The Best Car Stereos of 2021
Last updated on November 15, 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 Apple CarPlay/Android Auto Touchscreen Car Stereo:
Kenwood DDX9907XR 6.8" Receiver
The Best Value Android Auto Touchscreen Car Stereo:
Sony XAVAX5500 7" Media Receiver
The Best Mech-Less Touchscreen Car Stereo
Kenwood DMX957XR 6.8" Touchscreen Receiver
The Best Over-Sized Touchscreen Car Stereo:
Kenwood DNR1007XR 10.1" Receiver
The Best Mech-less Single-DIN Car Stereo:
Sony DSX-GS80 High-Power Digital Media Receiver
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1. The Best Fully-Loaded Touchscreen Car Stereo:
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 Apple CarPlay/Android Auto Touchscreen Car Stereo:
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)
3. The Best Value Android Auto Touchscreen Car Stereo:
The XAV-AX5500 double-DIN touchscreen from Sony checks all the boxes for most Android users. For example, it has Android Auto connectivity through one of its two USB inputs, so when you plug in an applicable Android smartphone that has Android Auto downloaded onto it, Sony’s 7” capacitive touchscreen offers Google Maps or Waze for navigation, control over popular music-streaming apps such as Spotify, Pandora, Tidal, Amazon Music, etc., makes phone calls or composes texts via your voice, and more. Android Auto is the best way to make your experience with your Android as seamless as possible while driving, making it safe and convenient for you. It should be mentioned that the XAV-AX5500 does have Apple CarPlay built into it too, for those of you who use iPhones.
Sony is betting on your smartphone being the primary source of music, so they did not build a CD player into the XAV-AX5500, but it does still have an AM/FM tuner in addition to Bluetooth. If you opt to purchase the optional tuner and sign up for the service, SiriusXM satellite radio can be added into the mix, too. Sony even includes a compact wireless remote so you can hand off control of the unit to a passenger, if you’re willing to do so.
The on-board amplifier has robust power output with 20 watts of continuous output (and peaking at 50 watts) per channel. If you decide to add amplifiers for speakers and/or subwoofers in the future, the Sony touchscreen has 5-volt preamp outputs for these additions. A 10-band equalizer allows you to sculpt the sound to your listening preferences, so you’re all-but-guaranteed exceptional sound quality. You can add a backup camera into the fold, too, if you’d like to since the Sony has a dedicated video input just for that purpose. To round it all out, a 3-year warranty comes standard with this touchscreen. That should offer some peace-of-mind to you since Sony expects these units to last a long time.
4. The Best Mech-Less Touchscreen Car Stereo:
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!
5. The Best Over-Sized Touchscreen Car Stereo:
Kenwood’s DNX1007XR 10.1” high-definition car touchscreen is truly a marvel to behold. Not only does it offer that slick “floating tablet” design, it’s also packed with features and conveniences such as Garmin navigation, wired or wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, HD Radio, Bluetooth for hands-free calling as well as music streaming, high-resolution music playback via USB input, and a whole lot more. This thing literally has everything but the kitchen sink built into it!
From a installation standpoint, the DNX1007XR’s 10.1” touchscreen connects to a double-DIN-sized chassis. The positioning of the screen is adjustable before the final bits of the installation, so you can get the best-possible viewing angle.
If you’re into sound quality, this Kenwood is part of the eXcelon Reference series, so it receives top-shelf audio components to ensure superb sound quality. The built-in 13-band equalizer, digital time alignment, high-pass/low-pass filters, and more offer robust sound sculpting options so you can dial in the perfect sound for the driver’s seat.
With multiple camera inputs, you can exceed the traditional backup camera options and add a front camera to eliminate the possibility of your vehicle’s front bumper smacking into yet another parking block or maybe a Kenwood DRV-N520 dash camera records incidents you experience while driving (hopefully you don’t!).
Lastly, Kenwood’s eXcelon gear get their 2-year warranty, so you can have some peace-of-mind that the DNX1007XR is expected to last for a while.
6. The Best Mech-less Single-DIN Car Stereo:
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.