Pioneer radio models

Pioneer radio models DEFAULT

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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

When selecting the best car stereo systems in this review, we picked some of Amazon’s top-selling products and checked for key features, connectivity options, strong customer reviews, and overall value.

#1 Overall Best Car Stereo: Kenwood Excelon DMX706S

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We named the Kenwood Excelon DMX706S the best car stereo overall for its competitive price, build quality, and superior features. This digital 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. 

Key Features

  • Wireless Bluetooth
  • High-quality audio components
  • Supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with standard radio
  • Dual camera inputs

What Customers Are Saying: With over 250 ratings on Amazon, the Kenwood averages a 4.7- out of 5.0-star rating, with 83 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

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We awarded the Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX best premium purchase because it has enough bells and whistles to make you look forward to any drive. Besides wireless smartphone connections and dual camera outputs, an HD Radio tuner is built-in 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.

Key Features

  • Highly customizable display
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity
  • DVD/CD capabilities
  • 24 radio preset options
  • Includes remote control
  • 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 300 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

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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 still make hands-free phone calls and play music, but that’s about it. 

Key Features

  • Illuminated display and buttons
  • High power output to speakers
  • Dimmable display
  • Instant mute button
  • Music data storage
  • Includes remote control

What Customers Are Saying: With over 8,500 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

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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 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. 

Key Features

  • 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 4.7 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

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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 RMS 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. 

Key Features

  • Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Bluetooth connectivity
  • Dual camera ports
  • Adjustable parking guidelines 
  • Shallow mount design
  • 7.0-inch WVGA display

What Customers Are Saying: The Alpine iLX-W650 has an average rating of 4.4 stars on Best Buy with more than 600 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 car audio system for their vehicle: 

Unlike a subwoofer or an external amplifier, installing a car stereo is a fairly invasive procedure. It involves removing the current stereo 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 see thrown around a lot when talking about car stereos. It refers to a standard unit of measurement within the auto industry, specifically the size of radio chassis. 

Stereo receivers typically come in “single DIN” and “double DIN” models. A single DIN 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.

Double DIN players offer 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.


Pioneer DEH Receivers Reviews

So, we’ve included a ton of Pioneer products in our reviews. We thought it was time to introduce you guys to the brand’s most commonly purchased receivers – the Pioneer DEH Receivers.

Pioneer is a Japanese company that has been a leader in the car stereo business since 1938. However, we don’t just mean stereos; Pioneer is also a leading manufacturer of other entertainment products, including home theaters, computer speakers, car speakers, amplifiers, DVD receivers …etc.To us, this means that Pioneer has mastered the art of providing consistently good quality products, be it car audio entertainment, A/V receivers, or home audio systems.

>>Click here to see prices, specs, and reviews of Pioneer DEH receivers<<

General Thoughts on Pioneer DEH receivers

We’ve come to really like Pioneer DEH receivers. We don’t just mean receivers; all their other products are top-notch quality. We like most about Pioneer DEH receivers because they come in a wide variety of prices ranging from $70 to $200 to accommodate any budget. Pioneer has a wide variety of products for beginners or veterans of In-car entertainment. Some of their low-priced models come with all the regular standard features and are reasonably priced, whereas high-end models can be very costly – think of it as a long-term investment.

One thing to note with this is that The more features you want and the higher level of performance you’d like, the more money you’ll need to spend…but it’s worth it if it’ll help you stay entertained. A low-priced model won’t include as many features as a high-end model, low-priced models aren’t also as visually appealing as some of the Pioneer’s high-end models, and so on.

Pros & Cons

Pros : 

Pioneer is a very reliable brand. It’s leading the way for affordable, reliable car receivers. It just feels like you can’t go wrong whether you get the double or single-DIN head unit, entry-level or high-end model. I am sure you will be happy with it. Pioneer is a trusted name; it’s a high-quality car stereo manufacturer from Japan, not a fly-by-night imitation brand from China, respectively.

Cons : 

One thing to watch out for, however, is the display. Several reviewers have noted that it can be hard to read, especially in daylight, unless you squint really hard – straining your eyes, not to mention distracting you from the road. We didn’t have that problem with receivers we’ve come across, but it might be a major quality issue for some people. Just something to look out for.

Pioneer 2015 receivers offer a wide variety of settings, expandability options, and adjustments like multiple choices of input, iPod, iPhone through BT, HD radio, etc. There’s also MixTrax, but I feel like it’s kind of gimmicky. On the other hand, some young people find it awesome.

We included a few different DEH series receivers for you guys. We realize by now that you have different needs, preferences, budgets, etc. So, please have a look at our recommendations from Pioneer.

Pioneer DEH-X9600BHS


The DEH-X9600BHS receiver is the flagship and the most expensive of Pioneer DEH Series receivers; it’s going to be the most expensive pick of the lineup by far. If you’ve read some of our reviews of single din head units, you’ll know why. You truly get a modern receiver with all the convenient features you’ll ever need, including Bluetooth® for hands-free calling and audio streaming, Pandora® Internet radio control, dual rear USB inputs, and HD Radio™ tuner for crystal-clear AM/FM radio broadcasting. An optional SiriusXM tuner can also be easily added. If you’re a tweaker, you’ll appreciate the advanced sound controls and a variable-color display.MIXTRAX feature, on the other hand, will add DJ-inspired effects and professional style transitions between songs stored on your smartphone,iPod, or USB thumb drive. This is a car audio manufacturer with a proven record making receivers of all types with the best features available. It will be a huge upgrade over your stock stereo in every way.


The DEH-X9600BHS’s fold-down detachable face offers enough room to display track or station’s metadata (song title, album, artist…).You can change the color of your full-Dot, 3-line LCD, as well as control buttons separately, creating so many combinations to match your mood and your car’s interior. We have come across a few people who have stated that choosing a green color for the display is the only good daytime color option, especially for those people where limo tint is illegal on front windows. Additionally, despite being a solid receiver, the 9600BHS has a cheaper feel than what we would expect for its price tag. We’d like to see some improvements to the design. Other than that, this is a great piece to add to your car’s dash.

Pioneer DEH-X8600BH

Pioneer DEH-X8600BH

The DEH-X8600BH is another beautiful and trusted car receiver by Pioneer. Admittedly, like other receiver reviews, we have done, the DEH-X8600BH is yet another top-notch head unit from Pioneer. It’s actually the brother of the DEH-X9600BHS; the main difference between that receiver and its lack is SiriusXM Radio. If SiriusXM Radio isn’t high on your list of requirements or features, then we highly recommend getting this receiver instead of the other one. This will save you about $40.Otherwise, get the DEH-X8600BS version which supports SiriusXM but not HD Radio.

To put it simply, Pioneer offers two versions of DEH-X8600. One with HD radio but not SiriusXM (Pioneer DEH-X8600BH ), and another one with SiriusXM but not HD radio ( Pioneer DEH-X8600BS ).Which one of these is better boils down to personal preference. Its only issues are barely minuscule, and its pros far outweigh its cons in a big way.

One of the minor downsides with this receiver is that it doesn’t come with a detachable face case to carry it in.

Pioneer DEHX6600BT & Pioneer DEH-X6600BS


 If your budget can’t stretch to one of 2015’s flagship DEH receivers, consider DEH-X6600BT. We highly recommend this model for those of you who are a bit more budget-minded. This model comes in two varieties, one with and the other without SiriusXM Radio. Unfortunately, both models also lack HD radio; this might not be a huge drawback as HD Radio isn’t yet widespread in so many countries. However, if that’s a must for you, consider shelling out a few extra bucks to get a more advanced model. Other than that, we’ve found it to be reasonably priced for what it is and what it does. At around $105, it’s not too expensive – and if you’re an audio connoisseur, it could be a great investment.

The DEH-X6600 CD receiver boasts a decent array of features and surprisingly good sound quality. It comes with all the regular features, including built-in Bluetooth® for hands-free calling and audio streaming from any Bluetooth supported device, USB access to music on Android™ smartphones (Without any app on 4.0 or later), USB direct control of Apple devices (iPod® or iPhone®), Pandora® radio for both IOS and Android, as well as Siri Eyes Free voice recognition compatibility.

Pioneer DEH-X4600BT CD receiver

Pioneer DEH-X4600BT

This is a similar product to the previous DEH-X6600 cd receiver we have reviewed. However, you are forfeiting a bit by going with this head unit rather than the other (I mean, it is less than $10). The main difference is this receiver comes neither with HD radio nor SiriusXM Radio. And its display and control buttons color are Blue by default, and it’s fixed But, don’t get us wrong; this receiver is worth every penny you spend on it.

If you’re really not wanting to spend a lot of money on a car receiver, but you still want a brand name and decent quality receiver for your vehicle, this head unit should suffice.

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Pioneer DMH-WC5700NEX
This story is part of CES, where our editors will bring you the latest news and the hottest gadgets of the entirely virtual CES 2021.

Pioneer's NEX family of in-dash receivers takes modularity to the next level at CES 2021 this week with the debut of the DMH-WC5700NEX, which separates its LCD touchscreen from the main head-unit for more flexible installation in modern cars.

After years of tinkering with and installing car stereo systems, I take for granted that there will be space behind a vehicle's dashboard for the standard DIN-sized (or double-DIN) receiver install. But as cabin tech becomes better integrated inside new cars, today's automakers don't always see the need to leave room for an aftermarket stereo. That has left car audio enthusiasts without an obvious upgrade path, forcing Pioneer to get creative with the next modular iteration of its NEX receiver family.

