The Best Car Stereos of 2021
Last updated on February 16, 2021
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 2021 “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 2021:
The Best Fully-Loaded Touchscreen Car Stereo:
Kenwood DNX997XR 6.8" Touchscreen Receiver
The Best Single-DIN Car Stereo:
Sony RSX-GS9 GS-Series Hi-Res Digital Media Player
The Best Apple CarPlay/Android Auto Touchscreen Car Stereo:
Kenwood DDX9907XR 6.8" Receiver
The Best Value Apple CarPlay Touchscreen Car Stereo:
Sony XAV-AX1000 6.2" Media Receiver
The Best Value Android Auto Touchscreen Car Stereo:
Sony XAV-AX5000 6.95" Receiver
The Best Mech-Less Touchscreen Car Stereo
Kenwood DMX957XR 6.8" Touchscreen Receiver
The Best Over-Sized Touchscreen Car Stereo:
Sony XAV-AX8000 8.95" Receiver
The Best Mech-less Single-DIN Car Stereo:
Sony DSX-GS80 High-Power Digital Media Receiver
We’ve made it easy to find the best deals on car stereos. Our deals update daily so you don’t miss a beat, and we’ve got your back through with our price match guarantee, 60-day returns, easy financing, and free shipping. Don’t see what you want on sale? Give us at 1.866.961.7781 or chat with an expert.
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Regular Price: $1,100.00
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Regular Price: $1,500.00
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1. The Best Fully-Loaded Touchscreen Car Stereo:
Kenwood DNX997XR 6.8" CD/DVD Garmin Navigation Touchscreen Receiver w/ Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
Save: $200.00 (13%)
We couldn’t think of a touchscreen more deserving of this honor than the Kenwood DNX997XR. This unit replaces the DNX996XR (which won last year’s top honors) and some mentionable improvements to the new model would be wired mirroring for your iPhone, four camera inputs, and support for Kenwood’s new high-definition backup camera, the CMOS-740HD. The DNX997XR still has the built-in Garmin navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, HD Radio, three sets of 5-volt pre-amp outputs for additional external amplification, and a whole lot more. Literally, a WHOLE. LOT. MORE. Like what?
How does an extensive sound tuning suite suit you? Or perhaps the touchscreen’s ability to read high-resolution music and help reproduce it in stunning clarity? Not quite sold yet? You also get three years of free Garmin map updates. Yup, we thought that might intrigue you!
To quickly circle back to a couple of features we rattled off, we wanted to let you know a little bit more about the wildly popular Apple CarPlay and Android Auto conveniences that a lot of folks are looking for nowadays. These software platforms connect your iPhone or Android either wired or wirelessly (phone-specific) to this Kenwood and allow you to use the on-board navigation apps (think Apple Maps, Google Maps, or Waze) to get you to your destination, control music streaming apps (Spotify, Tidal, Pandora, Apple Music, and more), and also allow you to connect with friends and family via text/phone through Siri/Google Assistant.
What are you waiting for? Click the “Add to Cart” button and let’s get you started down the path to audio zen. (Don’t need built-in Garmin navigation? Check out Kenwood’s DDX9907XR model).
2. The Best Single-DIN Car Stereo:
Sony RSX-GS9 GS-Series Hi-Res Digital Media Player with Bluetooth & SongPal
Sony’s RSX-GS9 high-resolution digital media receiver is both eye-catching as well as ear-catching. Its sleek looks bely the high-performance audio components that lurk just beneath its skin. Premium sound components pulled straight from Sony’s well-appreciated home audio line offer the same rich sound quality you’d expect in your home, but for your vehicle instead. Also, since it’s built for vehicles, the ultra-rigid chassis of the RSX-GS9 helps eliminate vibration from seeping into the components and ruining your audio experience.
Grab your Android or iPhone and connect via Bluetooth, NFC, the Sony SongPal app, or a hardwire connection such as USB or auxiliary. The on-board audio decoder will play MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, and DSD files, so you could also load up a thumb drive with your music. A large volume knob gives you quick access to the volume spectrum while a compact wireless remote will grant you access to your AM/FM presets, audio tweaking options, and more. Seeing that these is no amplifier built into the RSX-GS9, you will be adding at least an amplifier or two to get juice to your speakers. This Sony features three pairs of 5-volt pre-amp outputs (front, rear, and subwoofer) for your system’s expansion. There is also an optical digital output (96kHz/48kHz sample rates) if your amplifier or DSP has an optical input that you’re planning to take advantage of. Prepare to fall in love with your favorite songs all over again.
