The Best Aftermarket Stereos for 2021

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With the release of every new car seemingly comes a new piece of infotainment technology, whether that’s a screen that wraps around the entire dashboard or gesture control camera systems that pick up a twirling finger and then adjust the radio volume accordingly.

But in reality, most car owners simply want to be able to plug in a smartphone and make the most of apps, such as Google Maps, Spotify and Audible, when on the move. The introduction of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto a few years ago now allows this to happen, but some older cars don’t have the hardware to support this.

Fret not, because unlocking the latest smartphone tech is simply a case of removing the old head unit or stereo system found in your car and replacing it with a much more accomplished and technologically capable system from the likes of Pioneer, Sony, JVC and Kenwood.

Thanks to recent advances in slimline design and the continual shrinking of electronic gubbins, even those with smaller spaces (typically referred to as single DIN car stereos) can now enjoy the large and reactive touchscreens found in the latest luxury vehicles.

There is also a new car stereo or head unit to suit most budgets and to fit most cars or vans. So long as you have the existing wiring for some sort of stereo device, prices range from around £90 for the most basic, single DIN unit with Bluetooth for connecting a smartphone, while the most expensive can easily tickle the £1,000 mark if you opt for built-in maps and navigation.

This, in our eyes at least, is a little bit pointless, because we all own a smartphone these days and it is highly likely that most of the modern touchscreen units are also Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatible, which means you can hook up and charge your phone and use either Google Maps, Apple Maps or Waze to navigate, all of which are much better (and far easier to update) than the ageing satnav software found on many infotainment systems. This means you don’t really have to part with any more than £500 to get something utterly brilliant.

If you simply want a Bluetooth connection to play Spotify or listen to Podcasts, then it is very easy to shop at the lower end of the budget (£90-£150). Those wanting a touchscreen will have to ensure they have the cash and the space, as many of these third-party units required a Double DIN space to fit inside.

On the subject of fitting, this can be done fairly easily for those with a bit of car-related knowledge, some tools and plenty of patience (check out the numerous YouTube How-To videos if you fancy a spot of DIY), but buy from Halfords, for example, and they will offer to fit it for you. This usually takes a couple of hours at the most and costs around £70, depending on how complicated the fitting process is.

So, if you fancy ditching that crackly FM radio and installing kit that happily chats to your smartphone, you need to check out the best car stereos and head units available now.

Pioneer SPH-EVO62DAB-UNI

Price: £429
Pros: A 6.8-inch screen for even the oldest cars
Cons: Floating tablet-style screen won’t be to all tastes
Screen size: 6.8-inches
Apple CarPlay & Android Auto: Yes
Radio: DAB & FM
Reversing camera compatible: Yes
Hands-free calls: Yes

The clever modular structure of this thoroughly modern unit means customers get all the benefits of a large touchscreen display that fits inside even the smallest single DIN car stereo spaces. Particularly good for older cars, the Pioneer unit boasts pretty much everything you could possibly want in an infotainment system, yet fits where an old CD changer once resided.
The clear 6.8-inch screen is fast and responsive to touch, while the list of features is truly impressive: DAB+ Digital Radio, both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, as well as entertainment features such as Spotify, Bluetooth streaming, WebLink, FLAC file playback and much more.
Better still, it plays nicely with reversing cameras and easily hooks up with voice command functionality, so you can make and receive hands-free calls and get the most from your favoured in-phone voice assistant to control much of the in-car functionality.
Those with large apertures for an existing stereo or infotainment system might find the way it seemingly ‘floats’ in front of the dash a little disconcerting, especially those with car cabin OCD, but it is a superb piece of kit at the price and one that offers many modern features for a huge array of older vehicles.

JVC KW-M745DBT

Price: £399
Pros: The clean, button-less design looks smart
Cons: A lack of physical buttons might irk some owners
Screen size: 6.8-inches
Apple CarPlay & Android Auto: Yes
Radio: DAB & FM
Reversing camera compatible: Yes
Hands-free calls: Yes

The clean and simple 6.8-inch capacitive touch screen of this JVC model looks great when installed in any car and it packs all of the features you’d expect of an updated infotainment system. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay essentially opens up access to a number of apps housed in your smartphone, while the DAB+ tuner and Bluetooth compatibility mean you remain entertained, even when the phone isn’t physically plugged in.
Access to Android auto and Apple CarPlay also means the ability to enjoy hands-free phone calls via a tethered smartphone. Check with an installer whether your car already has the built-in microphones to make this work, otherwise it is inexpensive and easy to remedy.
The addition of two-phone pairing (so your passenger can take over DJ duties) and voice command recognition are additional niceties, but it is the lack of physical buttons that make this unit feel really clean. Just bear in mind you’ll need a decent sized hole in your existing dash to fit this one, as it requires a double DIN space.

