Best Head Units for Sound Quality – Enhance Your Listening Experience

If you’re an audiophile, you want your favorite music to sound as good in your car as it does on your home stereo system.

Sure, you can invest in subwoofers, amplifiers, and great speakers, but they can only do so much. It all boils down to how good your head unit is at reproducing high-quality sounds.

Most OEM car stereos are not really made for audio purists. Luckily, there are many inexpensive head units out there you can replace them with.

But, which one should you invest in?

To help you make a smart decision, I’ve compiled a list of six amazing head units offering the highest sound quality.

Top 6 Head Units for Amazing Sound Quality

For easier navigation, I’ve organized my picks into two categories: best single din and best double din head units. Here are six of my favorite head units out there with a focus on sound quality.

Best Single Din Head Units

The DEH-150MP is a fairly basic model without the bells and whistles you can find in most modern car stereos. This CD receiver is also the least expensive head unit in this list. But despite its surprisingly low price, it excels in one area that matters the most – sound quality.

This head unit allows you to listen to AM/FM radio, as well as audio, MP3, and WMA CDs. As you may know, when you convert an original audio file to MP3 or some other lossy format, you lose the high frequencies in the process.

But, the DEH-150MP incorporates Pioneer’s proprietary Advanced Sound Retriever technology that restores those high frequencies, thus creating a much richer sound.

The unit has a 5-band equalizer, the option to boost bass, as well as the loudness feature to adjust sound levels when listening at a low volume. The small LCD display on the front shows you the title of the song that’s currently playing. There is also an AUX input to hook up your iPod or another portable music player.

  • Simple and functional design
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    Advanced Sound Retriever restores high frequencies of compressed MP3 files
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    Has a graphic equalizer with five different settings
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    No sudden volume changes when switching between sources
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    Allows you to adjust bass levels to your liking
  • No support for digital or satellite radio
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    Doesn’t have a USB input

Sony’s MEX-XB100BT is another good head unit that has a built-in class-D amplifier. As such, this small box can reach an output power of 400W, allowing for a high-quality listening experience.

The Mega Bass feature lets you boost bass levels with minimum distortion, while the built-in amp prevents hissing at high volumes. This unit also has filters that separate the lows, the highs, and the mids, thus producing a very crisp sound. You can also choose between the ten different equalizer settings.

This Bluetooth-ready head unit comes with a wide array of options. You can listen to CDs, as well as AM/FM, digital, and satellite radio. You can also plug in your phone or iPod using the AUX and USB input slots on the front and stream from Pandora or Spotify.

On top of all that, the unit also has an LCD display that changes colors in sync with the beat. While it doesn’t make any difference on the sound front, it is certainly a nice touch.

  • Has a built-in amp for a more powerful sound
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    The Mega Bass feature reduces distortion
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    Bluetooth-ready
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    Works with Pandora and SiriusXM
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    Has a 10-band equalizer
  • Uses a lot of power and may drain your car battery faster
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    Sony’s iPhone remote app might not work with this model

The DEH-80PRS is another good single din head unit from Pioneer. Made with audiophiles in mind, this CD receiver has an automatic equalizer that adjusts the sound on the go based on the environment you’re in. The built-in MOSFET amplifier has an output power of up to 200W.

This unit has three 24-bit D/A converters, one for each frequency. This, in turn, allows it to produce high-fidelity sounds with a very wide dynamic range. The time alignment feature adjusts the output timing of each speaker to create a uniform surround sound.

In addition to Bluetooth connectivity, there’s an AUX input, a USB input, and a memory card slot. The unit works with digital radio, SiriusXM, as well as Pandora, and allows you to save up to 24 favorite stations.

You can tweak the sound using the 13-band equalizer and three loudness settings. Moreover, you can also adjust the color of the three-line LCD display to fit in with the interior of your car.

  • Has three 24-bit D/A converters for high-fidelity reproduction
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    Comes with a built-in MOSFET amplifier
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    Auto EQ adjusts the sound levels to the environment
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    The time alignment feature syncs the output timing of the speakers
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    Supports HD radio, satellite radio, and Pandora
  • You need to reconnect via Bluetooth every time you re-enter the car
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    The buttons on the front are fragile and may break more easily

Best Double Din Head Units

The KW-R920BTS from JVC also has a built-in MOSFET amp for a richer, crisper sound. Even when listening at a very low volume, you can adjust the loudness settings to hear your music clearly. The dynamic range is very wide thanks to the integrated filters that separate sound frequencies.

