When we’re discussing car radios (or car stereos), most people immediately think of the receiver. Both the brains and the heart of the entire audio system, the receiver is the part you’ll interact with when changing stations, increasing/decreasing volume, and so on. It’s in essence the main part of an entire audio system, dictating the features, audio sources, and all the rest of your car audio system’s capabilities. When choosing a car radio, there are a couple of things you should take into consideration.
Do you need a CD player? Will you be using the receiver as a DVD playback device? Does it have to come with an auxiliary cable line-in? These should be your main questions when deciding what car radio you want to buy. Most new radios come with CD players as well as auxiliary support, but not all boast a DVD player or Bluetooth support. Know what you’re going to use the radio for and just go from there.
Every audio receiver on sale today will boast AM/FM radio which will tune in to most if not all local radio stations, but if it’s quality of sound you’re after, picking a unit which comes with built-in HD Radio decoding is your best bet. It drastically improves the audio’s quality and you’ll be able to access digital subprograms for station which support multicasting. Satellite radio is perfect for frequent road trippers and drivers who spend a lot of miles behind the wheel. It gives you the ability to tune in to your favorite radio station from anywhere in the country.
The radio receiver does more than just accept audio sources. It also outputs that same audio to the speakers via an internal amplifier. The built-in amplifier’s power is stated in two ways: RMS and peak power. RMS is the amount of power the amplifier will consistently give out under any circumstance. Peak power, measured in watts, is the maximum amount of power the amp is capable of producing under full load. Unless you listen to music with the speakers always on max, you shouldn’t be too concerned with peak power. RMS is the ‘reliable’ power, power which you actually use when listening to music every day.
Top 5 Best Car Radios
|Car radio||Brand||Max power output|
|Pioneer DEH-150MP Single DIN Car Stereo||Pioneer||50 watt x 4 channels|
|Kenwood KDC-168U In-Dash 1-DIN Stereo Receiver||Kenwood||50 watt x 4 channels|
|Sony MEXN5100BT Car Stereo Receiver||Sony||55 watt x 4 channels|
|BOSS Audio 508UAB Single-DIN||Boss Audio||40 watt x 4 channels|
|Car Stereo Bluetooth, In-Dash Single Car Radio||Xshop||60 watt x 4 channels|
Pioneer DEH-150MP Single DIN Car Stereo
Pioneer is one of the most popular audio brands on the planet. They’re a true pioneer (pun intended) when it comes to audio systems, and the DEH-150MP is no exception. It’s not the most powerful receiver out there, nor is it the most advanced one, but it is the only one which manages to offer such an amazing blend of everything. The DEH range are entry-level car receivers, but they don’t lack any features. This particular unit offers MP3 and WMA playback, a front AUX input and Advanced Sound Retriever technology. It comes with a remote control too, consisting of all the basic features such as increasing/decreasing volume, pausing, switching stations and changing sources.
Pioneer DEH-150MP Car Stereo Key Specs
- Max Power Output: 50 watts x 4 channels
- Remote Control: Yes
The elegant single-line LCD display is clear to read and easy to understand, even in broad daylight with sunlight hitting the unit directly. It’s 35% larger compared to its predecessors and boasts LED back lighting. It’s simple but elegant, with a theft-deterrent detachable face plate so you can take it pretty much everywhere. It comes with 7 selectable tone curves (5 preset ones and 2 user defined), as well as a 24bit Digital Analog Converter (DAC).
To further clear and enhance the sound quality Pioneer has fitted with High-Pass and Low-Pass crossover filters too. The entire unit weights just 3.2 pounds and it measures in at 9 x 10 x 4.5 inches. There’s not much more to say really. Pioneer boasts the most amount of satisfied customer numbers, and the DEH-150MP is right up there at the top. It comes with a 1 year warranty to give you peace of mind, but know that it will likely outlive that several times over.
Kenwood KDC-168U In-Dash 1-DIN Stereo Receiver
Just like Pioneer, Kenwood is a large and popular audio equipment manufacturer. They’re one of the most reputable brands out there, often regarded as the premium audio brand along with Pioneer. The Kenwood KDC-168U is their midrange entry-level car receiver, but don’t think for a minute its lacking in anything. It punches far above its weight class, despite its seemingly compact size. Speaking of size, let’s not forget to mention that it’s extremely small and well thought out. The design is elegant and minimalistic, but perfect ergonomically. The 13-digit LCD display is easy to read and understand, with the red button illumination making night driving a real joy.
Kenwood KDC-168U Stereo Receiver Key Specs
- Max Power: 50 watts x 4 channels
- Remote Control: Yes
The powerful MOSFET amplifier has a maximum rated output of 50 watts, and a reliable RMS of 22 watts. It comes with iPod/iPhone control and is compatible with Music Control apps for selected Android phones, as well as Pandora and iHeart radio with the iPhone. The innovative System Q Sound Control boasts an impressive 8 EQ curves and a 3-band equalizer. The USB port is compatible with flash drivers containing MP3, WAV, WMA and even FLAC. You can switch between audio ports with a single push of a button.
