Best Single Din Head Units to Upgrade Your Stereo

Best Single Din Head Units to Upgrade Your Stereo

Music can be the difference between an infuriating commute to work and a pleasant experience. The problem is that most older factory car stereos lack the modern amenities that we are all used to. Those older car head units are also built to be cheap, so they leave a lot to be desired in the audio quality department.

Fortunately, it’s relatively simple to upgrade your factory stereo, and people have been building custom sound systems since the first radio was installed in a vehicle. In this guide, we are going to look at single DIN head units. We’ll cover the basics and then look at 10 of the best head units on the market. After, we’ll take a closer look at head units in general and dispel some myths in an FAQ.

A Quick Guide to Single DIN Head Units

A head unit is the “face” of your sound system; it’s the part you interact with and the part that sends the signal to the speakers. A DIN is a specific unit of measurement invented by the Germans to standardize radio equipment in the early 1900s. Many cars, especially those manufactured before the 2000s, only have space for a single DIN head unit.

If you own an older vehicle and want to upgrade your sound system, a new single DIN head is the perfect first step. The following is a quick guide to get you set up with a new one fast.

Features

The biggest way head units differ is the type and number of features they offer. You will generally want to know what features are important to you and choose a head based on that alone. It doesn’t do much good to know that a stereo has a good bass response if it won’t play your cherished collection of Abba CDs.

Major Features to Look For

The following features are the ones that most people look for in a stereo. Very few head units will have all of them unless you want to pay a great deal of money, so it’s best to just keep in mind the ones that are most important to you.

  • CD/DVD Player: Many people don’t keep music on physical media anymore, which has led to many companies removing the CD drive from their head units. If you have a collection and still want that capability, it will limit your options.
  • Touchscreen: Touchscreens are somewhat rare on single DIN head units. Usually, they are limited to either the “floating” style or the “flip-out” style. We’ll talk more about screens below.
  • Apple Carplay and Android Auto: These apps, like touchscreens, are rare in the single DIN space. You can expect to pay a premium for them.
  • Preamp Outputs: Most amplifiers require low-level, or RCA, outputs for easy connection. Most head units will have at least a subwoofer output for a monoblock, but higher-end head units usually have more.
  • Other Inputs: HD/Satellite radio, AUX, USB, Video, and SD card inputs are other common inputs that people may want.

Features Found on All Modern Head Units

If you haven’t bought a stereo in a while or are used to older head units, you may not be familiar with some of the new standard features you’ll find on all head units. The following features are ones you will find on almost all head units on the market.

  • Bluetooth: It was once a luxury upgrade for a car stereo, but now Bluetooth connectivity is standard.
  • In-Car Calling: Like Bluetooth, this once hard to find feature is now standard. We’ll talk more about audio quality and call quality below here, but basically, every modern head will provide adequate call quality when properly installed.
  • AM/FM Radio: Even the cheapest heads still have an antenna hookup. Only some have digital receivers, though, so if HD radio is important to you, make sure to look for it.
  • USB Chargers: Most head units will have a USB port on the front for charging devices. Some will have the charger on the back with a cable you have to install.

Make Sure It Fits

When you install a new head unit, you will probably need an adapter kit for your specific make and model of car. The adapters can be found at any auto parts store or online store. The easiest way is to jump on Amazon and use the garage tool to quickly find a stereo install kit like this one for a 99 Firebird. Most cars, except much older ones, can be adapted for a single DIN stereo.

Just be aware that some head units extend above or below the installation space. Some cars have very cramped interiors, and a big touchscreen might interfere with things like AC controls or vents.

As we get into the reviews, keep in mind that these are the best single DIN units. If you have space for a double DIN unit, you should consider looking for double units instead. While you can adapt a double slot into a single, double DIN stereos are often a better value and offer a great variety of features. You can see our recommendations for touchscreen heads here that are mostly double DIN.

