Looking for a single DIN car radio to upgrade your onboard audio? Here’s a selection of some of our favorite options currently on the market.
We’ve already had a look at some of the best overall stereos and head units available on the car audio aftermarket, but this guide is specifically for owners of vehicles with a classic single-DIN aperture in their dashboard.
As modern car design has moved towards a more integrated style of radio/head unit, the humble but mighty single DIN setup often gets overlooked by the audiophiles of today. However, that’s not entirely a bad thing. With attention and demand now largely focused elsewhere these days, those of you in need of single DIN solutions to your audio upgrades are staring at fantastic value for money. Features once rare are now nearly everywhere, like FLAC file decoding – the fab high resolution ‘open source’ music coding format.
Another cool thing is the way that digital media have got faster and fatter. It used to be an issue as to what size of SD card or USB stick a unit could read. It separated the digital donkeys from the racehorses. But these days a single DIN unit can handle huge storage – my expert installers said they like to keep it ‘small’ at 64GB or 128GB! Even bigger will work, but the unit will slow down is all.
Anyway, enough chat. Here are several of the best single DIN car radios that the modern aftermarket has to throw at you:
At a glance:
Best Single DIN Car Radio
Sony DSX-A212Ui; Best Value For Money
RRP: £64.99. Buy it here.
Before we get into the best value for money single DIN system I could find, did you see the ‘Ten Quid Car Radio’ review? It got to 80ºC upon testing! I sent it to a chum who has a dune buggy. Nothing but GRP panels and a dash! I suggested boxed 6x9s strapped to the rollover bar behind him. Good luck mate!
Anyway, this Sony unit is the sort of thing you should consider instead when searching for a quality – yet affordable – aftermarket stereo. It is priced significantly below all the others here and yet is from a top brand. But it has only a fragment of that £10 unit’s features. That is probably due to having to print six-language manuals and pay for licenses rather than just not care. Tenner-boy had an SD card slot, also read FLAC, and had Bluetooth telephony and streaming!
In operation, the DSX-A212Ui got no hotter than the normal 45ºC most units get to and it looks really cute. The demo sequence was worthy of videoing. It only has an analogue radio and USB reader, with an Aux plug hole in the front. I really liked the USB slot cover. Caliber use a plate that dangles on a little filament, Blaupunkt use a door that opens. This one slides open. For all it is an analogue tuner, there is some fun to be had on LW. Ever see the movie “Gravity?” Tune to Long Wave and you might pick up weird foreign broadcasts. The tuner in this has two bandwidth settings. You have to pick Europe or Russia. Inadvertently topical…
The face comes off yet no case is provided. This is the new norm. The ‘EQ10’ system is lovely. Each curve is well designed and the Karaoke setting is for singing like a fool. I love that.
DSX-A212Ui played my USB tunes a treat. The tuner is not too sensitive but the radio sounds good. Utterly perfect if you already have a Parrot-type handsfree/DAB. You can pop its output into the aux socket. For more info, check out the full review here.
- 1-DIN mech-free face-off FM/AM/LW radio with USB & Aux
- One pair of RCA output sockets, steering wheel remote output socket
- Reads MP3, WMA, FLAC via the 1.0A front mounted USB
- Extra Bass, EQ10 equaliser with presets and custom and Karaoke setting
Grundig GX-4308; Editor’s Choice
RRP: £150.00. Buy it here.
Grundig is a brand that hardly ever showed up in the UK as car audio. And that’s despite being one of the huge domestic affordable names in stuff like TVs. German in ‘origin’, this bears an uncanny resemblance to the JVC KD-X561DBT. That too has the wee 3in TFT 1080p TV screen. It also has a camera input on the back. This makes it a fabulously cheap way to add a reversing camera to your car. The OEM front and rear video in my car was the thick end of two grand retail! (I paid less…)
In an old fashioned way, this is a face-off unit. The front can be taken with you in an included hard case. There is a wire out the back to connect to the ‘parking brake’. You cannot play video files while you drive, unless you put that wire to earth instead. Then, it is up to the driver to decide to pay attention. Another wire is an output to feed an OEM adapter to drive steering wheel remote controls. A final one selects camera input from sensing the reversing light loom wire. There are Fr/Rr paired RCA outputs and one subwoofer RCA. Digital and analogue radio aerial sockets and a microphone jack complete the plug holes. One cool feature is ‘Virtual Subwoofer’. You can cross the treble out of your rear speakers from the speaker wire feeds. Cool!
