Best car stereos for 2021
Take a peek at our best-sellers and customer favorites
In this article... we'll discuss seven of our customer favorites for car stereos:
- Pioneer AVH-221EX DVD receiver
- JVC KD-T91MBS CD receiver
- Alpine Halo9 iLX-F309 digital multimedia receiver
- RetroSound Hermosa digital media receiver
- JVC KW-M865BW digital multimedia receiver
- Kenwood KMM-BT328U digital media receiver
- Sony XAV-AX5000 digital multimedia receiver
What makes them sure bets for 2021? Let's take a look! We'll also give you some shopping tips at the bottom of the article.
Now is a great time to consider a new car stereo for your ride. Not only do you get performance upgrades and expandability over factory radios, but stereo makers are incorporating a variety of ways of connecting to your phone, including navigation, streaming music, and remote control apps.
From simple CD stereos with Bluetooth® connectivity, to big touchscreen multimedia receivers with user-friendly app interfaces like Android Auto™ and Apple CarPlay™, there are lots of choices for upgrading your vehicle's overall sound experience.
As a starting point, here are seven models which have delivered high customer satisfaction ratings. After reading this article, if you want a deeper dive into what to look for when shopping for a new car stereo, check out our car stereo buying guide.
What makes these favorites?
We looked at our best-selling stereos that also earned an average Crutchfield customer rating of 4 (or more) stars*. That means that our customers took the time to provide some feedback once they've spent some time with the stereo.
We tried to include receivers of various types and sizes. We left out receivers with built-in navigation. If you'd like to see our top picks for that category, read our Best in-dash navigation stereos for 2021.
Pioneer AVH-221EX DVD receiver — Affordable touchscreen display and wireless convenience
What you need to know: Pioneer's AVH-221EX DVD receiver offers a 6.2" touchscreen display with user-friendly icon controls, as well as multi-color options that let you seemlessly integrate the stereo with your dash lighting. You can wire in your smartphone or take advantage of this stereo's built-in Bluetooth.
Phone integration features: This stereo's rear USB port will charge your iPhone or Android, as well as let you play and control the music on your phone. Its built-in Bluetooth can be paired to two different phones simultaneously. You can take hands-free calls and stream music wirelessly from either.
Audio/Video features: To back up their heritage of great sound, Pioneer included a 13-band equalizer and digital time alignment to ensure your listening position is the best position. Preamp outputs let you add amplifiers for more power and oomph from your sound. You can also feed video to additional backseat screens. There's even a video input for a backup camera.
JVC KD-T91MBS CD receiver — A tough, marine-grade stereo with lots of features
What you need to know: If you drive an open-air vehicle, like a Jeep or a convertible, or if you just want some tunes while on your boat, JVC's KD-T91MBS CD receiver can stand up to outdoor environments. With its solid build, you can still get your tunes going in a variety of ways for the great outdoors.
Phone integration features: This stereo's USB port will charge your iPhone, as well as let you play and control the music on your phone. Its built-in Bluetooth can be paired to two different phones simultaneously. You can even use Amazon Alexa voice control for simple audio controls, hands-free phone calls, traffic updates, and weather information.
All-weather features: This JVC receiver's 2-line "Vertical Alignment" display has a white background and black text for easy viewing even with the sun's glare. It's conformal coated circuit board resists water and rust from the corrosive marine environment.
Alpine Halo9 iLX-F309 digital multimedia receiver — Huge 9" display and fits in a 2" tall dash opening
What you need to know: The eye-catching Alpine Halo9 iLX-F309 receiver turned a lot of heads when Anthony, one of our Advisors, installed it in his car for a product review. Besides amazing media options like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, this big-screen beauty offers some installation versatility. Its single-DIN chassis fits many vehicles, and you can set the angle and height of the protruding display to get the optimal positioning on your dash. The Alpine stereo delivers great sound, especially when customized using the sound-sculpting capabilities of Alpine's TuneIt™ app.
Phone integration features: Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto top the phone integration features on the iLX-F309, so you can quickly access your favorite music and navigation apps. This Alpine's big 9" touchscreen display looks just like your phone's display, so there's no learning curve. If you don't want to always plug in, you can also use this receiver's built-in Bluetooth to wirelessly stream music and take calls hands-free.
Audio/Video features: In addition to compatibility with Alpine's TuneIt app, the iLX-F309 features a 9-band parametric EQ and digital time correction to refine your sound. You can add a backup camera for added safety. The stereo also works with iDatalink's Maestro RR interface for select vehicles, which lets you integrate lots of factory functionality, some of which you'll see on the stereo's display.
