Has it been a while since you upgraded your car’s stereo system?
There’s never been a better time: today’s tech comes with a whole slew of features to take advantage of and can really help bring its sound system into the 21st century.
In this list, we’re going to be reviewing some of the best Bluetooth car stereos and weighing the features, strengths and weaknesses each one has, to help you make an informed decision and choose the one you like the most.
The Top 5 Bluetooth Car Stereo 2021
Below, we’ve created a table with a brief overview of each of the products we liked the most, to help you get a feel for the stereos we’ll be reviewing.
|Product Name||Size||Inputs||Current Price|
|Pioneer MVH-X380BT||Single-DIN||Bluetooth, USB, Auxiliary|
|Sony MEXN5100BT||Single-DIN||Bluetooth, CD, USB, Auxiliary|
|Kenwood DPX501BT||Double-DIN||Bluetooth, CD, USB, Auxiliary|
|Pioneer AVH-280BT||Double-DIN||Bluetooth, CD, DVD, USB, Auxiliary|
|Alpine CDE-164BT||Single-DIN||Bluetooth, CD, USB, Auxiliary|
Now that you’ve glanced over the basic specifications of each, let’s jump right in and do a more in-depth analysis of each model, beginning with the Pioneer MVH-X380BT.
Pioneer MVH-X380BT – Best Budget Single-DIN Stereo
Okay, let’s assume you have a single-DIN slot in your car like most people do.
If you don’t want to spend a whole lot of money chasing better sound and easier to use music playback, you can breathe a sigh of relief. The Pioneer MVH-X380BT is an affordable, Bluetooth compatible car stereo that will not only be a significant upgrade to the stock stereo but will probably add some nice, new functionality too.
First off, let’s talk connectivity. This model comes with a USB port, which allows you to either plug in a flash drive full of music or charge your phone whilst you drive. It’s a small touch, but one that increases the range of options you have with regard to playback, so we’re all for it. It also has an auxiliary input so you can connect your phone via its headphone jack and listen to whatever you want through your car speakers.
You’ll need a 3.5mm male to male cable for this, but you can pick one of those up for a dollar or two online.
The Bluetooth capability of this stereo is above average: some low-budget stereos only allow you to play music through the speakers, but this product not only lets you do that, it also lets you use voice commands to make calls and switch tracks, which is great since the last thing you want when doing 70 miles an hour is to fiddle with the controls on your phone.
Another nice touch is that this stereo has the capacity for two Bluetooth devices: the main one you use, and also a guest’s. In practical terms, this means your passenger won’t be asked if they want to download their address book when they connect, it’s pretty much just connect and play.
Audio wise, this model is fantastic for the price. Music comes through crisp and clear, even at relatively high volumes, and we found that the on-board equalizer did a great job at keeping things balanced just right.
Bassy songs are booming, but don’t drown out the vocals, and treble-heavy songs don’t undervalue the bass. On top of this, this model has technology installed that lets it find the best time to segue into another song, so there’s no two or three-second silence between tracks unless you turn off this option.
Additionally, navigating through different albums on an iPod or folders on a flash drive is as simple as using the volume dial to select which folder to go into, then pushing the dial in to navigate there. It’s a well-designed setup, and one that helps reduce the need for a myriad of buttons and keeps the interface nice and simple.
We also liked that this stereo supports a range of audio formats. Gone are the days when you’d have to make sure every file was .wav or .mp3 (phew), and as a result, this stereo handles MP3, WAV, AAC and WMA files with no issues at all.
In terms of design, we like the black and blue colour scheme, and the relatively simple controls help keep the top of the display clean and uncluttered. We liked that the volume setting (for most people, the most commonly used dial) was on the left since it made it easy to adjust whilst driving and we didn’t have to lean over to reach it.
Whilst the display boasts ten different brightness settings and a timer, we found that the brightest setting was, whilst fine for night-time driving, a little dim on sunny days.