3. The Best Apple CarPlay/Android Auto Touchscreen Car Stereo:
Kenwood DDX9907XR 6.8" CD/DVD Receiver w/ Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
Save: $150.00 (14%)
The DDX9907XR from Kenwood eXcelon’s series took the gold in this category due to its unparalleled sound quality, easy-to-use touchscreen interface, expansive audio tuning suite, and a whole lot more. Let’s tackle the sound quality bullet point first, shall we? Kenwood decided to use top-shelf components (think transistors, capacitors, etc.) in the making of this model. All these components come together to help you achieve some truly impressive sound quality. No joke – it’s awesome. Sure, it sounds good, but is it easy to use? Heck yeah, it is.
The slick capacitive touchscreen that Kenwood sourced for this model is marvelous. It can be seen day or night in your car (some touchscreens have issues being seen in bright environments) and the interface is fluid and you’ll grasp the gist of it in minutes. If you’re an audio aficionado and love to tweak the audio settings, you’ll be thrilled with the built-in 13-band EQ, digital time alignment, crossover settings, etc. Get the perfect sound – and from any seat!
We saved the best for last here: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are built into this unit (and it can be used wirelessly with select smartphones), so you can remain connected throughout your journeys via text or cell. You can use Apple Maps (iPhone), Google Maps/Waze (iPhone and Android) for navigation purposes, listen to your favorite playlists from Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, Pandora (and more!), and even enjoy some audiobooks. The DDX9907XR is a fantastic option for you to consider. (Need built-in Garmin navigation, check out Kenwood’s DNX997XR model)
4. The Best Value Apple CarPlay Touchscreen Car Stereo:
Sony XAV-AX1000 6.2" Apple CarPlay Media Receiver with Bluetooth
The Sony XAVAX1000 Apple CarPlay touchscreen could be a wonderful replacement option for your vehicle if you’re looking primarily for Apple CarPlay functionality (if you’re an Android user, check out Sony’s XAVAX5000 model).
Once you plug your iPhone into the front USB input, you’ll get Apple’s slick user interface popping up on the 6.2” touchscreen for your pleasure. Through this interface, you’ll be in control of Apple Maps, Google Maps, or Waze for your navigation purposes. Directions will play through your existing speaker system, so you’ll always know when a turn is approaching. Need to chat with someone or safely exchange a few texts? No problem – CarPlay has you covered here, too. The Sony is equipped with an outboard microphone for your voice while your caller’s voice will play through your vehicle’s speakers.
For the music lovers, you can pull up your favorite playlists in Spotify, Pandora, Tidal, Apple Music, and more right through the touchscreen. The XAVAX1000 is a really neat option to help get you the Apple CarPlay convenience that your current car may not support. When your iPhone isn’t plugged in, you can still listen to AM/FM or stream music via the built-in Bluetooth (it will handle phone calls, too!). Add a SiriusXM tuner kit and set up the subscription to enjoy coast-to-coast digital music. That’s a whole lotta stuff for not too much, huh?
5. The Best Value Android Auto Touchscreen Car Stereo:
Sony XAV-AX5000 6.95" Digital Media Receiver w/ Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
Save: $31.99 (7%)
Much like the Sony XAVAX5000’s smaller brother (the XAVAX1000), it offers tremendous value to those looking for an inexpensive, but reliable and easy-to-use, touchscreen that features some smartphone connectivity.
The XAVAX5000 offers both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but for the sake of this write up, we will be focusing on the Android Auto aspect of things. Once your Android is plugged into the USB input that’s wired into the rear of the Sony, Android Auto is available for use through the 6.95” display. This nifty interface offers two mapping platforms for navigation needs: Google Maps and Waze (assuming they are on your Android to begin with).
Operate music streaming apps such as Pandora, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music, and more through the touchscreen or via voice. Phone calls and texts are also controlled through the Android Auto software to ensure a safe and uneventful journey. The Google Assistant is accessible either through your voice or an icon on the Sony’s touchscreen, too!
While the XAVAX5000 may not have a CD player, that doesn’t seem to bother folks too much nowadays. Our smartphones have become an integral part of how we operate, so this Sony can help streamline your life even more!
