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Buying guide for best single din car stereos

If you’ve got an older car, there’s a decent chance it doesn’t have a touchscreen or in-dash “infotainment” center, but just because your car looks like it doesn’t have room for the latest tech doesn’t mean all hope is lost! That’s where a single DIN car stereo comes in.

Cars typically make room for stereos in one of two ways: by including a double DIN unit with a full-color display (which is pretty much standard on modern cars), or by including a single DIN unit where the stereo is half the size, comes with an LCD screen for displaying text, and everything is controlled by buttons and dials. If the front of your car stereo is about the size of a 6-inch ruler, it’s a single DIN unit.

The good news is that single DIN car stereos have come a long way since the tape deck, and modern units connect to your phone so you can get all of your digital music while you’re driving. If you’re ready to bring your old car stereo into the digital age, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know to find the perfect single DIN car stereo, as well as some of our favorites.

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If you want to test how a stereo sounds, use Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a sample track. It has a wide spectrum of instruments, high notes, low notes, and vocals that are perfect for hearing how your setup will handle a variety of sounds.

Key considerations

Before you start shopping, answer these two questions. They’ll help you save a lot of time by ruling out the models you don’t want.

Do you want a stereo with a touchscreen?

Believe it or not, there are single DIN car stereos that support 7-inch touchscreens; the screens attach to the units so you can have the double DIN experience in a single DIN car. Naturally, they’re more expensive, but if you’re itching to bring touchscreen tech to your ride, it’s definitely possible. If you’re not looking for anything that fancy, save some money and stick with the models with old-fashioned LCD displays.

Do you want to play CDs in your car?

Digital media can be great for portability and access, but most streaming music services cut corners on fidelity and play music at a compressed bit rate, which sounds good, but not as good as a CD does. If you’re an audiophile, or you just have a binder of CDs in your car that you can’t bear to part with, get a car stereo with a CD player. If you’ll mostly be listening to whatever’s on your phone, skip the models with CD players and don’t pay for features you don’t need.

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Expert Tip
If you’re worried about your phone battery depleting while you’re streaming music to your car stereo, get a unit that supports SD cards or a USB drive. You can load up your own music ahead of time on a physical drive and save your phone from doing any of the work.

Single DIN car stereo features

Most single DIN car stereos look pretty much the same, so it can be hard to tell them apart. Here are the features to expect and a few that make some models stand out from the crowd.

Bluetooth: All single DIN car stereos nowadays support Bluetooth, so no matter which one you end up with, you’ll be able to stream music wirelessly from your phone or tablet.

Auxiliary inputs: A port for connecting a 3.5 mm cable comes standard in most single DIN stereos, and we consider them essential. Whether you want to wire your phone in or let a friend share their music, an auxiliary input that’s easy to reach is key.

USB connectivity: Some single DIN car stereos have USB ports, so you can play your music back digitally (instead of using an analog cable with an auxiliary input). USB ports are mostly found on premium models, so if you’re an audiophile, expect to pay a little more.

iOS compatibility: If you’ve got an iPhone, keep your eyes peeled for car stereos with iOS-specific features; for example, some models let you browse your iPhone’s music library directly on their screens.

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Expert Tip
If you’re planning to connect your phone to your car stereo with a USB cable or 3.5 mm audio cable, decide which type before you buy, and keep a spare cable in the car. Consider how long of a cable you’ll need, so you don’t have an extra-long wire getting in the way.

Single DIN car stereo prices

Inexpensive: Budget single DIN car stereos cost between $30 and $60. We recommend avoiding stereos in this price range because they usually make too many compromises on features or have inferior audio quality. There are a few models in this range that are great bargains, but if you’re serious about upgrading your ride’s sound system, plan on spending a little more.

Mid-range: The best values in single DIN car stereos are between $60 and $100. Models in this price range cover all the right bases: they sound great, they’ve got input options like USB and microSD, and they’re easy to use while driving. Unless you absolutely must have a model that’s more expensive, we don’t recommend spending much more than this.

Expensive: Single DIN car stereos that cost more than $100 are built for the long haul: the price tag usually goes along with units that are especially durable or have interfaces that are especially easy to use. If you drive for a living or spend a lot of time in you car, consider models in this price range.

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Expert Tip
Many single DIN car stereos come with a remote control, which is handy for tailgate parties or any time you want to use your car stereo without being behind the wheel.


  • Hire a professional installer. Make no mistake about it: installing a car stereo isn’t easy, and if you make a mistake, you can seriously damage your vehicle. Take your new car stereo to a local installer and take advantage of their expertise and experience.
  • Learn how to use your stereo before you go driving with it. Every single DIN car stereo operates a little differently, and it’s important to master the basics when you’re not driving so you don’t get distracted when you’re behind the wheel. Set your radio presets, figure out how to adjust the volume, and learn how to get your phone’s music on your stereo before you take your new stereo for a drive.
  • Be careful around stereos that claim to be “Sirius-ready.” A lot of single DIN car stereos claim to be Sirius-ready, and in the best cases, that means they have a built-in satellite receiver for listening to your Sirius satellite radio subscription. However, other models label themselves as Sirius-ready because they have an auxiliary port that you can connect to a separately purchased Sirius receiver. If you’re a big fan of satellite radio, read the fine print on the different models to make sure you know what you’re getting and what you’re not getting.

Other products we considered

If you’re looking for a car stereo with everything (including a touchscreen and a CD player), check out the BOSS BV9976B DVD Player. We’re not kidding about the “everything” part: it’s got Bluetooth, USB port, motorized 7-inch touchscreen, and it even plays DVDs when you’re parked. It’s not the fastest interface we’ve seen, but at this price point, it’s still a solid value. If you’re looking for a car stereo that’s got a solid feature set but won’t break the bank, we recommend the JVC Digital Media Car Stereo Receiver. It streams music via Bluetooth, it’s got a CD player that can read data discs (so you can bring a disc full of MP3s), and it’s even got support for high-resolution audio formats like FLAC. Don’t let it’s modest looks and price tag fool you: JVC’s receiver is a solid option that sounds great.

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If you listen to a lot of broadcast radio, make sure the single DIN car stereo you buy supports HD radio. Broadcast radio stations are slowly evolving from analog to digital, and many stations simulcast in both formats. If your car stereo supports both, it automatically plays the HD version when available. HD radio is a big jump in sound quality, so it’s worth holding out for.


Q. Will replacing my car stereo improve the audio quality?
A. Probably. After-market car stereos often have superior sound quality, although it depends on the car. The biggest difference in audio quality usually comes from EQ settings: most single DIN car stereos give you a lot more control over how your music sounds, so you can tune yours to your liking, which will make a huge overall difference.

Q. Do single DIN car stereos include everything I need to install one myself?
Not usually. Because every car interior is unique, you’ll need to buy special parts designed to make your particular make and model of car work with a standard single DIN stereo, like a wiring harness or a connectivity kit. We recommend working with a professional installer who will be able to purchase all of the necessary parts for you.

Q. Do any single DIN car stereos have GPS?
No, although they can play back the audio from your phone’s GPS, single DIN units don’t have enough space to display a map, and units that include a touchscreen don’t have onboard GPS. That said, if you connect your phone while you’re driving and use your phone’s route guidance, you’ll be able to hear the turn-by-turn directions through your car speakers.

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