While newer cars tend to have fancy infotainment systems, older cars are left suffering with old tech. We take a look at some of the best car stereo and head units on the market in 2023 to help you upgrade your old system.
These days, cars come with better audio systems than ever. Most new cars’ radios are so deeply embedded into their vehicle’s electronics that you cannot replace them, however, the sound can still be upgraded with an OEM interface, though. Essentially, those are hidden units that enable you to have whatever audio upgrades your heart desires; including features such as Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa and Android Auto. Meanwhile, earlier cars and and motorhomes have DIN-sized radio apertures in their dash, and as such, you can simply chop and change their head units with relative ease.
DIN is a measurement used to govern sizes of car radios and the standardization of the wiring plugs. All you need to know is what size yours is. If it looks like a letterbox opening, it’s single-DIN. If it looks like a chunky squarish shape, it’s double-DIN.
This guide will focus on options for these slightly older vehicles, so without further ado, here are the best car stereo and head units in 2023 that’ll fit in your single DIN slot.
Best Car Stereo & Head Unit
At a glance:
Best Single-DIN car stereos
Sony DSX-A212Ui – Best Value
This is the cheapest single-DIN option we’ve included in this shortlist, but cheap doesn’t mean bad. In fact, far from it in this Sony’s case.
It’s not the most sophisticated machine, but at this price point you wouldn’t expect it to be. What it does provide, however, is packaged to a high standard. The sound quality of MP3/WMA/FLAC files is great, and although the tuner isn’t super sensitive, it can play strong radio too. Ergonomically speaking, it’s a joy to use and is easy on the eye.
Adjustability comes in the form of an ‘Extra Bass’ button, while you also get an EQ with ten presets to pick from, and even a karaoke mode! For more details, be sure to read our full review.
- 1-DIN mech-free face-off FM/AM/LW radio with USB & Aux
- One pair of RCA output sockets, steering wheel remote output socket
- Reads MP3, WMA, FLAC via the 1.0A front mounted USB
- Extra Bass, EQ10 equaliser with presets and custom and Karaoke setting
Kenwood KDC-BT960DAB – Best for Powerful Audio
The Kenwood KDC-BT960DAB is a small but mighty device that excels as part of a beefed up all-round audio setup. The sheer power of its 5V RCA outputs means that it packs a punch, which helps it stand out from other rival systems when listened to back-to-back.
Besides that, it’s a familiar, reliable single-DIN experience. You get a 13-band EQ to tune the sound of tracks inputted by either CD, aux, Bluetooth, or USB. That’s a healthy selection of available inputs available. Not to mention good ol’ radio! Check out the full review here.
- 1-DIN CD Tuner with DAB+, FM, AM, USB (2.0 high speed), Aux, Bluetooth (V4.2) streaming and calls
- 0V Front, Rear, Subwoofer high power RCA outputs
- Plays CD, CD-R/RW, MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV and FLAC files from USB and CD
- DSP has sound/bass enhancement, Time Alignment & 13-Band EQ, works with Kenwood Remote App
Caliber RCD120DAB-BT – Best Classic Design
RRP: £199.99. Buy it here. Not available in the US.
Modern single-DIN designs look a bit out of place in classic cars, but fortunately it’s not a case of choosing sound *or* style in those scenarios. Nope, with options like the Caliber RCD120DAB-BT, you can have both. I mean just look at its chrome finish and stylized fonts. Glorious.
As far as its technical capabilities go, the Caliber is more new-age rather than old-school. Although we found it to be a bit fiddly to setup, once it’s going it delivers crisp and clear audio from CD or USB inputs. In fact, when putting it to the test, we found that its SD input capabilities were actually greater than specified. Aux audio was a little quiet though, and sadly it cannot play M4A files. Overall though, the majority of prospective buyers are unlikely to have any complaints with its quality.
Want to know more? Read our full review next.
- 1-DIN CD-Tuner with DAB+/FM & USB/SD/Aux/Bluetooth streaming and calls
- Onboard Power: 4x75W MAX, this is what others call ‘4X50W’ and likely to be 4x22W RMS
- 2V Front and Rear RCA out, front USB and Aux, SD & CD slots under faceplate, DAB+ antenna and wired microphone included
- Plays CD, CD-R/RW, MP3, WMA and plays FLAC32, despite not being rated for it.
Blaupunkt Frankfurt RCM82 – Best Retro Design
Ok, so what if you need something that’s in-between old and new – you don’t want something with a classic vibe, nor do you fancy the contemporary look. Perhaps you drive a car from the ’80s or ’90s, and instead want an upgraded single-DIN head unit that matches your ride’s retro aesthetic. Well, that’s where the Blaupunkt Frankfurt RCM82 comes in.