The DMH-WC5700NEX -- jeez, these model numbers are getting unwieldy -- features a 6.8-inch capacitive LCD touchscreen that mounts on the dashboard with a trim kit like any other car stereo receiver. It's only about as thick as a chunky tablet -- which allows for easy installation in vehicles that cannot accept a traditional aftermarket in-dash receiver, for example the new Chevrolet Camaro, Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra.

Pioneer DMH-WC5700NEX

The main control unit connects to the touchscreen with a single cable and can be hidden away deep in the dashboard, center console, under a seat or wherever there is space. Depending on how far away you plan on mounting the main box, the purchase of a separate extension cable may be required.

Being a modern NEX receiver, the DMH-WC5700NEX features the full complement of features we've come to expect of this lineage. That includes high-fidelity audio playback, wired and wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, Amazon Alexa, HD radio tuning and a flexible, customizable interface. The unit can also be upgraded with an add-on SirusXM satellite radio tuner and rear camera system.

Pricing and availability haven't yet been announced, so stay tuned for more details and updates as they emerge. Pioneer also debuted a new and ridiculously compact micro-subwoofer for cars at CES, so maybe to check that out in the meantime.

Climb in the driver's seat for the latest car news and reviews, delivered to your inbox twice weekly.

The Best Car Stereos With Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Our new top pick is the Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX, while the AVIC-W8500NEX and AVH-3500NEX are our new upgrade and single-DIN picks, respectively. They are minor updates to our now-unavailable past picks.

  • Our new top pick is the Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX, while the AVIC-W8500NEX and AVH-3500NEX are our new upgrade and single-DIN picks, respectively. They are minor updates to our now-unavailable past picks.

    The Sony XAV-AX100 remains our budget pick, but because it’s also being phased out, we’ll be doing a new round of testing soon.

December 2, 2019

We’re convinced that the easiest and safest way to use your phone while driving is to connect it to a stereo that has Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. And after researching more than 75 models and testing 19, we found that the Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX is the best replacement car stereo for drivers who want those features. With wireless connectivity and an intuitive interface, this Pioneer model makes it easier than other stereos to stream music, navigate to a destination, and message by voice through your phone, while keeping distractions to a minimum.

The Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX is one of the few car stereos that let you connect your phone to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto either wirelessly or through a USB cord, which provides a lot more versatility. In addition, its display is more attractive and customizable than those of other models we tested. It offers intuitive physical controls and a suite of extra features, including multiple input/output connections and a CD/DVD drive. And it’s available at a reasonable price. If you want a built-in navigation system (instead of needing to use your phone) or a capacitive multitouch display, though, we recommend our upgrade pick instead.

Budget pick

If you just want Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and don’t mind having to use a wired USB connection to use them, the Sony XAV-AX100 is a good choice. Unlike most double-DIN stereos, this Sony has a handy knob that makes volume adjustments easier. Its 6.4-inch display is clear and responsive, although it’s smaller than most other models’. Compared with our top pick, the XAV-AX100 also lacks a CD/DVD player, satellite-radio capability, and the ability to customize the buttons’ illumination to complement your vehicle’s interior. It also isn’t designed to connect to an iDatalink adapter to work with your car’s steering-wheel controls and other features.

The Pioneer AVIC-W8500NEX is nearly the same stereo as our top pick, with the addition of a built-in navigation system and a capacitive screen that allows multitouch, pinch-to-zoom-type control. As with our top pick, you can connect to both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto either wirelessly or with a USB cord. The built-in navigation can be a good alternative to using your phone for directions because it lets you stay on track in areas where poor reception makes phone-based mapping unreliable or inconvenient, or if you want to keep your phone free for other uses or minimize its battery and data consumption. The additional features tack a couple hundred dollars onto the price, so we recommend this model only if you need them.

If your car has only a single-DIN (7-by-2-inch) dash opening for the stereo, the Pioneer AVH-3500NEX, with a clever slide-out touchscreen, is your best option for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It’s easy to use, with a handy volume knob and big buttons on the front for common functions. The motorized 7-inch screen slides out and up for use, effectively giving you the same interface as a double-DIN stereo. And it retracts back into the head unit when you turn off the radio or simply want to hide it while listening to audio. But using CarPlay or Android Auto with the unit requires a wired USB connection, and depending on your car’s dash, the screen might block climate controls or vents (it extends about 4 inches above the stereo).

Everything we recommend

Budget pick

Why you should trust us

Rik Paul, who conducted our latest test, has edited this guide since its beginning, and was previously the automotive editor for Consumer Reports and the senior feature editor for Motor Trend, where he evaluated hundreds of car audio and infotainment systems. He avidly encourages the development of any technology that makes using a phone in the car easier and safer, and has been using Android Auto since it was introduced in 2015.

Eric Evarts, who wrote the original version of this guide, has been reviewing new cars and their entertainment systems for more than 20 years. In addition to Wirecutter, his articles have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Consumer Reports, U.S. News & World Report, AAA, Alternet, the journal Nature Outlook, and Green Car Reports. He has also installed three new stereos in his family’s 11- to 22-year-old vehicles in order to incorporate the latest smartphone connectivity features.

We’ve also spoken to industry experts, including Tony Mercado, the former marketing development manager for the JVCKenwood Corporation; Seth Halstead, the Eastern regional training manager for Kenwood USA; Christopher Mascari, Wirecutter’s director of business operations at the time of our research, who has been installing and using replacement stereo systems for years and whose father owns a car-audio installation shop; and Ted Cardenas, vice president of marketing for Pioneer’s Car Electronics division. (Our picks had not been publicly announced at the time of Cardenas’s 2017 interview, and it in no way informed our decision to recommend Pioneer radios this year.)

Who this is for

If you drive an older or less expensive car—from, say, a 1990s Honda Civic to a recent Ford Focus or Toyota Corolla—chances are, you’re not able to get the full advantages of your smartphone through your car stereo. Even if you can stream audio and conduct hands-free calls via Bluetooth, you’re likely having to use your phone’s small screen to navigate, which means, even if you have your phone secured in a car mount, it’s difficult and potentially distracting to interact with if you need to. If you have to increase the volume to hear the directions, you need to fumble with the volume control on your phone, and switching apps or sending or responding to messages just isn’t advisable (and, hopefully, you’re not picking up your phone to send a text).

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto increase the convenience, safety, and enjoyment of driving by basically putting your phone’s controls on your stereo’s display, so you can interact with your device from a simplified driver-friendly interface or by voice control. The integration of voice assistants, especially, makes these systems much easier and safer to use than if you had to pick up the phone itself. Over the past few years, CarPlay and Android Auto have become available in most new cars, and now dozens of replacement stereos also include them.

The Pioneer stereo sitting on a metal shelf displaying the Apple CarPlay interface.

Apple CarPlay lets you access common smartphone features—such as audio streaming, navigation, and hands-free calling—in a driver-friendly interface on your stereo’s display, as well as through Siri. Photo: Rik Paul

A view of the Pioneer displaying the a stack of info cards from the Android Auto interface.

Android Auto displays cards for active functions that you can slide with your finger and easily switch from one to another. It also works with Google Assistant voice commands. Photo: Rik Paul

With both systems, you can conduct hands-free phone calls, stream audio, send text messages by voice, and listen to incoming messages. And you get full access to the phone’s digital assistant—Siri or Google Assistant—which means all of this and more can be done through voice commands.

For many, though, the biggest upgrade with a product like this is a better ability to get driving directions by using your phone’s navigation system—whether Google Maps, Apple Maps, or Waze—to see the map, route, and detailed traffic info on the stereo’s large, in-dash display. Using your phone as a nav system occupies your screen and consumes data, but it can save you a substantial amount of money—a built-in nav system can add thousands to a vehicle’s price, or it can add hundreds to the price of a stereo (plus, you may have to pay for map upgrades down the line).

Just as important as their convenience is the value of these apps in reducing distracted driving. Being able to easily conduct hands-free calls, play music, send texts, or get directions, either by voice or by pressing a button or two on the stereo, means you’re less likely to pick up and use your phone while behind the wheel, which is one of the worst things you can do while driving (PDF). Talking on a handheld phone while driving is against the law in 16 states and the District of Columbia; texting while driving is banned in 47 states and in DC. Moreover, a 2013 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (PDF) includes findings from the often-cited 100-Car Study (conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and NHTSA) that shows that a driver who is reading or dialing a handheld device is about three times more likely to be in a crash or near-crash. By contrast, adjusting a car radio has “little effect on driving performance or crash risk.”

Most stereos with these apps require you to connect your phone with a USB cable. With that setup, you can use any iPhone 5 and later model with iOS 7.1 or higher with Apple CarPlay. Android Auto is compatible with devices running Android 5.0 (Lollipop) and higher (although 6.0—Marshmallow—and later is recommended for best performance).

If you want a wireless connection to Apple CarPlay, you need iOS 9 or higher, and as of this writing, Android Auto Wireless is compatible with Pixel and Nexus 5X and 6P phones using Android 8.0 or higher, as well as with later-generation Samsung Galaxy and Note devices using Android 9.0 or higher.

Will this fit your car, and can you install it?

