Car stereos have gone a long way since the days of cassette tapes and CD players. It is not surprising anymore to find cars decked out with the latest audio technology that can do many things.
Apart from playing music and listening to the radio, a head unit can also connect to your smartphone and allow you to do hands-free calls. There are also ones that have navigational systems to help you find your way.
Still, its main purpose has remained the same, to entertain you and your passengers on your way to work, school, home or even on that long road trip.
Cars come with a built-in stereo system but it does not mean that owners cannot upgrade them with the best head units for the money.
This way you can enjoy a lot more features and entertainment options. With a good head unit, you can easily do more than just listen to the radio and play CDs in the car.
More than that, you can improve the quality of the sound output, unlike the radio that came with your car.
Types Of Head Units
There are actually two types of stereo head units out there, based on the size.
Single DIN (1 DIN)
A single DIN is usually 2 inches by 7 inches (height and width). If your car has an opening that will only fit this size, then it means you can only use a single din on it.
These types do not come with a large LCD screen, making it look simple but still deliver a lot in terms of entertainment.
Double DIN (2 DIN)
Double DIN versions are bigger, typically 4 inches by 7 inches. Because of the extra space, you can expect a screen and a customized interface.
Along with these features, it is easy to have many more options like GPS and even a DVD player.
Although Double DIN units sound much cooler, it is important to note that not every car may be able to accommodate this kind of a head unit. Your wheels may either have space only for a Single DIN or twice than that.
Those with a bigger slot in the dash can choose between the two types available.
You might think that you are happy with the stereo that came with your car, and if it’s a newer model, it might already have some advanced features like navigation and Bluetooth.
Still, there may be more that you can enjoy, with some new models allowing you to even have applications, satellite radio, video technology and even WiFi. Car owners who drive a lot with their kids might love having a DVD player to keep the little ones happy.
If you like to have control over your music, you can even use music streaming apps like Spotify to enjoy your favorite tunes.
Moreover, the best head units are normally produced by companies well-known for high-quality audio systems. This means, more than just extra capabilities, you can expect great sound.
In fact, once you have tried upgrading, you will wonder how you could have ever been satisfied with your standard car stereo unit.
When upgrading, just make sure you check with your car dealer to be sure which head units will work with your exact model. In theory, so long as it fits the opening in your car, whether Single or Double DIN, it will work.
Some systems might be more complicated to install, though, so double-checking or even just having someone handle the work might save you some headaches.
What Should You Look Out For?
With the dozens of options out there, it can be easy to get confused as to which one you should buy. There are many features that can be found on both Single and Double DIN head units.
But by not understanding what it is you really need and want, you might end up paying a lot more for things you will never use.
However, these are some of the best attributes you would definitely love:
1. Sound Quality
In the past, this was the main reason for upgrading the stereo unit that comes standard with cars. Good head units give you the option to enhance the sound quality.
However, it is important to check that the new unit matches with your car’s speakers.
2. Smartphone Integration
By being able to connect your phone to your head unit, you are not just able to drive and make or take calls, but you are also opening your car to a whole load of new features. You can then connect online for Internet Radio or other music streaming services, or simply access your favorite songs saved on your phone.
3. Support For Other Music Formats
Beyond playing your tunes from your phone, you can also plug in a USB or insert a CD to individualize your music options. Nowadays, head units also allow for HD or satellite radio, which offer better quality stations than your standard FM tuner.
4. Other Apps and Features
There are some other capabilities that may appeal to specific customers, like DVD player and even other video playing options.
To make it easier for you to identify the best head units out there, you may refer to our list of best Single or Double DIN Receivers.
Top 5 Best Head Units for the Money
1. Pioneer AVHX3800BHS Double DIN Receiver
What We Like
- Built-in HD radio tuner
- Voice recognition
- Spotify app control
This unit is a must for music lovers. The advanced audio settings will enhance every song played, and you will have many options to individualize your playlist through its long list of connection options.
Much like other receivers with Bluetooth connectivity, you are able to pair with your smartphone and access your library. You may access your Spotify and Pandora app as well, and use the controls to easily scroll and skip to other songs.
If you really want to feel like having a club-like atmosphere, MIXTRAX allows you to add DJ effects to your music, as well as provide the lighting to match.
Voice Recognition capability makes it even easier for you to make hands-free phone calls. Beyond that, iPhone users may listen to text messages and other information available through the Siri Eyes Free functionality.
2. Pyle PLSD131BT
What We Like
- 13.1 Inch detachable touchscreen display
- SD card support
- DVD player
This system goes beyond providing you with music because its huge display allows you to watch movies with high resolution and brightness. The screen can also be detached, so your little backseat passengers are entertained and you can drive in peace.
Once you are finished with the display, you can easily attach and store it in the back of your front seats. This feature will also leave you with more space in your dashboard.
In addition to having Bluetooth calling and USB access to upload music, there is also support for SD cards, making it easier for you to watch your movies or even scroll through your photos.
This unit also has more options for expansion, from adding monitors or even a subwoofer line. You can also connect a backup camera to help you park the car.
3. Alpine CDE-HD149BT
What We Like
- Facebook notifications
- Quick and alphabet search
- Subwoofer volume control
This Single DIN receiver offers almost the same capabilities as top Double DIN models. From connecting to other devices through Bluetooth and therefore, gaining access to Internet Radio, to the built-in HD Radio Tuner, you will not miss out on the best features out there.
What’s more, there is also an option to control apps and music through the head unit itself.
You may also experience a hands-free experience through Bluetooth. You may also find out how the battery and signal levels of your phone are through the head unit.
Music quality can also be improved through various options for expansion. Outputs for the front, subwoofer, and rear amps allow you to have that surround sound experience.
Partner that with your satellite or HD radio and you are ready for that interstate road trip.
4. Kenwood DDX372BT
What We Like
- Siri Eyes-free control
- Simple interface
- Touchscreen display
Most people do not want to spend so much time reading manuals just to figure out how to use their stereo receivers. If you are one of them, then this model is for you.
Its simple interface is so user-friendly, you will never have to look for that user guide again.
Attaching your gadgets and even output devices is also very easy and there are various connectivity options (Bluetooth, USB). Once your iPhone is paired, you may use Siri to help you use the phone without having to stare at it.
Playing music through your smartphone apps like Pandora is very easy, and you are able to control your playlist without needing your phone. Adding to this ease is the touch screen display which allows you to swipe through albums or songs easily.
5. Jensen VX7020
What We Like
- USB port
- Built-in navigation
- Steering wheel controls
Low battery on smartphones is such a common problem for everyone. Thanks to the USB port on the front of this head unit, you are able to juice up your beloved phone and be able to continue playing your music that is being streamed online or your own tunes saved in your Bluetooth-connected device.
What sets this product apart is the built-in navigation. Imagine how much space you can save by combining that GPS device and your stereo receiver.
Moreover, you will not have to look anywhere else just to figure out where you should be going.
Lastly, the steering wheel controls mean that you do not have to lift your hands away from the steering wheel. Along with hands-free capabilities, these head units allow you to drive safe and at the same time, make calls or even just change the song that’s playing.
Like we at Decked Out Ride always say, never invest in stock. This applies to your head unit as well. Factory stereos are not only boring but they just cannot beat aftermarket units for sound quality and overall performance.