Car stereos aren’t as simple as they used to be. Some merely make your commute a little bit louder with no extras to speak of, but more advanced models propel you into the age of touch screen-based infotainment systems even if you drive a 1987 Pontiac Le Mans. If you’re ready for an upgrade, check out the best car stereos currently available brand-new. Consider getting new speakers while you’re at it, too, for the full “new car sound” experience without the 60-month loan.
Sony’s XAV-AX100 figures on the growing list of aftermarket car stereos compatible with Android Auto and/or Apple CarPlay. This unit works with both, offering users a 6.4-inch screen they can navigate with their fingers, with voice commands, or by turning a convenient rotary dial. Music fans will appreciate the built-in 10-band equalizer, while those who get queasy at the thought of parallel parking will feel better after turning on the rear-view camera. Note the XAV-AX100 doesn’t include the hardware required for your car to see what’s behind it; it’s just compatible with built-in systems.
CDs are so 1997, right? Pioneer’s MVH-X390BT 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 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. There is a USB port, too, but the MVH-X390BT doesn’t include a CD player. The cool part is it’s compatible with the free Pioneer ARC App, which turns any compatible smartphone into a remote control.
The Kenwood Excelon KDC-X701 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 with a bass boost function and a 13-band equalizer. Bluetooth connectivity lets users stream music directly from a smartphone, and it turns the device into a remote control after users download Kenwood’s free remote app. Better yet, the KDC-X701 can connect to two phones at the same time.
The central component of Pioneer’s AVH-X490BS is a 7.0-inch screen with an acceptable resolution of 800×480 pixels. You’ll need a big enough slot in your dashboard to install it, meaning 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.
Alpine CDE-143BT ($113+)
We wouldn’t recommend Alpine’s CDE-143BT 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 fundemental features you expect in a modern-day stereo (including Bluetooth connectivity, a CD player, and a high-speed USB port) in a straight-forward 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.