The Best Car Stereos of 2019
Last updated on August 22, 2019
Your daily commute? Punch it with a killer car stereo.
The world’s first car stereo, circa 1930, only got AM radio and tended to catch on fire. Today, there are literally hundreds of car stereos on the market, and though they don’t catch fire anymore, there’s still a lot of junk out there. So how do you choose the best-possible car stereo for you, your car, your music, and your budget, short of getting a degree in audio engineering? You talk to the experts. We’ve been an award-winning mobile electronics dealer – and installer – since 1979. And our 2019 “Best Car Stereo” winners below cover every scenario we could think of. So dig in, and any questions along the way – pick up the phone and talk to our mobile technicians at 1.866.961.7781 or email us here. We’re happy to help!
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Here Are Our Picks for the Best Car Stereo Head Units of 2019:
1) The Best Touchscreen Car Stereo: Kenwood DDX9906XR 6.8" DVD Touchscreen Receiver w/ Apple CarPlay and Android Auto 2) The Best Value Touchscreen Receiver: Sony XAV-AX5000 Touchscreen Receiver 3) The Best Bluetooth Value Single-DIN Car Stereo: Sony MEX-GS820BT CD Receiver with Bluetooth & Music Center 4) The Best Single-DIN Head Unit: Alpine CDE-HD149BT CD Receiver w/ Bluetooth, HD Radio, USB for iPod/iPhone 5) The Best Double-DIN Head Unit Under $200: Sony WX-920BT Double-DIN CD Receiver with Bluetooth 6) The Best Apple CarPlay Stereo Fully-Loaded Touchscreen: Kenwood DNX996XR 6.8" CD/DVD Touchscreen Receiver w/ Apple CarPlay 7) The Best Budget Double-DIN Head Unit Touchscreen Under $500: Sony XAV-AX1000 6.2" Apple CarPlay Media Receiver with Bluetooth 8) The Best Alpine Value Bluetooth Head Unit: Alpine CDE-172BT CD Receiver w/ Bluetooth and USB and AUX Inputs 9) The Best Touchscreen Car Stereo For The Money: Kenwood DDX396 6.2" DVD Touchscreen Receiver w/ Bluetooth
#1) The Best Touchscreen Car Stereo: Kenwood DDX9906XR 6.8" DVD Touchscreen Receiver w/ Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
BRAND & MODEL: Kenwood DDX9906XR 6.8" DVD Touchscreen Receiver w/ Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
REG PRICE: $899
Why it won
The Kenwood DDX9906XR features a 6.8" HD Touchscreen on which you can tap, swipe, and control pretty much everything. And everything includes: pairing up to 5 Bluetooth devices at the same time, accessing up to three cameras, controlling and viewing a dash cam (sold separately), full navigation, and easier parking via guidelines on an optional rear view camera. The big news for 2019: the DDX9906XR now incorporates Apple CarPlay® and Android Auto™ Ready via a wired or wireless connection – with applicable smartphones. Meaning: if you want access to navigation, music, or communications apps on your iPhone or Android, you have it through the Kenwood’s large touchscreen.
The DX9906XR’s multi-widget-based interface is totally customizable as well, so you can devise whatever look goes best with your dashboard. As for music the DX9906XR supports file formats from high-res FLAC and WAV, to MP3, WMA, and AAC. And with a 13-band equalizer onboard, you can tailor sound any way you like. Included in the box is a generous assortment of mounting hardware, cables, the hands-free mic, GPS antenna and more. In all, Kenwood’s DDX9906XR is smart, feature-rich, sounds great – and the touchscreen is next level awesome.
#2) The Best Value Touchscreen Receiver: Sony XAV-AX5000 Touchscreen Receiver
BRAND & MODEL: Sony XAV-AX5000 Touchscreen Receiver
REG PRICE: $398
Why it won
There’s a certain “less is more” design elegance to the interface on Sony’s double-din XAV-AX5000 digital media receiver. (On the practical side, the rear chassis is smaller than most which makes it easier to install as well.) And, like the fully featured Kenwood above, Sony’s AX5000 does it all and includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, an easy-to-see capacitive touchscreen, and more.
