ports. This allows for versatility in playing music in the car. The driver can choose units with some or all functionalities depending on their tastes and preferences.
Expandability should be considered since the car stereo head unit could be connected to more peripherals and extra speakers. Peripherals may vary from audio jack inputs, rear-view camera inputs and audio/video inputs and outputs.