The 10 Best Flip Out Head Units to Buy 2020

The 10 Best Flip Out Head Units to Buy 2020

We here at AutoQuarterly are big fans of telling you about how awful your factory sound system is. Whether we are laying out the amps you have to have or the speakers you should have bought already, there’s no end to the car audio upgrade journey.

That journey starts with the head unit; it’s the master control station for the rest of the components. Modern touch screen stereos are an entire home theater in a box. They turn your car into a total entertainment system. If you’re looking for a big screen in a compact package, a head unit with a flip-out screen is your best bet. Keep reading for our top picks.

The Ins and Outs of Flip Out Screens

Here’s the problem. A lot of older cars don’t have room for modern, double DIN stereo systems. Even some newer cars don’t. That sucks because the contemporary world is all about touchscreens, and touchscreens take up a lot of dash real estate. That’s where the flip-out head comes in. It’s got all the functions of a beautiful modern screen, where you can watch videos or control your playlists like a DJ, and none of the additional space requirements.

The Advantages of a Flip-Out Screen

There are a lot of touch screen stereos, so what makes a flip-out screen appealing? There aren’t nearly as many options, and they are more likely to break. It seems like you’d be better off just going for a big fixed screen. Well, hold on, there are a few big advantages to the flip-out design.

They Are More Compact

Flip-out screens are a feature of single DIN units. That means they are compatible with a lot more vehicles, especially older vehicles. If you don’t have enough space for a double-DIN setup, but you still want a big screen, your options are limited. You either get a “floating screen” style unit or the flip-out style.

The advantage that flip-out screens have over floating screens is that they can be retracted. On older cars or cars that weren’t designed to have a display, a screen can block other things like the a/c controls. It’s nice to just retract the screen, make your adjustments, then bring it back.

They Attract Less Attention

Not everyone wants the world to know that they have a nice stereo. When you retract the screen on a flip-out, it looks just like any old cheap head unit. That’s good if you are trying to keep the look of your interior simple. If you want your original 90s ride to still look period correct, flip outs are a great option.

It’s also good if you are worried about people with sticky fingers. Thieves are much less likely to notice a nice stereo if it doesn’t have a giant screen advertising that it’s a nice piece of equipment. Many single DIN units even feature removable faceplates for extra security.

Inputs and Outputs

Probably the most important feature when choosing any head unit is the input. A stereo is mighty useless if it won’t play the songs you want to listen to. The second most important feature is output. If you have an amp driving a monster sub so you can shake the world, and you buy a head unit with no sub outputs, well, that’d be bad.

If you want to know more about inputs and outputs, head down to our complete buyer’s guide.

Common Inputs

  1. Bluetooth
  2. AM/FM Radio
  3. HD Radio
  4. AUX In
  5. USB
  6. Backup Camera
  7. RCA

Common Outputs

  1. High-level, your standard speaker wires
  2. Low-level/RCA, your preamp outputs for an amplifier
  3. Sub, a dedicated output for a subwoofer
  4. Video
  5. USB for charging

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay

If you use a cell phone, it’s probably an Android or Apple product. Each OS has its own dedicated car system for using apps, listening to music, and making calls while in motion. It’s uncommon to find these features in flip-out units. If you really value these apps, be prepared to shell out the money for units like the Pioneer 3400 head unit we recommend.

Quality

When we talk about quality concerning stereos, there are two main categories: sound quality and build quality. Sound quality is all about clarity of the audio and the amount of power you can get from the head unit. Build quality is pretty straightforward. How well do the buttons work, how fast it boots up, how many times can the screen retract before the hinges break, etc.

As a rule, you have to pay for quality. That also means sticking to bigger brands is a good idea if you want a reliable, good sounding unit. Unfortunately, many big brands, like JVC and Alpine, just don’t make flip-out options. All is not lost, though; we have a great range of quality and cost in the recommendation section.

