Car stereo is the most important component of any car audio system.
Most of the cars come with pre-installed car stereos, but when it comes to replacing them, the first question we have in mind is How Much Does a Good Car Stereo Cost?
In general, the average cost for a high-quality car stereo is around 500$ and if you want a technician to install it, then add an extra 50 bucks to it. The cost of stereos ranges from 100$ to more expensive up to 2000$.
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Tip – The choice of car stereo depends on your requirements, whether you need a single DIN stereo or double DIN, and the features you need in that model. More features equal more money.
My favorite is the Pioneer AVH-W4400NEX with its 7-inch touch screen display and packed with many exciting features.
In this article, I will tackle some of the common questions related to buying a car stereo and share my top car stereo recommendations.
How Much Should I Spend on a Car Radio?
There is no limit on how much you can spend on your car stereo. The car stereo price ranges from 100$ to thousands of dollars depending upon the different models and features you want.
For a good audio experience, you should spend up to $500 – $800 on a double din car stereo and 150$ – $300 on a single din car stereo.
In this price range, you will get a good car radio with good sound quality, and the features including:
- touch screen
- apple car play
- can access your phone screen from the stereo
- GPS navigation
- USB connection
Some single DIN car stereos come with a touch screen that can be attached to the stereo port and using which you can enable features like video streaming, smartphone access, etc.
What Should I Look For When Buying a Car Stereo?
Choosing a car stereo is not as simple as it sounds because many options are available in the market.
The car stereo should support audio and video formats, have smartphone integration options, radio, GPS navigation, Bluetooth, and along with this, have proper dimensions so that it fits in your dashboard.
Here are the key things that you should consider before buying a car stereo:
Your budget is a starting point. It plays a vital role while selecting the type of stereo, and you should balance your needs with the money you are willing to spend.
If you buy a car radio for at least $500, you will buy a quality model equipped with many features available. On the other hand, spending $1,000 will get you a bigger and higher quality screen with superb quality and reliability from the branded manufacturer.
Support Audio and Video Formats
The first thing you should consider while selecting a car stereo is that it must support all kinds of audio formats and video formats like – MP3, AAC, ALAC, WAV, FLAC, etc.
The quality of audio depends on the type of format. So always invest in stereo, which supports these formats. Moreover, make sure it also supports audio sources like CD/DVD, USB, Radio, SD card, AUX, and Bluetooth.
Many users want to be able to access their smartphone on the stereo screen while driving.
Therefore, many stereos nowadays support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto features. This makes it easy for the user to access your phonebook, make a call, send and receive text, play music, and access 3rd party apps like google maps on the stereo screen, creating a seamless and safer driving experience.
Radio is a great source to stay up to date with daily news bites of current affairs, sports, etc. Make sure the stereo you select supports local radio stations.
With the GPS Navigation feature in your car stereo, you don’t need to stop at every street corner and ask strangers for the route.
Thankfully many stereos support 3rd party app integration, and you can access this feature through the google maps app installed on your smartphone.
Controls and Dimensions of the Stereo
Standard aftermarket car stereos come in two sizes – Single DIN (2″ x 7″) and double-DIN (4″ x 7″).
The single din stereos come with buttons, and double din stereos have a touch screen. You can directly replace your stereo with a single din or double din, while in some cases, you need a specific size of stereo that fits your dashboard.
All the stereos take power from the car battery, and while upgrading your radio, you will connect it to the factory harness.
Another critical purpose of car stereo is to provide output to the amps and speakers. Therefore, if you constantly play your stereo at higher volumes, you should check the RMS wattage output per channel.
Many car stereo manufacturers mention peak wattage, but if you want high quality, uncompressed volume, then your stereo should produce at least 22W RMS.
The sensitivity, wattage rating, and impedance of speakers also matter while selecting a car stereo. The stereo must be compatible with your existing speakers, amplifiers, etc. Always check the specification sheet before choosing a car stereo.
What brand is a good car stereo?
When you search for car stereos in the market, you will find many known brands like Pioneer, Kenwood, JVC, Alpine, etc.
Some of them have been in this niche for more than a century, like Jensen, the others not so long, but which one is the best that you should consider for your new radio?
To me, Pioneer is the best brand in car stereo and a hallmark for good sound and engineering. They have a wide variety of in-dash audio-video players and CD players ranging from 80$ to 1350$, which means there is something for every price range.
Be aware that there are many radios of questionable quality from unknown brands available in the market. That’s why I always recommend you to buy a branded stereo.
Let’s look at the top brands one by one.
Pioneer started in 1938 as a speakers and radios repair shop but slowly and steadily became the market leader. Today pioneer stereos and other audio products are sold worldwide and are known for their quality.