Single DIN Head Units Reviewed

Everything at a glance:

  1. You want a high-quality play-anything head unit from a trusted brand: Alpine CDE-172BT
  2. You want an inexpensive head unit that’s easy to use: Jensen MPR210
  3. You want a flip-out screen with Android Auto/Apple Car Play: Pioneer AVH-3400NEX
  4. You just want a cheap and simple head unit: Sound Storm ML41B
  5. You want something that will look right in your classic car: FyPlay Vintage Classic
  6. You want a huge screen and great audio: Sony XAV-AX8000
  7. You want an inexpensive flip-out screen: Regetek 7”
  8. You just want to stream high bitrate music from your phone: Pioneer MVH-S522BS
  9. You want a screen but are pressed for space: Power Acoustik PD-710B
  10. You want a fun, inexpensive, do-everything knock-off gadget: Camecho 4.1” TFT

Top 10 Single DIN Head Units 2021

1. Best Overall: Alpine CDE-172BT

Alpine CDE-172BT

Why we like it: Alpine is an industry leader in car audio, and this head unit is a great example of why. It does everything you could want, sounds amazing, and will fit in nearly any vehicle on earth.

Editor’s Rating:

Features

  • 6ch Low-Level Out
  • CD Player
  • Bluetooth
  • HD Radio
  • USB
  • AUX

What Sets It Apart?

There are a few things that make the Alpine a great choice. It’s one of the few modern head units that are both high-quality and come equipped with a CD drive, for starters. It also has six channels of RCA output, so you can use it as the face of a much larger audio system. The most important feature, though, may simply be the word “Alpine” on the case.

The Japanese audio companies tend to be the largest players in the car audio world. Alpine, Pioneer, and JVC are well known around the world for making high-quality components. Their head units are the best at replicating the true audio recording, they have the best bass response, and they will probably outlast your car.

This Alpine tops the list simply because it’s one of the most versatile single DIN head units you can get, in addition to being of excellent quality.

Our Take

The only reason to look elsewhere for a head unit is because you want something very specific. If you are on a budget, consider this Jensen instead. If you don’t need a CD player but still want excellent sound quality, this Pioneer will suit you just fine, or get this Pioneer if you really want a touchscreen as well.

For most people, though, this Alpine is the perfect upgrade. It can play music from almost any source, the quality is amazing, and people will nod with understanding and congratulate you if you say you installed an Alpine head.

Pros

  • Alpine is a trusted industry leader
  • Very good audio quality
  • 6 RCA outputs

Cons

  • CD players aren’t used much anymore
  • No touchscreen

2. Best Value: Jensen MPR210

Jensen MPR210

Why we like it: It’s easy to use, inexpensive, and works great. Enough said.

Editor’s Rating:

Features

  • Bluetooth
  • USB
  • AUX
  • Subwoofer Out

What Sets It Apart?

The value you get from the Jensen MPR210 is unparalleled. It’s very inexpensive, but it has a better build quality and usability than something truly cheap like the Sound Storm Labs head unit.

That makes the Jensen the perfect first step for someone that is just starting their car audio journey. It has an RCA output for a subwoofer, meaning you can start the upgrade process by buying a monoblock. It also has Bluetooth, so you can stream audio from your phone. It’s a basic, inexpensive upgrade for most older factory sound systems. Often, that’s all anyone really needs.

Our Take

One of the great things about our modern era is that electronics are cheap, varied, and compact. You can pretty much get a gadget to do any task on any budget and know that, with a few exceptions, it’ll work fine.

That does sometimes lead to a problem for reviewers like us since there are many very similar units that are all around the same price and the same functionality. We mention two: the Sound Storm Labs and the FyPlay units. There’s also the wildly popular Boss head unit here. We don’t review it, but Boss is very similar to Jensen as a company. They both are industry leaders in the budget audio world.

The Jensen MPR210 is just a bit better than its competitors in the single DIN space. It doesn’t have the audio quality that a Pioneer or Alpine head will have, but it will accurately play music streamed from your phone. It only has basic inputs and outputs, but it isn’t missing anything unlike some of the others at this price. The build quality isn’t amazing, but it doesn’t feel as cheap and ill-fitting as the Sound Storm. In short, it does what it advertises, and sometimes that’s more than you can ask for.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Decent build quality for the price
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • Sound quality could be better
  • Doesn’t have any advanced features

3. Best Premium: Pioneer AVH-3400NEX

Pioneer AVH-3400NEX

Why we like it: Pioneer makes great quality audio equipment, and this flip-out is no exception. If you want it all, but only have space for a single din receiver, the AV-3400NEX is what you buy.