The Little Things

Most of the major players all have the inputs and outputs you could want. To narrow down the best unit for your car, you have to look at the minor quality of life features. Things like: style, screen resolution, screen type, color, DVD/CD formats, USB charging, etc. Most of these things are secondary to function. If it doesn’t have the input you want, it doesn’t matter how good it looks.

There are a couple of little things that are worthy of a closer look. Steering wheel inputs are important if you have steering wheel controls and want to keep them. Equalizers are great for balancing your sound levels. Color-changing faceplates and background can help you add style to your dashboard.

There’s a lot of junk on the market, but we combed through everything and found ten great options for you.

Top 10 Best Flip Out Head Units 2020

1. Best Overall Flip-Out Head Unit: BOSS BV9979B

BOSS BV9979B

Why we like it: BOSS nailed it with the perfect balance between a great price and a high number of functions without sacrificing build quality.

Editor’s Rating:

At A Glance:

  • Preamp outputs
  • Aux, USB, SD, and Bluetooth inputs
  • Video output for extra screens
  • Equalizer
  • Remote control

Reasons to Buy

BOSS is a big name in the car audio world. If you check any of our articles on amps or speakers, you’ll see them come up. Usually, though, they never take the top spot. They are so well known for just being good enough. The price is right, but they never quite overcome the drawbacks of the sacrificed features to get that price.

The BV9989B is one of the exceptions. It’s not the highest quality, the Pioneer on this list easily eclipses it in that category. It isn’t the least expensive, that’d be the Regetek.

What it is is the perfect balance between them all. You get all the features that a high-end unit offers, like subwoofer outputs and video inputs. You get an easy to use touch screen that won’t snap off if you accidentally set your drink on it. It can even change color to match your interior.

It also has some great features that are rare on even the more expensive units. It has steering wheel inputs on the back, too. If you have steering wheel controls, it’s as simple as plugging in the right wires. It has automatic backup camera functionality and A/V inputs to hook up external players. If you ever wanted to pull up to a meet and chill out playing the original Forza on your dash, the BOSS gives you all the hookups.

Reasons to Pick Something Else

Even with all the praise we give the BOSS for its features, we can’t ignore a few issues that might cause you to look at other units. It has some minor inconveniences. The screen is not as high def as others, especially not compared to the Jensen down the list.

It’s also a bit slow. It’s not unusable or anything, but we live in a world where the average cell phone puts the computers of 10 years ago to shame. You will notice that the BOSS just takes a little while longer to do things like start and switch modes.

If you are an audiophile, though, the biggest problem you’ll have is sound quality. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t make the claimed 85-watts. It’s got low-level outputs, so it’s totally ready to be plugged into an amp. It just isn’t as powerful as most of the other options on the list.

It also doesn’t have the construction quality to produce ultra-clear sound, you will get distortion at higher volumes. Again, if you want better sound from this unit, run an amp. It’s basically begging for it.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • A lot of output options
  • The screen has good feedback and resolution
  • Lots of input options

Cons

  • Sound quality could be better
  • Load times can be slow, especially when switching inputs

2. Best Premium Flip-Out Head Unit: Pioneer AVH-3400

Pioneer AVH-3400

Why we like it: The Pioneer AVH-3400 is one of the best sounding flip-out head units you can buy. It also comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Editor’s Rating:

At A Glance:

  • RCA outputs
  • Automatic and preset equalizer
  • Bluetooth
  • Full display customization
  • HD Radio ready
  • Pandora and Spotify ready
  • Android and Apple compatible

Reasons to Buy

When you travel around audio circles and see Pioneer, you know two things: the sound is going to be amazing, and it’s going to be expensive. The AVH-3400 is no exception.

It supports everything. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto? Yup. Satellite radio? Yup. Pandora and Spotify? They are installed on the unit, and you can run them off a WiFi signal without a cell phone present. It works with Siri, it has voice command calling, and you can plug any device into it.

The biggest reason to get the AV-3400 is quality. It is hands down the best sounding head unit on this list. It’s also the most well built. Pioneer wouldn’t put their name on it if it wasn’t.

