There are two main areas of consideration when you’re shopping for head units. First of all, you should make sure that the unit has the right type and number of connections to hook up all your other equipment. Secondly, you want to make sure it has the capability to play the music you want to play, whether that means built-in Pandora or Sirius XM capability or a USB input to hook up a smart phone or music player.
Below are our recommendations for the 4 best head units for sound quality (and after these reviews, we go into detail as to what you should look for in selecting your unit).
Pioneer makes high-quality equipment to fill all your car stereo needs, and their range of head units gives you all the features you need in a modern car receiver. It offers Bluetooth connectivity that lets you synch wireless music playback and hands-free convenience from your phone through your receiver—and you can synch two phones at once, a great option if your car has more than one driver.
The touchscreen interface also makes sound shaping easy, while the interface is both intuitive and easily customizable. The USB input and built-in Spotify, Pandora, and SirriusXM access give you even more music playback options, while the Advanced Sound Retriever makes even compressed files sound their best. This should be on anyone’s list of the best head unit brands.
Alpine CDE-HD149BT Single-Din
Alpine is the industry leader in the field of high performance car audio equipment. They’re the only company that focuses on integrating multimedia into audio systems and they deliver on that focus with their single-din head unit.
It has a user-friendly interface with built-in Bluetooth, HD radio, and USB connectivity, along with Pandora Internet radio controls and an App Direct Mode for easy use of other music programs. It also comes with a built-in four channel MOSFET amplifier to make sure your music sounds great, no matter where you play it from. Additionally, it comes with a range of sound customization features, including the Alpine Tunelt app and a nine band parametric EQ. This is easily among the best head units for sound quality.
JVC has a broad range of electronics in their catalog, from audio equipment to security systems and camcorders. This variety of products gives them a unique approach to mobile audio. Their AR959 head unit has the standard features, including Pandora and iHeart Radio control, both SiriusXM and standard AM/FM radio reception, Bluetooth streaming, and USB connectivity. It also has a five band EQ and a digital track expander to enhance the performance of compressed audio files, and comes with the JVC Smart Music Control app to give you gesture and voice command over your music performance. Bar none, this is one of the best head units for sound quality on the market.
If you’re looking for simplicity, BOSS receivers are the answer. This 622UA receiver unit sells for right around $70 and comes with four speakers—especially convenient if you’re looking to upgrade multiple aspects of your sound set-up at once, and a remarkable price for the quality of equipment you’ll be getting.
The receiver plays a variety of sound formats, including MP3 and WMA, and has a front-panel USB port for convenient connection of music playback devices. By eliminating the CD player and focusing on digital sound production, this BOSS receiver gives you a streamlined interface at an incredible value, while still providing EQ and sound-shaping capabilities. This is easily among the best head unit brands for the money.
The lower end of the frequency range is where you’ll hear the most difference between a high-quality and a sub-par receiver. Look for a head unit that has a dedicated output for your subwoofer and a low-pass filter. Even if you’re not going after a thumping, window-shaking bass, a low-pass filter will make sure that your bass sound is balanced and has good definition. Units that offer a subwoofer level control that let you adjust the relative volume of your subwoofer are also incredibly convenient for tweaking your tone.
The best head unit brands will offer you at least a three band EQ to further shape and adjust your tone. A head unit with a parametric equalizer will let you control the level, range, and primary frequency on each band of equalization, giving you the maximum possible control over your sound output. An audiophile would say these finer adjustments are necessary to getting the most out of your sound equipment, but for a less technical user simpler EQ functions (like those found on the BOSS above) will provide plenty of tone shaping capabilities in a simpler layout. For those who do want to make minute adjustments, both the Alpine (see full specs) and the Pioneer (see full specs) models above offer parametric EQ.
Every brand on this list has their own unique identity and offers different areas of expertise to the car audio consumer. If money is no object, Alpine’s consistent history of high-quality performance and their tight focus on car audio equipment makes them an excellent choice. Pioneer is another brand well-known for their quality, especially where speakers are concerned. JVC offers excellent connectivity and a unique range of features thanks to their company’s variety of products, which includes attention to the display and electronics that aren’t a main focus of other brands. For BOSS, value is the name of the game. Across their speakers, subwoofers, and receivers, they offer superior sound quality for their price range, out-playing equipment that sells for twice the price.
If you’re buying the head unit to go into an existing system, also consider the brands of your speakers, subwoofer, or amplifier. Though most equipment will play nice with other brands provided they’re all of the right power rating and impedance, you’ll likely find it easier to connect components from the same company. Components from the same company are inherently designed to work well together and also tend to be made with the same sound profile in mind. If you like the sound you get out of your Pioneer speakers, for example, then the best head unit for sound quality might also be a Pioneer product since it is likely to reinforce and emphasize those same characteristics.