Editor’s Rating:

Features

  • 6ch Low-Level Out
  • CD/DVD Player
  • Bluetooth
  • HD Radio
  • USB
  • AUX
  • 7” Touchscreen
  • Video In and Out
  • Apple Carplay
  • Android Auto

What Sets It Apart?

This Pioneer, along with the Sony we recommend here, is on a different level than the rest of the head units on our list. They both have features like Apple Carplay and Android Auto. They also both have great touchscreens, although the Sony screen is a bit larger.

What pushes the Pioneer into the premium slot is that the screen hides away when it’s not in use. We actually write at length about flip out heads here. The gist of it is that having a retractable screen offers a lot of the benefits that a larger head unit can offer and a lot of the benefits that a smaller single DIN head unit offers.

Our Take

The Pioneer AVH-3400NEX does everything you could want. It plays DVDs, it can send signals to an entire bank of amplifiers, and it has Pioneer’s legendary audio controls. The screen isn’t as large as the Sony we recommend, but it has a higher pixel count per inch and is easier to see in bright light. In short, if you don’t have room for a modern double DIN head unit but want one, you can get it all with this Pioneer.

You will need to pay for it, though. It’s an expensive unit, and it has a lot of features that you may not use. It has a CD/DVD player, for instance. It also has video outputs, just in case you want to wire in extra screens. There is just a lot of complication that the average person won’t use, and it can make the Regetek flip out a more appealing option.

This is one of the only units where you can use Apple Carplay and Android Auto, though, so if that’s really important to you, this is a great deal.

Pros

  • Apple Carplay and Android Auto
  • Very high-quality
  • Has a lot of inputs and outputs

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Somewhat complicated to utilize

4. Best Budget: Sound Storm ML41B

Sound Storm ML41B

Why we like it: You don’t want to spend a lot on a commuter or old beater car. You do want to be able to listen to Spotify from your phone. This Sound Storm head unit is the solution.

Editor’s Rating:

Features

  • Bluetooth
  • USB
  • AUX
  • Subwoofer Out
  • Remote Control

What Sets It Apart?

There is no sense in trying to point out anything other than the fact that this thing is very inexpensive. It plays music over Bluetooth and can play your favorite radio stations. It really doesn’t do anything else that’s worth noting; it is simply the most affordable way to get those features.

That makes it the perfect choice for anyone that just wants to add a way to play music from their phone to their beater or older daily driver.

Our Take

The Sound Storm Labs ML41B is very easy to criticize. It’s not high-quality. The sound quality is ok at best, and chances are good that you will get frustrated with the controls. That being said, it’s so cheap that it seems almost unfair to hold it to the same standards that we would hold an Alpine head unit to. If you want something that’s high-quality and will improve your music listening experience, then get the Alpine.

There are a lot of reasons to buy a cheap head unit, though. First of all, it is an upgrade if you don’t have an AUX port or Bluetooth, or a subwoofer output. Modern music collections are online or stored in media players, not on physical media. In order to listen to modern music collections, you need something like Bluetooth connectivity.

Second, sometimes things break. If you have an old car and the factory head breaks, you probably don’t want to spend a ton of money on a new factory head. Something like this SSL head is absolutely fine.

Pros

  • Very inexpensive
  • Has Bluetooth and AUX inputs
  • Has a subwoofer output

Cons

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

5. Best Looking: FyPlay Vintage Classic

FyPlay Vintage Classic

Why we like it: If you crave old school style as much as we do, it’s hard not to love this simple head unit.

Editor’s Rating:

Features

  • Bluetooth
  • USB
  • AUX
  • SD Card
  • Remote Control
  • Subwoofer Out

What Sets It Apart?

You are free to call us vain, but what really sets this head unit apart is that it’s a modern Bluetooth receiver that looks like it belongs in a car straight from the 70s. It has this chrome grill faceplate and two knobs, and it’s very reminiscent of the early AM/FM units that had the tune and volume dials separated.