Most of the stereos in our test group fit in a standard double-DIN (7-by-4-inch) dash opening, which is common to many vehicles. Only a couple of models we’ve tested fit in the smaller single-DIN (7-by-2-inch) opening, found in many older and less-expensive cars. Typically, you can tell which opening your car has by simply measuring the stereo. But that’s not always accurate, as many cars have a single-DIN stereo housed in a larger, double-DIN opening. And some vehicles have the stereo so seamlessly integrated into the car’s dash that it’s hard to tell what size it is. This makes it hard to just pop in a new one and have it look the same.

A good way to see what stereos will fit your car is to go to the Crutchfield website and enter the year, make, and model of your vehicle. In addition to telling you if a specific stereo will fit, the Crutchfield site shows any extra installation gear you’ll need. The site also offers tips on removing the current stereo (and replacing your speakers, if that’s something you’re also considering). Alternatively, you can visit a local car-stereo installer—call around to compare quotes first—or install it yourself. If you do that, download the digital manual, which can be more complete than the included paperwork. Many people have found Crutchfield’s customer service reps to be helpful in this area, as well, especially on more complicated installations that require secondary wiring harnesses for things like steering-wheel controls.

How we picked

Through two rounds of testing, we researched about 70 replacement car stereos, from nine brands, that run Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. We compared the specs, features, and pricing of each, and chose 19 of the most promising models for hands-on testing. All of the models we tested give you Apple CarPlay and/or Android Auto, Bluetooth, a touchscreen with a resolution of 800×480, voice control, and an adequate 50 to 55 watts of power. A few CarPlay and Android Auto stereos are available with larger, 8- or 9-inch screens, but they usually require custom installations and fit in only a few vehicles, so we didn’t include them.

In addition to requiring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, here are other key features we looked for when deciding which models to test and recommend, starting with the most important.

The most important considerations:

  • Wireless connectivity: We could seamlessly link to all of the stereos we tested with a USB cord, but being able to connect wirelessly to the CarPlay and Android Auto apps is a huge convenience. Relatively few stereos offer wireless connections to CarPlay or Android Auto, but it’s the area where we’ve seen the most innovation in the last year. (CarPlay and Android Auto can’t run off of Bluetooth, according to Pioneer’s Ted Cardenas, because each require too much data.) So, wireless stereos have a built-in Wi-Fi network that you connect your phone to, and once the two are paired, the phone automatically drops any other Wi-Fi network it’s connected to in favor of the stereo’s.
  • Easy-to-use interface: Intuitive controls, large on-screen buttons, and easy-to-read fonts make it easy to get to what you want quickly, minimizing distractions. Most stereos have similar screens: a 6.4- to 7-inch display that’s clear, sharp, and responsive. Where we saw the most difference was in the stereos’ physical buttons, which are located on the faceplate around the screen. The best have a nice tactile feel, which makes them easier to identify by touch. A few models—including three of the stereos we tested—have a knob, which makes volume adjustments much easier, although the compromise can be a slightly smaller display.
  • Touchscreen: We preferred a capacitive touchscreen (similar to the one on your smartphone), which allows multitouch gestures that can be particularly handy for pinching to zoom on navigation maps. But those are typically available only on higher-priced stereos. The resistive displays used on most replacement stereos recognize only one touch point at a time, but we’ve found that they’re fine for most uses, such as tapping on-screen buttons and swiping menus. To zoom in or out on a map, you just have to use the + and ‒ buttons on the screen.
A look at the row of small physical buttons on the bottom of a car stereo.

The better stereos have hard buttons that are easy to use while driving, without having to take your eyes off the road for longer than necessary. The ones on this Pioneer have a tactile feel that makes them easy to identify by touch. Photo: Rik Paul

A close up of our pick for best car stereo with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Sony XAV-AX100. It has a rectangular screen displaying eight apps, including phone, music, maps, messages, podcasts, audiobooks, pandora, and now playing. To the left of the screen is a large volume dial, a home button, and fast forward and rewind buttons.

This Sony has an easy-to-use volume knob and large buttons on the left side of the faceplate, close to the driver. Photo: Rik Paul

  • Adjustable color themes: It’s purely a cosmetic feature, but we prefer the option to change the color theme of the stereo’s display and buttons to better coordinate with a car’s own interior lighting. This lets you reflect the mood you want, adjust between modes you can see better in daylight or at night, or simply provide some variation in how the stereo looks. Peter Logan, an audio specialist at Crutchfield, told us, “A lot of our customers really want their aftermarket head unit to have adjustable screen colors. It sounds silly, but having the stereo match the interior lighting makes it feel much more integrated.”
  • Compatibility with steering-wheel controls: Most new vehicles have steering-wheel controls that work with the factory audio system to adjust the volume, change a channel, or do other basic functions. Swapping out the factory stereo risks losing this convenience, but the better models, including most of the ones we tested, can keep it as long as you connect a special wiring harness such as the iDatalink Maestro. If your car has other functions—such as climate controls or vehicle settings—integrated into the infotainment system, you can also usually get a wiring harness that enables those features as well. Check with an installer or the stereo manufacturer to find out what’s best for your specific vehicle.

Other details that are important to some people

A stereo displaying a GPS map.
  • Built-in navigation system: Not everyone needs a built-in navigation system, but deciding whether to get one is a big part of this purchase. If you skip it, you will still be able to use your phone’s apps, like Google Maps, Apple Maps, or Waze, for navigation (through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto). That gives you great traffic info, but it uses your phone’s data and battery, ties up the phone’s screen, and can become a problem if you lose cell coverage. A built-in navigation system—which adds hundreds to the cost of the stereo—doesn’t rely on reception because it has all of the mapping and points-of-interest data stored in the stereo’s memory. It can also provide better visual navigation than some phone map apps, such as clearer lane guidance for highway exits. But unlike with phone-based nav systems, which are typically continuously updated, you often need to pay for map updates for built-in systems. If you’re already sure you want a built-in nav system, start your search with our upgrade pick.
  • Satellite radio compatibility: Satellite radio compatibility is important for anyone who has (or wants to buy) a subscription to SiriusXM radio. Only one stereo we tested includes a SiriusXM tuner—and we didn’t require one for our picks, because most of the stereos we looked at can be connected to a separate SiriusXM tuner if you need one.
  • CD/DVD player: Having a CD player can be nice, but with so many ways to listen to audio through your phone, we didn’t consider one to be essential. Many lower-priced stereos, called digital media players (DMRs), don’t include a disc player. (The same goes for many new cars.) One benefit to consider: Stereos with disc players also play DVDs, and include video inputs so you can play a DVD for rear-seat passengers on a separate monitor (or in the head unit when the car is parked).
  • Video inputs and outputs: All of the stereos we tested have a video input, so this factor didn’t influence our decision. The input lets you connect a backup camera and see its video image on the unit’s screen (whether you’re replacing a stereo in a car that came with a built-in backup camera, or if you’re adding an accessory backup camera). Some higher-priced stereos also have a second or third input, which lets you also connect, say, a second camera in the front or behind a trailer, or provide a larger display for a dash cam.
  • HD Radio: Some stereos can receive HD Radio, which is a digital signal that’s broadcast from regular regional radio stations, but we don’t consider it a must-have feature. HD Radio can provide better audio quality, but we’ve had mixed results with HD Radio reception—if you’re out of range of the signal, the stereo defaults to regular radio reception, but it also sometimes produces weird interference and an annoying echo effect.
A look at the back of an installed car radio.

Higher-priced stereos include more inputs and outputs for connecting external accessories such as backup cameras, dash cams, a GPS receiver, a satellite radio receiver, an external amplifier, or other video devices. Photo: Rik Paul

Two of the remote options that come with our picks.

A stereo’s remote control is most useful when you’re playing music or a video while parked, or for a rear passenger to use while on the road. Photo: Rik Paul

  • Remote control: We don’t count a remote as a must-have, although several of the radios we tested come with one. We found them handy for rear-seat passengers watching a DVD on a separate monitor, or if you’re listening to the car stereo at an outdoor get-together, like when tailgating.
  • Pre-out outputs: Most car-stereo head units have two or three pre-outs, which are important only if you intend to expand your audio system by adding an external amplifier. Most people don’t do that, so we didn’t prioritize these. If you do intend to add an amp, the power from the pre-outs usually range from a basic 2 volts up to 5 volts in higher-priced stereos. An expert at Model Electronics (in Ramsey, New Jersey) told us that extra voltage produces a cleaner sound, with more punch.
  • Power output: Unless you’re a dedicated audiophile, this is something you don’t have to worry about. All of the stereos we tested deliver more than enough power for a typical car-stereo setup, with 50 to 55 peak watts per channel for a four-speaker system. (According to Crutchfield, that usually means about 20 to 25 watts of continuous power.) If you need more power than that, you can always add one or more amplifiers.

How we tested

We bench-tested the stereos by following the installation instructions for each and connecting them to a portable 12-volt power supply, speakers, a microphone, and a GPS antenna, if needed. We focused mainly on each stereo’s features, ease of use, and ergonomics. We didn’t attempt to compare audio quality, as that depends so much on the number and quality of the speakers, how they’re installed, and the design and materials of the vehicle interior they’re used in. With the right speakers and installation, we’re confident that any of the models we tested will deliver audio quality that will satisfy or even impress most drivers.