This German car stereo will make you feel like you’re cruising through Berlin (or, ahem, Frankfurt) in an Audi Coupe or Porsche 968, except its sound gear is from right here, right now. For some people though, the biggest draw may be the way it feels. Those buttons give wonderful biofeedback, and the dials feel so much better than any touchscreen. To take a closer look at it, read our full in-depth review.
- 1-DIN short body mech-free DAB+/FM/AM radio with 2xUSB/Aux/MicroSD/twin-connect Bluetooth (v4.1)
- Onboard Power: 4x50W @4ohms; Front, Rear, Subwoofer RCA outputs, wired steering wheel control port
- Fr & Rr 14-Band EQ, plus ‘Rock’, Pop’ & ‘Classic”; Subwoofer output adjustable for Gain, Hz and slope
- Internal electronic crossovers: 50, 63, 80, 100, 125, 160 or 200Hz, front and rear HPF/LPF @ 6/12dB
Alpine iLX- F905D – Best Overall
If you wan t the best, it’s going to cost ya. Clearly. However, if you’re really into music or are just very keen on getting the best car audio quality you can, it’s worth paying the extra cash to get something like this Alpine model (not to be confused with the unrelated French sportscar manufacturer, Alpine – got it?)
The first thing you’ll notice is that unlike the other single-DIN stereos listed here, this one has a massive screen attached to the front. Don’t worry the back is still definitely 1-DIN in size, the screen just protrudes outwards a bit. Bear this in mind before buying as you may need to take into account clearance issues. Anyway, the purpose of this screen is to give you a whole host of extra features, which you can read about in detail in our full review of this system. Oh yeah, and the sound clarity is utterly superb, not to mention the fact that it’s pretty darn powerful too!
- 1-DIN body GPS-equipped car radio with ‘floating’ 9in HD capacitative Halo9 screen, twin cam connection
- 4x50W MOSFET CLASS D internal power amplifier, 24-BIT DAC, Fr, Rr, Sub pre-outs at 6V
- Wireless remote control ready, HDMI in/out 2xUSB, AUX, DAB+, plays FLAC, AAC, WAV, APE, MP3, MP4, MOV, FLV, MKV
- Works wirelessly with Apple Car play, Android Auto (USB wired), Bluetooth (V4.2), Made for iPhone
Best Double-DIN Car Stereos
Pioneer AVH-A240DAB Car Head Unit
RRP: $260.58 / £228.71. Buy now.
A double-DIN deck comprising a touchscreen with a disc mechanism slot that can play DVDs. These used to cost more than £1,000 and are now about a fifth of that. It has the player slot at the top and the rest of the front is the resistive touch screen. The big naughty thing is to disobey the installation rules to allow you to play video for your passenger while driving. There is a company that supplies a device to to allow moving video in OEM systems. It is about car makers being sued if they sell a car that can distract the driver, by design. If you choose to add a new head unit that can play video while rolling, then it is your responsibility.
Cool digital stuff includes the Weblink feature. This has special apps for car use, via your phone, including WAZE navigation. Also, smartphone screen mirroring, when your connected phone appears on the AVH-A240DAB’s screen, for you to boss totally. Optional extras exist. You can add a reversing camera that just plugs in the back, or get a dedicated remote control. To plug in a Lightning Connector iPhone, you will need a CA-IU.52C USB to Lightning cable. MOSFET power chip rated at 4x50W, 13-band graphic EQ, two-way crossover and subwoofer control.
- Double-DIN CD/DVD DAB radio with touch screen.
- USB connection to smartphone for screen mirroring.
- Siri and Android compatible.
- Waze and Spotify via Weblink.
Kenwood DPX-7300DAB Car Stereo
A classic double-DIN car stereo that can still spin a CD as well as taking a USB filled with digital goodies. For a seemingly mid market unit with no snazzy touch screen, it has some really high end audio features. The DSP and time alignment thing is all about tailoring the sound to your car to start with. Then, it is about tiny delays to the speakers in certain places. This is to convince your ears that the arrival time is the same, creating true stereo sound where you sit. This tech was once really costly and is now filtered-down to a keen price point.
The DPX-7300DAB also features two and even three-way digital crossovers. If CD is dead to you, look at the mech-free version, the DPX-305BT.
The display is RGB, meaning you can choose from a rainbow, or leave it scrolling through the lot. This is also dimmable in thirty-one steps. Adults might use this feature to blend their display in perfectly with whatever color dash lighting their car has. MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV and FLAC. Will run iPod and iPhone music. MOSFET power chip rated at 4x50W. Comes with DAB antenna and wired microphone.
- Double-DIN CD Radio, with front Aux/USB sockets.
- App to use your smartphone as a remote control.
- Amazon Alexa-ready.
- Digital Signal Processor and Time-Alignment.
Want to know how to get the best out of your equipment? Have a read of our guide on how to setup your audio gear next.