The only other issue we had was that we lost our radio station presets from time to time and had to find them again. It’s uncertain what caused this, and it might not affect you, especially since not everyone listens to the radio, but we thought it worth mentioning, regardless.
Overall, we really were blown away by the quality of this stereo. For under $100, you can own a stereo that accepts a decent range of inputs and file types, which looks great and is a blast to use. On top of that, it’ll probably be a significant upgrade in terms of sound quality.
- Easy to use, simple interface
- Excellent sound quality, built-in equalizer is great
- Good range of inputs
- Display can be a little dim for daytime driving
- Tends to forget radio station settings
Sony MEXN5100BT – Best High Budget Single-DIN Stereo
If you’re looking for a single-DIN car stereo, and have a little more money in the budget, it makes sense to buy one with more features and better sound quality. That’s why we specifically went looking for the best high-end car stereo, and after sifting through the sea of suitable models, we settled on the Sony MEXN5100BT.
First of all, this stereo has Bluetooth, but it might not be the kind you’re used to seeing. Sony has pulled out all of the stops to make sure that not only is pairing your device fast and simple but that you don’t need to go anywhere near your phone once you do.
They do this by giving you three methods to connect: the first is the standard Bluetooth pairing setup, but if your phone has an NFC chip (and most modern models do), you can just hold it up to the stereo and it’ll take care of the rest. The last method is by automatically pairing whatever you plug into the USB port, as long as Bluetooth is enabled.
And that’s it!
You can use your voice to control media playback, make calls and navigate with your phone’s GPS – this goes a long way towards simplifying your journey and if you’re used to pulling over to check your route, it’ll be a godsend.
This model features CD, USB and auxiliary inputs, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the stereo’s audio features. The most obvious of these (and we’d bet, the most interesting, to some of you) is the prominently backlit “Mega Bass” button. This turns on an automatic equalizer pre-set that’s optimized towards lower frequencies, and also causes the lights on either side of the stereo to pulse in time with the music.
It’s a small touch, but it looks cool, and as such, we’re big fans. These lights can also be customized to whatever colours you like, depending on your mood.
The second big feature is the stereo’s “Listening Position” settings. Based on where you and your passengers are sitting, the stereo can tailor its output to give you the best sounding audio.
It does this by outputting various parts of the audio through different speakers, so it’s basically surround sound.
We found the sound quality to be extraordinary, with big, powerful bass and clear treble. Sony has claimed to provide “Car filling audio, every time” and we can’t say they’re wrong here. There are also ten different equalizer presets, just to make sure your music sounds the way you like it.
Like the Pioneer MVH-X380BT, this stereo allows playback of MP3, WAV, AAC and WMA files, and includes the low pass and high pass filters to reduce distortion and keep the high frequencies separate, which means no more muddy sounds where the two intercept.
The only issue we encountered with this model is extremely infrequent audio skipping, which was fixed by turning the stereo off, then on again. We’re unsure of why this happened, but suspect it had to do with the Bluetooth connection since it never happened when connected through USB or auxiliary cable.
The overall look of the unit is sleek and uncluttered, thanks to the buttons at the sides and bottom, which leaves the top of the unit free for the screen. We found the lights at the sides to compliment the design, and rather than being garish, they actually helped set the mood of the journey.
Overall, we like this model. It’s a sleek, well designed Bluetooth car stereo with an ample amount of input options and supported file formats.
The audio enhancements are comprehensive and well thought out (in particular, we liked the listening position settings) and whilst some might not like the light bars on either side, we found them a welcome addition to our dashboard. If you’ve got money to spare and you want a good car stereo, this is the one for you.
- Good range of audio enhancement options
- Excellent voice control support
- Customisable lights
- Good range of inputs
- Some infrequent audio skipping when using Bluetooth
- Some people may find the light bars not to their taste
Kenwood DPX501BT – Best Budget Double-DIN Stereo
If you’ve got space for a larger stereo, it makes sense to buy one, assuming you have the money. If your budget is a little tight, however, don’t worry. We’ve found the best budget double-DIN stereo around, and it’s the Kenwood DPX501BT. Yep, the company you only know about because of those huge trucks makes stereos too, and good ones, too.
