In-car entertainment and connectivity has changed considerably in the past few years. Nowadays it's all about touchscreen, mirror linking, bluetooth and Apple CarPlay, so choosing the best single din head unit for your car can get confusing pretty quickly.
But don't despair!
Upgrading your car stereo is much easier than you think, and a great way to start is to swap out that retro single din head unit for a sleek new shiny one with all the bells and whistles.
We think that the best single din head unit you can buy today is the Pioneer AVH-X7800BT. Check out the detailed review along with 4 other top contenders.
Why Fit an aftermarket head unit?
Just in case there's any confusion, the head unit is that thing in the middle of your dashboard that has the buttons and knobs on it!
If you are not using an external standalone amplifier, then the head unit is the central component of your car's entertainment system. It dictates what types of mobile devices you can listen to like MP3 players or more commonly, smartphones. It also delivers power to the speakers, and determines the overall sound quality you are going to get from the speakers.
So unless your car already has a top of the range, upgraded stereo system, you're probably still stuck with the standard setup. If you want to connect your phone with an auxiliary cable, or if you want to start adding things like subwoofers, more powerful speakers or wireless connectivity, then it's usually a good idea to take a look at the head unit before you start.
5 Benefits of Upgrading to A Newer aftermarket Head Unit
- 1Most aftermarket head units have USB connectivity - plug your phone or mp3 player directly for playback and battery charging
- 2They also can have Bluetooth connectivity - play your favourite music from your phone or other bluetooth device through your car speakers
- 3Everyone loves a Touch Screen - many single din units have slide out touchscreens, providing a better user experience.
- 4Play your music louder with a more powerful built in amplifier - this can give better sound output and louder volume
- 5Connect more speakers - Most aftermarket head units have more speaker connectivity options, maybe add a subwoofer or two!
What is the Best Single DIN Head Unit?
There are literally thousands of single DIN head units on the market, so choosing the best one for your car can seem daunting.
I've chosen five models that I think cover all of the bases when it comes to features and price. Like I said, there are thousands to choose from, so this list is by no means exhaustive.
1. Pioneer AVH-X7800BT
Our Top Pick - 'Best Overall Single Din Head Unit'
When it comes to in-car audio accessories, one of the most popular and well respected brands has to be Pioneer. When it was founded in 1938 by Nozomu Matsumoto, the company operated out of Matsumoto’s garage, which served both as its headquarters and factory.
The impressive Pioneer AVH-X7800BT definitely shows how far the company has come in the 80 years since its inception.
The AVH-X7800BT is a tidy, stylish single din unit, with an impressive slide-out 7 inch Clear Type Anti-glare touchscreen. The screen provides crystal clear images, even in bright light. This is essential for sunny days. Not all touchscreen units are anti-glare, and in my experience this really takes away from the usability when it's not there.
The display can be customised to adapt to the lighting color scheme of your dashboard. You can actually choose from 5 different color schemes a massive 112 lighting options that can match your car's interior lighting. This is one of my favourite features as it allows you to blend the unit into the dashboard of pretty much any car, making it look like it was fitted in the factory.
To connect your phone to this unit, you have the choice of Bluetooth or USB. The USB option is powered by what Pioneer call AppRadioOne. This allows you to access and control certain apps on your phone. You can also play media stored on your phone.
Bluetooth connectivity provides the opportunity for features such as wireless audio streaming and hands-free calling. If you are a Spotify user like me, you have full control of the Spotify app on your phone using the Pioneer controls. This means you can play, pause, browse and skip to your hearts content! I also like the fact that you can easily search your device's media by album, artist or even by song.
Another great feature is that you can connect two devices simultaneously, so either device can stream audio or make/answer calls. This is a very handy feature, especially when travelling with your family or friends, and eliminates the need to connect or disconnect devices.
If you are using an Apple device, you can make use of what Pioneer calls Siri® Eyes Free functionality. This provides access to many iOS functions such as music selection, making and receiving calls, text message read-out and calendar reminders, just by using voice commands. Even though this device doesn't have actual CarPlay functionality, I found that this feature makes it a bit easier to do things like select a song from Apple Music while driving.
For audiophiles, it's worth noting that this Pioneer unit supports FLAC file playback capability at up to 48 kHz/24 bit high resolution CD-quality. It also features a 13-band EQ with slope adjustments, time alignment, two-way network, auto EQ, Pioneer’s proprietary Sound Retriever AIR, and high voltage pre-outs. This allows it to integrate into any car audio system and also leaves scope for future upgrades.
What do we think of this head unit?
This is our favourite head unit out there at the moment. It is packed with all of the features you could possibly need for a top rated in-car entertainment experience. I especially love the Siri Eyes Free feature. It allows me to have a lot of control over my iPhone without having to take my hands off the steering wheel.