Sony XAV-AX3005DB

Price: £399
Pros: A super-fast system and extra-large screen
Cons: Floating screen may not fit all vehicle types
Screen size: 6.95-inches
Apple CarPlay & Android Auto: Yes
Radio: DAB & FM
Reversing camera compatible: Yes
Hands-free calls: Yes

At a whopping seven-inches (or thereabouts), this Sony unit is perfect for those who want a fast, responsive and crystal-clear display to take pride of place in the middle of the dash. Granted, it is not the cleanest, nor the most handsome unit out there, as it does feature a couple of small and slightly fiddly physical buttons, but it packs Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, DAB+ radio and awesomely powerful amplification with 4 x 55W Dynamic Reality Amp 2 for clear and detailed sounds.
It’s also ridiculously fast, thanks to rapid processing speeds, and sports one of the fastest wake-up times on the list, although you will need to purchase the additional DAB antenna should you wish to make the most of that functionality, which is a bit cheap in our eyes.
That said, its slimline chassis takes a leaf out of Pioneer’s book and can be crammed into a single DIN cavity. Just make sure there is enough room in your car for the screen to hang down, as this model doesn’t ‘float’ above like the aforementioned Pioneer rival.

Alpine UTE-204DAB

Price: £160
Pros: Upgrades even the most basic radio systems
Cons: It still looks a bit basic
Screen size: N/A
Apple CarPlay & Android Auto: No
Radio: DAB & FM
Reversing camera compatible: No
Hands-free calls: Yes

It looks decidedly retro against the glamorous touch screens of other units featured here, but those with especially old vehicles (or those with a single DIN slot for a stereo) can easily overhaul their set-up on a reasonably tight budget.
DAB+ Radio beats FM and AM hands-down, while its ability to accept an iPhone or iPod makes enjoying stored or streamed content really easy. The USB slot also plays nice with Android phones, too, and a built-in microphone unit allows for clear phone conversations with the included Bluetooth hands-free function. You can even adjust the button and display illumination colour separately in the full RGB spectrum, to match your preference and dashboard.
It lacks the visual punch of a full touchscreen system but there will be many cars of a certain vintage that simply don’t have the space for such tech. This is a small, neat solution to pump your digital audio into a distinctly analogue vehicle.

Pioneer SPH-10BT

Price: £109
Pros: As close as you can get to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto without a big screen
Cons: It could be deemed as distracting
Screen size: Your phone
Apple CarPlay & Android Auto: No
Radio: DAB & FM
Reversing camera compatible: No
Hands-free calls: Yes

Who needs a big touchscreen when you can simply attach your smartphone? Of course, fiddling with your device on the move is illegal, so Pioneer offers four dedicated hard key buttons that are mapped to favourite apps, such as navigation and messaging.
This one-touch access to software (like Waze, Google Maps etc) makes it safer to use, while voice commands are arguably the best way to interact with the unit. Simply press a button and use your phone’s built-in voice assistant to compose a message or navigate to a destination.
It looks a lot sleeker than some of the more basic head units and, above all else, it’s a very affordable and clever way of achieving Bluetooth streaming, hands-free calls and neat phone charging on a slim budget… without the need to purchase a separate cradle to hold your phone.

Alpine iLX-F903D

Price: £700
Pros: The largest adjustable touchscreen on the list
Cons: It’s very expensive
Screen size: 9.0-inches
Apple CarPlay & Android Auto: Yes
Radio: DAB & FM
Reversing camera compatible: Yes
Hands-free calls: Yes

Go big or go home… or so they say. This is by far the largest screen on the list, with nine glorious inches of edge-to-edge display to prod and poke. It is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible, as you would expect for the lofty price tag, but goes beyond that with DAB+ digital radio, USB video playback (when stationary), Bluetooth hands-free and audio streaming and much more.
As a design piece, it’s a bold statement, but it only requires a single DIN cubbyhole to install. What’s more, the screen can be raised, lowered and titled, so it should fit into even the most awkward dashboards.
There’s also a hidden LED light strip that kicks out a white ambient glow during low-light situations, further increasing the visual footprint of the display, which in itself is quick to respond and boasts a number of hard keys to quickly change volume or access a voice assistant.

An automotive, moto and technology writer for over 12 years, Leon contributes to many of the largest magazines, newspapers and websites in the UK.

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