We connected to each stereo with both an iPhone and a Google Pixel phone, and we put them through their paces in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, respectively. We checked to see how easily they connected, and if they would automatically reconnect after we turned the stereo off and back on. In our testing, we also found that a Wi-Fi connection drew a little more of the phone’s battery power than using Bluetooth, but the difference wasn’t significant. To check, we twice ran our fully charged Pixel 2 XL test phone for an hour while streaming Pandora, first using Bluetooth and then Wi-Fi. With Bluetooth, the battery’s charge dropped to 98 and 97 percent, respectively, in the two tests. With Wi-Fi, it dropped to 96 and 93 percent.

We also carefully checked each of the unit’s core functions, from operating the radio (changing stations, setting presets, and adjusting the volume) to using the hands-free phone features (checking and dialing contacts and receiving calls).

We switched between functions to see how quickly and easily we could get to what we wanted. We pinched, zoomed, swiped, and recentered every map. We adjusted the volume up and down for each function, because when you’re driving it always seems like you can’t hear what you need to (turn-by-turn nav instructions or a critical moment in an audiobook). We scrolled through the settings menus of every unit, looking for shortcuts to make things easier.

Most important, we were sure to run multiple functions at once on each unit, because one of the reasons for using CarPlay or Android Auto is to make it safer and easier to multitask while driving: For both CarPlay and Android Auto, we made and received phone calls while playing audio and running a navigation system from the phone. We also used the stereo’s native operating system, when we could, to stream music and listen to the radio while navigating. In each case, we did our best to mimic all of the situations we’ve experienced while driving, to see how easy each model made it for us.

Our pick: Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX

The Pioneer car stero sitting on a dashboard. There are small raindrops on the car's windshield in the background.

If you want the advantages of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in a replacement car stereo, we’re convinced that there’s no better choice than the Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX. The AVH-W4500NEX is one of only a handful of stereos that let you connect to CarPlay or Android Auto wirelessly (all models let you connect through a USB cord). This Pioneer also has a display that’s more attractive and customizable than other stereos, with intuitive physical controls and a suite of features that deliver all of our standard requirements as well as a few nice-to-have extras. It lacks built-in navigation and a capacitive display—features our upgrade pick includes—but omitting them here lowers the price by a couple hundred dollars.

With our Pixel 2 XL and iPhone SE test phones, both CarPlay and Android Auto worked seamlessly whether the AVH-W4500NEX was connected wirelessly or through a cord, letting us stream music from Pandora and Spotify, plot navigation routes, and conduct hands-free phone calls. You can set the app to automatically activate when the stereo is turned on, or do it manually by pressing a couple of on-screen buttons.

One of our stereo picks, unistalled and showing a Google Maps screen.

Like all of the stereos we tested, the AVH-W4500NEX comes with an external microphone, which makes it easier to use Siri and Google Assistant voice commands in CarPlay and Android Auto. You can position it close to your face by slipping it onto a windshield visor or similar location. As when using the digital assistants on our phones, we could easily stream music and input destinations by using voice commands, and could choose playlists and albums, and even quickly switch between Pandora and Spotify, without touching the screen. (Okay, we didn’t always get the exact playlist we requested—sometimes getting a more general one of a similar genre—but that’s an aspect of the apps themselves, not the stereo.)

The Pioneer showing it's full menu.

The standard 7-by-4-inch double-DIN display is clear and sharp, with easy-to-read fonts and large on-screen buttons. We found navigating the menus quick and intuitive. They show only the functions you’re likely to need from wherever you are, so icons remain large and easy to spot. Switching between AV sources or different functions is usually a matter of pressing a button or two. Similarly, while CarPlay or Android Auto was playing, we could easily access the stereo’s settings and other functions. A nice touch: you can also separately adjust the volumes of the AV source and the navigation app, so one isn’t too loud or soft when using both. You can also quickly mute the sound if desired, and, when connected to a phone, the screen shows the phone’s battery charge, so you know when to plug it into a USB port for charging.

We liked that the display is highly customizable, allowing you to choose different themes, colors, and backgrounds (even using a photo you load), and you can choose which on-screen buttons appear on the home screen for quick access. The screen can be adjusted for day or night modes manually, by setting a timer, or automatically when the car’s headlights are turned on. In addition, you can tilt the display upward in small increments to make it easier to see or to compensate for higher or lower placements in the car’s dash.

The hard buttons, below the display, are relatively small, but they have a nice tactile design, which makes them easier to identify by touch while driving than those on the other stereos we tested. The volume and back/voice buttons are particularly easy to find, as they protrude slightly from the faceplate and have their own distinct feel. You can easily change the hue of the hard-button illumination, choosing from five main colors, having them rotate through the colors, or setting your own customized color.

As with all of the stereos we tested, the AVH-W4500NEX allows you to pair two phones via Bluetooth simultaneously, and switching between them was easy by tapping a button on the home screen.

This Pioneer also includes a disc player for spinning a CD or watching a DVD while the vehicle is parked. You tap the eject button on the far right side and the display tilts down, allowing you to insert the disc. You can also insert an SD memory card the same way.

The back of the AVH-W4400NEX will all of it's associated cords and plugs.

On its rear side, the AVH-W4500NEX has a number of inputs and outputs that give you a lot of extra functionality. You can connect an array of external devices, such as the supplied GPS antenna or an optional Sirius/XM tuner, backup camera, or rear-seat monitor. Plus, you can expand your car’s audio system with an external amplifier by connecting to the Pioneer’s pre-out connectors, which deliver a healthy 4 volts for better sound at higher volumes. While lower-priced models generally have one USB port in the rear, the AVH-W4500NEX has two, so you can use one phone to operate Apple CarPlay or Android Auto while charging a second phone. You can also connect an optional Pioneer navigation system, or use an optional iDatalink Maestro adapter to integrate the stereo with your car’s steering-wheel controls or other features.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

All of the stereos we tested, including the Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX, let you pair two phones via Bluetooth for conducting hands-free calls, streaming music, and the like. But a minor gripe we have with all such systems is that when you begin using one phone for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, the second one no longer routes audio through the stereo, even if a call comes in on the second phone. In addition, you can’t play music from one phone while another is paired for phone calls if either of them is connected to CarPlay or Android Auto. So far, this inconvenience is just something you have to live with when using these systems.

One tip for Android users: Because the Pioneer uses an internal Wi-Fi network for wireless use, before connecting to Android Auto that way, be sure to go into the Android Auto app settings on your phone and make sure the “Turn Wi-Fi off when Android Auto is running” setting is unchecked. Otherwise, as we discovered, the stereo will attempt to connect to your phone, but immediately disconnect. This isn’t mentioned in the stereo’s instructions, so checking in advance will save a bit of head scratching and possibly some foul language.

Last, it’s not a flaw so much as a missing feature we want to make extra sure you’re aware of: This model lacks a built-in navigation system and a capacitive display, two features that set our upgrade pick apart. You’ll have to use your phone as a navigation system with this model, an approach that generally works well but comes with a few trade-offs, as outlined in Who this is for.

Budget pick: Sony XAV-AX100

The Sony stereo with an iPhone plugged in and Apple CarPlay display showing.

Budget pick

The Sony XAV-AX100, our previous top pick, can be a good choice if you want Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and are willing to do without the versatility and extra features of our top pick. Both apps worked seamlessly in our testing, but they don’t have the wireless connection that we like in our pick—with the Sony, you have to connect your phone through a USB cord. The 6.4-inch screen is bright, clear, and responsive to touch, but it’s a little smaller than most of the other stereos we tested, which measure between 6.8 and 7 inches. And, compared with the Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX, this Sony lacks the extra functionality of a CD/DVD player, satellite-radio capability, and the ability to customize the buttons’ illumination to complement your vehicle’s interior. This Sony model is being phased out, however, so we’ll be doing a new round of testing soon to choose a new budget pick.

A highlight of this model is its handy volume knob, which few other double-DIN stereos share. This makes adjusting the volume quicker and easier than pressing a small button. In addition, pressing the knob brings up a menu of sound-control options, and holding it in activates the voice-command system. Having the buttons on the left side of the display is also convenient, making them very accessible for a driver. Compared with our top pick, though, it has fewer buttons—and therefore fewer options for quickly navigating the menus.

The USB input plug on the back of the Sony stereo.

Unlike our top pick, the Sony XAV-AX100 has only one USB connector (housed in a cord on the rear), which an installer will have to run to a convenient location, such as your glove box or console, for you to plug in your smartphone to use CarPlay or Android Auto. If you need to charge a second phone at the same time, we recommend using a USB car charger, which plugs into a car’s 12-volt accessory outlet (aka cigarette lighter).

Like all of the other stereos we tested, the XAV-AX100 includes Bluetooth support, a video input for connecting a backup camera, and preamp outputs for expanding your audio system. Rather than providing a separate GPS antenna, though, it uses your phone’s, so when navigating you have to keep your phone in a location where it can get a clear signal. The XAV-AX100 also isn’t set up for an iDatalink adapter, for using a car’s steering-wheel controls or other functions.

Upgrade pick: Pioneer AVIC-W8500NEX

The AVIC-W8400NEX sitting on a car dashboard, a GPS map on the display.

