The 4 Best Head Units for Sound Quality — Car Stereo Brand Reviews 2023

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Head units are often unlooked when upgrading your car sound system. You’ve likely already upgraded your speakers, installed a subwoofer, and invested in an amplifier. These are all necessary pieces of the puzzle but to really bring your sound to the next level you need to have a receiver that’s capable of bringing them all together and getting the most out of your overall system.

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 on the market:

Pioneer AVH-X2800BS Head 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.

Pioneer AVH-X2700BS / AVH-X2800BS Unboxing and Startup

Alpine CDE-HD149BT Single-Din Head Unit

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.

ALPINE CDE- HD149BT AM/FM tuner with built-in MOSFET amplifier

Sony DSXA415BT Digital Media Head Unit / Receiver

One of the great things about Sony equipment is that it gives you high quality for your money. That’s the case with this Digital Media Receiver, which combines modern connectivity touches with built-in amplification for clear, powerful sound. A voice control capability is foremost among this head unit’s high-tech touches. You can change the music, ask for directions, or call your friends straight through the receiver.

It can also communicate wirelessly via Bluetooth, expanding your options for sound playback and content. The only potential downside is that it doesn’t offer as many options for wired connections. Still, it’s impressive to find all of this is in a unit that’s budget-priced and doesn’t skimp on the signal processing or sound quality. Bar none, this is one of the best head units for sound quality on the market.

SONY - DSX-A415BT digital media receiver UNBOXING

BOSS 622UA Head Unit

If you’re looking for simplicity, BOSS receivers are the answer. This 622UA receiver unit 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.

Tone-Shaping Options of Head Units

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.

Head Unit Brand Comparison

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. Sony offers wireless connectivity, voice control, and other modern features at an affordable price. Their wider focus as a company allows them to bring these innovations to the field, though they don’t have the same tight focus on pure sound as 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.

  • Micah Johnson started playing music in high school, when he taught himself the bass to join his friend’s band. He added guitar and drums during his twenties playing in local clubs, and along the way, he picked up unique, hands-on experience from hand drums to studio mixers. On Song Simian, he aims to share this knowledge from 20+ years playing and recording music. When not in gearhead mode, he enjoys photography and travel.

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