Upgrading your car’s stereo used to be as straightforward as ripping out the old one and installing the new one. That’s still an option in 2020, but you’ve also got the possibility of adding a touchscreen-based infotainment system to your car even if it was built in the 1980s. If you’re looking for an upgrade, here are the best stereos available new.
Sony’s XAV-AX100 figures on the growing list of aftermarket car stereos compatible with Apple CarPlay. It’s built around a 6.2-inch touchscreen, though it also responds to voice commands, and Sony wisely included an old-fashioned volume knob. It’s rear-view-camera ready, though it doesn’t include the hardware required for your car to see what’s behind it; you need to buy a separate camera if your car isn’t equipped with one.
CDs are so 1997, right? Pioneer’s MVH-S310BT should be your go-to aftermarket car stereo if you think the compact disc belongs in a museum with the Apple II, the VCR, and the original Grand Theft Auto game. It’s a Bluetooth receiver that lets users stream music (it’s compatible with Pandora and Spotify) and make hands-free calls, provided it’s installed in a car with a microphone. Don’t worry, adding an aftermarket microphone is cheap and easy if needed. It includes a USB port and an AUX input, too, for drivers who gave up CDs but stayed a little old-school.
Kenwood Excelon KMM-X704
Kenwood’s Excelon KMM-X704 performs well as a mid-range stereo. It’s not as basic as cheaper units on the market, and it’s certainly not as advanced as high-end models, but it offers good sound, useful customization options to suit anything you listen to, and a 13-band equalizer. Bluetooth connectivity lets users stream music directly from a smartphone, and Kenwood’s free remote app turns the device into a remote control. Better yet, the KMM-X704 can connect to two phones at the same time, and it’s Alexa-compatible.
The central component of Pioneer’s AVH-X490BS is a 7.0-inch screen with an acceptable resolution of 800 x 480 pixels. You’ll need a big enough slot in your dashboard to install it; it’s a double DIN unit, so it likely won’t fit in older cars without crafty fabrication work. Pioneer points out the wired USB connection makes for a clean, clear sound when a smartphone or an iPhone is plugged in, and the AVH dispenses enough electricity to prevent your device’s battery from running low. Bluetooth connectivity and a built-in amp are both included, navigation is available at an extra cost, and users can download apps like Pandora, Spotify, and SiriusXM.
We wouldn’t recommend Alpine’s CDE-172BT to a true, dyed-in-the-wool audiophile because it’s a relatively basic unit. Instead, it’s a great option for those who simply want to replace a broken stereo, or those who buy a car without one to begin with. It bundles the fundamental features you expect in a modern-day stereo (including Bluetooth connectivity, a CD player, and a high-speed USB port) in a straightforward package that’s easy to install and won’t break the bank. It’s a discreet-looking unit too, so it blends in regardless of the type of car it goes into.
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