The sound is not quite as lovely as the Blaupunkt Frankfurt I tested last, and yet it is clean and powerful. The looks are a little old hat but that screen is gorgeous. The DSP is stupidly capable for the price. Bass boosters, several preset EQs and a 13-band user one. There’s even time alignment!
A low cost total powerhouse that is ‘German Design, German Technology’. I love it! Read the full review here.
- 1-DIN mech-free DAB+/FM/AM radio with USB/Aux/Bluetooth (V4.1) streaming and calls
- Onboard Power: 4x50W MOSFET, FM settable to Europe, Asia, M. East, Oceania, Latin, N. America frequency bands/steps
- 2V Front, Rear and Sub RCA out, front USB and Aux, rear camera input, panel case, DAB antenna and wired microphone included
- 0in 1080p TFT TV screen, 24 bit ‘HiRes’ DSP audio processor with time alignment! DAB Antenna inc.
Kenwood KDC-BT960DAB; Best for Big Systems
RRP: £189.99. Buy it here.
There’s lots that the KDC-BT960DAB has in common with other units. But I adored it. The classic 1-DIN CD deck. Add a USB slot with Aux to the right and you have lot of input possibility. And even though locked into 44.1kHz sampling rate, CD still sounds awesome. KCD-BT960DAB has all the digital smarts it needs. The internal DSP stuff is similar to a lot of the units here, like the 13-Band EQ. What is different (apart from the EQ presets and their names) is the sheer power of the RCA outputs. What once started as a standard 500mV ‘signal’ or half a Volt, got bigger. In the old days, we were impressed at 4V pre-outs and these are 5V.
And that’s one more, like Nigel Tufnel said in Spinal Tap. It means huge, clear musical thrust right up your amp inputs.
The CD drive is top end quality and more cunning than others. As well as commercial and computer-burned CDs, it will also read other file types as stored data. This means up to 150 MP3 files can fit one CD.
But you really want to be using this as the basis of a big sexy system with amplifiers. The amount of signal is so prodigious that any extraneous ‘noise’ is utterly irrelevant. You need turn it up less to drive the amp inputs and it sounds fabulous. Incredible clarity and purity, fit for sound competitions. You just need the right CD. I totally went into one, enjoying it.
Stanton Warriors. Starts track one with a bloke getting into a car with him tuning on the radio. We hear the disc jockey suggest we turn it up. Track two starts 12dB louder. It blows your balls off.
I love this deck’s looks too, especially that clear USB/Aux door. To find out more, read my full length review of it.
- 1-DIN CD Tuner with DAB+, FM, AM, USB (2.0 high speed), Aux, Bluetooth (V4.2) streaming and calls
- 0V Front, Rear, Subwoofer high power RCA outputs
- Plays CD, CD-R/RW, MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV and FLAC files from USB and CD
- DSP has sound/bass enhancement, Time Alignment & 13-Band EQ, works with Kenwood Remote App
Caliber RCD120DAB-BT/B; Best for Updated Old School
RRP: £199.99. Buy it here.
After all the brand new lightweight short-bodied digital file-handling car radios, this was a treat. A throwback to the old school days of CD. When you drove your Lamborghini Countach around London with a CD stuck ostentatiously in the dash trim! (I wish…) Yes, a full size, full-weight car radio with a removable, flip-down face and weighty CD mechanism inside.
Starting there, we find the eject button below the CD slot and next to the SD card slot. I popped a classic 1990’s Bass CD in and wondered why it wouldn’t load? Then, I removed the transit screws all CD mechs always ship with (murr!) and tried again. It loaded rapidly. Then, I inserted the SanDisk 32GB MicroSD in an adapter case, into the SD slot. Snapped it shut, inserted a USB into the front and the Aux got the the Panasonic voice recorder plugged in. Added an FM aerial, and the included DAB+ antenna was Blutacked to my window. That’s five sources. CD, SD, FM, DAB, AUX.