The only thing that gives it away is the LEDs that light up the buttons and screen. If you are building a restomod on a budget and want to stream music from your phone as you drive, it’s a really great addition to your interior.

Our Take

If you take away the style, you are left with a simple head unit that’s on par with the Jensen or the Sound Storm units we recommend. It isn’t feature packed, and if you get up close to it, you can tell that there were corners cut to save on manufacturing cost. It does have some features that similarly inexpensive units don’t have, though, like a relatively high RMS rating.

That does mean it occupies a bit of an unusual space, though. Most restomods are very high-dollar builds simply because it costs a lot just to buy and own a classic car. So people who already have a lot of money into a custom interior will probably want something that is higher quality than this FyPlay unit, and the average budget-minded consumer probably doesn’t care much about the looks.

Still, there are people who build or upkeep older cars and like to keep things inexpensive and simple. People with old VWs come to mind instantly; this unit is perfect for dropping into a ‘68 Beetle.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Looks very classic
  • Relatively high wattage rating

Cons

  • Made of cheap materials
  • May look out of place on most modern vehicles

6. Best Touchscreen: Sony XAV-AX8000

Sony XAV-AX8000

Why we like it: There’s a lot to love about this head, including Android Auto, Apple Carplay, and the largest screen on our list.

Editor’s Rating:

Features

  • 6ch Low-Level Out
  • Bluetooth
  • HD Radio
  • USB
  • AUX
  • 9” Touchscreen
  • Video In and Out
  • Apple Carplay
  • Android Auto

What Sets It Apart?

Big screens are usually limited to the land of the double DIN stereos. Sony, though, decided to bring the giant floating screen to the single DIN community. At 9 inches, the screen on this Sony is the largest on our list. In fact, it’s bigger than a lot of modern infotainment systems, so you can comfortably watch in-flight movies streamed from your phone. Please do so when safe and not while driving down the highway, though.

The other features you aren’t likely to find with single DIN stereos are Apple Carplay and Android Auto. Sony brings those to single DIN cars as well. All of that combined makes this the perfect way to modernize an older vehicle, as long as it has enough room. That big screen does take up a lot of space.

Our Take

Sony is one of the most well-known electronics companies on earth, so it’s really no surprise that they’d also be dabbling in the car audio world. The XAV-AX8000 demonstrates what a tech giant like Sony can do, similar to how the Pioneer AVH-3400NEX demonstrates what a giant like Pioneer can do. Both offer a lot of features that are nearly unheard of in the single DIN scene.

The big difference is that the Pioneer has to unfold itself before you can use it. In contrast, the Sony is just there waiting to be used even before you turn the car on. They both have amazing audio quality and can both power any combination of amps or speakers you could want. You just have to decide if you like the fold-out screen more or if you would rather have more surface area displaying your GPS route.

Unfortunately, the Pioneer and the Sony share something else: their high price. That’s the biggest disadvantage of needing single DIN-sized equipment. You can find units, like this Sony, that can do everything. They just cost a lot more than their double DIN counterparts.

Pros

  • Large touchscreen
  • Apple Carplay and Android Auto
  • Excellent quality

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Takes up a lot of space

7. Best Inexpensive Flip-Out: Regetek 7 Inch

Regetek 7 Inch

Why we like it: This is simply the best flip-out you can get for the price. If you really want a big screen and are on a tight budget, it’s perfect.

Editor’s Rating:

Features

  • Bluetooth
  • USB
  • AUX
  • SD Card
  • 7” Touchscreen
  • Subwoofer Out
  • Remote Control
  • Video In and Out

What Sets It Apart?

It has a touchscreen, and the touchscreen retracts so that it keeps your dash clutter-free. That’s not really what sets it apart, though; after all, the Pioneer here also has a flip-out screen. This Regetek unit, though, is a really incredible value. It’s very inexpensive when compared to other single DINs that have a screen.

Regetek also has avoided the biggest issue that plagues cheap head units. Most cheap gadgets are more difficult to use than their name-brand competitors. They have quicks like hard to read menus or difficult to decipher manuals; take a look at the Camecho on our list if you want to see what that’s like. The Regetek head unit here manages to be easy to use, and even though it’s not perfect, it’s a lot better quality than many of the brandless knock-offs that are available.