Reasons to Pick Something Else

There are a few nitpicky things. The menus can be a little hard to navigate. There’s a lot of features, and some of them are buried under layers of menus. Also, it is a bit hard to use with the screen closed. If that seems like a really minor complaint, that is because it is. It’s hard to criticize such a nice stereo head unit. The only way to get better options is to leave the single-din world behind.

Except for the most significant drawback that the Pioneer has, that is. You could buy 4 BOSS units for the same price. Now, we are not saying that the audio and build quality isn’t worth it. If sound is your passion, there’s no reason to compromise. It just hurts to see the number.

Pros

  • Amazing quality
  • Apple Car Play and Android Auto read
  • Full range of inputs, including HD radio
  • Full range of outputs

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Buttons are hard to press when the screen is closed

3. Best Budget Flip Out-Head Unit: Regetek 7”

Regetek 7”

Why we like it: The Regetek is a perfectly acceptable head unit with an ok screen that is less than $100.

Editor’s Rating:

At A Glance:

  • Bluetooth
  • USB Fast Charger
  • No CD/DVD player
  • Subwoofer output

Reasons to Buy

Let’s start with the best part about the Regetek: it’s cheap. We are talking less than half the price of most things on this list cheap. It’s also simple. Really simple. Once you pair your phone with it, that’s pretty much the end of the interactions. Your phone will be doing all the hard work.

Despite being cheap, the Regetek has some really neat features. It’s ready to accept a backup camera, and you can hook up additional screens. The screen resolution is actually one of the highest on this list, boasting full HD. It’s not, but it still has a nice screen for the price. See our note here on resolutions.

The audio quality is fine too. It’s not top tier, and you can’t play CDs, but unlike a lot of other units, it accepts FLAC as an audio format. Honestly, the Regetek really represents how far cheap gadgets have come over the last decade. It’s a generic, cheap head unit, but it can do most of the things that the big players can do.

Reasons to Pick Something Else

When you think of sacrifices to make in order to cut costs, a lot of things come to mind. Regetek chose as many of them as they could, and it shows. The screen is low resolution, there are no apps, and you have to pull out the screen manually. That last one is a little insane and might be a deal-breaker. It just can’t do very much, especially not compared to other budget units like the BOSS or the Power Acoustik.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Supports FLAC
  • Has reverse camera input

Cons

  • Very low on features
  • Screen has to be pulled out manually

4. Best Easy To Use Flip-Out Head Unit: Power Acoustik PID-8920B

Power Acoustik PID-8920B

Why we like it: The Power Acoustic has big friendly icons and a great, easy to use interface.

Editor’s Rating:

At A Glance:

  • Bluetooth
  • Subwoofer outputs
  • Backup camera inputs
  • USB, SD, and Aux inputs

Reasons to Buy

It’s hard not to compare the Power Acoustik directly to the BOSS. They occupy the same price point, have similar features, and look very similar. When you compare them, it becomes obvious why the BOSS deserved a top spot, but the Power Acoustik doesn’t. There isn’t much that the Power Acoustik does better.

It does shine through in a few areas. It’s easier to use than the BOSS. BOSS has a bit of a habit of over-simplifying their menus to the point of frustration. In contrast, the Power Acoustic has big friendly icons and straightforward settings. Part of the reason the Power Acoustic is easier to use is that it’s much simpler. That’s a good thing if you just want to listen to your music and not fiddle with anything. If you never touch the bass EQ on your current unit and want to upgrade to a CD/DVD player with a screen, then the PID is an excellent purchase.

Power Acoustik is a brand carried by a lot of companies, used by a lot of people, and very well documented online. That’s often the deciding factor when it comes to these picking a head unit. A more popular unit is just less likely to cause you trouble, and don’t you have enough trouble in your life?

Reasons to Pick Something Else

Like we said above, there isn’t much that the Power Acoustic does better than the BOSS. It only has bass preamp outputs, not the full range. It doesn’t have steering inputs, and it doesn’t have BOSS’s online support.