This stereo has Bluetooth support and allows you to make calls using your voice, and includes an external microphone that you can mount wherever you like.
Unfortunately, there’s no voice control option for skipping tracks: this stereo is more suited to musical playlists, which might be a nuisance for some, although we’re fairly certain you’ll be able to find one that you like from Spotify, Pandora or another similar service.
It also features automatic Bluetooth connection, in exactly the same way as the Sony stereo we reviewed earlier – just turn on Bluetooth and connect your phone to the USB port. Easy.
The sound quality of this model leans towards the bassy side, but that’s not to say treble is neglected.
High notes come across clear and crisp, and Kenwood has also included their Drive EQ software, which boosts certain frequencies to compensate for road noise when on the move. This is awesome, especially if you’re in a loud vehicle since you no longer have to turn the volume way up just to be able to hear your music.
There is a built-in equalizer too, but it’s a little limited, having only three bands to tweak as opposed to the Sony and Pioneer’s ten bands EQS.
This stereo supports playback of MP3, WMA, and AAC files (sorry, no WAV support), which, to be fair covers most of the file formats you’ll see these days.
We also haven’t found any hard USB size limits – we tested using 32GB and 64GB flash drives, and a phone with 128GB of memory on an SD card and all three worked perfectly. This can sometimes be a problem with very inexpensive hardware, but we’re happy to announce that it doesn’t apply here.
We liked the overall look of this stereo – it’s clean and modern looking, and Kenwood has made the stereo black in the knowledge that black goes with just about anything.
It’s a welcome bonus then, that the lights can be customized pretty extensively to fit your style or to match the colour of your dashboard lights. Whilst CDs may be considered “old technology”, we still appreciate the inclusion of a CD reader, since especially if you’re over the age of 30, you probably still have your collection of driving music in the glove box.
Also appreciated is this stereo’s compatibility with a variety of streaming services.
Whilst you can obviously still use Youtube or Spotify, it also supports Pandora, iHeart and siriusXm Radio straight out of the box. Multi-platform support is never a bad thing, so kudos to Kenwood for providing a good range of options.
The only issue we encountered was regarding ease of use. Whilst you can adjust the brightness of the display, but due to the glossy screen, sometimes it’s a little hard to read when driving during the day.
This isn’t a deal-breaker, but it does require you to shade the screen with your hand and is a slight inconvenience. It’s worth noting that this problem probably wouldn’t happen in a high sided vehicle like a truck, which might be why Kenwood didn’t pick up on it.
Overall, we’re pretty pleased with this product. It’s on the lower end of the double-DIN stereo market, but that doesn’t make it a bad stereo. Quite the contrary, this is a Bluetooth ready car stereo that provides high-quality sound and a wide range of inputs, both physical and software-wise.
If you can afford to pay a little more, we have another stereo that might be better suited to you, but if you’re tight on cash, you can’t go wrong with the Kenwood.
- High audio quality for a low price
- Good range of streaming platforms and inputs
- Customizable light bar
- Automatic Bluetooth pairing
- Glossy screen makes the display hard to read in bright conditions
- No WAV support
Pioneer AVH-280BT – Best High Budget Double-DIN Stereo
Pioneer is back again, but this time they’ve doubled the size and added some features that we think you’ll be pretty excited about. We mentioned before that double-DIN stereos often have bells and whistles that single-DIN models don’t, but our last double-DIN model was primarily focused on music. The AVH-280BT, however, is a whole different beast, and we’ll tell you why.
The first and most obvious difference is the inclusion of a backlit 6.2” touchscreen. The icons are big enough that you don’t really have to worry about precision and we found that the screen was always well lit and never hard to see, even in bright conditions.
Next, this stereo has a staggering list of supported formats: MP3, WAV, WMV, WMA, AAC, AVI, MPG-1, MPG-2, and MPG-4.