Our Take

We said above that it avoids one of the most significant issues with cheap gadgets because it’s easy to use and understand. Unfortunately, you will definitely know it’s cheap when you use it. The plastic is a little flimsy, the screen resolution is low, and there is a learning curve to making calls. Pressing the button to start a call is easy enough, but finding out what volume you need to speak at and where to set the audio levels to hear the other end can be a bit of a challenge.

The rest of the stereo is on par with other inexpensive heads like the Jenson MPR210. Don’t expect it to blow the doors off or play the highest quality audio files, but if you are just streaming music over Bluetooth, you will be happy with it.

You can get better audio quality for about the same price, but that’s not why you would spend the money on the Regetek. You would buy this because it’s impossible to get a better deal if you want a functional touchscreen in your car that’s bigger than your cell phone.

Pros

  • Flip-out screen
  • Easy to use
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Screen resolution isn’t great
  • Feels cheap to the touch

8. Best Audio-Quality: Pioneer MVH-S522BS

Pioneer MVH-S522BS

Why we like it: Pioneer’s simple and elegant single din receiver here is the perfect head unit for people who just want to stream high-quality music and don’t need a bunch of flashy features.

Editor’s Rating:

Features

  • Bluetooth
  • USB
  • AUX
  • HD Radio
  • 6CH Low-Level Out

What Sets It Apart?

Pioneer is well known for being able to produce clear and accurate sound. If that’s all you want, then this thing is perfect because it doesn’t really do anything else. There’s no screen, there’s no CD player, there is no special remote control to let it light up like a rave. It plays music from Bluetooth, USB, and AUX, the end.

We are by no means saying that’s a bad thing. Simple can be really desirable, especially if you are trading complexity for quality and reliability. Most people won’t watch movies in their car on a tiny screen when they have their cellphones with them, and most people nowadays don’t use CDs for music. People who love audio, though, probably do have an extensive collection of high-quality sound files they want to listen to, and this Pioneer is perfect for that.

Our Take

Everything about this Pioneer is built for sound quality. It has a full complement of preamp outputs, making it easy to wire up a series of amps. It’s equipped with satellite radio and FLAC, and it has its own equalizer. If you are the type of person that has a collection of 320k MP3s because you can’t stand low-quality audio streaming, then this is for you.

The screen and controls honestly aren’t that great. We wish it had a few more dedicated buttons so that the menus were easier to navigate. As it is, you will do a lot of turning the volume dial to scroll through the settings. It’s not a huge issue; it’s just hard to find other things to criticize.

Chances are you are trying to decide between this Pioneer and the Alpine we recommend. They both are amp-ready, about the same price, and are made from high-quality components. We think the Pioneer looks better, but it doesn’t have as many features. You can’t go wrong with either.

Pros

  • Elegant design
  • High-quality
  • Has 6CH RCA

Cons

  • Interface is a little hard to navigate
  • Limited input options

9. Best Flip-Out Alternative: Power Acoustik PD-710B

Power Acoustik PD-710B

Why we like it: Unlike a lot of flip-out screens or stand-off screens that extend up, the Power Acoustic here has a screen that extends down. For some cars, it’s the perfect solution to fitment issues.

Editor’s Rating:

Features

  • Bluetooth
  • CD/DVD Player
  • USB
  • AUX
  • SD Card
  • 7” Touchscreen
  • Subwoofer Out
  • Video In and Out

What Sets It Apart?

No two manufacturers seem to want to put the radio in the same spot, and that can lead to a lot of fitment issues. Most flip-out screens, like the Regetek we recommend, extend up from the head. If your car has controls above the stereo slot or has a recessed stereo, then that flip-up screen won’t work for you.

That’s where this Power Acoustik unit comes in to save the day. The screen extends down instead. It’s not the best screen out there. In fact, other than the very cheap Camecho, all the screens on our list overshadow it. But if you really want a larger touchscreen, but don’t have room for a flip-out or floating screen, it’s a really great option.

