A car ride without audio is like a bee without honey, a dog without a bone, peanut butter without jelly; it’s just not as nice as it could be. There’s little better than flying down the highway with your windows open and your tunes pumping, except maybe taking a nice and leisurely drive around a mountainside listening to the voices of your favorite podcasters or the words of your favorite author. Vehicles and their ability to produce soundtracks through the best single DIN head unit are in fact so linked that media theorist Marshall McLuhan has pointed out people actually turn down their radios to better read passing street signs.
But what if your auto audio setup has burned out? Or it won’t interface with your fancy smartphone? Or you simply can’t hear your songs over the whip of the wind or the distortion of your speakers? Well, it might be time for a new head unit, the heartbeat of the car audio system. If you’ve found yourself in need of better audio in your commute, this list is for you. After extensive research, we’re comparing the pros and cons of the best single DIN head units on the market today.
Best Single DIN Head Unit FAQs
1. What Is a Head Unit?
The head unit is the central piece of the car audio system. All the speakers throughout the vehicle wire back into the head unit, and it ultimately determines the quality of the sound that it pumps through your speakers. This means that the best single DIN head units will greatly improve the quality of sound that your car produces. Odds are the part of your dash displaying the time and offering radio preset buttons is the head unit in your vehicle.
Head units are more properly called “automotive head units,” although they also go by “decks” colloquially.
2. What Do Head Units Do?
The head unit provides inputs, media readers, presets, volume controls, audio controls, time displays, and the like on its front end. Its backend feeds these controls and inputs into the speakers so that (for instance) turning the knob on your dash will increase the volume in even your rear speakers. A highly versatile head unit can do such things as play your tunes, hold your media, connect to your devices, and cycle through multiple types of displays.
3. What Is the Difference Between Single DIN and Double DIN Head Units?
Head units are classified by their DIN size. DIN stands for “Deutsches Institut für Normung” which translates to “the German Institute for Standardization.” The organization that lent DIN its initials uses written standards to create consistency across the electronics industry. Standard head units are either “Single DIN” or “Double DIN” in size. Your car will fit one of these two standards.
Single DIN head units measure 180×50 mm and are used in Europe, South America and Australasia. Double DIN head units are twice as tall, measuring 180×100 mm and are the type commonly installed in Japan, the UK, and North America.
4. Where Can You Buy Them?
The vast majority of these products can be found online, especially through Amazon. However, there are many car electronic stores that sell head units. We recommend looking around your local area for a trusted auto-electronics store where you can purchase one of these head units as in-person expertise cannot be beaten. We have included how much each item sells for on Amazon to give you an idea of each product’s price range.
How We Reviewed
We reviewed the following products along criteria of the key features, their brand reputation, customer reports, longevity, and price. We then compared these head units with their peers on the market to create the following guide. In each case, we overview the features that make each head unit stand out and then list their most salient pros and cons.
Overall Price Range of This Product (and Similar Products)
Many of the best single DIN head units sell for around $90 on Amazon, although some can be found for as low as $60. Some of the options on this list can cost up to $250 or beyond depending on their availability.
What We Reviewed
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The BOSS Audio BV9986BI may be a bit cheaper than other options on this list, but that is only in price, not in quality. This rugged contender has been around for decades and has somehow always managed to keep up with the technological pack. Boss’s reputation is unparalleled for creating cheap, effective, long-lasting automotive and marine equipment.
The BOSS Audio BV9986BI sells for around $125 on Amazon.
If you’re looking for a cheap, effective way to make your sound-system Bluetooth friendly, the Sony MEX-N5200BT may be the best single DIN head unit for you. This unit hovers around the bare minimum of the range that head units tend to cost on this list, and it provides useful features like being able to pair with two phones simultaneously through Bluetooth.
The Sony MEX-N5200BT is available to purchase on Amazon for around $90.