But some of those are video formats? Yes.
You can watch DVDs or video files on this stereo, as long as the parking brake is on and the car is stopped, for safety reasons.
This is great if you find yourself waiting to pick someone up or when warming the car up in the morning.
The resolution is 800×480, which isn’t great, but come on, it’s a stereo.
Bluetooth functionality is little more than standard, allowing you to play music from your phone through the speakers and also use voice controls to make calls. We’d have liked to see some music-related voice commands, but really it’s not a big issue, especially given the number of additional features this stereo has.
In terms of audio, we were fascinated by this model. It offers a solid upgrade to just about any stock car stereo in terms of volume and sound quality.
The on-board five-band equalizer has a few presets to choose from, and there is also a three settings loudness option. Thanks to the four built-in 50W amps, you get car filling audio that doesn’t skew too far towards bass or treble, but instead settles somewhere in the middle for balanced sound across the board.
Whilst we praised our other models for their clean designs, the touchscreen really helps this model remain uncluttered, with the only physical buttons being located on the left-hand side to maximize touchscreen real estate.
The colour scheme can be customized to one of three colours, depending on the interior of your car, which is a nice touch, but the button lights cannot be changed and are always blue, which is a bit of a let-down.
We did, however like the direct control option.
It’s only available for iPods and iPhones, but it displays the currently playing artist, track title and album art on the screen, as well as charging your device when connected via the USB port. We ran into the occasional glitch where the track information wouldn’t change after the first song, but this was intermittent and not reproducible.
It would also have been nice to see this for Android devices too since they’re a far more common mobile operating system, but it is what it is.
As expected, the stereo comes with an AM/FM radio and can store your favourite radio stations. There’s not much we can say about this, it does the job and we never had any issues relating to the stereo forgetting our presets.
It just works.
We can’t say whether you’ll use the radio or not, but there may come a time when your own media just isn’t what you’re in the mood for and that’s when this will be most valuable.
Overall, this model is fantastic. It may cost a little more than the other models we’ve reviewed, but the wealth of additional features and the wide range of supported file formats help ensure that no matter what your tastes are in in-car media, you’ll always be covered.
Add in high audio quality and loud volume, and you’ve got yourself a passenger that never complains and can be relied upon every step of the journey.
- Huge range of supported file formats
- Responsive touch screen
- Live audio information when using an iPod or iPhone
- Plays DVDs and video files
- A little expensive
- Occasionally track info won’t update as it should
Alpine CDE-164BT – Best Stereo for Sound Quality
Maybe you don’t care about fancy bells and whistles. Maybe you just want the highest sound quality (in a single-DIN stereo) that money can buy.
Well, we have a model that’s custom-built to your specifications! The Alpine CDE-164BT is a car stereo with one goal: making each journey a road trip.
To this end, it boasts four 50W amplifiers, three 4V pre-outs, in case you want to connect your own subwoofer or amplifier and get this: it has an app.
The app, named Alpine TuneIt, allows you to customize various aspects of your audio, from the listening position setting from the Sony MEXN5100BT to a six-band graphic equalizer.
There are ten presets EQs, but let’s face it, if you’re spending all this money, there’s a good chance you’ll want to experiment and find the setup that works best for you. It goes more in-depth too: you can adjust centring frequency, crossover cutoff, and slope and listen to the results in real-time. If you’re socially minded, it also lets you view your Facebook notifications right there on the dashboard.
Bluetooth functionality is fairly simple: you can listen to your music and make calls, although there is an interesting addition that none of the other stereos featured have: call waiting. If a second call comes in, you just push a button on the stereo and it’ll put the caller on hold until your first call is over.
Your music is muted for the duration of these calls automatically, so you don’t have to scramble to lower the volume when your boss’s number flashes up.
If your steering wheel has Bluetooth controls, they’ll work straight out of the box, but these aren’t as common in older cars and as such, you might not get the full use of this feature.
