I’ve found that some of the language used in this area is a generational thing. You may know it as ICE (In-Car Entertainment), a stereo, head unit or even receiver. But, the long and the short of it is that thing that sits in your car and plays music.
For the purpose of the article, I’ll be assuming that your car is a few years old. Even the most basic compact has a pretty decent entertainment system fitted these days. So, unless you’re a real audiophile, you won’t be swapping it out anytime soon.
And for the record, I’m not going into details about how to fit a new head unit. While the unit may look similar in size (it is, that’s the ‘DIN’ part), the wiring and connectors can be totally different.
Starting With The Basics
There are generally two different types of head units fitted to cars. These are known as Single DIN and Double DIN. The DIN part comes from the German standards body – Deutsches Institut fὒr Normung. Essentially, it’s referring to the size. You may think of it as a single slot or double slot.
While it’s totally possible to fit a Single DIN unit into a Double DIN slot, it’s virtually impossible to go the other way. You’d be hacking out bits of your dash or center console. And let me tell you, there isn’t an empty space anywhere behind a dash unless the manufacturer did it from the standard.
The reason for upgrading your head unit can be many. From a non-functioning stereo to better sound, or better connectivity. Only you know why you’re looking to upgrade.
You’ll have some idea as to what is right for you or at least the minimum functionality you want. Now you just need to decide which is the best single DIN head unit for you.
It’s also worth noting that technology prices are always getting lower. So, even if something seems too cheap to be of any use, that may not be the case.
7 Best Single Din Stereos for Overall Quality Sound
I’ve tried to select a range of prices and functions. The exact head unit you choose will depend on what it is you want from it. Here are our choices.
If you’re looking for a replacement stereo for your old beater, and don’t want to drop a huge load on something fancy, the Pioneer fits the bill perfectly. Sure, it doesn’t have a pop-up screen, USB or Bluetooth, but that’s the point – it’s not trying to be all show.
It does, however, play music in all sorts of formats – CD, CD-R, CD-RW, MP3, WAV and WMA. It features a 3.5 mm auxiliary jack at the front of the detachable faceplate. So, connecting your phone is simple (even if it doesn’t have a headphone jack – adaptors are available).
With a peak of 50W over 4 channels, there’s enough power to make some noise. Due to Pioneer’s Advanced Sound Retriever technology, that noise is good. It uses tech to restore the data that sometimes gets lost through digital compression.
A motorized 7″ touchscreen that you’d have to say that at this price point, you’d be hard pushed to beat this head unit. The BOSS BV9986BI does pretty much everything you could ever want. It also has features galore. The built-in Bluetooth allows you to make and receive calls. You can also play music from apps like Spotify.
It will play everything from DVDs (you can even hook up extra screens through the video output), CD, MP3 and has USB & SD card inputs. It also has an AUX port for hooking up your phone. It will work with all but the very oldest iPhones.
There’s a rearview camera slot (with a separately sold module) and the same for the steering wheel controls. It has an extra module that will ensure your existing controls will work as they should. (And let’s be honest, there’s nothing worse than fitting an updated head unit which then disables those controls).
The device comes with the wiring you need. However, as with all the head units listed, you’ll need a vehicle-specific harness. This BOSS head unit also offers a max power of 85W (and a funky remote control.
And just in case you’re worried about theft, the faceplate detaches so you can take it with you.
This is another 7″ flip-out screen featuring some neat touches, but there are one or two points that aren’t perfect. For example, it doesn’t auto-dim when the headlights are turned on. (It’s just a minor snag that sets it apart from some of the others). Aside from issues like that, this head unit is well priced and specced decently.
The Pyle has all the usual bits – CD, DVD player, AM/FM receiver, will work with MP3, MP4 and MP5 file. The Bluetooth function works well. You’ll be able to connect with your phone (and other B/T device that supports it.) That makes hands-free calls easy. However, if your fitting this in a big truck, call quality can be an issue, just because of noise.
A detachable faceplate takes care of security. Plus, there’s a remote control (handy for playing DVDs and the like from the rear seats) for the ultimate in easy access.
