LAST UPDATED: December 17, 2020

The Best Head Units for Sound Quality (Review and Buying Guide) in 2021

Best Choice Pioneer AVH-200EX Multimedia DVD Receiver Pioneer AVH-200EX Multimedia DVD Receiver
Best Value Alpine CDE-120 Car Stereo Receiver Alpine CDE-120 Car Stereo Receiver
Premium Pick Kenwood Double Din Digital Multimedia Receiver Kenwood Double Din Digital Multimedia Receiver

You may feel like replacing your speakers is the only way to get better sound in your car, but actually, all the change starts from your head unit. The head unit, car stereo, or deck is the “heart” of your audio system and can help improve the power being delivered to your speakers. This consequently improves the speaker’s audio quality and clarity. So, you will end up getting better sound from your factory speakers (if they are in good condition), and this will buy you enough time to save up for better aftermarket speakers. 

The new head units on the market are quite versatile and can play a variety of audio and video files. They not only pick up signals from local radio stations but can also pick up satellite signals as well. It’s also easy to find the best option for your vehicle so long as you know what to look for. Don’t despair if you’re new to car audio systems. We will help you find some of the best head units for sound quality that will help transform your car into a better listening room.

Compatible with both Android and iOS devices, this double-DIN receiver from Pioneer comes with a plethora of features that help make your drive easier and more enjoyable. You get a large 6.5-inch display with multi-color options to simplify your viewing experience. It comes with a built-in Bluetooth, an Aux input, and a USB input so you can connect auxiliary devices and diversify your entertainment options. It doesn’t provide navigation options, but you can get traffic and weather information.

The built-in Bluetooth lets you make hands-free calls for safe driving and utilizes a Wideband Speech Hands-Free Profile to offer high-quality calls. It also lets you stream audio from your smartphone in the best quality available. This is because it has a preset Easy Equalizer (EEQ), and a 13-band customizable graphic equalizer that improves the sound quality being delivered to your speakers. It also comes with a built-in Mosfet amplifier that helps to boost the audio signal. What’s more, the unit is compatible with steering wheel controls and is a backup camera ready.

Key Features
  • Measures 11 x 9.5 x 6.5 inches
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • WVGA display
Specification
  • Brand Pioneer
  • Model AVH-200EX
  • Weight 3.9 pounds
PROS

Large, readable display

Android and iPhone friendly

Easy to install

Reasonably priced

CONS

No navigation options

At times, Bluetooth connection may drop and reconnect

Somewhat complicated instruction manual

Get an affordable car audio upgrade without necessarily having to change your factory speakers with this Alpine single-DIN stereo. The stereo comes with an AM/FM tuner and can play audio files via a USB connection. It also features built-in Bluetooth for wireless audio streaming and hands-free calls. Most of the caller and audio information is displayed on a high contrast LCD. 

It may not be a fast-responding stereo, but it can still help improve the sound quality in your audio system. The unit is designed with a high and low pass crossover, which ensures the right frequencies are sent to their respective speakers so you can get a more accurate sound. A three-band parametric equalizer lets you customize your listening experience. Alpine’s signature rotary knob lets you control the volume easily, and the built-in amplifier offers a noticeable audio upgrade from your factory stereo.

Key Features
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • AM/FM tuner
  • Three-band parametric equalizer
Specification
  • Brand Alpine
  • Model CDE-170
  • Weight 3.3 pounds
PROS

Compatible with Android and iOS

Can stream internet radio devices

Clear phone calls

Comes with a range of inputs

CONS

No navigation

Somewhat slow response

Some functions may fail with time

Kenwood’s 6.95-inch double-DIN car stereo is slightly on the expensive side but makes up for its high price tag by offering a user-friendly interface, and multiple ways through which the user can play high-quality audio. It’s both a navigation and multimedia device that’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto ready. It also comes with built-in Bluetooth so you can stream audio from your phone or make hands-free calls. It can connect to two phones, and you can switch between the two with just the touch of a button.

High-Resolution Audio technology helps to improve the sound quality regardless of the audio format. A built-in 13-band equalizer lets you customize the sound by simply manipulating the touch screen, and digital time alignment helps to create a better listening experience by synchronizing the front and rear speakers. Also, the receiver comes with a dual-camera input so you can connect both the front and rear camera.