The biggest reason to shy away from this unit is the simplicity we mentioned above. If you like simple, then it’s not an issue. If you want control over your sound profiles, though, then you are out of luck. This is the only flip-out head on this list without an equalizer.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Very easy to use
  • The software is very clean and nice-looking

Cons

  • Low on input and output options
  • No equalizer

5. Best Looking Flip-Out Head Unit: Pyle In Dash 7”

Pyle In Dash 7”

Why we like it: It’s a very good looking device that delivers a good amount of power.

Editor’s Rating:

At A Glance:

  • Bluetooth
  • Smart device compatibility
  • High powered for a head unit
  • RCA outputs
  • Backup camera support
  • HD radio capable

Reasons to Buy

The first thing that stands out about this in-dash entertainment system is that it looks great. Even with the screen tucked away, it’s got a modern, carbon-fiber finish. It’s also got all the right features: low-level outputs, backup camera support, sound profile settings, etc. You won’t be left wanting.

The other thing you will really enjoy about the Pyle is the screen. It’s a little old school nowadays, but they put a lot of effort into the full-color display. Don’t be fooled; they claim “HD” but there’s actually nothing on this list with a true HD display, except for maybe the Pioneer here that uses your own phone as the screen. We wrote about that down the page. What it does have is a really nice screen driver that allows for a ton of color and sharpness.

You can also change the face colors and the screen backgrounds, so it fits your dash theme. Like we said, this is a good looking unit no matter how you slice it. If you have trouble deciding between a few different options, that style might be enough to sway you.

Reasons to Pick Something Else

It costs too much for what it is. At the risk of being too blunt, the reason it doesn’t rank higher is because of the price. Yes, it does everything you can want, and it has good quality, but so does the BOSS.The BOSS costs a lot less, though.

The Pyle can also be a bit frustrating. The Bluetooth isn’t as advanced as other options, especially not the Jensen on our list. That leads to annoying things like having to reconnect every time you power the unit on. Having a picky Bluetooth system wouldn’t be a deal-breaker if not for the fact that you will really be relying on it. It doesn’t have very many inputs. There’s no SD slot or RCA input, so you will really need that Bluetooth for modern audio streaming.

Pros

  • Good looking
  • Good audio quality
  • High powered

Cons

  • Bluetooth can be picky
  • Expensive for the quality

6. Best Alternative Budget Flip-Out Unit: Sound Storm Labs SD726

Sound Storm Labs SD726

Why we like it: The Sound Storm is a budget option with a CD/DVD player and good audio control.

Editor’s Rating:

At A Glance:

  • Bluetooth
  • SD, USB, and Aux inputs
  • Backup camera compatibility
  • Steering wheel control
  • Full preamp outputs

Reasons to Buy

If you saw the price and features of the Regetek, but couldn’t stand the idea of not having a CD/DVD player, then the Sound Storm is perfect. In addition to the CD/DVD player, Sound Storm also gives you a full set of low-level outputs to hook it straight into your amplifiers.

It’s also a good unit if you want something that looks way more expensive than it is. Unlike a lot of the straight from China, brand swappable units all over the internet, the Sound Storm has bold logos and bright lights. The screen is nice enough, and the software is a bit more polished than the generic Android-based systems that you find when you go too cheap.

Reasons to Pick Something Else

The SSL will do what you need if you want a basic unit with an ok screen that doesn’t cost very much. If that’s what you are looking for, stop reading and buy it. You’ll be fine.

What you really can’t expect from it is good quality. The audio signal isn’t noise-free, so you will get distortion at higher volumes. It’s built to be cheap, too, so the buttons and knobs feel cheap. The screen wobbles sometimes and isn’t as sturdy as you probably want it to be. In short, the whole thing feels cheap because it is. We hate to keep repping the BOSS, but if you want just a bit more quality, spend a bit more and get the BOSS.