I fired it up and had a play with all sources and tune files. Yes, it only plays MP3 and WMA, and not M4A. The Aux analogue input was quieter than other units, needing high gain to hear well. CD was crisp and lovely. The DAB didn’t work! So I finally did the RTFM. I like to see if a moron can work it out without a manual, at first, with myself as moron. The included antenna needed to ‘see’ metalwork. I moved it and it worked!
This looks really cool, plays so many sources including your beloved CDs, even your own recorded ones. It sounds clean and clear and is beautiful in black chrome. Oh and that 16GB limit? I used a 32GB card. And, undeclared, it plays FLAC32 files. For even more info, read the full review.
- 1-DIN CD-Tuner with DAB+/FM & USB/SD/Aux/Bluetooth streaming and calls
- Onboard Power: 4x75W MAX, this is what others call ‘4X50W’ and likely to be 4x22W RMS
- 2V Front and Rear RCA out, front USB and Aux, SD & CD slots under faceplate, DAB+ antenna and wired microphone included
- Plays CD, CD-R/RW, MP3, WMA and plays FLAC32, despite not being rated for it.
JVC KD-X561DBT; Best For Digital Nomad Vloggers
RRP: £244.99. Buy it here.
A major selling point of KD-X561DBT is the reversing camera input that can feed that dinky 3in LCD screen. When you connect the little rear-dangling wire to the reversing light loom, the camera screen fires up upon selecting reverse gear. There is also a button on the front, marked ‘camera’. Now here’s the thing to deal with immediately. This is all but identical to the Grundig GX-4308. Every last engineering detail matches. From the release keys, to the blue panel back-lighting. From the total matching of the digital functions, to the layout of all the major parts. The panel buttons are a bit different and it looks posher and more up to date than the Grundig. But if the guts are not the same, I am thin.
The JVC bears a ‘Made For iPod/iPhone logo while the Grundig does not. The Grundig does not have a direct ‘camera’ button whereas KD-X561DBT does. The strange thing is how the graphics look just boring and flat and even a bit low resolution, versus the Grundig. The screen is the same. I’d warrant that the guts are the same. The subcontracting manufacturer both used, has only changed the front panel and the graphics files between the two.
Differences? The Grundig is intuitive and has a basic pictorial manual that an idiot can follow, KD-X561DBT doesn’t. The USB socket is mounted the other way around. The JVC can use the RM-RK258 remote and the Grundig cannot. I bought one and tried!
The Grundig is rare and all but sold out and their brand is not remotely ‘cool’. JVC still has that awesome branding and yes, you can watch video. So digital nomads can plug their camera’s output into the USB and passengers can control playback, the driver can listen, as their journey continues. For a closer look, check out the full hands-on review.
- 1-DIN mech-free DAB+/FM/AM radio with USB/Aux/Bluetooth (V4.1) streaming and calls
- Onboard Power: 4x45W MOSFET, FM settable to Europe or Middle East frequency bands/steps
- 2V Front, Rear and Sub RCA out, front USB and Aux, rear camera input, wired microphone included
- 0in 1080p TFT TV screen, DSP audio processor with time alignment,
JVC KD-DB922BT; Best For Alexa
RRP: £149.99. Buy it here.
The selling point of this JVC is Amazon Alexa. I know a bloke who has an Amazon Echo and four DOTS. He has four lighting circuits and a Hive-heating system and uses a Ring doorbell and an Amazon Firestick! You won’t be using the Internet Of Things in your car. You might in a high-tech camper van, but the car use is limited to certain things. The Alexa functions include, Weather, News, Wikipedia, Spotify, Deezer, TuneIn, Apple Music, Amazon Music and Kindle audiobooks. Timers and alarms and ‘play music’, as well as asking daft stuff are there too. I stuffed everything with tunes and then decided to Wiki my mama! I have a basic Amazon account, so I added Amazon Music and the Alexa app to my Android Samsung Galaxy S20.
Everything sounded good. The Aux was loud, the volume knob really is fast and the output woke up the speakers. Programming both analogue and digital radio is intuitive and the display has two lines. It looks great and sounds lovely.
