Shopping for a new radio has to be one of the most confusing experiences to muddle through in any old-car owning experience. We all get there: The crusty old stock stereo and paper speakers suck, but so many aftermarket car stereo “upgrades” look like absolute junk. If you’re like me and enjoy crisp audio and good music on a drive, some sort of upgrade is necessary. So what head unit do I buy? Let me make it simple; the only double-DIN head unit worth a damn is the Sony XAV1000.
This is not a Sony ad or any kind of paid placement, by the way. I just really like the XAV1000 and my editor said I should articulate why in a blog for you all. Yes, I’ve bought one before and loved it.
Quick sidebar to explain “what’s a double-DIN” for those who might be wondering: It’s one of two standard car stereo sizes, basically twice as tall as the “single-DIN.” DIN stands for Deutsches Institut für Normung, which is the German Institute for Standardization. It developed the standard chassis size for most radio frames. Those old small and narrow head units that you used to see in old Hondas bumping Too $hort are single-DIN. The new-style squarer ones are double-DIN, because they take up two DIN spaces, and generally have a full-color LCD display. That’s the one you want for modernity and features like CarPlay and navigation.
Brand-new cars now often have proprietary stereo slots, but single- and double-DINs are still somewhat common and adapters exist for some cars that don’t have them. And of course, a lot of us are still riding around in older cars anyway.
But why the Sony XAV1000 instead of a Pioneer or an Alpine? Simple, most other double-DIN head units out there are pretty expensive and have terrible user interfaces (UI), and seem to have been made with zero consideration for user experience (UX). The easiest way to sum that up is this: the Sony is the only head unit with a physical volume knob. All the other ones have buttons or haptic touch, which is terrible.
Better yet, the Sony interface is the nicest to use, has the best CarPlay integration, and has excellent settings for EQ, brightness, and screen-off. It’s quick, responsive, and easy to use; everything you want from an aftermarket stereo. Trust me when I say, most others are a mild disaster to use, especially in a moving car.
The icing on the cake of the Sony is the cost for what you get. For about $300, you get CarPlay, an excellent internal pre-amplifier for crisp, clean audio at 55W per speaker, a USB port up front, Bluetooth streaming audio, an AUX port, a great 10-band EQ with high and low-pass filters, the obligatory subwoofer output, and it actually takes up a single-DIN behind the screen. Every other head unit with the features you want costs double, and doesn’t have a damn volume knob. That’s all that matters: a volume knob and CarPlay! If you’re in the market for a double-DIN stereo head unit, don’t bother shopping around, just go buy one of these.