This model utilizes the K2 technology that boosts the high frequencies of compressed audio files. What’s more, with a single press of the Volume Link EQ button, the volume will adjust to eliminate road noise. The KW-R920BTS has a 13-band equalizer with eight EQ presets for different styles of music.

The Bluetooth feature allows you to connect your iPhone to the unit and stream from Pandora or Spotify. You can also switch between AM/FM, digital, HD, and satellite radio, or listen to music from a USB drive. The unit also allows you to change the colors of the LCD display for better visibility.

  • Has a built-in 4x50W MOSFET amp
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    13-band equalizer with 8 EQ presets for all musical styles
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    The Volume Link EQ feature boosts frequencies to eliminate road noise
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    AUX, USB, and Bluetooth connectivity
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    Works with digital, HD, and satellite radio
  • May take several minutes to index the files on a USB drive
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    You might not be able to stream music from an Android phone

The AVH-X2800BS is another model from Pioneer that has an integrated amp to give the sound an extra kick. This is a DVD receiver, which means that not only can you watch movies on it but you can also listen to MP3, WMA, and FLAC files from a DVD-R.

Like most Pioneer units, this one also incorporates the Advanced Sound Retriever technology. This ensures that your compressed MP3 files will sound just as rich and vibrant as an uncompressed audio CD. Using the Auto EQ feature and a microphone, you can adjust the sound levels to compensate for environmental sounds and road noise.

The 6.2-inch touchscreen display allows you to control all the settings more easily. You can listen to AM/FM and satellite radio, stream from Spotify and Pandora, or listen to music from a USB drive. The unit also has a 13-band graphic equalizer with seven presets.

  • The built-in amp makes the sound crisper and punchier
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    You can adjust sound levels on the go with the Auto EQ feature
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    Has a 13-band graphic equalizer with 7 presets
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    The Advanced Sound Retriever improves the sound of compressed audio files
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    Bluetooth-ready unit that works with both Spotify and Pandora
  • Might not display correct song information when the radio is on
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    The smartphone app is outdated and a bit difficult to navigate

With a 6.95-inch touchscreen, the DDX-9703S from Kenwood is very easy to navigate. Like the previous model, this one is also a DVD receiver, thus allowing you to listen to music from many different sources.

You can listen to music from digital, HD, and satellite radio or stream it from Spotify and Pandora. No matter what source you choose, there are plenty of features that can enhance the quality of the sound. You can adjust it manually using the 13-band equalizer or use one of the built-in settings.

The Drive EQ feature boosts certain frequencies that get masked by environmental sounds and road noise. Then there’s the Time Alignment feature that adjusts sound levels based on your position. Finally, you can use the Bass Extend option to boost low frequencies to the same gain level as 62.5 kHz.

  • Supports a wide array of input sources
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    Automatically adjusts output timing of the speakers to your position
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    The Drive EQ feature prevents loss of frequencies due to road noise
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    You can adjust bass levels to your liking
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    Works with popular streaming services
  • On older versions, the clock resets each time you power up the unit
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    The screen can be difficult to read in sunny conditions

Single Din vs. Double Din

The only difference between single din and double din head units is their size. Both are 7 inches wide, but single din units are only 2 inches tall, whereas double din units are twice that height.

Which one you’ll get depends solely on how much room you have on the dashboard of your car. As a rule, if your car came with a single din unit, you can only replace it with another similar unit. But if it came with a double din unit, you can opt for either of the two.

Of course, the extra space on double din units allows for more functionality. But there are no major differences in terms of sound quality. It all depends on their making and the sound-focused features they come with.


The Bottom Line

When shopping for head units, most people tend to focus on their functionality. But if you’re an audiophile like I am, you want a unit that can reproduce crisp and powerful sound with a wide dynamic range.

All six of these models deliver on that front and any of them could be a good choice. Which one you’ll go for will likely depend on your budget and your need for some more advanced features. Just make sure to check that the unit will fit on your car dash before you make a final decision.

Gavin Whitner
    Gavin Whitner
     

    A guitar player, songwriter, composer, and also the lead editor of MusicOomph, Gavin is one of the four musician friends behind this site. Outside of music, he's an avid sports fan and hardly misses anything from football (soccer) to F1.

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