Other notable features are the iPod/iPhone direct control and the compatibility offered with most factory steering wheel audio controls. The former uses the USB’s input to give you direct control of your devices, with the latter requiring an adapter to connect to the factory steering wheel. It’s just as good as the Pioneer unit, but doesn’t provide the same bang for buck value, hence why it’s second.
Sony MEXN5100BT Car Stereo Receiver
Sony is a truly well-diversified manufacturer. Making everything from smartphones to TVs, to even kitchen equipment, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that they also design and build car receivers. Despite the relatively long name, the MEXN5100BT is Sony’s top of the line midsize offering, boasting impeccable quality and unrivaled reliability. A small and compact unit just like the Pioneer and Kenwood receivers, the Sony is way better appearance-wise. There’s just so much more going on, so many more details.
Sony MEXN5100BT Car Radio Key Specs
- Max Power: 55 watt x 4 Dynamic Reality Amp
- Remote Control: No
Although Sony’s car radio doesn’t come with a remote control, it offers something arguably even better. The base model with a max power rating of 55 watts will do for almost everyone, but Sony also makes a 160W RMS Hi-Power version for anyone interested. That comes with Bluetooth as well, so if having Bluetooth is a priority, you already know which one you should be getting. The Bluetooth feature allows you to stream music wirelessly, eliminating the need for cables or flash drives altogether. The quality of the sound can be further increased with Sony’s Advanced Sound software with EQ10 and MEGA BASS.
The Sony MEXN5100BT car radio comes with a front auxiliary socket as well as USB port with high-charge for iOS and all other compatible USB devices. The Digital Clarity Tuner is equipped with RDS and the entire unit is Steering wheel remote control input ready. Its only downside is that it’s quite a bit costlier than the Pioneer and the Kenwood. If you don’t consider the price at all, the Sony MEXN5100BT is the best car radio out there.
BOSS Audio 508UAB Single-DIN
Here’s a really interesting car receiver. Although the brand BOSS isn’t as synonymous with reliability and quality as Pioneer or Sony, we’re here to tell you that it’s a good brand. They mostly produce entry to mid-level audio products, and the 508UAB is one of their most popular models. How did it find itself on this list? Well, for starters, it’s simple and easy to understand. The design is plain and you don’t get a lot in terms of styling cues, but it is ergonomical. The LCD display is clear both night and day, containing all the relevant info you’ll ever need from a car radio.
BOSS Audio 508UAB Key Specs
- Max Power: 40 Watts x 4 Channels
- Remote Control: Yes
Available in Bluetooth and non-Bluetooth versions, the 508UAB is a perfect choice if you’re looking after something decent with amazing features which won’t break the bank. We’d recommend the Bluetooth variant as it’s really not that much more expensive, but the added benefits far outweigh the initial purchase price. The preset, built-in EQ works great and you can switch between CD/USB/SD as input sources. The best part about the BOSS car radio? It comes with a 3 year warranty, and that’s something not even the major manufacturers offer that often.
Car Stereo Bluetooth, In-Dash Single Car Radio
If you’re simply after a car radio and don’t care about the brand or the particular model, this just might be the perfect choice for you. Offered as generic car receiver, it does everything extremely well, despite not having a large manufacturer behind it to back it up. It’s extremely affordable, but don’t think for a minute that makes it any worse.
Car Stereo Bluetooth, In-Dash Single Car Radio Key Specs
- Max Power: 60 Watts x 4 Channels
- Remote Control: Yes
That’s right, it’s actually the most powerful unit of the bunch. Before you rush out and buy it, consider that it’s RMS power you’re mostly concerned with, not max. There’s also the fact that most units from reputable manufacturers severely underestimate the figures to prevent the owner from burning out the receiver. That said, with a complete remote control, black LCD display, a digital clock and a built-in Bluetooth with microphone make this car receiver a mighty tempting offer.
It’s compatible with iPhone and Android charges, and supports all kinds of SD Cards, USB Charging and MP3 players. Visually, it’s not the best car receiver ever made, but it’s by no means the worst. Are you going to be able to tell the difference in build quality between it and the premium units? Only when you’re looking at them really closely. Value for money, this is the best car radio if you’re on a budget.
So there you have it. It’s a close call between Pioneer and Kenwood, but Pioneer manages to edge out the victory with a more affordable offer. In all honesty, it comes down to whether you prefer Pioneer or Kenwood. Sony comes in third, boasting the most amount of features and a futuristic design, but its higher price point might not suit everyone. BOSS, the all-rounder with a 3-year warranty comes fourth, and last but not least we have the generic car stereo. It’s a great choice for anyone looking to extract the most of their car receiver on a budget.