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A built-in navigation unit separates the Pyle PLBT71G from the competition. Whereas other units will play your songs just fine, very few will visually display what your next turn is. The standard features expected from a head unit are all present in the PLBT71G, making Pyle’s device possibly the best single DIN head unit for those requiring both navigation and high-quality audio.
Pyle’s PLBT71G unit is currently unavailable on Amazon, but may be able to be found at your local auto electronics store.
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What a slick design! The Alpine CDE-164BT cuts a handsome figure that’s sure to compliment your vehicle’s dash. It provides great Bluetooth access, can play audio files in a wide range of formats, and does not distract with superfluous parts. It does tend to sell for a little more than others but makes a great addition to your car’s system.
The Alpine CDE-164BT can be purchased on Amazon for around $250.
- 7" motorized fold-out VGA touchscreen
- DVD/CD receiver with internal amp (14 watts RMS CEA-2006/50 peak x 4 channels)
- Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming
If this isn’t your first article reviewing automotive head units on the market, then you’ve likely heard this name: the Pioneer AVH-X7800BT. Many publications consider this the best single DIN head unit that money can buy. The AVH-X7800BT comes with a seven inch “flip out” screen that handles its large list of features, including such luxuries as a built-in DVD player and integrated Siri support.
Amazon occasionally sells the Pioneer AVH-X7800BT, although they are currently out of stock.
Many of the best single DIN head units have proven themselves in the markets for years if not decades. However, there’s always room for newcomers. New head units are able to take advantage of the latest technologies to create smooth integration between say your car and your smartphone or watch. Providing features like advanced audio streaming stability and built-in microphone, the JVC KD RD87BT is one such contender.
The JVC KD RD87BT sells on Amazon for around $90.
The Kenwood KDC-BT758HD is another quite handsome unit. Unlike others with large flashy displays, Kenwood keeps their design minimal, making it functional and beautiful. This unit comes with a remote and a set of headphones, which sweeten the deal, but ultimately this is a fairly straightforward unit that will make your songs sound great and keep your smartphones linked.
Amazon sells the Kenwood KDC-BT758HD for around $90.
Being the cheapest option on our list does not prevent the Pioneer DEH-S6010S from being one of the best single DIN head units on the market. It will cost you nearly half of what the average head unit sells for, and as a result, it provides no smartphone integration or Bluetooth support. However, it still deserves its spot on this list because of its advanced sound retriever mechanism which prevents files from losing sound quality due to being compressed. This means for very little money you can update your dash and the quality of your audio.
The Pioneer DEH-S6010S sells on Amazon for around $60.
Dare we say it? The Excelon is excellent. Upgrading to Kenwood’s Excelon KDC-X701 will upgrade nearly all of your car’s audio system. Representing the cutting edge of automotive audio technology, the Excelon can integrate with nearly all the popular streaming applications including Pandora and iHeart radio right out of the box. Built-in Android support allows you to use your favorite device to scroll through and play music quickly and at a high quality. You can even thumb up or thumbs down songs that play on semi-randomized streams like Spotify’s radio playlists or a Pandora station.
Fear not, Apple users, you can simply plug your iPod or iPhone into the face of the Kenwood Excelon. In fact, once the Excelon is connected to your device, the buttons on the face of the Excelon can be used to skip through, pause, play, and even heart track off the device. All this, and we’ve only just mentioned the sound quality, which we have found to be unparalleled among the best single DIN head units out there today.
The Kenwood Excelon KDC-X701 can be purchased on Amazon for around $140.
We understand that budget and availability will largely determine which of the best single DIN head units will make its way into your car, truck, or van. Some users will want to pay more to ensure that their iPhone or Android perfectly integrates with their system while others will be content to pay much less in order to add Bluetooth functionality into their car. For our money, we fell in love with the Kenwood Excelon KDC-X701. Being able to thumbs up or skip songs in a fully integrated way felt space-age, and the sound quality matched. If you walk away from this list with only one device in mind, we suggest you consider the Kenwood Excelon.