Hardware pairing problems
I had a white box sample unit and Alexa kept asking different questions. I said “Alexa: Claire Rayner, Wikipedia” and was immediately served the first few lines of my mum’s listing! It kinda threw me! But despite getting it to work one more time, that was it for the test rig. I ended up angry and frustrated if I am honest. It may have been a firmware update but I failed to make it work again. The unit kept telling me to download the app and pair bluetooth until I shouted at it. But that is almost certainly an app/sample unit issue, or simply Alexa being an idiot on my phone. It kept failing to find the unit, although it did initially. Then the radio refused to ‘see’ it. To read about that in more detail, have a look at my full review.
- 1-DIN CD Tuner DAB+/FM/AM radio with USB/Aux/Bluetooth (V4.2) streaming and calls
- Onboard Power: 4x50W or 2x50W + 1x50W to 4ohm subwoofer
- Works with Amazon Alexa, also uses JVC Smartphone wifi remote app
- Variocolour illumination with optional Music Sync. that pulses to the music rhythm
RetroSound San Diego Ghia; Best For Classic VW
RRP: £355.00. Buy it here.
Try saying “Fluffy’s Vee-Dub collection” into Google. You will find yourself watching a video of Gabriel Inglesias’ Volkswagen bus collection. It is worth $3m, or was back in 2019! The point is that the VW bus is more adored than just about anything. But just because the van is old and classic, doesn’t mean you have to stick with ancient audio. You can hide high quality speakers in the places they normally live and feed them good things!
This is the most complex to assemble car radio I ever worked with. Because of the dual active ‘spindles’ with their bracketry that can fit into any spindle-mount dashboard ever made. No matter how weird and odd, it can fit. And you can choose the knobs and front panel to fit your car best. What we have here is a delicious match for any Karmann Ghia or lovely old VW bus.
I admit that I had preconceptions that crumbled. The sheer solidity, quality, fit and finish and totally precise tooling, is top end. Made to last and last for the whole life of your classic. The main guts box is the thing and we got the best one, “Motor 6”. It was intuitive to use and has some really lovely features like the little non-volatile memory for settings once disconnected.
Audio quality and tuning potential
The FM tuner can be set to range for different territories worldwide and the illumination can be set to match whatever colour you want. They say on the box, “Modern Sound For Your Classic” and it’s a simple truth.
The sound quality is very high. Crisp, detailed and that 4x25W on board MOSFET amp is a ‘TrueRATING” so is what most others call 4x45W. Massively features-rich, delicious in operation and looks absolutely stunning. If you want to know more, check out my full review of it here!
- 1-DIN mech-free DAB+/FM/AM 30-preset radio with USB/Aux/Bluetooth (V5) streaming and calls
- Onboard Power: 4x45W @4ohms FM settable to USA/EUR/AUS/JAP/RUS frequency bands/steps
- Front, Rear and Sub RCA out, 2xUSB on cables with socket caps, wired microphone included
- Fully modular design system that can be configured to fit any car of any era
Pioneer MVH-S520DAB; FAST CAR APPROVED
RRP: £149.99. Buy it here.
Like many here, the MVH-S5200DAB, can connect two phones simultaneously. The unit’s bluetooth version isn’t quoted but can have ten devices programmed into it. A full-size unit, despite having the stuff in its guts that fits into other brands’ short-body units. Perhaps it is about the real estate space being expected and used to keep the thermal control efficient? It didn’t get above 45ºC in use, unlike the short bonkers ten quid thing that got hot enough for well-done steak at 80ºC
The display can show 200,000 colours. The idea is to match it to your dash, but I like to leave it scrolling prettily. I plugged in the Fusion USB, Aux and both antennae. I found that I was able to confuse it and so powered down and started again. It tuned itself on DAB and has FM and MW too. I loved all the menus that were so easy to get into and reveal a wealth of features. You can set the RCAs to serve as three-way crossover outputs! There is time alignment and speaker type selection to go with the 13-band EQ. Two user memories for your own curves. A bit less easy to operate and set than the prettier graphics on some others. This uses frequency in numbers rather than a bar display with Hz labels.