Key Features
  • Touchscreen interface
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • 6.95-inch WVGA display
Specification
  • Brand Kenwood
  • Model DMX7706S
  • Weight 4.08 pounds
PROS

Large display

Features multiple speaker outputs

Durable build

East to operate

CONS

Expensive

Doesn't play CDs

No built-in GPS

For a reasonable price, you can upgrade the sound experience in your vehicle with JVC’s  6.9-inch stereo. It features a sleek design, and an appealing dual-line display with customizable colors so you can change it to match the running theme in your vehicle. It also comes with built-in Bluetooth that lets you connect two smartphones; you can use one for streaming audio while using the other for hands-free calling.

The stereo can play local AM/FM stations, multiple audio formats from USB devices, and connects to both Android and iOS devices. For improved audio quality, the unit comes with a built-in MOSFET amplifier, and a 13-band graphic equalizer with 11 customizable presets. To help deliver a more detailed sound, it also features a high- and low-pass filter, and a subwoofer level control. Additionally, the receiver is designed with K2 technology that provides a significant improvement to digital sound from all music sources. The multiple audio settings may seem excessive, but the manual provides a detailed guide on how to use them.

Key Features
  • 9.3 x 10.6 x 6.9 inches
  • AM/FM tuner
  • Built-in Mosfet amplifier
  • 12-digit, dual line display
Specification
  • Brand JVC
  • Model KW-X830BTS
  • Weight 3 pounds
PROS

Works well with existing speakers

Impressive sound quality

Can connect to satellite radio

Can play high-resolution audio files

CONS

Connectivity issues with some Android devices

Too many audio settings

Doesn’t play CDs

Most of the features that don’t typically fit on a single-DIN stereo can be found on Sony’s double-DIN digital media receiver. It has an LCD, touchscreen display with a bezel-less panel to allow more information to be displayed on the screen, including music information, caller details, and more. The receiver also includes an AM/FM tuner and is compatible with Android and iOS devices for Pandora or Spotify control. It can also play media from USB devices.

To compensate for poor audio from speakers in a low position, the receiver is designed with Dynamic Stage Organiser (DSO) technology, and a 10-band equalizer with digital time alignment. It also includes subwoofer controls for improved bass. Additionally, it includes a 20-watt built-in amplifier to boost the audio signal. The unit is expandable, and you can connect it to a rearview camera or SiriusXM satellite radio tuner. It’s also quite easy to install, though you may have to make a few modifications to your existing wiring.

Key Features
  • 5.47 x 7.01 x 3.94 inches
  • Touchscreen display
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • 20-watt built-in amplifier
Specification
  • Brand Sony
  • Model XAV-AX5000
  • Weight 2.65 pounds
PROS

Lets you make hands-free calls

Streams wireless audio

Large easy-to-read-display

Easy installation

CONS

Somewhat expensive

Some customization may be necessary for installation

Get most of your smartphone’s functionalities right at your dashboard with the ATOTO A6 Android Car Stereo featuring the Android Marshmallow operating system. It’s a 7-inch touchscreen that’s equipped with a microphone and control buttons. It comes pre-loaded with several user-friendly apps and has built-in Wi-Fi so you can update the applications. While it’s not iPod ready, it offers a plethora of entertainment options including, AM/FM radio, Aux inputs, online streaming, and audio streaming from select Android and iOS devices via Bluetooth.

To improve the audio quality, this unit is fitted with a built-in amplifier that provides consistent performance even with daily use. A nine-band equalizer with 12 preset functions offers a customizable listening experience. Also, a dynamic sound spectrum displays on the screen when music is playing so you don’t have a dull background.

Key Features
  • 7-inch, touchscreen display
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • AM/FM radio
Specification
  • Brand ATOTO
  • Model A6Y2710SB
  • Weight 3.78 pounds
PROS

Comes with Google maps

Includes several system languages

Fast booting

Highly responsive touchscreen

CONS

Doesn’t have a CD/DVD player

Not iPod ready

Doesn’t provide headrest video output

Built for entertainment and navigation, Boss Audio Systems offers a high-performance double-DIN receiver that makes your drives safer and enjoyable. It comes with a built-in GPS navigation system that utilizes a text-to-speech feature, which gives you audible guidance to your destination. It may not be the most advanced navigation system, but it covers all 50 states. Built-in Bluetooth lets you make or receive hands-free calls, and you can connect it to your smartphone so you can play music from apps like Spotify or Pandora.