The 6.95-inch touchscreen is bezel-less, and thus sits flush (and blends better) in the dashboard. And the most critical functions – volume, source, sound settings, voice control – are easily and quickly accessed via the buttons under the screen along the bottom of the unit. The AX5000 gives you two USB ports so you can connect both your smartphone and any other USB device (e.g., any drive that holds your music library) at the same time.
Sony shines when it comes to audio, and the AX5000 brings it: the Dynamic Reality Amp 2 gives you 4 x 55 W of power so you can turn things up, plus it’s FLAC compatible so it plays lossless audio files. And Sony’s “Dynamic Stage Organizer” uses digital signal processing to improve stereo imaging. The AX5000 is smart, powerful, elegant – and a favorite among our installers.
#3) The Best Bluetooth Value Single-DIN Car Stereo: Sony MEX-GS820BT CD Receiver with Bluetooth & Music Center
BRAND & MODEL: Sony MEX-GS820BT CD Receiver with Bluetooth & Music Center
REG PRICE: $249
Why it won
One reason we’re partial to the Sony MEX-GS820BT 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 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. 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.
#4) The Best Single-DIN Head Unit: Alpine CDE-HD149BT CD Receiver w/ Bluetooth, HD Radio, USB for iPod/iPhone
BRAND & MODEL: Alpine CDE-HD149BT CD Receiver w/ Bluetooth, HD Radio, USB for iPod/iPhone
REG PRICE: $300
Why it won
Alpine’s CDE-HD149BT may just be the best single-DIN car 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.
#5) The Best Double-DIN Head Unit Under $200: Sony WX-920BT Double-DIN CD Receiver with Bluetooth
BRAND & MODEL: Sony WX-920BT Double-DIN CD Receiver with Bluetooth
REG PRICE: $118
Why it won
10 - 15 years ago, the technology we’re about to discuss was either unthinkable, on drawing boards only, or cost a fortune. So if you’re anything over 30 years old, take a second to appreciate what $118 will buy you in 2019:
All it takes to pair your phone to Sony’s WX920BT is a light bump against the unit’s volume knob, and then boom – you have full access to nav, music and all features thanks to NFC technology. Then tap your passenger’s phone the same way, so he or she can make or take hands-free calls as well. From there, use Siri Eyes Free to operate all… or stream play your music through the front USB port and your phone, drive, or music player – or stream directly from your Android device. Play hi-resolution FLAC files, turn it up with the WX920BT’s 4-channel / 4 x 55W amp, and fine-tune with the built-in 10-band digital EQ. Feel like singing along? Choose “karaoke mode” to quiet vocal tracks, then choose “EXTRA BASS” to get things really rocking, close the windows – and go for it.
Dollar for dollar, you can’t beat Sony’s $118 Double-DIN head unit. For a complete list of specs / features and upgrade possibilities, see our product page.
#6) The Best Apple CarPlay Stereo Fully-Loaded Touchscreen: Kenwood DNX996XR 6.8" CD/DVD Touchscreen Receiver w/ Apple CarPlay & Android Auto
BRAND & MODEL: Kenwood DNX996XR 6.8" CD/DVD Touchscreen Receiver w/ Apple CarPlay & Android Auto
REG PRICE: $1399
Why it won
Though the Kenwood DDX9906XR won our “best touchscreen” award (see #1 above), we’re giving “Best Apple Carplay Fully-Loaded Touchscreen” to the almost identical / yet more expensive Kenwood DNX996XR. 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 costs $500 more? It comes with industry leading Garmin navigation and a high-sensitivity GNSS receiver antenna.
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.)