It does have a 3-year warranty. Even if it feels cheap, you can at least rest easy knowing that it’s simple to replace if it does break.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • low-level outputs
  • 3-year warranty

Cons

  • Build quality isn’t great
  • Audio quality isn’t great either

7. Best Bluetooth Focused Flip-Out Unit: Jensen CMR3710

Jensen CMR3710

Why we like it: The Jensen has no CD/DVD player and no extra inputs. It focuses on being a Bluetooth powerhouse.

Editor’s Rating:

At A Glance:

  • Bluetooth
  • Backup camera compatible
  • Preamp outputs
  • Robust equalizer

Reasons to Buy

The Jensen CMR3710 is a solid unit with good audio quality. It compares most easily to the Regetek. They both don’t have a CD/DVD player, and they both focus on Bluetooth. The Jensen is just a higher quality option. It’s built better and has better audio quality. The screen is nicer, the outputs have less noise, and it’s better suited for running amplifiers.

The Bluetooth is excellent. It’s just a bit easier to use than everything else, has a bigger range, and the software controls on the screen are really well done. It’s effortless to make calls. This is probably the only unit that rivals apps like CarPlay and Android Auto in terms of phone controls.

Finally, the audio quality is really good for the price. It’s not Pioneer good, but it’s better than the BOSS. That’s helped by the fact that the Jensen has an 8-band EQ and a 6-channel low-level output. If you are running amplifiers, the Jensen is ready.

Reasons to Pick Something Else

The first thing is a little bit of a strange one. Jensen is a good company that used to be well known for its great audio components. In fact, if you bought a new Jeep in the 80s or early 90s, it would have a Jensen stereo system. Since the early 90s, though, they have been bought and sold a lot. Most recently, they became a subsidiary of Dual, who is BOSS’s biggest competitor.

That’s a lot of exposition all to say that it can be hard to find support for Jensen units nowadays, and their quality control is not as good as it once was. They have online support that will replace units that break, but don’t expect to troubleshoot an issue with customer service, and don’t expect your friends to know what the heck it is.

Also, the parking brake safety feature can make you want to hit things. It has a wire that needs to be connected to a parking brake switch so that it locks you out of some features while you are driving. That’s not unusual; almost every head unit does that. The Jensen is just a little bit draconian about it. You’ll be searching for a way to disable it after about a week of using it.

Pros

  • Very nice screen
  • Good software
  • Bluetooth works great

Cons

  • Jensen does not have very much support
  • Parking brake safety feature can be picky

8. Best Cheap Total Package: CarThree Single DIN Touch Screen with Backup Camera

CarThree Single DIN Touch Screen with Backup Camera

Why we like it: This super cheap unit comes with a backup camera.

Editor’s Rating:

At A Glance:

  • Bluetooth
  • Backup camera included
  • A/V inputs
  • USB and Aux input
  • Subwoofer output

Reasons to Buy

The CarThree 7 inch has a surprisingly good screen for such an inexpensive option. I mean, sure, you have to push the screen in manually just like the Regetek, but it looks good for being so cheap. Cheap is the operative word. The whole box with the camera and the unit is less than everything else on the list.

That’s really all there is to it. It’s super cheap, plays music, and includes a backup camera in the box. Enough said.

Reasons to Pick Something Else

On some level, every person knows what they are getting into when they buy a cheap piece of generic tech. The quality might be exceptional, but it also might be garbage. It depends on the day. The software will be slow, the audio quality will be meh, and there will be strange little problems here and there. If you are in a hurry to watch the 2 Fast 2 Furious in your car while waiting for a mocha frappe, don’t rely on this unit.

This head unit is a fine choice for bargain hunters looking for a lot of features at an impossibly low price. Just know what you are getting into. It’s not meant to be high quality. It’s meant to be cheap. Spend the extra on the BOSS if you want everything to be easy, or shell out big money for the Pioneer.