If you want a stereo with a built-in navigation system, we recommend the Pioneer AVIC-W8500NEX, which is a higher-priced sibling of our pick, the AVH-W4500NEX. Like that model, this Pioneer lets you connect to both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto either wirelessly or with a USB cord, which makes it more versatile and convenient than most other models. It also has a capacitive display that, unlike our pick’s resistive screen, lets you use multi-finger gestures, such as pinching to zoom on a map display. Otherwise, the two are virtually identical stereos.

As we explained in How we picked, using the built-in navigation instead of Google or Apple Maps can be especially useful in areas with poor cellular reception, where phone-based mapping is unreliable. It’s also handy for times where you want to keep your phone free for other uses or minimize its battery and data usage, such as on longer trips.

Pioneer’s nav system, which uses Here mapping, shows the speed limit for the road you’re on and helps you navigate freeway interchanges by clearly showing the highway sign to follow and the lane to be in. It alerts you to traffic incidents along your route and shows color-coded traffic flow on surrounding streets, but it doesn’t offer the breadth and detail of Google Maps’s traffic info. With the capacitive display, pinching to zoom worked in both Pioneer’s nav system and in Google Maps. It wasn’t as smooth as we’d like, but it was easier than using the + and – buttons on the screen.

With Pioneer’s integrated nav system, swiping with your finger gets you some other helpful data, such as the vehicle’s speed, altitude, and compass heading. And we liked that while navigating with the map on the screen we could still see our AV source along the bottom of the screen, and vice versa.

If you need a single-DIN stereo: Pioneer AVH-3500NEX

The AVH-3400NEX with it's large expandable screen out and displaying the Apple CarPlay interface.

The Pioneer AVH-3500NEX is the best choice for getting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto if you have an older or less-expensive vehicle with a smaller, single-DIN dash opening. It does so by using a motorized 7-inch screen that slides out and pivots up to give you a display the same size as a double-DIN model’s. Unlike with our other Pioneer picks’ wireless connectivity, however, you need to connect your phone to the AVH-3500NEX with a USB cord to use Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The AVH-3400NEX with the screen tucked away.

The AVH-3500NEX model’s touchscreen is bright, clear, and responsive, and CarPlay and Android Auto work beautifully. The screen automatically retracts when the stereo is turned off. And if you ever don’t want to see the screen, you can retract it into the head unit and continue to listen to whatever audio source is playing. Whether the screen is extended or tucked away, the nice, big volume knob on the front panel is easy to grasp, and the large forward- and back-track buttons are easy to hit. And the CD/DVD-player slot is easy to access whether the screen is deployed or retracted. Other features include variable-color lighting for the buttons, satellite radio compatibility (with a separate receiver), and a partially detachable face for theft deterrence.

The fold-out screen design isn’t ideal for every car, however. It extends up about 4 inches from the stereo, so if your climate controls or other critical buttons are right above the stereo in your dashboard, you won’t be able to access them with the screen extended. It could also block air vents in the dash. And of course the slide-out mechanism adds mechanical complexity—and thus the potential for more things to go wrong down the road.

What to look forward to

Companies have recently introduced several car stereos that, like our top and upgrade picks, offer wireless connectivity to both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. We’ll be doing a new round of testing to evaluate a selection of those models, as well as a number of less-expensive stereos to fill the shoes of our current budget pick, which is being phased out.

The competition

Digital media receivers (DMRs)

Also called “mech-less receivers,” DMRs don’t include a disc player, focusing primarily on streaming media.

The Kenwood DMX905S is one of five Kenwood models that feature wireless Android Auto, along with a traditional corded Apple CarPlay app. The Kenwood worked well in our testing, but small usability details separated it from our top pick. It has a capacitive display, although pinching-and-zooming didn’t work in Google Maps. The unit’s hard buttons are large enough to press easily, but they don’t have the nice tactile feel of the Pioneer models’.

The Kenwood DMX7704S is very similar to the DMX905S, above, but lacks its wireless Android Auto capability and capacitive display. It has the same relatively large, but tactile-less buttons along the bottom. And we found the menu structure to be more complicated than the Pioneer or the Sony models’.

Because the Kenwood and JVC brands are owned by the same company—JVCKenwood Corporation—the JVC KW-M845BW is similar to the Kenwood DMX905S, above, with wireless Android Auto and only minor design differences. Its 6.8-inch screen is resistive instead of capacitive; it has only one USB port, instead of two; and you can’t change the buttons’ illumination color. It has also only three small, hard buttons, which offer less versatility and are more difficult to use than the Kenwood’s. Most irksome for us, though, is that we had a difficult time wirelessly connecting to Android Auto with our Pixel 2 XL test phone, and switching between two Bluetooth-connected phones wasn’t as seamless as with the Pioneers.

The JVC KW-M730BT, our previous runner-up, and the newer JVC KW-M740BT are almost identical models. When plugged in with a USB cord, both CarPlay and Android Auto worked well. The Pandora and Spotify apps were also flawless when using a Bluetooth connection. Our main gripes are the three tiny hard buttons across the top, which offer less functionality and aren’t as easy to access on the fly as those on the other models we tested. Also, you can’t customize the buttons’ illumination colors.

The new Sony XAV-AX5000 is very similar to our budget pick, except that it has a larger, 7-inch, bezel-less display and smaller, hard buttons across the bottom, rather than the XAV-AX100 model’s volume knob and left-mounted buttons. We had no problems connecting to CarPlay and Android Auto through a USB cord, and the AX5000 provides dual USB ports and satellite radio capability. It could be another good budget choice, but it’s sparse on features, compared with our other picks. It doesn’t come with a GPS antenna; it uses the one in your phone. The display isn’t as customizable. You can’t vary the buttons’ colors. And you can’t connect this model to an iDatalink adapter for use with a car’s steering-wheel controls and other features.

Our former also-great pick, the Alpine iLX-107, was the first replacement car stereo to offer a wireless connection to Apple CarPlay, although it doesn’t include Android Auto. The iLX-107 model’s interface is relatively easy to use, with responsive capacitive volume buttons below the screen. Its screen can be finicky, though, and we often had to hunt and peck to find what we wanted in the menus. The iLX-107 has a 7-inch screen and a host of extra features, such as satellite radio and HD Radio, multiple color choices for the controls, and the capability to pair with up to five smartphones over Bluetooth, but it tends to be more expensive than our top pick.

The Alpine iLX-207 has the same bright, 7-inch display as its cousin, the iLX-107, along with Android Auto, which the iLX-107 lacks. However, it doesn’t have the iLX-107 model’s wireless CarPlay connectivity or its slick capacitive volume buttons. Instead, it has a thick lip across the bottom of the screen that protrudes about half an inch from the display, and houses several large plastic buttons that provide some tactile feedback. The iLX-207 worked fine overall, and includes satellite radio compatibility, HD Radio, selectable illumination colors and wallpaper, and an HDMI input and output. But as with the iLX-107, we often had to hunt and peck to find what we wanted in the menus.

DVD receivers

Although our previous Pioneer picks have been replaced by newer models, there are only minor differences between them and our new picks, and the older versions are still available through some retailers at a discounted price. These include our previous top pick, the Pioneer AVH-W4400NEX, and two of our previous single-DIN picks, the Pioneer AVH-3400NEX and AVH-3300NEX.

The Sony XAV-AX210 is similar to our budget pick, the Sony XAV-AX100, with a 6.4-inch display and volume knob. But it adds a CD/DVD player, satellite radio capability, variable illumination, and the ability to connect to an iDatalink adapter for use with a car’s steering-wheel controls and other features. An SXM version that includes a SiriusXM tuner as part of a package is currently being sold.

Stereos with built-in navigation

Our previous upgrade pick, the Pioneer AVIC-W8400NEX, is very similar to our new one, the AVIC-W8500NEX, and it’s still available at some retailers for a discounted price.

The Pioneer AVIC-8201NEX is very similar to our upgrade pick, but without its wireless capability for CarPlay and Android Auto; you need to plug in with a USB cord. Like the AVIC-W8500NEX, this Pioneer comes with a built-in navigation system, capacitive touchscreen, satellite radio compatibility, HD Radio, and Pioneer’s Dual Zone Entertainment (which gives rear-seat passengers the option to enjoy different content than front-seat passengers).

The Kenwood DNX875S is essentially the same as the DMX905S digital media receiver, above, but with an integrated Garmin navigation system. You can connect to Android Auto either wirelessly or with a USB cord, and to CarPlay with only the cord. But, as with the JVC KW-M845BW, above, we had problems wirelessly connecting to Android Auto with our Pixel 2 XL test phone, and switching between two Bluetooth-paired phones wasn’t as seamless as with the Pioneers. We like the nav system; in our car GPS testing, we’ve found Garmin’s navigation system to be easy to use, with an intuitive interface, reliable and responsive routing, and helpful lane guidance at highway interchanges. As with Pioneer’s Here mapping, Garmin’s traffic data isn’t as comprehensive or accurate as that of Google Maps and Waze, though. The DNX875S is compatible with Kenwood’s DRV-N520 dash cam, and can accept two camera inputs.