Kenwood is formerly known as Kasuga Radio Co. Ltd, a Japanese Company, and in 2011 they merged with JVC.
After the merger, they became more resourceful and produced world-class stereos.
Kenwood has a wide variety of products for audio enthusiasts who want a great sound system in their car. For example, the Kenwood DNX775RVS with a large touch screen and equipped with I think all features available today, is a fantastic piece of engineering.
It supports Apple Carplay, Android Autoplay, four camera inputs, Bluetooth, radio and wifi, advanced RV/Truck navigation, or 13 band equalizer, to name a few.
JVC was founded in 1927, and since then, they have been recognized as the top brand among car stereo manufacturers.
JVC received an Emmy Award in 2001 for its outstanding technical advancements. In addition, JVC aftermarket car stereos provide good value for money.
The installation of JVC stereos is also straightforward, and in some cases, you have to insert the stereo in the dashboard and connect the harness and speakers. JVC KW-M560BT is the double DIN car stereo with a 6.8 inch LCD touch screen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto Play, Bluetooth, etc.
Alpine is yet another Japanese company founded in 1967, started as a joint venture between Motorola and Alps Electronics. Nowadays, auto manufacturers like Audi, Honda, BMW, or Jeep, use Alpine in their factory sound systems.
This stereo has built-in amps (18 watts RMS X 4 channels).
If you are looking for an affordable car stereo, not many brands can beat Jensen in this category.
They provide excellent value for money and have the same features as other renowned brands like Sony or Pioneer but at a low price.
JENSEN CAR8000 is an excellent car stereo if you are on a tight budget without compromising sound quality. It has a 10.1-inch touch screen and supports CD/DVD with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Play, with also built-in Bluetooth and much more.
Is It Worth Getting a Good Car Stereo?
If you want a high-quality sound system, then you should buy a good car stereo. It is worth investing a few more dollars in getting additional features in a car stereo rather than buying a cheap one.
A good car stereo acts like the brain of the car sound system controlling all audio components and enhancing the look of your dashboard.
In the past, the function of the traditional head unit was to play music and to have some other essential functions like play, pause, skip.
As technology improves, car stereo manufacturers started adding more and more features like GPS navigation, video playback, android and apple car play, Bluetooth, CD/DVD player, etc.
If you want to buy affordable car stereos, you should consider Jensen car stereos. The prices of their stereos are low as compared to other brands without compromising the quality.
Here are some of the reasons why it is worth getting a good car radio:
- A good car stereo controls all audio sources like amplifiers, speakers, CD DVD player, USB, wifi connectivity, Bluetooth, etc. Some of these features are activated automatically once the stereo is turned on, while others operate manually.
- A good car stereo has audio tuning features such as “Bass Boost,” which sharpens the low-level sound frequencies, “Band-EQ,” which lets you adjust the sound output, and much more.
- A good car stereo has higher RMS Wattage per channel, so it can handle stronger speakers without adding an external amplifier and without compromising the sound quality.
- The car stereos also have inputs for cameras which will help you see the back area while you are reversing your vehicle.
- Good car stereos are user-friendly as they have an easy-to-use interface.
- The driver needs to be focused on the road while driving, so some good car stereos offer voice control. This allows you to control volume, play audio-video formats, access 3rd party apps like google maps, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto Play, etc., without taking your hands of a steering wheel.
Are Cheap Car Stereos Worth It?
Consumers usually associate cheap with the average quality, which is also true in a car stereo. Remember that you only get what you paid for.
If you are an autophile like me, then cheap car stereos aren’t worth buying. You can’t expect handy features like apple Car play or GPS navigation or even high performance and reliability in a low-end system. They just don’t offer anything that will make your life easier while driving!
Cheaper radios may seem sufficient at first glance, but without adding extras such as a digital touch screen or reverse camera connection, their weaknesses become more apparent after a while when compared to more expensive models.
Good radios have long-lasting high performance, so there’s no need to spend extra money upgrading them.
The sound of your car stereo should be as good or better than what you can get from any factory-installed system. So don’t buy a cheap radio just for the sake that it’s under $60 but from a brand that nobody ever heard about, because there are many brands out there like Kenwood and Pioneer who make high-end audio equipment at relatively low prices too!
For example, lower models of Alpine car stereos also cost around $100 while offering excellent sound quality compared to other even more expensive “no-name” brands.
If money is an issue, it is better to stick with factory-installed systems since they offer some standards rather than buying a “new radio” of questionable quality.
Buying a car stereo is an investment in your car interior and the joy you will get from good quality music.
I am not in favor of spending thousands of dollars on a car stereo only because you end up buying the thing that you don’t even need.
But, you can get a high-quality head unit between $500-700 that includes all the essential features you may need.