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Includes a backup camera
  • Has a decent screen

Cons

  • Cheap
  • Limited customer support

9. Best Ultra-Compact Head Unit: Pioneer SPH10BT

Pioneer SPH10BT

Why we like it: It uses your phone as the screen, meaning it’s likely the highest quality, most feature-rich screen on the list.

Editor’s Rating:

At A Glance:

  • No CD, Aux, or SD input
  • Bluetooth
  • Fast charge USB port
  • Pop-out phone cradle

Reasons to Buy

This is another Pioneer for the list, but it’s totally different from the audio behemoth above. First of all, it’s ¼ the price. Second, it’s incredibly, incredibly simple. It’s a box with 6 buttons. That’s it. It doesn’t even have a screen. That might make it a weird thing to include on this list, but let us explain.

Instead of a screen, it has a retractable cradle for your phone. It turns the phone you already have into the ultimate audio head unit using Bluetooth. If you have a modern cell phone, that means this little unit actually has the best resolution and processing power on the list.

Since it’s Pioneer, you know the sound quality and build quality is solid. It automatically syncs with your phone. The buttons on the front of the device can control your phone, and it comes with special software that makes it easier to use your phone as a DJ station. If you don’t care about any features and just want to Bluetooth in and listen to your tunes, here you go.

Reasons to Pick Something Else

It’s got no screen, for one thing. On a list of head units that have screens, it’s sort of an issue that it doesn’t have one. If you don’t want to use your cellphone as a central component of your car’s audio system, then get the Jensen instead. It’s got great Bluetooth capabilities and actually has a screen.

It’s also, somewhat surprisingly, not very good if you want to run a bunch of amps. You’d think Pioneer would make a product that worked well for audio nuts, but they really strived to keep the SPH simple and friendly. They sacrificed a lot of inputs and outputs to do that. If you have your heart set on driving a ton of amplifiers to get the best audio quality possible, then we are sorry. You’ll be spending the money on the other Pioneer above.

Pros

  • Ultra-simple to use
  • Good audio quality
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • No built-in screen
  • No low-level outputs

10. Best Single DIN Flip-Out Alternative: Camecho Single DIN Car Stereo

Camecho Single DIN Car Stereo

Why we like it: The Camecho is a bit of an insane pick. It’s a single DIN unit with a backup camera, but the screen is in the face rather than a fold-out.

Editor’s Rating:

At A Glance:

  • Bluetooth
  • USB, Micro SD, and Aux inputs
  • Backup camera included
  • Ultra-compact

Reasons to Buy

We talked about the pros and cons of generic electronics when we broke down the CarThree. This has all the same ideas. In fact, as if to drive home the point, it uses the same remote and backup camera as the CarThree despite calling itself a Comecho.

What makes the Camecho really interesting is that it has all the advantages of a single DIN flip-out screen. It’s compact, has a screen that doesn’t interfere with anything, and adds modern features to older cars. The difference is that it doesn’t have a flip-out screen. It just has a tiny screen built into the front.

The lack of a flip-out screen makes this thing cheap. Like really, really cheap. You could buy two of these for the price of the already very reasonable Regetek.

Reasons to Pick Something Else

Take everything bad we said about the CarThree and amplify it. It’s harder to use and even harder to figure out. It’s got a ton of unlabeled buttons, and some of the menus have poor English. You’ll spend a lot of time just trying things out. This isn’t a unit for someone that just wants something that works. If that’s all you want, get the BOSS, like we keep saying.

The screen is also tiny. That’s the big downside to the lack of a flip-out. Yeah, it’s a single DIN with a screen, but you’ll have to push your face into it to tell what’s going on. That’s not conducive to safe driving.

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Includes a backup camera
  • Ultra-compact

Cons

  • Terrible documentation
  • Screen is tiny

All About Head Units


We gave a brief overview in the beginning, but there’s where it gets complicated. Audio components are a mess of numbers and acronyms. Unless you have experience with them, it can get very confusing quickly, so we wrote this section to decode and demystify all the jargon.