I also like the fact that it support FLAC file playback from a USB stick. I'm a huge audiophile and it's great that I can now bring most of my music collection with me when I'm on the road
Here's a short video, showing you what you get in the box when you purchase the AVH-X7800BT:
At the opposite end of the Pioneer range is this model, the Pioneer DEH-150MP Single Din Stereo. This unit is for those of you that want to upgrade your stereo, but don't want to break the bank while doing so.
Unlike more advanced models, it doesn't support Bluetooth connectivity, wireless music streaming or smartphone app control. It doesn't have a USB connection or a large anti-glare touchscreen. It doesn't have a built in 13 band equalizer nor does it allow you to charge your smartphone or stream music via Spotify.
So why have I included it in my list or top head units?
Well, this stereo lets you connect any portable music device (smartphone, MP3 player) using a simple 3.5mm cable and you can play all of your tunes directly from your connected device. It supports MP3 and WMA playback, and uses a technology called Advanced Sound Retriever to restore some of the audio that can get lost during compression.
It also features a 5-band graphic equalizer, high-pass and low-pass filter settings, and subwoofer control.
And you get all this for 1/10th of the price of more upmarket head units.
What Do We Think Of This Head Unit?
This is a perfect solution for upgrading your car stereo that won't leave a hole in your wallet. Ok it doesn't have bluetooth support, or a fancy touchscreen, but at the end of the day it will play all of your music just as well as any $500 head unit.
So if you are looking for a way to connect your portable device to your car entertainment system, you can do a lot worse than the Pioneer DEH-150MP.
This unit is another that features a flip out touchscreen, and is also overloaded with a large number of features.
Boss Audio may not be as well known as Pioneer, but they've been around for 30 years. They produce a wide range of audio equipment for cars, marine and power sports too.
The Boss Audio BV9986BI may be a good deal cheaper than it's rival the Pioneer AVH-X7800BT, but it is no slouch when it comes to specs and features.
The motorized touchscreen is a 7" TFT widescreen display, and features what Boss refer to as an "innovative graphic interface". The screen performs just as well as the Pioneer, but lacks the anti-glare finish meaning it can be hard to see in strong sunlight. On the plus side, the front panel is detachable, which might reduce the chances of it being stolen as the unit won't work when it's removed.
Connectivity comes in many formats too. It is Bluetooth enabled for handsfree calling and music streaming with apps such as Spotifiy and Pandora. You can also play audio that is stored on your portable device or smartphone. MP3 and WMA formats are supported, and you can even play audio stored on an SD card.
The SD card is a handy feature, that is overlooked on many models. I find that it's sometimes more convenient to fill up an SD card with music and just leave it in the car. That way I don't need to worry about getting a strong signal on my phone for streaming, especially if I'm in a bad signal area.
In terms of audio output, the Boss Audio BV9986BI provides 4 channels of 85 Watts when at max power. It also features an RDS Tuner and a built-in graphic equalizer.
For those of you that are still using CDs and DVDs, it supports all the usual formats, and doesn't miss a beat by using Electronic Skip Protection, handy when travelling on rough terrain!
It also goes a step further than the Pioneer by featuring a video output to which you can connect an external monitor's RCA inputs directly to this unit. This output is ideal for connecting a reversing camera.
What Do We Think Of This Head Unit?
Overall this is an impressive single din head unit on paper. It has all of the bells and whistles that you will get on a more expensive brand. So even though it's another low cost unit, the sheer range of features combined with the 30 year history of Boss make it an attractive buy.
The Sony MEX-XB100BT is another single din head unit that is packed with up to date features that will transform your car into an entertainment powerhouse.
This model does not have a slide out touchscreen, but it does have a 2-zone illuminated front panel. Featuring 35,000 colors, you can easily match the controls and screen to your car's interior, giving it that 'factory fitted' look.
Also included is the Sound Synchronization function. This makes the front panel change color to the beat of the music, and whilst this sounds cool, it can actually get a bit annoying, especially when driving at night. So luckily, Sony have included a button to allow you to turn it off!
Connectivity is covered with Bluetooth 3.0, allowing the connection of up to 2 devices for call handling and music streaming. It also features front USB and AUX ports allowing the connection of a vast array of devices. Bluetooth 3.0 is a bit out of date at this stage, but if you are using it for handling calls then it shouldn't be a problem. If you are using it for bluetooth streaming, well then you might want to look for a model with Bluetooth 4.0 to give you that extra sound quality.
Smartphone integration is also well covered. There is Siri Eyes Free for handsfree voice control of your Apple device, along with SongPal App to control the head unit and to access media stored on your device.
All the usual audio formats are supported including MP3, WMA, and AAC files encoded to CD, CD-R/CD-RW discs and MP3, WMA, WAV, AAC, and FLAC files from a USB drive. Along with support for Pandora internet radio and SiriusXM satellite radio, you will never be short of audio options.
And finally, this single din head unit features 2- volt RCA pre-amp outputs for external front, rear and subwoofer amplifiers. So any future upgrades are well covered.