#7) The Best Budget Double-DIN Head Unit Touchscreen Under $500: Sony XAV-AX1000 6.2" Apple CarPlay Media Receiver with Bluetooth
BRAND & MODEL: Sony XAV-AX1000 6.2" Apple CarPlay Media Receiver with Bluetooth
REG PRICE: $268
Why it won
Please note: the category is “best under $500” and our winner is way under $500. 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.
#8) The Best Alpine Value Bluetooth Head Unit: Alpine CDE-172BT CD Receiver w/ Bluetooth and USB and AUX Inputs
BRAND & MODEL: Alpine CDE-172BT CD Receiver w/ Bluetooth and USB and AUX Inputs
REG PRICE: $130
Why it won
Like most every car stereo on our list, Alpine’s CDE-172BT is a multi-talented / does-it-all piece of hardware that is, at its core, an AM/FM/CD tuner. Also like the others, Bluetooth makes it all possible – including Apple iPhone and Android compatibility. (But you have to purchase a 30-pin, USB / KCU-445i cable if you want to hard-connect your iPhone.) You can stream from any Bluetooth device, or plug-in to play FLAC lossless files, and you can expand your system with the CDE-172BT's three 4V pre-outs.
The CDE-172BT also comes Sirius-XM ready, though you’ll need to buy the SiriusXM Connect kit and a subscription. And you can operate basic controls from your steering wheel, while song names and artists appear on the CDE-172BT’s display.
Inside, Alpine included a 24-Bit DAC for best-possible sound results, along with a 3-band parametric EQ for fine-tuning. The unit is also FLAC/MP3/WMA audio file compatible via a USB connection. And oh yeah – you can change the color of the LCD display to better suit your car's aesthetic.
#9) The Best Touchscreen Car Stereo For The Money: Kenwood DDX396 6.2" DVD Touchscreen Receiver w/ Bluetooth
BRAND & MODEL: Kenwood DDX396 6.2" DVD Touchscreen Receiver w/ Bluetooth
REG PRICE: $249
Why it won
The Kenwood DDX396 doesn’t come with Kenwood’s top-of-the-line 6.8-inch screen (see #1), or Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but it does come with the best of everything else – at a great price. And by everything else, we mean:
Bluetooth V3.0 for hands-free calling – up to 2 phones paired at the same time – and music streaming with the ability to use your smartphone as a remote control. (Up to 5 Bluetooth devices can be paired at the same time, so even backseat drivers can stream their favorite songs from their own devices.) Also included, a 13-band parametric EQ for fine-tuning sound, support for hi-res music files, including FLAC files, wireless music browsing and support for a rear camera (not included) with parking guidelines.
The illuminated volume knob is easy to find, which you can use to change just about everything with a simple turn and push so you can quickly and easily change the volume or mute the audio. All in all, the DDX396 is an extremely feature-rich unit that should sell for a lot more – but we’re keeping our mouths shut.
One more thing…
Once you pick out your car stereo, a last word of advice: buy it from a trusted dealer, and the more experience / the longer the track record, the better. A good dealer will take care of you in the event anything happens. And if you still can’t decide, talk to us. We’ve been doing car stereo going on 40 years, and we can help. We’ll ask you: what kind of music do you like, what are your favorite bands and artists, and how loud do you like your music? From there, we want to know all about your car, what you’d like to spend, and so on. We’ll get you there!
Speaking of trusted dealers...
World Wide Stereo is home to some 90+ industry-leading audio/video professionals who love what they do, and talking about it, too. We opened our doors in 1979, gained a small yet diehard following, won a slew of national awards for everything from killer car audio installations to customer service, grew the business online… and today we enjoy a faithful following of like-minded, TV-watching, music-listening, gear-loving defenders of fun for the whole family. Our only rule: no one leaves unhappy. We’re brutally honest when it comes to this stuff. Want to know if something is as good as advertised - even if you're shopping somewhere else? Call us or stop by one of our showrooms — we’ll give it to you straight. We love what we do, and we love sharing that love.