6. The Best Mech-Less Touchscreen Car Stereo:
Kenwood DMX957XR 6.8" Digital Media Touchscreen Receiver w/ Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
Save: $150.00 (15%)
Kenwood’s DMX957XR may not feature a CD player, but who cares? Why go scrounging around for a CD when your smartphone is probably close to hand anyway? With Apple CarPlay for iPhone users and Android Auto for Android users built into the touchscreen, CDs have almost certainly gone the way of the dodo bird. These two pieces of software allow you to connect your iPhone/Android via USB (or wirelessly for select devices) and pull navigation software like Apple Maps, Google Maps, or Waze for use, control music playlists in Spotify, Pandora, Tidal, and more, and handle incoming/outgoing phone calls or text messages via voice, and these even more that can be done, but I only have so much room to work with here. Cool, huh?
When you’re not enjoying the benefits of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, the DMX957XR features HD Radio for local digital broadcasts, Bluetooth for hands-free calling and audio streaming, and a USB input that accepts all sorts of music file formats such as MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, DSD, etc. When it comes to adding additional amplifiers for speakers and/or subwoofers, this Kenwood has three pairs of 5-volt pre-amp outputs for a strong, clean audio signal to those amps. Trust us: you’re going to love the easy-to-use interface and superb sound quality that the DMX957XR presents to you!
7. The Best Over-Sized Touchscreen Car Stereo:
Sony XAV-AX8000 8.95" Apple CarPlay & Android Auto Digital Media Receiver
Take one look at Sony’s XAV-AX8000 9” over-sized touchscreen and you can see how cool the thing is!
The chassis that sits in your vehicle’s dash is actually single-DIN sizing (about 2” tall and 7” wide), so it can fit into older vehicles whose dashes don’t support the larger-chassis touchscreens. Once the Sony is installed, it looks like a tablet that appears to be hovering over the dash. It’s really impressive! While it does have a built-in AM/FM tuner, SiriusXM support (with optional tuner and subscription), and Bluetooth for hands-free calling and audio streaming, what takes the cake with the particular touchscreen is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. These pieces of software that are pre-loaded into the XAVAX8000 unit allow your iPhone or Android to plug into it through the supplied USB input and control/display of popular navigation apps (think Apple Maps, Google Maps, and Waze), access your tunes on Spotify, Pandora, Tidal, Apple Music, and more, and also control phone calls and texts messages through voice prompts.
If you’re hoping to use the XAVAX8000 as the cornerstone of a new sound system for your vehicle, rest assured that external amplifiers are supported and the Sony boasts 5-volt 5-channel pre-amp outputs (front, rear, and one subwoofer outputs) that guarantees a strong, clean signal to your amp(s). If you’re looking to upgrade an older vehicle with the latest in features, the Sony XAVAX8000 could be the perfect fit for you!
8. The Best Mech-less Single-DIN Car Stereo:
Sony DSX-GS80 High-Power Digital Media Receiver with Bluetooth
We love Sony’s DSX-GS80 not only because the price is quite reasonable, but also because it is LOADED with popular conveniences. Do you have an iPod, iPhone, or USB thumb drive packed with your favorite tunes that you want to plug into this Sony and listen to? Or maybe you want to make hands-free calls or stream music from your smartphone? Looking at adding amplifiers to enhance sound quality? Guess what? The Sony can do all of this and more!
The slick, easy-to-use interface makes operation a breeze and when you’re really feeling the music and want to kick it up a notch, press the “Extra Bass” button for an additional kick from your speakers. If you love listening to SiriusXM’s channel lineup, add the optional SiriusXM tuner and you get control right through the Sony’s onboard controls. Sony even included a wireless remote so the kids (or grownups) in the back can control the tunes (assuming you’ll let them do that!). Best of all, the DSX-GS80 comes with an industry-leading 3-year warranty so you can have some peace-of-mind and enjoy what really matters: the music.
Other highlights: This Sony plays a wide range of music file formats such as MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, and FLAC. The built-in auxiliary input allows you to connect any device with a headphone output on it, too! The Class D amplifier Sony used in the DSX-GS80 produces a massive 45 watts per channel continuously which can rival that of dedicated amplifiers. You can even dedicate one of the rear speaker outputs for a small 2-ohm subwoofer, negating the need for an outboard amplifier!
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.