As for the audio quality, the unit comes with a 10-band equalizer with eight presets that let you adjust the sound quality to suit different song genres. It also includes a low-pass filter for optimal bass output. 64-character audio information will be displayed on the screen, including artist name, song title, genre, and more. Additionally, it’s fitted with preamp outputs that let you expand your sound system by adding preamplifiers or signal processors for speakers with subwoofer channels.

Key Features
  • 6.3 x 7 x 4.3 inches
  • Touchscreen
  • Built-in GPS
  • Built-in Bluetooth
Specification
  • Brand Boss Audio Systems
  • Model BV9386NV
  • Weight 4.4 pounds
PROS

Provides audible navigation guidance

Plays CDs and DVDs

Let's you make hands-free calls

Compatible with steering wheel functions

CONS

Slow charging via USB

Fragile build

Lower quality software than expensive products

Combining the best of both worlds, Sound Storm Labs has come up with a single DIN stereo that comes with a detachable, seven-inch touch-screen so you can enjoy the benefits of a double-DIN head unit without actually having to buy one. The stereo comes with built-in Bluetooth so you can make hands-free calls and stream audio from your phone. It doesn’t have a CD or DVD player but comes with an AM/FM radio, an SD card reader, and Aux and USB inputs that can play MP3 or WMA files.

A built-in preset equalizer lets you choose from several equalizer curves to suit a variety of music styles, including rock and pop. Also, it integrates seamlessly with your current audio system with three sets of preamp outputs for the front, rear, and subwoofer speakers. Additionally, it comes with expandable audio and video outputs so you can connect it to video cameras, game consoles, and more.

Key Features
  • Seven-inch touchscreen
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • Detachable front panel
  • Built-in equalizer
Specification
  • Brand Sound Storm Labs
  • Model SD726MB
  • Weight 4.4 pounds
PROS

Comes with a remote control

Lets you make hands-free calls

Wireless audio streaming

Includes rear camera inputs

Compatible with steering wheel controls

CONS

Doesn’t have a CD/DVD player

Doesn’t fit in some vehicles

Doesn’t have the best screen resolution

Best Head Units for Sound Quality Buying Guide & FAQ

As we touched on at the beginning of our review, the head unit is like the brain or heart of your audio system. It’s where you control the volume, switch between radio stations, insert CDs or DVDs, or connect your phone to answer phone calls or stream audio. Seeing that it can perform so many functions, you must get the best option out there so you can benefit from all its features.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should splurge on the most expensive head unit. It’s prudent to arm yourself with proper knowledge of what to expect from the best head unit with the regard to its design, quality, and what you’re looking for in an entertainment system. This will help you save a few bucks while still getting the best head unit. Our buying guide is a great resource for this. 

The Advantages of Owning a Head Unit for Sound Quality

using the best head units for Sound quality
The right head unit can improve sound quality in your car

When designing the vehicle, most manufacturers typically don’t design them with the best audio systems. The stereo and speakers will be just good enough to deliver normal sound. You may notice what you’re missing out on when you play your favorite song, and it doesn’t sound as good as it does in your home theater. The good thing is, most vehicles will give you the allowance of replacing the audio system with a better sounding one.

Head units are designed with built-in amplifiers that help to boost the sound signal being delivered to the speakers. Most also have high and low pass crossovers so the right frequencies can be delivered to the appropriate speakers. This power boost and frequency differentiation help to improve the sound quality, and your overall listening experience.

  • It’s an upgrade from your low-powered factory head unit. 
  • Most come with GPS navigation systems that will give you turn by turn directions to your destination. 
  • Experience better clarity from the audio files you play. 
  • Upgrade the look of the vehicle’s interior with a double-DIN head unit. 
  • It lets you connect your phone to the head unit so you can make hands-free calls.

Popular Types of Head Units for Sound Quality

Car head units are classified according to their height and width. This is what is referred to as the DIN. It’s a standard classification for the body of a head unit. From this, we derive two types of head units: single-DIN and double-DIN. The differences are explained below.

Single-DIN 

A one-DIN or single-DIN head unit has a front face measuring seven by two inches. These units have a practical design, and they are usually affordable since they come with few controls. They are also quite user-friendly, and some models have a variety of advanced features that help you control the quality of sound.

If your vehicle originally came with a single-DIN stereo, we recommend that you replace it with a similar but modern model since installing it will be easy. It’s also easy to get a single-DIN aftermarket replacement.