Our previous upgrade pick, the Kenwood DNX694S, and the newer Kenwood DNX695S are very similar models. We had no trouble connecting to CarPlay and Android Auto through a USB cord. Both models come with built-in Garmin navigation, a CD/DVD player, HD Radio, satellite radio compatibility, variable color adjustments for customizing the controls’ backlighting, and dual video inputs for connecting multiple cameras. Unlike on the other Kenwoods we tested, the buttons are located on the left side of the screen, where they’re easier for a driver to reach, and the CD/DVD slot is visible above the 6.8-inch display. Both models can connect to the company’s DRV-N520 dash cam, and when a backup camera is connected, the stereo overlays helpful parking-guidance lines onto the camera’s image. According to Kenwood’s Seth Halstead, drivers can also connect other accessories, such as an add-on forward-collision warning system.


  1. Ted Cardenas, vice president of marketing, Pioneer, phone interview, November 27, 2017

  2. Tony Mercado, former marketing development manager, JVCKenwood Corporation, phone interview, November 28, 2017

  3. Seth Halstead, Eastern regional training manager, Kenwood USA, phone interview, November 28, 2017

  4. Christopher Mascari, director of business operations, Wirecutter, phone interview, November 21, 2017

About your guides

Rik Paul
Eric C. Evarts

Radio models pioneer

A Guide to the 6 Top Car Stereo Brands

The top car stereo brands offer great quality and excellent sound. Although choice is a very personal thing, there are some brands that truly stand out.

  • Becker. Not as well known as other brands, Becker is one of the top car stereo brands, most famous for its CD changers, which have been exceptionally well received.
  • Blaupunkt. Blaupunkt is a German company that's been around since 1970 and provides car stereo systems to many high end makes. Their models tend to be named after cities, and they generally score highly when people look for the top-rated audio system.
  • Clarion. Although a newcomer, at least compared to the other brands, Clarion has established itself among the top car stereo brands. Although all the models have been favorably reviewed, one standout for Clarion is its digital audio system for cars.
  • JVC. JVC has a reputation both in home audio and also as one of the top car stereo brands. Based in Japan, the company has established a reputation for high quality equipment even if it's not one of the biggest brands. Its products offer extremely good value for money.
  • Kenwood. Kenwood covers the whole range of car entertainment. That means not just car stereo, but also multimedia units that offer DVD and GPS, as well as speakers. They cover the entire gamut of car entertainment. Particularly popular are Kenwood CD changers.
  • Sony. Sony is one of the very top and most visible car stereo brands. It's always at the cutting edge of technology and coming out with new products that score well on consumer reviews.

Blaupunkt Car Stereo Speakers and Receivers

A Blaupunkt car stereo is made by Bose in Germany. The stereo equipment is quite sleek and all of the controls are fun, though not necessarily logical. It may be necessary to search through the manual to find all the control functions. The speakers can easily handle all different frequencies, though the front speakers tend to lack in the bass department. The mid and high tones are very natural and make for excellent listening.

Bose Factory Brand

Factory brands tend to be much higher quality stereo systems than manufacturer or aftermarket systems. However, along with the better quality they tend to be much more expensive. If you want top of the line, Blaupunkt is an excellent stereo manufacturer. This brand does not cut corners or sacrifice quality.

High Quality

High quality is necessary because the acoustics of a car are not even close to ideal. It is rare for the speakers to actually face the passengers and most of the components are shrunken to fit into the dashboard. Sound reflects off of the different panels and interior and it is very difficult to predict how this works. There are also issues with external sound. High quality stereo components ensure that the best audio possible will come from your speakers. Having a subwoofer and amplifier that matches the speakers is very important. By purchasing a complete Blaupunkt stereo you can be sure that each component works perfectly with the rest of the stereo.


When purchasing such a top end stereo it is best to have it installed by a recognized installer. Make sure that you know the individual that is installing the stereo into the car, should any problems occur in the future. Additionally ensure that the fitter has all of the tools necessary to fit the Blaupunkt stereos. Most factory brand stereos have special wire harnessing, adapters and fittings in order to work in your vehicle.

The Look and Buttons

The look of the Blaupunkt stereo is quite sleek with a slick finish. This is perfect for those individuals that like plenty of buttons. It can take a little while to get used to the buttons and functions of them, as they are not necessarily all logical. There is a great fade in function when a cassette or CD is inserted. This prevents a very strong and jarring sound increase depending on the audio. The only main issue is at very high volumes, the clarity does decrease. Blaupunkt offers several different stereo systems. All are top of the line and offer the best audio experience for the car.

Delco Car Stereo Performance

A Delco car stereo can provide you with the quality sound you want in your vehicle at a price you can afford. Delco has been a trusted name for years for OEM stereos, as car manufacturers seek out the sound and stability of the units they have to offer.

The Start of Delco

Delco electronics have actually been around since 1929, and they were among the first stereos ever issued in automobiles. General Motors used one of the stereos in the 1929 LaSalle, and from that point on Delco has remained a staple in many of the cars that come off the line. Improvements to the 1929 model were made in 1931, and they were continually made to keep up with the needs of consumers.

Modern Delco Models

While there have been many changes since the birth of these stereos, the need for quality and affordability has remained throughout the years. Modern units are still simple to use, and they fit well with the electrical abilities of the cars they're in. They may have better sound and more advanced features, but they remain as classic as ever. Delco models can be installed by professionals, or you can tackle the installation on your own. Delco has never wavered in its commitment to its customers, and you can bet the company will be around for years to come.

JBL Car Stereo Subwoofers

JBL car stereo subwoofers are an ideal addition to any budget oriented car audio set up. A JBL subwoofer is a popular upgrade among audiophiles who wish to improve the sound output of any existing in-car audio system.

Adding JBL subwoofers to your car will add emphasis to low frequency signals and give your sound system the added boost it deserves.

Bargain JBL Sub Woofers

The JBL 8-inch GTO804 Grand Touring Series sub woofers give powerful bass for a reasonable price. Another factor worth considering is the subwoofer enclosure to ensure a rich, deep reproduction of sound. The GT5-2402BR speaker enclosure from JBL includes dual preloaded enclosures for 12-inch subwoofers for competition quality sound. The GT5-10D 10-inch subwoofer has dual 4-Ohm voice coils that faithfully reproduce bass levels with a friendly price. JBL subwoofers are available in a wide array of sizes and configurations designed to cater to the most discriminating in car audio and video set up.

Other Accessories

It would be important to remember that subwoofers alone will not give you the power and clarity you expect from your audio set up. The amplifier should also be given attention, and should match with the overall power output of your subs and speakers. Visit the JBL online store to know more.

JVC Car Stereo Receivers: Cheap and Easy to Install

JVC car stereo receivers are among the most popular brands on the market. There's a good reason for this. They give very high quality at a reasonable price as an aftermarket car stereo.


Price is always going to be a factor for buyers, and JVC car stereos are extremely competitive here. JVC is one of the best-known brands and one of the biggest brands in the aftermarket car stereo market. They tend to have lower prices, and be a trusted, reputable brand. People know they're buying a good product.


The installation of a JVC car stereo is very straightforward. In most cases, you only have to insert the unit in the dashboard with an appropriate face plate and connect the harness and the speakers. The stereo manual will give you all the details for the installation of the JVC car stereo, but it's generally so simple that those without any experience can do it. It's one of the extra selling points for the brand. This saves money, as there's no need to take the car to a professional for installation. The work done at home can look just as good in most cases, so the savings come from all sides.

Metra Car Stereo Custom Installation Kits

A Metra car stereo system can allow you to put in the intense sound of an aftermarket stereo where you want it most in your car. This will allow you to put whatever stereo you want in your vehicle with a housing designed to fit right into the dash.

Metra Kits

Metra kits are made to work with most aftermarket stereos. They are made of a high quality plastic that will not break easily. The kits allow for different positioning on your dash for the stereo, and they often provide storage in the gaps that remain. All Metra kits come with instruction manuals for you to put them in on your own.

Picking the Right Kit for Your Car

Even though you are looking into a custom kit, you need to get the kit that will fit your vehicle specifically. The kit will come with all the Metra accessories you need to hook up your stereo, but the wires may vary based on the car you have. If you look for your specific year, make and model of vehicle when you start selecting an installation kit, you'll have a lot easier time when it comes to putting the stereo in. You may also want to think about stereo selection so you know if you have enough room on the face of the kit or not. If you don't, there should be another option through Metra that will work for both the car and the stereo you want.

Pioneer Car Stereo Audio and Video

Pioneer stereo is a hallmark of good engineering and good sound. They have a wide range of in-dash CD players and A/V receivers, with something for every budget, their lowest price model is just $89.

CD Players

With a wide range of CD/radio units that fit in the dash, Pioneer has something for all areas of the market. Their most expensive unit is a reference CD player that retails for $1,350. It includes a USB port, so you can play music from your MP3 player.

A/V Receivers

For the car, Pioneer's focus is on multimedia. They have a large range of audio receivers that work not only with MP3 players, but also with DVDs. They see what was once the car stereo as an onboard entertainment center.

There are units that provide the traditional radio and CD opportunities as well as working with MP3 players. As you go up the price scale, units also play DVDs, transmitting them to screens elsewhere in the vehicle. Also offering receivers for digital radio in your car, Pioneer stereo is staying at the forefront of the game, with Bluetooth technology available. For those who need more, the company also has CD and DVD changers, which can store up to 12 discs for playing as you drive.

Many of the A/V receivers have built in screens. These are small, but ample for a front seat passenger. Other screens for those in the rear seats can be added.