Our Take

The Power Acoustik PD-710B is a really niche device, and it costs more as a result. A flip-out screen is the space-saving choice for most people. Anyone that doesn’t need to save space will probably gravitate towards a larger floating screen or will likely have room for a double DIN unit. Since the quality of the Power Acoustik isn’t particularly high, that means the unusual format is the only big selling point.

There are other advantages to the format beyond just fitment, though, and they are worth considering. Unlike a flip-out screen, there are no mechanisms that can break and leave you without an interface. It’s also faster than a flip-out; when you start the car, the system is instantly up and running without having to wait for the screen to extend.

In short, it’s a great option if you want a screen but don’t want a flip-out. Just don’t expect anything to be particularly amazing.

Pros

  • Screen extends down instead of flipping up
  • More durable than a flip-out
  • Interface loads quickly

Cons

  • Not as high-quality as similarly priced units
  • Screen isn’t particularly good

10. Cheap and Compact Touchscreen: Camecho 4.1” TFT

Camecho 4.1” TFT

Why we like it: You’ll need a good helping of patience to get it to do what you want, but the amount of stuff that this cheap gadget can do is incredible.

Editor’s Rating:

Features

  • Bluetooth
  • USB
  • AUX
  • SD Card
  • 1” Touchscreen
  • Video In and Out
  • Subwoofer Out
  • Remote Control
  • Included Backup Camera

What Sets It Apart?

It’s a tiny screen that can display a backup camera and fits completely within a single DIN space. That’s really unique; almost all single DIN units with a screen either have a big screen tacked onto the face or a screen that flips out of the device. It means that even the incredibly crowded dashboard of an older JDM car can have a modern touchscreen.

It also does a lot of neat things, especially for the price. It doesn’t cost much more than something like the Jensen MPR, but it supports FLAC and comes with a backup camera. It’s not an amazing backup camera or anything, but it does include one in the box.

Our Take

Unfortunately, as cool as it is, there are some serious issues with the Comecho here. It starts with their documentation. You will need to read the included documentation because the interface is confusing and difficult to navigate. All we can say is, “good luck.” With gems like “U dick Plug and see smooth and clear” you may be better off just mashing the buttons until you get the desired result.

At the end of the day, this head unit is just a tech toy. It’s something for people who like taking risks and can’t pass up knowing whether or not that knock-off watch is as good as the real thing. There’s always a chance that you get a bricked unit from the factory with these kinds of products or that you won’t be able to decipher the menus. It’s never going to be as high-quality as a cheap unit from a more reputable brand.

However, if you are willing to take the risk or love these kinds of cheap, too good to be true gadgets, you’ll have a lot of fun with the Camecho.

Pros

  • Has a tiny touchscreen
  • Comes with a backup camera
  • Very inexpensive for what it does

Cons

  • The documentation will drive you mad
  • The quality is suspect at best
  • It’s not easy to use

A Closer Look at Head Units


In this section, we will take a better look at some of the more complicated parts of car head units. To start, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding audio quality that we want to clear up.

The Truth About Audio Quality

When people talk about audio quality, they are usually referring to the device’s ability to accurately play the recording. If you hear a lot of distortion or are missing bass depth, then the quality is considered poor. The problem is that there are a lot of variables, and the head unit is actually a fairly small part of the equation. There are a few main things to keep in mind if you are looking for the best audio quality possible.

The Head Unit Is Only Part of the System

Even if the head is capable of producing a perfect audio signal, you won’t get a perfect sound. That’s because everything from the speaker size and type to the wire size directly influences audio quality.

One of the absolute best ways to improve your listening experience is to add a subwoofer. Most of the time, bass is what a factory system lacks, and it’s the reason almost all aftermarket head units have at least a single low-level output. You can check our list of inexpensive subwoofer options here.

The Source Is Important

If you just stream music from the internet over Spotify, chances are good that you won’t notice an improvement in quality between different aftermarket heads. That’s because the quality is actually coded into the digital files. To make music streamable, the quality is cut down to save on file size. That’s one area where CDs offer an advantage; the .wav format is uncompressed and therefore higher quality than an mp3.