RetroSound Hermosa digital media receiver — Classic styling for vintage vehicles
What you need to know: We sell several stereo options for vintage cars, but this one is easily the most popular. RetroSound's Hermosa infuses the venerable shaft-style radio design with modern features, like Bluetooth, a USB port, and a switchable color display. It's old-school shaft system make it a great choice for folks who want to add modern conveniences to classic older vehicles.
Phone integration features: The Hermosa includes Bluetooth for hands-free calling and wireless music streaming from your phone or tablet.
Customization features: What's so cool about the Hermosa and other RetroSound receivers is their ability to blend into the dash of vintage rides. Its "Infinimount" shaft and bracket system enables the Hermosa to fit in a variety of vehicles with different shaft spacing. You can choose from black, chrome, or ivory options to match your vehicle or just make a statement. It even has three vintage screen protectors to give it that look of yesteryear.
JVC KW-M865BW digital multimedia receiver — A mechless receiver with a lot of wireless options
What you need to know: If you think plugging in your smartphone is a hassle, JVC's KW-M865BW digital multimedia receiver offers up ways to "connect" your phone without being tethered. It's also loaded with deep sound-sculpting tone controls and ways to add more gear for better sound and additional driver assistance.
Phone integration features: This receiver's built-in Wi-Fi enables you to link into wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, so you can control your media with an interface you already know. Android™ owners, you can also wirelessly "mirror" your phone's screen directly on this JVC's 6.8" touchscreen display. And multi-phone Bluetooth lets you and other passengers quickly stream music and take hands-free phone calls.
Audio/Video features: The wired connections on this receiver are pretty cool, too. A total of four camera inputs lets you add a backup camera plus additional cameras for side views and for things you might tow, like a trailer or boat. On the sound side, its digital processing gets the most out of your sound, compensating for the usually poor factory speaker locations. And if you listen to high-res FLAC files on a USB drive, this receiver plays them as well.
Kenwood KMM-BT328U digital media receiver — Voice controls using Amazon Alexa provides access to lots of media
What you need to know: The Kenwood KMM-BT328U receiver replaces the popular Kenwood KMM-BT325U stereo, and it adds the versatility of Alexa voice control. Its slim, single-DIN chassis fits in lots of vehicles. Kenwood outfitted it with lots of features for the money, including Bluetooth, a USB port for high-res music and iPhone integration, and the ability to control the receiver with JVC's free Remote app.
Phone integration features: Bluetooth connectivity provides hands-free streaming and calling, and two phones can be paired at the same time. If you're into Internet Radio, you can enjoy your favorite playlists and explore new music on Spotify™, iHeartRadio™, and Pandora™. Alexa is ready for your controls over Internet radio, audiobooks, weather, and more.
Audio features: This stereo's USB port is compatible with all kinds of music files, even high-res FLAC files. Kenwood's Sound Reconstruction technology restores the depth that's often missing from compressed music files, and digital time alignment ensures that all that sound reaches your ears at the same time. A 13-band EQ lets you tweak the sound to your heart's content. There are even preamp outputs and crossover controls to add amplifiers to your system.
Sony XAV-AX5000 digital multimedia receiver — Savvy smartphone receiver that offers Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
What you need to know: The Sony XAV-AX5000 mech-less (no CD player), double-DIN receiver offers wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to create an interface that's just like your phone. All of your navigation, music, and phone apps are shown off and controlled on its big 6.95" touchscreen display.
Phone integration features: In addition to the phone integration mentioned above, this Sony stereo includes Bluetooth for wireless convenience. You can also listen to and control your favorite Pandora and Spotify stations.
Audio/Video features: Much like their famous flat-panel TVs, Sony went with a brilliant bezel-less display on this receiver that almost disappears into the dash. Its 10-band EQ lets you get just your right sound, while the five preamp outputs enable you to add amplifiers for your speakers and a sub. There's even an input for a rear-view camera — great for tight parking spots. Two rear USB ports let you hook up a phone and a USB drive full of music simultaneously.
With the right car stereo, even the longest road trip can be fun
If you're ready to make the move to better sound, phone integration, and smooth controls, there are a few things to keep in mind:
How much do you want to spend? There's certainly a balance between your budget, the features you want, and the look you're going for in your dash. Using the filters we've installed in our selection of car stereos, you can set a particular budget range that works for you.
What features are must-haves? In addition to the filter for budget, you can also filter the most common features for car stereos. This lets you quickly focus in on the stereos that give you want you want, like Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, satellite radio, and more.
What fits your car? You'll need to pick a stereo that fits the dash of your car. For some newer vehicles, replacing the factory receiver might be impossible because of climate controls or other design elements. However, the majority of vehicles in our database work with double-DIN (4" tall) or single-DIN (2" tall) radios. Receivers without a disc player (known as digital media receivers) are especially easy to fit due to their shallow depth. Use our vehicle selector tool to refine your choices.
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*Note: The star ratings cited are current as of November 2020.