Double-DIN 

A two-DIN or double-DIN unit’s front face typically measures seven by four inches, and you can find slightly larger options with detachable, sliding, or flip out faceplates. The name double-DIN is derived from the idea that it comprises two single-DIN radios stacked together. Double-DIN stereos are fitted with more user-friendly features such as a touch screen, built-in CD/DVD players, built-in navigation systems, and more advanced features that may increase the price of the gadget.

If your vehicle came with a double-DIN head unit, you can carefully remove it, and replace it with a modern one. However, if you intend to replace a single-DIN head unit with a double-DIN head unit, you may have to make a few modifications to the wiring by finding an adaptor that will allow you to connect the new system to the existing wiring harness. 

The Most Important Features of Head Units for Sound Quality

head units for Sound quality with touch screen
If you want a better stereo, get a better head unit for sound quality

Before buying a head unit, you want to make a list of the must-have features that you want in your head unit. You should then choose head units that fit that criterion so you can build a perfect audio system that meets your needs. Here are a few of the most important features to consider for improved sound quality. 

Power Output 

Most head units typically come with a built-in preamp and an amplifier. The preamp provides the power for controlling basic selections such as volume and sound balance. The amplifier boosts the signal from the preamp so it can deliver a high-voltage audio signal to the speakers, and improve the sound quality. Therefore, you should take note of the amplifier’s rating since it determines the quality of sound that the speakers will receive.

An amplifier that pushes out about 50 to 100 watts can make a huge difference in how the audio sounds. You may not even have to add an extra amplifier to feed more power to your speakers if it pushes out more than 100 watts.   

Connectivity 

If you have an older vehicle, chances are that your factory stereo didn’t come with all the bells and whistles that are typical to the modern head units. This is why you should look for an aftermarket head unit with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities. These features will help you link your head unit with your smartphone so you can make and receive hands-free calls, stream internet radio, and gain access to navigation features.

It will also help to diversify your entertainment options, and instead of only listening to local radio stations, you can listen to music that is stored in your secondary storage devices via a USB or Aux port. Besides that, the head unit should come with outputs that allow you to connect extra amps, subwoofers, and speakers. 

Ease of Installation  

If you don’t have the budget for hiring a professional audio expert to install the head unit, then you should choose a system that’s compatible with your vehicle so it’s easier to install. Prioritize units from popular audio equipment manufacturers; most will have several online tutorials on how to install them, and they also come with detailed installation instructions.

Also, the manufacturers often indicate the type of vehicles their head units are compatible with. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time learning how to rewire your audio system and installing the gadget, the easiest solution is to go for a single DIN unit since installing one is usually painless. 

The Best Head Units for Sound Quality FAQ:

From our buying guide, it’s clear that to redesign your audio system, you need to start from scratch. Instead of buying new speakers, you need to start by replacing the head unit, and then you can work your way up. You can get more information on head units from the question and answer section below.  

Q. Can a single-DIN head unit fit any car audio system?

While not all single-DIN head units are a universal fit for all vehicles, the majority don’t present fitment or installation issues. However, most modern car audio systems come with a double-DIN unit so replacing it with a single-DIN unit will be a downgrade, unless you are going for a minimal design. 

Q. Do head units improve sound quality?

They sure do. Aftermarket head units come with built-in amplifiers that provide more power that helps the speaker to sound better and clearer. They also come with features that help balance the quality of sound so you can experience minimal distortion, and get the best out of the subwoofers and car speakers. 

Q. What is the difference between a single-DIN and a double-DIN head unit?

A single-DIN unit is a smaller stereo that measures seven by two inches. It has a minimal design with just enough functions to give you a comfortable entertainment experience. In contrast, double-DIN units are larger and typically measure seven by four inches. They come with more features that not only improve your entertainment experience but help you drive safer and more comfortably. 

Our Top Pick

The Pioneer AVH-200EX Multimedia DVD Receive tops our list because it delivers enough power to make stock speakers sound better. It also has a sleek and aesthetically appealing design with a clear display and easy-to-read graphics. It can help transform the look of your vehicle’s interior, and at the same time expand your entertainment options. 

Final Thoughts

While the Pioneer AVH-200EX Multimedia DVD Receive may be a decent pick, it’s not the most affordable head unit out there. This is why we also recommend the Alpine CDE-120 Car Stereo Receiver if you are looking to save a bit of cash. It has a simple single-DIN design that’s easy to install on any vehicle. It also helps to deliver excellent sound and comes with an equalizer so you can control the sound.

Sources:

  1. Automotive Head Unit – Wikipedia