You can stream at a higher bitrate if your internet connection is good, but if you really need the best audio quality available, it’s better to have a library of FLAC or 320k MP3s saved to your device. You can read more about source files here; it’s a very deep rabbit hole of information.

Power

In the audio world, there are two main power ratings. Maximum wattage, which is the maximum amount of power a system can produce, and RMS wattage. RMS wattage is a much more useful rating because it represents how much power you can reasonably expect day to day. There are no components that can run at max power for more than a few moments, so even though manufacturers will print it on the box because it’s a big number, it’s actually not a good metric.

Most factory head units are around 20w RMS, while most aftermarket head units are 40-60w RMS. That increase alone will give you a huge boost in tone. Basically, you will get distortion in the form of clipping when you approach the upper volume range. At 20w, that upper range is closer to normal listening volume than it would be on a more powerful system.

Build Quality Directly Translates to Audio Quality

The final thing to really understand when talking about audio quality is that, to an extent, you do get what you pay for. Cheaper components have room to move around or may overheat, and that leads to distortion. It’s why we recommend sticking to trusted brands like Alpine or Pioneer. They cost more, but the build quality is higher. Therefore the audio quality is also higher.

The thing you have to keep in mind, though, is that if you don’t have good wiring, power, or sources, then the audio quality of the head really doesn’t matter. That’s what makes inexpensive head units like the Jensen such a good value. The average person will not notice the difference between a cheap head and an expensive head if the only thing they replace is the head.

A Primer on Touchscreens

Touchscreens are just a part of modern life. They can be found on everything from cellphones to refrigerators, so naturally, they are very commonly found in cars. Modern cars often have them pre-installed in the form of an infotainment center, and they make a great upgrade to an older dashboard. There are just a few things to keep in mind if you are looking to make that upgrade.

Resolution

We are spoiled by modern cell phones that have absurdly high-definition screens, so it seems shocking that a high definition stereo screen might only have a resolution of 800×480. That’s all you really need for a crisp, accurate image, though, because of the pixel density. In fact, the pixel density on something like the Pioneer flip-out here is actually higher than a 31” 1080p TV.

Type

There are two main types of touchscreens on the market. Capacitive touchscreens work by sensing your finger. They are found on more expensive gadgets because they cost more to produce, but they are faster and cleaner than resistive touchscreens. Resistive touchscreens use pressure to register touch, and they are much slower and less accurate than capacitive.

Android Auto and Apple Carplay

These two apps are both very common in modern cars and require a touchscreen for use. Unfortunately, if you value the convenience of these apps, you will be paying more. This is especially true in the single DIN world.

FAQ

a retro-style head unit in a classic car

What’s the Best Single DIN Head Unit?

That depends on what you want from your head unit. We think the best general-purpose single DIN head unit is the Alpine CDE-172BT, but if you want a touchscreen, the Pioneer AVH-3400NEX is a better fit. If you love retro style and don’t need a CD player, check out the FyPlay Vintage Classic. The truth is you can’t really go wrong with anything we review.

Which Is Better, Single DIN or Double DIN?

It depends on how you define better. There are a lot more options, especially if you want a touchscreen, that are double DIN sized. However, many cars do not have space for a double DIN unit. It doesn’t matter if a double DIN is “better” if it won’t fit in your car.

Does a Head Unit Affect Sound Quality?

Yes, but they are not the most important thing that shapes the quality of sound. Your input source, amplification power, and speakers are just as or more important. In fact, installing a subwoofer like one of these we recommend would do far more to improve your audio quality than buying a new head unit.

Can I Put a Single DIN in a Double DIN Slot?

Some stereo install kits can convert a double DIN space into a single DIN space. There are also pockets like this one that take up a single DIN space and can be used to convert a double space into a single. However, there are a lot more options for double DIN sized head units, so the benefit of converting a double to a single is marginal.

Wrapping It Up

Whether you choose to embrace the retro style or go all-in on a beautiful screen, you will be happy ditching your factory sound system and installing a modern head unit. They have gotten so cheap and have tons of features compared to the head units even ten years ago. Just grab one from our guide that meets your feature wishlist and rock out.