Inputs

To say that audio formats have evolved over the last couple of decades would be the understatement of the year. Car audio went from tapes, to CDs, to DVDs, to ⅛” auxiliary, to Bluetooth, and finally to dedicated car apps in a blink.

Nowadays, the average head unit has to cover so many bases it can be hard to keep track of what it can and can’t do. It can be even harder to know what format you want and which ones you don’t need, and whether you should adapt to a head unit or buy one that suits you. Let’s take a second to break down the more popular inputs.

Radio

AM/FM radio has been around since the late 1800s and is still used today to transmit music and information. It probably won’t be going anywhere since it’s still the primary way to find information on roads and emergency situations.

A common antenna is all you need to receive AM/FM radio. HD radio is a much newer invention. It’s usually transmitted from satellites, and you do need a special antenna. You also need to pay for a subscription. It works around the world. If you regularly drive to areas that don’t have cell connectivity and are remote enough that radio doesn’t reach you, you can still get satellite.

CD/DVD

The oldest technology you’ll find in modern head units are CD/DVD players. Physical media has been on its way out for a while, and we are starting to see companies offer models without them altogether. Budget units especially, like the Regetek we recommend, choose to cut costs and complexity by removing the CD/DVD drive.

That has a couple benefits. First, a unit with a CD/DVD drive must be at least as big as a CD/DVD, whereas one without can be smaller. Second, the engineers can dedicate more power and processing to Bluetooth, which is honestly what most people care about nowadays.

USB/SD

USB, and SD card, inputs occupy a weird space in audio. They were meant to be the evolution of CDs and DVDs as physical media. They were competing with other forms of media that didn’t require a physical device, though. They never became very popular.

However, if you want to store a lot of ultra high-quality music files, like a library of FLAC, or a lot of movies, then a USB drive can be nice. It can also be helpful if your phone is dead since a card or USB drive works without extra power. Most people will simply use the USB on a head unit to charge their phone, though.

AUX

It’s easiest to think of AUX inputs the same way you think of wired earbuds or headphones. The head unit and much larger car speakers simply take the place of the much smaller speakers in earbuds. That means any device you can use earbuds for, you can use to play music through your car.

You will need to get an aux audio cable that fits the device and the head unit. Usually, both sides are ⅛”, but sometimes phones have micro ports or don’t have a headphone jack at all.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth is a form of wireless communication between devices. If you are using the internet, then chances are you have a Bluetooth device somewhere nearby. That’s why it makes so much sense that car audio began to focus on Bluetooth. You can load music files on your phone or stream music straight to the head unit without wires getting in your way.
android auto being used with bluetooth to a car stereo

Android Auto/Apple CarPlay

The newest players on the list are dedicated programs that integrate seamlessly with a cell phone. Unfortunately, it’s pretty rare in the flip-out scene. The only one we recommend is the Pioneer AVH-3400.

Built-In Apps

Some head units, like our premium pick, have apps and services pre-installed onto them. Pandora radio and Spotify are the two most common, but other streaming services or brand-specific programs pop up from time to time. It’s nice if you can get WiFi or cell service where you are, but they don’t tend to be as convenient as phone driven services.

A/V Inputs

Extra audio and video inputs, usually “component” or RCA inputs, can allow you to do cool things like run a video game console or backup camera.

Outputs

Outputs are less varied than inputs, but they are still an important thing to consider. The biggest consideration surrounds the rest of your audio system. If you want to run dedicated amps or high-quality speakers, you will need to make sure that the head unit has the right outputs and power ratings.

High-level vs. Low-level

High-level outputs are just your standard speaker outputs. It’s a thin wire that connects directly to a speaker. It’s also how a factory sound system hooks everything together. If you don’t want to change anything, then it’s fine to just have speaker level outputs. All head units have high-level outputs, even the CarThree piece of… fine audio tech.

