Best Single Din Head Unit 2017 [Reviews and Comparison]
Music makes everything better, and listening to music while driving a car is no exception.
One thing that makes a tremendous difference is the quality of your vehicle’s music system.
Is it just an old radio, which gives you very little control, or is it a state-of-the-art stereo system capable of playing exactly what you want to hear, with clarity and quality?
In this article I'll review the best single din head units available in the market.
Single Din Head Unit Comparison Chart
|Pioneer AVH-X7800BT||RMS: 22W|
|Pioneer DEH-150MP||RMS: 14W|
|Alpine CDE-HD149BT||RMS: 18W|
|Pioneer DEH-X6900BT||RMS: 14W|
|Kenwood KMMBT315U||RMS: 25W|
Whether you’re taking long trips across the continent, or just commuting to work five or six days a week, you want a vehicle stereo system that is going to deliver the best sound quality possible.
Probably the key characteristic of any car stereo system is the size of its head unit.
Head units generally come in one of two standard sizes, referred to as Single DIN and Double DIN.
As we noted in a prior review, DIN refers to the Deutsches Institut für Normung, which is the internationally recognized German national standards institute.
Nearly all car stereo manufacturers conform to their official standards when designing and building car stereos, and auto manufacturers do the same, making the appropriate space for them in the car’s center console.
What do Single DIN and Double DIN actually refer to?
It has to do with the size of the head unit.
Single DIN units are 7 inches wide by 2 inches tall. Double DIN units are the size of two Single DIN units, still 7 inches wide, but 4 inches tall.
One very important consideration is that in order to accept a Double DIN unit, a car has to already be designed for it, since you obviously can’t fit a 7”x4” box into a 7”x2” hole.
In other words, a car with a slot for a Double DIN head unit can accept either size, but a car with a slot for a Single DIN unit can only ever accept that one size of unit.
You can downgrade from Double DIN to Single DIN at any time, but to upgrade from Single DIN to Double DIN would require rebuilding the whole center console.
What difference does it make as to whether you choose Single DIN or Double DIN?
Is one always better than another when it comes to sound quality? No, not necessarily.
There are a number of other important factors. With the exception of the fact that Double DIN units are more likely to have additional preamp lines, to connect to more amplifiers, the size of the head unit itself doesn’t affect the sound quality, but the quality of the head unit does.
Where it does make a difference is in the features and capabilities of the head unit itself.
Double DIN units often include features like touchscreen displays, which are seldom seen on Single DIN units due to their smaller size.
Such displays can be used for apps beyond just sound controls, like for maps and GPS, or to act as the car’s climate control system, as well as phone sync.
Most Single DIN units aren’t so versatile.
Single Din Head Unit Reviews
1. PIONEER AVH-X7800BT
Remember everything we just said about most Single DIN units being less versatile?
This is not one of those. The Pioneer AVH-X7800BT is the King of all Single DIN head units. Its primary feature, the one that sets it apart from all the competition, is its flip-out display with 7-inch Clear Resistive Touchscreen.
This effectively makes this Single DIN unit even bigger than a Double DIN, and that touchscreen also potentially gives it all the capabilities of a Double DIN.
Although the unit itself does not have GPS navigation capability, it can still use it through a connected smartphone, which will have GPS and mapping apps.
It also features a Dual-Device Connection Bluetooth, meaning that two separate smartphones can link to it wirelessly at the same time, and its capability is such that call reception is improved to almost the quality of FM radio.
Other included apps are Siri Eyes Free (making this an excellent choice for iOS device users), Spotify, and AppRadio One.
In addition to the flip-out screen and the standard interface controls, it also features a DVD/CD player, rear USB and auxiliary input jacks, a backup camera input, a 200-watt amplifier, and a remote control.
It has a peak power output of 50 watts over 4 channels, 22 watts RMS over 4 channels with 5% total harmonic distortion (THD), and 14 watts CEA2006 over four channels with less than 1% THD.
Verdict: This is the best Single DIN touchscreen head unit out there, and possibly the best Single DIN stereo of all, because of it.
- Flip-out 7-inch touchscreen display
- Highly responsive display
- Display resolution of 800x480 pixels
- Double connection Bluetooth Backup camera input
- Music plays even with screen closed
- Can be used in off-road vehicles
- Detachable theft-deterrent faceplate
- DVD/CD player
- Customizable home screen shortcuts
- Remote control
- Siri Eyes Free
- Bluetooth cross-platform issues: cannot use Android phone simultaneously with iPod, but either is OK alone or with another of its platform.
- Installation can be complicated.
- USB port is in the rear of the unit.
- No built-in SiriusXM satellite radio capability.
- GPS requires a separate nav unit or connected smartphone.
2. Pioneer DEH-150MP
This is a pretty solid car radio with a number of good characteristics.
Perhaps the best of its features is its compressed audio enhancement, which is supposed to restore compressed music files back to higher quality as they are played.
It also is compatible with essentially all music file formats.
