When most people think about a “car stereo,” they’re likely referring to the receiver (also known as the head unit or deck). The receiver is both the brain and heart of your car audio system and the bit that you’ll directly interact with. When you choosing a receiver it’s important to consider the types of audio inputs
One reason we’re partial to the Sony MEX-GS820BT bluetooth car radio is because it pairs to your smartphone so easily and quickly. (Sony gets it done with “NFC pairing,” also known as “bump pairing.”) The MEX-GS820BT car stereo also sounds great – the 4-channel, class-D amp built-in offers the kind of raw, crystal clear power that used to require external amps. Stereo imaging through the unit’s Dynamic Stage Organizer (which creates virtual speakers) puts your music directly in front of you, and there’s even an “extra bass” button that offers two settings for punching-up bass for your car audio system. And with three high-voltage pre-outs, you can expand your system with power amplifiers to drive additional speakers and subwoofers.
Other highlights: the unit plays hi-res FLAC files, comes with two USB ports and an AUX input, and you can retain the audio controls on your steering wheel with an optional adapter. And this may sound corny, but it’s actually pretty cool: the display syncs to the rhythm of your music… lightly pulsing to the beat.
Alpine’s bluetooth car radio CDE-HD149BT may just be the best single-DIN car audio music player on the planet. Built-in: a 24-bit DAC for absolute pristine sound quality, a 9-band parametric EQ for fine-tuning, an HD radio tuner, a CD player, and 18 Watts X 4 RMS power amplifier (50 watts per channel peak). As for connectivity, the unit incorporates Bluetooth, a rear USB input, a rear AUX input (3.5mm), three 4V pre-outs, and 6 rear RCA jacks for expandability. The display is surprisingly large for a single-DIN media player receiver and offers 4 toggle choices for lighting (green, red, amber and blue) to better match your car’s dash lighting. The CDE-HD149BT is also iPhone and Android smartphone compatible, and the faceplate comes off with ease so you can hide it from would-be car stereo thieves.
But the big story here is awesome sounding music – 24-bit digital audio quality music – and on that front, Alpine’s CDE-HD149BT is equal to / or better than some car stereos that cost twice as much. (Use the savings to get a bigger amp or to upgrade your car speakers.) You can fine-tune everything directly on the unit, or via Alpine’s smartphone app. Good stuff.
If your looking for one of “Best Apple Carplay Fully-Loaded Touchscreen” to the almost identical / yet more expensive Kenwood DNX996XR bluetooth car radio. Truth is: with the latest iOS/Android version (iOS 12.0 and higher), Apple Carplay and Android Auto functionalities are exactly the same in both units. Just touch the display or ask Siri/Google Assistant for directions via Apple Maps (for iPhone users), Google Maps, or Waze – or to make calls, listen to voicemail, send and receive texts, change songs – all without taking your eyes off the road. The reason the DNX996XR car stereo costs $500 more? It comes with industry-leading Garmin navigation and a high-sensitivity GNSS receiver antenna making your car audio sound more crisp and clear.
With Garmin onboard, you get “Garmin PhotoReal Junction View” which displays what tricky intersections look like before you get to them, as well as Garmin Lane Assist, which guides you to the correct lane for an upcoming exit or curve. And with Garmin 3D Terrain View, you’ll see map contours as they appear in real life, giving you a totally accurate perspective of the 3D terrain around your car, in real-time. (As opposed to a flat map.)
The Sony XAV-AX1000’s Bluetooth touchscreen measures 6.2-inches – not their biggest, but close. With it, you can use all your iPhone functions with Apple CarPlay – just plug-in to make calls, check messages and voicemails, dictate responses, look at maps – all that good stuff, and all with your eyes on the road. To play a song in Apple Music, just ask Siri, and let the XAV-AX1000 and its Dynamic Reality Amp 2 and 4X55 Watts of power take over with clear, powerful, beautiful sound.
The XAV-AX1000 is easy to install thanks to its smaller back end chassis, and you can customize the screen to better fit your car’s interior look. The ergonomic dial makes for an intuitive way to launch menus and settings, and/or you can hold it down and use voice commands instead. The XAV-AX1000 is also FLAC compatible (wired only), so you can play lossless audio files and hear every detail in every song. And you can expand your system with three pre-outs, and/or install a rear camera that feeds through the touchscreen with parking guidelines. All at a hard-to-believe price.