Low Level, also called preamp or RCA, are for connecting your head unit directly to an amplifier. Many amplifiers don’t have high-level inputs. That makes it super important to make sure that a unit has low-level outputs if you want to drive big subs or get loud. The BOSS we recommend has front, rear, and low-level subwoofer outputs, covering all your bases.

Most aftermarket head units will have low-level outputs for a monoblock amp to power a subwoofer at the very least. The budget-friendly Regetek has high-level outputs and a dedicated subwoofer low-level output, for instance. That’s a great compromise between amping an entire system and losing out on that sweet bass.

Wattage

Whenever anyone talks about watts, it’s essential to make the distinction between RMS and peak power. Peak wattage is not a very useful measurement, it’s just a big number that advertisers like to put on the box. The problem is that peak only represents what the amp or head unit can do for a very short time.

The unit wouldn’t even last one song sustaining that level, no matter what the box says. The BOSS we recommend up there likes to claim 85-watts on the box, but the actual output is lower because 85 is just the peak.

RMS is the average power level that an amp can sustain. Most head units don’t produce very much power on their own. That saves you the trouble of having to match speakers to the power rating. Most factory speakers and entry-level aftermarket speakers are simply in the range of the average head unit.

The minute you start looking into the world of amplifiers, it becomes important to match wattages. Here’s a great article from elsewhere online that breaks it down. They mostly talk home theater audio there, but the concepts are identical.

Video

Since a car has to be an entire entertainment system nowadays, it makes sense that modern head units can control audio and video. That way, if you put in a DVD, or stream Netflix, you can use the head unit to power a bigger screen in addition to the tiny one they come with. Many companies make headrest or flip-down screens that can be used to entertain passengers. It’s important to look for video out if you want to make your car a theater. Generally, any “do all” head unit will have RCA out, like the BOSS we pretty much constantly refer to.

A Primer on Screens

Screen specifications come in two main flavors: the type and the resolution. The type is easy enough. There aren’t very many different types, and with modern technology, you likely won’t notice any differences unless you have them side by side.

It does get confusing since manufacturers like to name their screens in a way that sounds good. That can mean that two different makers will call the same type of screen different things. Tom’s hardware has a rundown on them here, if you are curious.

It’s honestly best to not worry about it very much. You aren’t buying a flip-out screen to get an amazing screen. If you really want the best quality video, get a floating screen or double DIN unit. Resolution is another matter, though. The higher the pixel density, the better the image will look.

Resolution

Screens can get confusing since, just like with wattage, manufacturers like to give you the best sounding numbers. Those numbers aren’t usually the most useful, though. The Jensen on our list boasts a meager 800×480 resolution on the box, and the letters HD don’t even appear. The Pyle, however, has the amazing 1440×234 display as high definition. You might be inclined to think that the Pyle is the clear victor here, right?

Except if you do some quick math, the Jensen has 384k pixels. Compare that to the Pyle’s 336k, and the Jensen has higher pixel density. The image will be sharper and look better on the Jensen. That doesn’t make the Pyle bad. It’s still a good looking screen. Just be aware that it’s never as simple as what the marketing department wants you to think.

Something to keep in mind is that no matter what, you aren’t getting an amazing screen. That just isn’t an option in flip outs, they have to be lightweight and low powered. It’s tough because your average cell phone has incredible resolution by comparison.

An iPhone XR has a resolution of 1792×828. That’s over 1.4 million pixels, several times more than even the best flip-out. It’s why we weren’t just being cheeky when we said the Pioneer SPH that uses your cell phone as a screen is probably the best looking screen on any unit.

Upgrade Your Factory Head Unit ASAP

No matter what, even if you grab the funky error-riddled Camecho, you are getting a big upgrade on the average factory single DIN system. So don’t worry too much about choosing the perfect head. Go with your gut; select the one that speaks to you after making sure it has the inputs and outputs you want.

You have the power to turn your commute into a zen experience after splicing in some wires. Maybe get in a few episodes of your favorite baking show during your lunch break. You do you. Just do you with better audio than the average old stereo.