Aside from that, this head unit is fairly ordinary in both appearance and function. It has the usual AM/FM capability, a CD player, and can play MP3, WAV, and WMA media files.
One nice feature it has that is all too often missing from other car radio systems is an auxiliary input jack on the front of the unit.
The unit’s faceplate itself is also detachable to deter would-be thieves from bothering to pilfer a radio box without its controls.
The main downside to this unit is that it does not have Bluetooth capability, but on the other hand, that front aux jack makes it nice for using with older portable music and media devices.
Peak power output is 50 watts over 4 channels, with RMS: 14 watts over 4 channels.
- AM/FM radio
- Plays CDs, MP3s, WAV, and WMA format
- Compressed audio enhancement
- LED backlit LCD text display
- Front auxiliary jack
- Detachable theft-deterrent faceplate
- Remote control available
- 1 year warranty
- 24-bit digital analog converter
- No Bluetooth
- Installation instructions may be vague.
- Separate amp kit needed for subwoofers.
- Many buyers report AMP failures after 3-4 months.
- Display may be hard to read during daytime.
- Chinese import.
3. Alpine CDE-HD149BT
This is a beautifully designed head unit that comes packed with useful features.
The display is clear and easy to read, and the interface button backlighting color can be easily changed among four possibilities (blue red, green, and orange) to suit taste..
The Alpine CDE-HD149BT is compatible with a wide range of devices and ways to connect with them, including Bluetooth and USB for both iOS and Android devices. It also accepts CDs and even SD cards.
Its most important features may be the built-in HD Radio capability, and the fact that it is SiriusXM ready, providing an even wider range of listening options in addition to the standard AM/FM radio.
Like many others, it features the usual detachable faceplate to ward off thieves. In a rather unusual design move, this unit does have a cd player and an SD card slot, but both can only be accessed from behind the faceplate, which in this case flips down to accommodate this feature.
The unit includes a microphone that can be connected and wired in elsewhere in the vehicle, to improve calls via Bluetooth. The unit is also capable of using a remote control, but that is sold separately.
The bluetooth feature is best for Android phones, whereas iPhones and other iOS devices apparently need to be connected by USB.
Its power capabilities are as follows: Peak power output of 50 watts over 4 channels, RMS power output of 18 watts over 4 channels.
- Detachable theft-deterrent faceplate
- AM/FM radio tuner
- HD Radio
- SiriusXM radio ready
- Pandora radio integrated into unit
- 1 year warranty
- White LCD text display
- 4 optional button interface colors
- iPhone and iPod USB capable
- Android Bluetooth compatibility
- CD player
- SD card slot
- MP3 playback
- 3 pairs of preamp RCA outputs
- Includes wired microphone
- Optional remote control sold separately.
- CD player and SD card access behind flip-down faceplate.
- Many buyers report sudden Bluetooth playback failures.
- Has USB and auxiliary inputs, but on back of head unit.
4. Pioneer DEH-X6900BT
This is a very basic Single Din head unit.
Really, it’s a fairly no-frills device. The main features are its Bluetooth connectivity that can support up to two devices at a time, as well as its Quick Charge front facing USB port.
The unit also has an auxiliary jack in front.
Even with those features, there’s not much that really sets this unit apart from the rest. It’s fairly reliable, though the Bluetooth does get a few complaints from customers.
It features a CD player, and is MP3 compatible. The detachable theft-deterrent faceplate is standard, and it does also have a wired microphone that can be installed elsewhere in the cabin or dashboard.
Peak power output is 50 watts, and RMS power output is 14 watts per channel.
- 2-device Bluetooth for both hands-free calling and audio streaming
- Faceplate USB port with Quick ChargeC
- MP3 capable
- CD player
- Remote control
- Detachable faceplate
- Front faceplate aux jack
- Color-adjustable backlight.
- Comes with wired microphone
- Basic digital display
- No SD card port
5. Kenwood KMM BT315U
This Single Din unit has some good features, but there’s also some stuff I didn't find totally convincing.
Even though the display brightness is adjustable, it isn't bright enough in the majority of daylight situations, and that makes the display somewhat hard to read.
Additionally, the Bluetooth connection isn't 100% reliable. During my tests, the sync was lost a couple of times, causing a call to end. If you plan to use Bluetooth features a lot, i'd look at the other models instead.
It does feature Android Open Accessory, allowing it to interact more easily with Android devices.
This unit can be adapted for operation via steering wheel controls. It has a theft-deterrent removable faceplate, with front USB and auxiliary input jacks.
It does not have a CD player or any SD card slot, but it does handle FLAC media files via USB.
Maximum output power is 50 watts over 4 channels.
- Dual phone pairing with Bluetooth
- USB Rapid Charge for Android phonesAndroid
- Open Accessory (AOA)
- Support for USB FLAC media input
- iPod/iPhone support
- 13 color LCD
- Infrared remote control
- Can work via steering wheel controls
- 3 pre-amp outputs
- Detachable faceplate
- Front USB and aux media input jacks
- SiriusXM capable
- Pandora and IHeartRadio apps
- No CD input.