In-Dash Receivers

The in-dash receiver is the main control of the stereo system. This is where volume is controlled, as is the music source, and all other settings of the different components. The in dash receivers are all digital and can include GPS navigation and a CD player. Several of the different receivers available include the AVH-P5200BT, AVH-P4200DVD, MVH-PH8200Bt and more. The AVH products all can use iPod, DVDs, USB input, sound receiver, built-in Bluetooth, touch screen display and comes ready for HD radio and SAT radio. The MVH series has a sound receiver, USB input, iPod playback, built in Bluetooth, and several RCA Pre-outs.


Pioneer offers three series for car speakers: the D-series, A-series, and G-series. They also have special application speakers. The least expensive speakers are the D-series, though these are still excellent, high quality speakers. The cone in the D-series speakers is made of volcanic rock which provides crisp, accurate and smooth sound. A-series speakers are perfect for those interested in boosting bass and the low frequencies. These speakers outperform all factory speakers and provide plenty of power. The cone is bigger and better, which makes it possible to boost the output. It also comes with an extra sensitive tweeter for higher frequencies.


The shallow mount, Champion series and Champion series Pro are subwoofers available from Pioneer. The shallow mount is a very thin subwoofer that uses ib-Flat. The "i" stands for the intelligent design and the b-Flat refers to the fact that the subwoofer can easily play the lowest note on the piano keyboard. The Champion series allows for easy installation and greater flexibility. It is the perfect way to create that custom sound you desire from the car stereo. The PRO series uses patented air suspension technology, which provides the maximum sound in a small space.


Pioneer offers the GM series amplifiers and GM digital. The GM series are built strong and can support multiple power channels. Compared to other amplifiers, you get more watts per dollar from Pioneer. The amplifiers are all bridgeable, so it is possible to add more as your listening needs change. The digital series uses digital amplification. Currently, Pioneer offers a full digital stereo line, so it is possible to go completely digital.

Sirius Car Stereo

A Sirius car stereo system is a satellite radio for your car. Sirius is a subscription radio product, meaning that you have to pay to get it. It usually costs between $11 and $20 dollars a month. Many cars come with a three-month free trial. Here are some benefits and downsides of Sirius.


There is a very large variety of stations available on Sirius satellite radio. They have a great mix of music stations, sports stations and political talk. There are fewer commercials on Sirius, which you should expect since you are paying for the use. The sports packages are great and you can get games from all over the country, and from a wide range of sports. Many people primarily get Sirius due to its ability to provide political and talk radio in high quality.


Even with the variety, there are still some problems. Some of the stations are so specialized, that they are too specific for your own needs. Many people want a variety in the genre of music, but some are too specific. Another con is the price, since you can turn on the radio or your iPod for free. The monthly fees do not cover the start up costs, which include activation, the system itself and other things. There are reception problems as well in certain situations, like being inside, under a tree or bridge, or living in rural areas.

Sony Car Stereo Audio and Video

A Sony car stereo will provide a reliable entertainment system in your car.

Product Types

Decide what medium you intend to use. For example, a Bluetooth audio system will work differently with a CD head unit. You will find that multimedia stereos can be useful to allow you to choose a variety of different mediums.


The wide range of Sony equipment on the market means that you will be able to find a satisfactory Sony car stereo even if you're on a budget. You will find that the cost of the latest stereos will be higher than older models.


When deciding on the model of Sony car stereo to choose, take into account the cost of any maintenance that might be required. Find out whether any replacement Sony stereo parts that might be needed are readily available on the market.


If you want to ensure that you always have the latest Sony car stereo model, check how easy it is to upgrade the system. Newer models have more advanced technology than older varieties, meaning that more work will be necessary when making a large change.

Related Questions and Answers

Can You Find Your Blaupunkt Car Stereo Code Online?

Yes, you can find your Blaupunkt car stereo code online. All it costs is $3 for an account to register at and the serial number of your radio receiver. You will find the serial number is located on a small piece of paper on the bottom or back of your receiver. You will still have to slide the radio receiver out of its holder to turn it upside-down, and you will find the serial number there. Or you may have to remove the radio completely from the instrument panel itself and look on the piece of paper on the rear that has the initials S/N. Once you have those, you fill out the form at and you are good to go.

Who Makes Car Stereo Receivers with the Most Functions?

Although it is a toss-up, you will find that Bose probably makes car stereo receivers with the most features. They are made to work not only with a specially designed set of speakers/filters, but with specialized amplifier circuits that interface with the speaker/filters for the great sound the system delivers. Remember that Bose designs its systems around the cars they are building them for, so it takes a lot of electronic work and interface to make this system operate correctly. The runner-up (some could argue is the leader), is Sony, which makes a variety of complicated systems for vehicles. Then there's the specialized audio versions offered by Mercury.

Can You Add an MP3 Input to a Car Stereo, or Only Get a Car Stereo with the Input Built in Already?

Yes, you can add a car stereo MP3 input to a car stereo. An MP3 input is nothing more than a standard three-way car stereo input jack. In other words, if you were to look at an MP3 input, you would see the long outer shaft is for ground, the second or middle shaft is for one set of speakers, and the first shaft is for the other set of speakers. For some reason, once it was reintroduced some years ago as an MP3 player, the name stuck. Although it is nothing more than a standard stereo input device.

Pioneer MVH X370BT Unboxing + Test

Vehicle audio

Entertainment electronics in cars

"Car radio" redirects here. For the Twenty One Pilots song, see Car Radio (song).

Vehicle audio is equipment installed in a car or other vehicle to provide in-car entertainment and information for the vehicle occupants. Until the 1950s it consisted of a simple AM radio. Additions since then have included FM radio (1952), 8-track tape players, cassette players, record players, CD players (1984), DVD players, Blu-ray players, navigation systems, Bluetooth telephone integration, and smartphone controllers like CarPlay and Android Auto. Once controlled from the dashboard with a few buttons, they can now be controlled by steering wheel controls and voice commands.

Initially implemented for listening to music and radio, vehicle audio is now part of car telematics, telecommunication, in-vehicle security, handsfree calling, navigation, and remote diagnostics systems. The same loudspeakers may also be used to minimize road and engine noise with active noise control, or they may be used to augment engine sounds, for instance making a smaller engine sound bigger.



1937 Philips Auto Radio. Weighing 24 kg and taking 8 litres of space, it was floor mounted with a wired remote control to be fitted to the dashboard.

In 1904, well before commercially viable technology for mobile radio was in place, Americaninventor and self-described "Father of Radio" Lee de Forest did some demonstration around a car radio at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis.[1]

Around 1920, vacuum tube technology had matured to the point where the availability of radio receivers made radio broadcasting viable.[2] A technical challenge was that the vacuum tubes in the radio receivers required 50 to 250 voltdirect current, but car batteries ran at 6V. Voltage was stepped up with a vibrator that provided a pulsating DC which could be converted to a higher voltage with a transformer, rectified, and filtered to create higher-voltage DC.

In 1924, Kelly's Motors in NSW, Australia, installed its first car radio.[3][4][5]

In 1930, the American Galvin Manufacturing Corporation marketed a Motorola branded radio receiver for $130.[6] It was expensive: the contemporary Ford Model A cost $540. A Plymouth sedan, "wired for Philco Transistone radio without extra cost," is advertised in Ladies' Home Journal in 1931. In 1932 in Germany the Blaupunkt AS 5 medium wave and longwave radio was marketed for 465 Reichsmark, about one third of the price of a small car. Because it took nearly 10 litres of space, it could not be located near the driver, and was operated via a steering wheel remote control.[7] In 1933 Crossley Motors offer a factory fitted car radio.[8] By the late 1930s, push button AM radios were considered a standard feature. In 1946, there were an estimated 9 million AM car radios in use.[9]

An FM receiver was offered by Blaupunkt in 1952. In 1953, Becker introduced the AM/FM Becker Mexico with a Variometer tuner, basically a station-search or scan function.[10]

In April 1955, the Chrysler Corporation announced that it was offering a Mopar model 914HR branded Philco all transistor car radio,[11] as a $150 option for its 1956 Chrysler and Imperial car models. Chrysler Corporation had decided to discontinue its all transistor car radio option at the end of 1956, due to it being too expensive, and replaced it with a cheaper hybrid (transistors and low voltage vacuum tubes) car radio for its new 1957 car models.[12] In 1963, Becker introduced the Monte Carlo, a tubeless solid state radio with no vacuum tubes.[10]

From 1974 to 2005, the Autofahrer-Rundfunk-Informationssystem was used by the German ARD network.[13] Developed jointly by the Institut für Rundfunktechnik and Blaupunkt,[14] it indicated the presence of traffic announcements through manipulation of the 57kHzsubcarrier of the station's FM signal.[15] ARI was replaced by the Radio Data System.[16]

In the 2010s, internet radio and satellite radio came into competition with FM radio. By this time some models were offering 5.1 surround sound. And the automobile head unit became increasingly important as a housing for front and backupdashcams, navis, and operating systems with multiple functions, such as Android Auto, CarPlay and MirrorLink. Latest models are coming equipped with features like Bluetooth technology along with HDMI port for better connectivity. Screen size varies from 5-inch to 7-inch for the double Din car stereos.[17]

The AM/FM radio combined with a CD player has remained a mainstay of car audio, despite being obsolescent in non-car applications.[18][19]

Most modern vehicle audio are now equipped with anti-theft system for protection purposes.