What Do We Think Of This Head Unit?
Packed with all of the in-car entertainment capabilities you will ever need, the this is another excellent option for audiophiles that want more from their car stereo
This second offering from Boss is a budget head unit, that is well suited to newcomers to car audio upgrades.
The first thing you will notice with this unit is the lack of CD/DVD slot. This unit is aimed at drivers that are only interested in accessing audio files, from portable devices and SD cards.
Lack of CD/DVD functionality shouldn't be a problem for most people. This stereo still has plenty of ways to hook up and play your tunes.
Connectivity wise, there is a USB and AUX port along with an SD card slot. There is support for flash drives up to 32 GB, and SD cards of the same size. Both can be used for music playback. The AUX port is a standard 3.5 mm jack, and this supports pretty much any portable device with a corresponding output.
You can handle calls and stream music wirelessly using the in-built Bluetooth connectivity. This allows you to use music streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify.
The built-in graphic equalizer and support for ID 3 also give you more control over the audio output, and access to song information such as title, artist and album.
And finally, you can hook up on pre-amp if you want to further upgrade your audio system. This is great for adding extra speakers or even a subwoofer.
What Do We Think Of This Head Unit?
So all in all, for the money, this single din head unit offers exceptional value for money, and is perfect for first timers, or those on a limited budget.
If you are in the market for an upgraded single din head unit, then any of the above stereos will do just fine.
However, if you are a bit of an audiophile, and you like gadgets packed with all of the latest features, and if your budget will stretch to it, then the Pioneer AVH-X7800BT should definitely be considered.
With a host of features such as dual Bluetooth connectivity, Apple Siri® Eyes Free technology and support for all sorts of devices and audio files, oh and a beautiful 7" touchscreen too...you will not be disappointed. This unit definitely has the ability to transform any vehicle into a entertainment mecca!
On the other hand, if you are on a tight budget but still want most of the functionality of a big brand unit, then take a look at the Boss Audio 612UA. Aside from the lack of touchscreen, it shares many features with the Pioneer, but you can usually get your hands on this for a fraction of the price.
Best Single Din Head Unit - Buying Guide
Before you lay down the cash for your new head unit, there are a few things to consider to ensure you get the right unit for you and your car.
Connectivity - It's all about connecting your mobile devices these days, and most head units will give you a few ways to do it. The most popular way is via Bluetooth. This will allow you to stream music from your device and to make hands free calls. Some units even allow you to connect two devices at once.
Smartphone Integration - For the ultimate smartphone integration experience, go for a head unit that has Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality built in. If your new head unit has a touchscreen, then this will allow you to mirror what's on your phone on the screen. It also gives you full control of your phone and allow you to do things like dictate text messages, select music, answer calls and use navigation apps.
Fitment and car compatibility - It's important that your new head unit fits into the dashboard neatly. Most of the time, a single din unit will fit exactly without any alterations. If you are replacing a double din unit with a single one, then you will need a facia adapter to fill the empty space. It's also worth checking if you need any special mounting brackets or wiring loom converters.
Preamp and speaker connectors - Sometimes a head unit upgrade is the first step in a complete sound system overhaul. If you are planning on adding extra speakers, tweeters or woofers to you car, then make sure you get a unit with the right connectors and power rating. Most units will be compatible with 4-8 Ohm factory speakers, but aftermarket speakers can be more sensitive and require much more power to drive them.
What Is a Single DIN Head Unit?
Not everyone is familiar with audio upgrades and the terminology used. So let's stop for a minute and go through a few common terms.
DIN denotes a specific size of head unit and was first introduced by the Deutsches Institut für Normung, a German standards body from which it takes its name.
Did you know?
"The term DIN actually means "Duetch Industri Normen"
It's comes from the German standards body from which it takes it's name"
A single DIN head unit comes in at 7 inches in width and 2 inches in height, which is about the same size as most OEM head units.
Because of their standardized size, it's very easy to swap out your old unit for a new one. The most complicated part of replacing a head unit is making sure the wiring matches up with your car, but in most cases all the adapters you will need are included or easily purchased. No soldering iron required!
It's worth mentioning that, some cars come pre-fitted with a double DIN head unit as opposed to a single DIN model. As you likely guessed from the name, it's double the height of the single version, measuring in at 4 inches (although the width generally remains the same). Check out our best double din head unit buying guide if you are in the market for one.
Also available are 1.5 DIN head units, but are not as common as the single and double DIN versions.
Can I Replace a Double DIN with a Single Din Head Unit?
Yes, most of the time.
If your car has a double height unit already installed, but you are looking to change over to a single height alternative, it can usually be done fairly easily. Most people do this if they want to change over to a higher spec model.
Conversion kits are available for most vehicles. Theses are designed to make your new head unit slot into the dashboard seamlessly, and the upside is that you will be also gain a nice new cubby hole below your radio!