- No SD card input.Bluetooth may skip, has short range.
How to Choose a Single DIN Head Unit
When comparing Single DIN head units, there are several key features to look out for.
One such element is the power output.
Most of the Single Din units I compared had similar power levels. When pairing your car stereo to your speakers, you want to make sure that the RMS levels for both are the same, or the closest possible.
If you're running with your factory speakers, you'll notice a slight improvement in sound quality once you upgrade your car stereo, but once you get some new car speakers you'll discover a whole new audio experience.
You also want to make sure that whatever unit you’re thinking of buying is capable of using the input sources you prefer. Do you still prefer the sound quality of CD’s over that of MP3s? Do you want to be able to plug in a flash drive loaded with several gigabytes of music?
Not all head units accept all input sources. CD players are likely to become less and less popular or necessary in future stereo unit models, and one of the units we reviewed (the Kenwood) doesn’t have one. Some units have SD card slots, others don’t.
It’s also important to be aware of the locations of the source input jacks the head unit does have. In some cases, USB and other input ports are located to the rear of the unit. That would suggest that to use them will require either some kind of wiring, or else leaving a USB drive permanently attached inside the dashboard, which seems weird.
Even if the head unit does accept all possible input sources, it may not be capable of playing all possible file types. There are a myriad of different file types in use for digital media files. MP3 and wma are among the most popular, along with iTunes’ MPEG-4, but these are by no means the only ones.
Make sure that the devices and sources you want to use along with your stereo all use compatible file types with the head unit’s software.
The number of Preamp outputs can determine how many amplifiers and other sound system components the head unit can be connected to. As soon as you upgrade your speakers, you'll want to hook them up with either a four channel or a five channel amplifier (if you're also using a subwoofer) to enjoy a whole new dimension of music.
On most Single DIN units, the display size is fairly limited by the smaller dimensions of the head unit as compared to a Double DIN unit.
As such, the main characteristics to consider for the display are its brightness and readability, as well as whether the interface is user-friendly in general. The controls are a related consideration. There’s a great deal of personal preference involved in this part, but some things are fairly universal. If the display isn’t bright enough to read at night, or in bright sunlight, or if it’s too dim to read at night, then something’s wrong.
Connectivity and Other Features.
The vast majority of head units, even Single DIN, now come with Bluetooth capability, but there are still some that don’t, including one that we reviewed here. Different head units may or may not sync with smartphones in other ways, as well.There’s also the question of whether a head unit has access to satellite radio and the variety of online streaming radio apps.
At this point, we feel confident in saying that even after reviewing each of these Single DIN stereo head units, and considering all of their features, there is one that simply stands out.
The PIONEER AVH-X7800BT is really in a class all on its own. While technically a Single DIN head unit, just like all the rest we reviewed, its flip-out touchscreen display puts it in a class apart.
The touchscreen gives it all the capabilities of a good Double DIN head unit, and makes it much, much easier to control than any other Single DIN unit out there. For that reason, we consider it not only the best Single DIN Touchscreen unit, but the best Single DIN head unit overall. The presence of the Siri Eyes Free app also makes this the best Single DIN head unit for Apple / iOS product users.
Considering the strengths of the other four units we reviewed, we’ve also come to the following conclusions:
The Pioneer DEH-150MP is definitely the most economical choice of all the head units presented here. It has some features that may make it appealing to audiophiles, such as its Compressed Audio Enhancement, but let the buyer beware that the low price may suggest low quality.
Although the Alpine CDE-HD149BT comes in as one of the most expensive of the five units we reviewed, it’s for good reason. This unit is the best-designed and most versatile head unit we reviewed that isn’t a touchscreen. It has some flaws, but these are more like minor inconveniences than actual serious drawbacks. It offers more music playback options than even the top-rated Pioneer AVH-X7800BT, which lacks SiriusXM capability.
The Pioneer DEH-X6900BT gets our vote for being the most basic and simple head unit out of those we reviewed. It’s not the least expensive, but the second most economical. That makes it our pick for least risky head unit purchase, as long as all you really want is a just a car stereo head unit with an AM/FM radio. If you don’t care about streaming or satellite radio, or fancy smartphone apps, then this is your machine.
Lastly, the Kenwood KMMBT315U by all appearances is the best Single DIN head unit for Android compatibility among those we compared. Its many features seem specifically geared towards Android users, though it could be a good choice for iOS users, too. It’s sufficiently versatile in spite of having no CD player, as it has a number of other important standard features, like Bluetooth and satellite radio capability.
Our final recommendation for the overall best of these units we reviewed, again, is the PIONEER AVH-X7800BT, with its flip-out touchscreen. Even so, it’s not a perfect unit, and given that it’s definitely the most expensive of those we reviewed, you may find that one of the other units we reviewed here fits your unique needs more exactly. Choose the best for yourself!