In addition to whatever music you bring with you, you also have access to Pandora and can use the dedicated thumbs up/thumbs down buttons to rate each song as it comes up.
This lets Pandora know if you’d like to hear it again without having to pull over and bring up the app. This stereo also supports SiriusXm although you’ll need a subscription to use it. An interesting feature is that if you have an iPhone connected and you hear a song you like through SiriusXm, you can hold the volume button down and it’ll copy the song information to your phone so you can find it at a later date.
We’ve all been in the situation where you’re frantically googling scraps of a song’s lyrics to try and find it, and this feature eliminates that entirely.
This is a flashy looking stereo, and so it makes sense that you can customize it to look however you want. There are thirty different light colours to choose from so you can make sure your stereo blends in with its surroundings.
If we had to find a fault, we’d say that the stereo itself looks a tad cluttered. There are buttons everywhere, and whilst this points to a huge amount of functionality and potential for tailoring your settings to be just right, we feel that Alpine could have designed the layout a little better.
Overall, this stereo is an incredible piece of hardware. It delivers audio quality that is unmatched, even by more expensive models and a level of tweaking that is frankly unheard of in consumer car audio systems. If you’re a sound engineer, or even if you just really like music, this is the one for you.
- Incredible amount of audio customisation
- Call waiting feature
- Good range of supported platforms
- Customisable light
- Interface looks a little cluttered
- A tad expensive
Car stereos come in all different shapes and sizes, with varying levels of support and functionality.
All of the products in this list have Bluetooth, but it’s also important to look at the other specifications and features the stereo has before you buy it. We’ve outlined a few things to look out for below, so you can rest easy, knowing you got the best model for your requirements.
There are two main stereo sizes, and it’s usually evident which one you need.
If you have a narrow letterbox-style opening in the dashboard, you’ll need a single-DIN stereo, but if you’re lucky enough to have a bigger opening, you can buy a double-DIN model. These types of stereo often have more advanced features like touch screens, GPS and DVD slots, however, they do tend to be more expensive than single-DIN models.
If you don’t have any need for these extra features or you’re on a tight budget, you can buy a mounting cage that will allow you to use a single-DIN model in a double-DIN slot, but whilst you save money overall, it generally won’t look as good.
How would you like to use your new stereo?
If you still like to listen to CDs, you’re obviously going to want a CD slot, and we know you want Bluetooth functionality, so it makes sense to find a stereo with a USB port so that you can charge your device whilst in use.
If your passengers are often in control of the music, you might want a stereo with a headphones port so they can connect their phone with a male to male cable, meaning they don’t mess up your stored Bluetooth settings.
Level of Bluetooth functionality
Not all Bluetooth stereos are created equal. The most basic ones will allow you to pair your device and play music, but if you spend a little more you can get one that allows you to read and reply to incoming text messages via the stereo itself, allows you to make calls using voice commands and set device priority.
It’s definitely worth having a think about how you plan to use it before paying for something that won’t be able to meet your expectations.
Conversely, if all you want is audio playback, you might be alright with a less expensive model.
Stereos have a few different ways to measure output, but we recommend looking for the RMS power specification.
A good rule of thumb is that the higher the power draw, the higher the output.
This means louder sound and generally higher quality audio. Some stereos come with a built-in preamp, which allows you to connect various additional pieces of hardware like subwoofers or additional amplifiers.
Most people won’t need these, but it’s nice to have the option if you’d like louder, even higher quality sound than the stereo alone can provide. If you’d like to read more about car stereo sound quality, there’s a helpful guide available here on Edmunds.
So, that’s our analysis. We’ve looked at all kinds of car stereos and weighed their specific strengths and shortcomings. Although each of these is a fantastic product, the one that stands out to us is the Sony MEXN5100BT.
It’s a strong all-round performer and boasts a fascinating range of voice control features, with audio that’s sure to exceed your expectations.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and we look forward to seeing you the next time you need product advice.