Sony has been making quality electronics for decades, what they don’t know about tech isn’t worth knowing, so we have to include at least one of their products here. The MEX-XB100BT has technically been discontinued. But, there are still a few available, and depending on your budget, they’re worth hunting out.
One issue that I have with a number of Bluetooth equipped head units is that they use a built-in microphone for calls which can result in lower call quality, this Sony head unit has an externally wired mic which I personally prefer.
It looks a bit ‘vintage’, a bit 90s, (right down to the multicolored ‘illuminator’ with sound synchro) which could be a good or bad thing depending on your viewpoint. However, the tech inside is all bang up to date. The MEX-N5100BT CD Receiver includes a remote control. You can also download the SongPAL app, which effectively turns your smartphone into a remote control also.
The usual features apply – CD, CD-R, CD-RW, and all digital formats, but it’s also SiriusXM ready (the digital radio). It will also work with the Pandora internet radio setup. And if you’re ‘old skool cool’ you can even listen to AM/FM radio.
Everything is controllable through the Siri Eyes Free control – just push the large rotary button and talk as you would normally to Siri, it’s a great touch that many head units need.
Overall, the Sony MEX-XB100BT is a bit pricier than some of the head units with touchscreens. You know that you’re buying quality. It should never give a day’s trouble as long as it’s installed correctly.
This is a back-to-basics head unit. But, it still does have Bluetooth, USB, and CD/MP3 playability, along with an additional AUX jack on the front of the unit. Check out our post on the best AUX cables over here!
Setting up the Bluetooth is slightly different from what you’d expect. Once done (correctly) it works flawlessly. You’ll have clear calls and excellent connectivity to your phone for music streaming, etc. This head unit isn’t trying to compete with those offering every type of media and data streaming. However, it’s a solid replacement for your old beater that just needs an upgrade.
The JVC KD-R888BT still comes with remote control, and detachable faceplate but that’s about it for the extras.
If you’re looking for a no-nonsense head unit, that offers quality, clear streaming and calls, for sensible money, then this is definitely a contender.
The most expensive head unit on the list, and is it worth the extra dollars?
Alpine, like Sony, has an excellent reputation and history with audio products. They tend to fall into the love or loathe category, for what it’s worth, I respect their history and find them to be great, especially the car audio stuff.
So is it worth the extra? Technically, as in the actual technical components, possibly not, but you’re buying much more than a head unit, you’re buying the Alpine brand, and that does go some way to making the purchase easier.
It has the usual functionality including CD, CD-R & CD-RW playability. Plus, it has an Apple-compatible USB (unfortunately, that’s mounted at the rear). It works really well with the Bluetooth connections and call quality is around 810.
Perhaps the best bit of the Alpine is the HD Radio and SiriusXM readiness (same as the Sony.) Surely the day of the AM/FM radio is over, internet and digital radio are the way forward, without a doubt.
If you’re looking for high-end branding, then this Alpine will do it for you. But, if you can’t quite stretch to that budget, you wouldn’t be losing out by choosing something different.
The BOSS Audio 616UAB is right at the bottom of the pile, both in terms of functions and pricing. That’s part of the appeal. It’s ‘mech-less’, which means it has no CD player. But, really, is there anyone that doesn’t use some form of digital device to play music on now?
It has all the other and usual functions, including Bluetooth for music streaming and calling. If your device isn’t Bluetooth compatible, it has USB connectivity and an SD slot. Still not enough? A separate AUX socket takes care of everything else. Of course, it does still have an AM/FM radio if you forget/lose your phone or music device, and for that money?
It doesn’t have a detachable faceplate. It also doesn’t look like it belongs on the dash of a space ship. But for less than thirty bucks, it does everything else, and not at the expense of music quality either. The sound from this is equal or better than most factory fitted head units.
Definitely the #1 head unit if you’re on a budget and just need a simple, no BS replacement.
As with so many things, the quality of the installation and the happiness level achieved are inextricably linked. If you fit it badly, you’ll regret buying it. But, if you have it done professionally (or at least by someone that knows what they’re doing), you’ll probably love it. So if you’re not sure what you need to do, then take advice.