It paired up fast and I could play bluetooth music and scroll the titles of YouTube videos from the phone. That included Spotify. The supporting Pioneer SmartSync app offers detailed graphics and control and MVH-S520DAB can then launch navigation software on that phone.
A beautiful looking unit, potent sounding and very adjustable. Easily Fast Car Approved. Read the full review to find out more.
- 1-DIN mechless DAB+/FM/MW radio with USB/Aux/Bluetooth streaming and calls
- Onboard Power: 4x50W MOSFET, or 2x50w + 1x70W @2 Ohms sub drive. Fr/Rr, Sub, RCA outputs
- Works with Spotify, also uses Pioneer SmartSync app, works with iPhone 5 to iPhone X
- 200,000-colour customisable illumination, plays MP3, WMA, WAV, AAC, FLAC
Blaupunkt Frankfurt RCM82; Best Retro
RRP: £479.99, Buy it here. $514.90, Buy it here.
Blaupunkt have played a blinder here. I know of a top car audio executive that has been nagging for ‘RETRO’ product from his HQ, for years. He has not really been believed by head office, possibly because they are so far away and this is Euro-cultural. But you can rely on Blaupunkt to get a grip of Euro culture, and the Frankfurt RCM82DAB is the result. I love the BUTTONS! Real, clicky buttons that tell you they have been pressed, with some biofeedback.
They have tried doing this with touch screens in the past but it has never taken off. One was called ‘Pulse Touch’ and was an Alpine thing. The screen tickled when you pressed it. The other is Haptics, relying upon tiny tweeters to tickle you with ultrasound waves! Used in Jaguars, and nowhere else, I think. A simple button with what it does, printed upon it, is always a boon. And it looks like a cassette deck.
Then, you realise that the little cassette slot is not a slot, but a door. You flip it open to reveal a tiny MicroSD slot, just like in a mobile phone (or used to be!). Then, a USB socket as well a classic 3.5mm Aux socket. Hanging out of the back are a few cords, one of which is another USB socket. I spent an age making new media and stuffed something up every plughole. I had tribulations, which you can read about in the in-depth review.
The Blaupunkt Frankfurt RCM 82 is a monster. The tuner is world-wide settable. Frankfurt reads everything including FLAC and even stuff it shouldn’t. Like deleted video and image files! The sound quality is top notch and it didn’t get terribly hot, (45C) even with the on-board amp absolutely spanking. For a closer look at what it can offer, make sure to read my in-depth full review of it.
- 1-DIN short body mech-free DAB+/FM/AM radio with 2xUSB/Aux/MicroSD/twin-connect Bluetooth (v4.1)
- Onboard Power: 4x50W @4ohms; Front, Rear, Subwoofer RCA outputs, wired steering wheel control port
- Fr & Rr 14-Band EQ, plus ‘Rock’, Pop’ & ‘Classic”; Subwoofer output adjustable for Gain, Hz and slope
- Internal electronic crossovers: 50, 63, 80, 100, 125, 160 or 200Hz, front and rear HPF/LPF @ 6/12dB
Alpine iLX- F905D; Best High End & BEST OVERALL
RRP: £899.99. Buy it here.
At £900, this is still not Alpine’s top single-DIN unit. That would be the ILX-F115D with its whopping eleven-inch screen, for £1,099.00. A 1-DIN space houses the guts and smarts for both models and the screen on the front can be huge. Bigger than would ever fit inside, as it needn’t motorise away out of sight these days. The changes in car theft culture now mean they will steal the whole car via keyless signal theft. But they won’t nick your car radio.
Alpine call this Halo9 and it’s their second generation of these era-defining decks. My doomed TV pilot, The Tackle Room, looks fabulous on the full size screen. The Halo9 mount allows you to adjust the tilt and mounting height of the screen to suit your vehicle. I fitted the sample unit to the desk and fired up the telly. I grounded the parking brake wire. You mustn’t, (obviously) watch video while rolling.
Then I was on another planet.
