Car stereo reviews: single and double-DIN head units
We pick from the best DAB double-DIN head units and basic single-DIN car radios
The world is going digital, and our cars are no different. So if your model doesn’t have DAB radio, you may want to upgrade. DAB radio promises a more reliable service with better reception, plus a wider choice of stations than FM.
If you’re fitting a new DAB head unit, you want it to be simple to use with those extra stations easy to select. Plus, upgrading provides an opportunity to futureproof your car by adding modern connectivity such as Apple CarPlay and Andriod Auto. We looked out for all of this when testing the ten systems below.
How we tested them
We hooked each DAB radio up to a test rig, and rated them when driving on a varied route. But reception quality obviously varies widely from one area to another, and can be affected by the weather.
Our head units scored for features like Bluetooth (for making hands-free calls and streaming music), USB and aux sockets, sat-nav, plus basics like CD players. The final factor was price, taken from various sources as we went to press.
Our 2-DIN DAB winner comes from Kenwood in the form of its DMX7017DABS, whereas ou 1-DIN DAB champion comes from Pure Highway in the form of H260DBi.
Best Double-DIN DAB head unit: Kenwood DMX7017DABS
Best Single-DIN DAB head unit: Clarion CZ505E
Want to keep your existing stereo, and get DAB without upsetting the look of your dash? Pure’s Highway 300Di is worth considering. A long-standing Auto Express favourite, the £143 set-up comprises a control unit that sits behind the dash and a display fixed to it.
Not only does the 300Di bring DAB to older stereos, it lets you power and control your iPod, iPad or iPhone, plus it has auxiliary and USB sockets. Alternatively, if you have a large mobile phone data allowance, download an app like TuneIn Radio, Pandora or Aha, and you can get the same range of stations.
Price: £399Type: Double DINRating: ★★★★★
This new Kenwood seven-inch head unit, is come out on top of those we tested. Priced at just under £400, it has all the right ingredients, including a DAB tuner, Apple CarPlay, plus Android Auto to give you touch control of your smartphone on the head unit screen. Android features include music streaming library search from the head unit and a Spotify control screen that is similar to an iPod interface. It offers just about all the features a user could need, including on-screen sat-nav using Apple or Google maps, a reversing camera, Kenwood’s new GPS dash cam linkage and video output to rear screens to play films from a phone, memory stick or hard drive.
Price: £316Type: Double DINRating: ★★★★☆
Pioneer’s SPH-DA120 remains a cost-effective way of connecting your iPhone to your car through CarPlay, plus you can give your model an upmarket feel as well by adding a reversing camera and rear seat screens fed from the unit’s AV output. This model has all the usual phone perks, including hands-free, voice control and sat-nav. Using your smartphone’s sat-nav with the DA120 is enhanced by hooking up to the supplied GPS satellite antenna. There’s no Android Auto, but plenty of apps are available that allow good non-Apple interfacing. And the high-contrast, high-res screen and slick controls impress, plus the panel’s chrome edging and the buttons make this one of the best-looking head units.
Price: £299Type: Double DINRating: ★★★★☆
Like its rivals, this sub-£250 JVC is simple to install. A helpful mast icon indicates signal strength, while the digital radio stations it picks up are clearly listed. The Bluetooth function allows you to make phone calls and stream music on the move wirelessly, and the pairing process is effortless. Voice recognition is another useful extra feature, and in addition you get auxiliary and USB connectivity, as well as a CD player – as you do with all our units. This breadth of choice makes the KW-V215BT great value for money.
Price: £530Type: Double DINRating: ★★★★☆
Brand new head unit from Clarion has clearly been launched to take the fight to the Pioneer AVIC F70DAB. It’s just as easy to fit as our Best Buy, while build quality is as solid as you expect for the money. Plus, you get a raft of futureproof features, including navigation and voice control (branded as Intelligent Voice by Google). That makes this a wise investment if you spend a lot of time in the car – although if you want full smartphone integration as on the Pioneer, you’ll require an app.
Price: £164Type: Single DINRating: ★★★☆☆
Pairing your phone with this Clarion DAB via Bluetooth is effortless, and then it’s just as easy to make calls because the microphone is built into the head unit. You can stream music wirelessly, too, although there’s also a front-mounted USB port if you’d prefer to physically connect your device. The CZ505E features an auxiliary input as well. But we found navigating through the system’s various menus using the volume knob could prove a little tricky.
Price: £170Type: Single DINRating: ★★★☆☆
A clean and stylish design sets the Pioneer apart, and as well as DAB technology, you get USB and auxiliary connectivity. But as some buttons found on previous-generation models have been removed from this head unit, the remaining switches have doubled up in functionality and can make navigation a bit confusing. For example, the ring behind the volume knob skips through the station choices, which isn’t especially intuitive when on the move.
Price: £163Type: Single DINRating: ★★★☆☆
This DAB head unit is equipped with USB and auxiliary ports, as well as a CD player, and we found it had no problems connecting to our mobile phone wirelessly via Bluetooth. But it dropped points for its lacklustre build quality – the facia feels rather cheap. And in this company that’s not good enough, when for exactly the same price you can get the more solid-feeling Pure Highway H260DBi, complete with hands-free calling options.