Physical media[edit]

Mobile players for physical media have been provided for vinyl records, 8-track tapes, cassette tapes, and compact discs.

Attempts at providing mobile play from media were first made with vinyl records, beginning in the 1950s. The first such player was offered by Chrysler as an option on 1956 Chrysler, Desoto, Dodge, and Plymouth cars. The player was developed by CBS Labs and played a limited selection of specially provided 7-inch discs at 16⅔ RPM. The unit was an expensive option and was dropped after two years. Cheaper options using commonly available 45 rpm records were made by RCA Victor (available only in 1961) and Norelco. All of these players required extra pressure on the needle to avoid skipping during vehicle movement, which caused accelerated wear on the records.[20]

In 1962, Muntz introduced the Wayfarer 4-track cartridge tape player. Celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, had these units installed in their cars.

In 1965, Ford and Motorola jointly introduced the in-car 8-track tape player as optional equipment for 1966 Ford car models. In 1968, a dashboard car radio with a built-in cassette tape player was introduced by Philips. In subsequent years, cassettes supplanted the 8-track and improved the technology, with longer play times, better tape quality, auto-reverse, and Dolby noise reduction. They were popular throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Pioneer introduced the CDX-1, the first car CD (compact disc) player, in 1984. It was known for its improved sound quality, instant track skipping, and the format's increased durability over cassette tapes. Car CD changers started to gain popularity in the late 80s and continuing throughout the 90s, with the earlier devices being trunk-mounted and later ones being mounted in the head unit, some able to accommodate six to ten CDs.[21] Stock and aftermarket CD players began appearing in the late 1980s, competing with the cassette. The first car with an OEM CD player was the 1987 Lincoln Town Car, and the last new cars in the American market to be factory-equipped with a cassette deck in the dashboard was the 2010 Lexus SC430,[22] and the Ford Crown Victoria.[23] The car cassette adapter allowed motorists to plug in a portable music player (CD player, MP3 player) into an existing installed cassette tape deck.[24]

In the early 21st century, compact digital storage media – Bluetooth-enabled devices, thumb drives, memory cards, and dedicated hard drives – came to be accommodated by vehicle audio systems.

Active noise control and noise synthesis[edit]

The automobile sound system may be part of an active noise control system which reduces engine and road noise for the driver and passengers. One or more microphones are used to pick up sound from various places on the vehicle, especially the engine compartment, underside or exhaust pipes, and these signals are handled by a digital signal processor (DSP) then sent to the loudspeakers in such a way that the processed signal reduces or cancels out the outside noise heard inside the car. An early system focused only on engine noise was developed by Lotus and licensed for the 1992 Nissan Bluebird models sold in Japan.[25] Lotus later teamed with Harman in 2009 to develop a more complete noise reduction system, including road and tire noise as well as chassis vibrations.[26] One benefit of active noise control is that the car can weigh less, with less sound-deadening material used, and without a heavy balance shaft in the engine. Removing the balance shaft also increases fuel efficiency.[27] The 2013 Honda Accord used an active noise control system, as did the 2013 Lincoln luxury line and the Ford C-Max and Fusion models.[28] Other operating data may also play a part in the DSP, data such as the engine's speed in revolutions per minute (RPM) or the car's highway speed. A multiple source reduction system may reach as much as 80% of the noise removed.[29]

The same system may also be used to synthesize or augment engine noise to make the engine sound more powerful to the driver.[30] For the 2015 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Fastback and EcoBoost Fastback Premium, an "Active Noise Control" system was developed that amplifies the engine sound through the car speakers. A similar system is used in the F-150pickup truck. Volkswagen uses a Soundaktor, a special speaker to play sounds in cars such as the Golf GTi and Beetle Turbo. BMW plays a recorded sample of its motors through the car speakers, using different samples according to the engine's load and power.[31]

Components and terms[edit]

The stock system is the OEM application that the vehicle's manufacturer specified to be installed when the car was built.

Aftermarket components can also be used.

Amplifiers increase the power level of audio signals. Some head units have built-in stereo amplifiers. Other car audio systems use a separate stand-alone amplifier. Every amplifier has a rated power level sometimes noted on the head unit with the built-in amplifier, or on the label of a stand-alone unit.


Excessively loud sound systems in automobiles violate the noise ordinance of municipalities, some of which have outlawed them.[32] In 2002, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a guide to police officers on how to deal with problems associated with loud audio systems in cars.[33]


  • A 1950s Philips car radio using both transistor and valves. This model used a range of valves that only required 12 volts for their plate (anode) voltage.[34]

  • GM Delco Transistorized "Hybrid" (vacuum tubes and transistors), first offered as an option on the 1956 Chevrolet Corvette car models

  • A car stereo head unit in a dashboard

  • 1942 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet radio

  • Dashboard of VW Hebmüller with Telefunken Radio (1949/50)

  • Blaupunkt Köln Radio - German 1958 Ford Taunus 17M P2 deLuxe

  • 1990 Ford Sierra CLX Radio-Cassette head unit in a dashboard with cassette storage

  • A set of speaker drivers removed from a passenger vehicle

  • Two 10-inch subwoofers in the trunk of a car

  • As technology keeps evolving, head units are now paired with the climate control system and other functions

See also[edit]


  1. ^Erb, Ernst (30 April 2012). "First Car radios-history and development of early Car Radios". Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  2. ^Guarnieri, M. (2012). "The age of vacuum tubes: the conquest of analog communications". IEEE Ind. Electron. M.: 52–54. doi:10.1109/MIE.2012.2193274. S2CID 42357863.
  3. ^"Car History 4U - History of the Car Radio in Motor Cars". 2012-12-09. Archived from the original on 2012-12-09. Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  4. ^"Lessons of history inform ACMA thinking today: RadComms Conference". Radio info. 30 April 2009. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  5. ^"10 Aussie Auto Facts You Probably Didn't Know". Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  6. ^"The History of Car Radios". Car and Driver. 25 October 2010. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
  7. ^"Blaupunkt: Success Story". Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  8. ^Harding (ed) (1977). Guinness book of car facts and feats. London: Guinness Superlatives. ISBN .CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  9. ^"When the Car Radio Was Introduced, People Freaked Out". MentalFloss. 3 January 2012. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  10. ^ ab"The History of the Car Stereo". PCMAG. Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  11. ^"Mopar 914-HR Ch= C-5690HR Car Radio Philco, Philadelphia". Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  12. ^Hirsh, Rick. "Philco's All-Transistor Mopar Car Radio". Retrieved February 18, 2015.
  13. ^"Institut für Rundfunktechnik Historic Milestones". Archived from the original on 20 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
  14. ^"March 2009: RDS is now 25 – the complete history"(PDF). Geneva, Switzerland: The RDS Forum. 2009-03-27. p. 1. Archived from the original(PDF) on October 7, 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
  15. ^EP 1432157 
  16. ^"Das Autofahrer-Rundfunk-Informationssystem wird abgeschaltet" (in German). Regensburg, Germany: ShortNews. 2005-02-28. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
  17. ^"Best Double Din Stereo 2019 - Top 5 Reviews". Stereo Authority. 2019-01-01. Retrieved 2019-01-16.
  18. ^DeVito, Dominic. "Is the car CD player dead?". Crutchfield.
  19. ^Siegel, Rob (8 January 2018). "History of obsolete car audio, part 5: What's old is new (or, at least, in vogue)".
  20. ^Sharon Riley (April 12, 2014). "Record players were the infotainment systems of the 1950s and '60s". Consumer Reports. Retrieved April 16, 2020.
  21. ^"The Evolution of Playing Music in Your Car 1980s-1990s: The Rise of the CD". Complex CA. Retrieved 2017-01-22.
  22. ^Williams, Stephen (2011-02-04). "For Car Cassette Decks, Play Time Is Over". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  23. ^"The in car cassette deck lives on for one more year".
  24. ^Smith, Ernie (November 6, 2019). "The Car Cassette Adapter Was an Unsung Hero at the Dawn of the Digital Age".
  25. ^Peachey, Colin (1 October 2013). "Noise Optimization Technology with Colin Peachey of Lotus Engineering". Automotive IQ. Retrieved 25 March 2021.
  26. ^Filipponio, Frank (16 April 2009). "Lotus and Harman partner on noise-cancelling, noise-creating tech". Autoblog. Retrieved 25 March 2021.
  27. ^Peachey, Colin (October 7, 2013). "Active Noise Control with Colin Peachey of Lotus Engineering". Automotive IQ. Retrieved 25 March 2021.
  28. ^"Automakers shush cars with noise cancellation technology". USA Today.
  29. ^"Adaptive Noise Control (Automobile)".
  30. ^Harwell, Drew (2015-01-21). "America's best-selling cars and trucks are built on lies: The rise of fake engine noise". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-01-16.
  31. ^"The Rise of the Fake Engine Roar". Popular Mechanics. 2012-08-02. Retrieved 2016-01-16.
  32. ^"Boom Cars, Noise Free America". Archived from the original on February 19, 2015. Retrieved February 18, 2015.
  33. ^Scott, Michael S. (May 22, 2002). Loud Car Stereos(PDF). U.S. Department of Justice, Community Oriented Policing Services. Archived from the original(PDF) on September 23, 2015. Retrieved February 18, 2015.
  34. ^"6DS8". 28 January 2019. Retrieved 25 March 2021.

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