Audio quality and tuning potential
The screen is sumptuous. All you need ‘learn’ (apart from being an audio expert) is the down arrow at the screen’s headline. Bop that and the Voltmeter with icons appears. Everything is intuitive and can be done by idiots, like me. If, however, you know your stuff, you have a scintillating suite of EQ, crossovers and time alignment. The latter can be used in inches, centimetres or milliseconds for your delay. Awesome.
The 4x50W class D amp within is 70% efficient, rather than a MOSFET’s lower efficiency. So it goes LOUD On internal power.
Alpine’s iLX-F905D is a literal tour-de-force. From the 6V pre-outs, to the stunning screen, it proves the aftermarket has got units that make normal OEM stuff look like a squid versus The Kraken!
Best High End and BEST OVERALL. A breathtakingly desirable piece of equipment. But if you’re still not convinced, maybe my full review of it will sway you.
- 1-DIN body GPS-equipped car radio with ‘floating’ 9in HD capacitative Halo9 screen, twin cam connection
- 4x50W MOSFET CLASS D internal power amplifier, 24-BIT DAC, Fr, Rr, Sub pre-outs at 6V
- Wireless remote control ready, HDMI in/out 2xUSB, AUX, DAB+, plays FLAC, AAC, WAV, APE, MP3, MP4, MOV, FLV, MKV
- Works wirelessly with Apple Car play, Android Auto (USB wired), Bluetooth (V4.2), Made for iPhone
How The Units Were Tested
First, the fun of getting in touch and nagging for physical samples of each unit. It’s how I can brag of knowing folks at most top electronics companies like JVC, Kenwood and Sony. They arrive and each gets plugged in and played with. My desk was originally purchased especially for this use, with eight cubby holes and two desk surfaces. I think it was influenced by a book I had a kid, called ‘365 Things To Do’.
The idea is to test every single function and connection of all ten car radio head units. All the features, without going for an installed drive, which is a much more major enterprise. I have tunes in multiple formats and protocols.
It starts with my DIAWA PS-304II Laboratory 12V power supply at the bottom of the rig. Nothing major, yet has enough muscle for a head unit and my reference power amplifier, a classic Genesis SM60. That’s on the shelf above. A paragon of clean watts, it is easy to tell sound quality of the source through it. The Bowers & Wilkins LM1 Leisure Monitor speakers on the top shelf are likewise of high quality. They were gifted to me on a factory trip, and are supplied via 12Ga StreetWires cable by Esoteric Audio. They can be connected to the SM60, or else re-plugged on quick-release bullets, to use the head unit’s chip-amplifier output. The FM aerial and the DAB antenna on my office window gets plugged in and I can even run dual-zone. I have a roof screen/DVD unit installed in the next cubby to use to test that.
I also have an ugly-big battery for speakers/amps up to a kilowatt in a separate rig in another room. Last of all, the crucial bit.
These ears are able to tell.
How To Buy The Best Single-DIN Radio
When buying any car audio, you start with the same three considerations of vehicle, taste and budget.
When I was a car audio accessories sales rep, we sold a dirt-cheap ‘commodity’ radio. Its purpose was to have a radio in the car when it was sold instead of an empty DIN slot. My boss used to say it was dual-function. It filled the hole and it stopped the draught. You will know what you feel is worth spending. You will have an idea of the system wanted. Is it just the speakers on the watts in the head unit, like normal people? Or are you a fellow amplifier-lunatic fresh from looking at our car wiring kit guide?
Also, you don’t put a brand new-look unit in the dash of a car that is becoming a classic. You want one that looks cool in your BMW, fits like it was a new age hippy in your lovely old VW bus. Maybe you have real needs to play footage you filmed that day, as you vlog off to your next adventure? One drives, the other checks the whole lot as you ride… (by remote control)
The thing is, only get the technology you need. If you don’t have a high end super-resolution streaming service subscription, you don’t need a HiRes certified unit. The plot is to have a firm idea of what you will really play. It might even be that a wallet of CDs is part of your fun. All burned to playlists that will work far from any cellular coverage. If so, get a retro-style CD-disc mechanism. They are out there. The quality is still high, despite retro looks. Some of the priciest here are designed with deep cunning just to pull that con of looking old yet sounding new.
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