Car stereo reviews: the best double-DIN head units 2021

We pick from the best double-DIN head units for your car audio upgrade

Which sounds like the best option? 

We might upgrade our phone every couple of years to keep up with the latest technology, but most of us won’t renew our cars quite as often. This can leave us looking enviously at the newest models with their DAB radios, voice activation and perfect integration with smartphones.

But there is an alternative to trading in your car or crudely hanging your phone in a mount on the dashboard. Upgrading your in-car entertainment isn’t as difficult as you might think, even though many cars have built-in units rather than universal fitments. Check online or with a specialist fitter and they’ll be able to suggest adapter plates which could make a new double DIN-sized device fit and it should still work with your steering wheel remote controls.

Best of all, it will bring your car bang up to date with access to the very latest in smartphone connectivity. Which is the smartest choice to go with your phone?

How we tested them

All of the units we compared here are compatible with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, so we connected them to a test rig and checked how easy it was to link our phones and use their features.

We also checked for sound quality and assessed any other features including built-in  Bluetooth and the option to add accessories, such as back-up cameras. Finally we took into account the units’ price, using the best deals we could find online.

Can I fit it myself?

It can be daunting to pull apart your dashboard and start playing around with your precious car’s wiring, and if you have any doubts it’s best to leave the whole thing to a professional. On the other hand, you should be able to buy adapter kits for most cars, and if you have the height available for a double-DIN unit it should plug straight in without cutting cables or soldering joints. YouTube or a forum should be full of advice related to your specific car, too. 

Just try and make it easy for yourself by ensuring you have everything you need before you start, and budget for extras like a DAB antenna. Don’t underestimate the cost of all the fitting kits, either, because they can cost as much as the unit itself.

Verdict

Replacing your entertainment system is going to be a reasonable commitment, and your choice may be limited by the space behind your dash.

Assuming you do have enough space, the Kenwood DMX8020DABS is the best unit here and it has some brilliant features that rival the latest systems in high-end new cars. But you might struggle to justify the extra it costs over the cheaper Kenwood unit or Pioneer’s SPH-DA250DAB. Both offer great features for under £350 – or maybe less if you find a deal.

  1. Kenwood DMX5020DABS
  2. Pioneer SPH-DA250DAB
  3. Kenwood DMX8020DABS

Reviews

Kenwood DMX5020DABS

At the time of writing the 5020 was available for £303 on a limited deal at Halfords, but the offer will have ended by the time we go to press. Even at the higher price listed here it still looks good value, though, and takes our win, but we’d recommend shopping around. 

It has all the features we’d want including a long USB extension, mic for calls and voice activation, camera input and a fast-reacting, clear touchscreen with no physical buttons. The deciding factor over the Pioneer is the smaller depth, which makes it far easier to fit.

Buy now from Amazon

Pioneer SPH-DA250DAB

Pioneer’s contender looks great value, especially considering its power and sound quality. As on the winning Kenwood there are no separate buttons, and it’s controlled via the touchscreen, which gives it a really clean and modern look. 

An unusual feature for radio fans is the ability to pause live broadcasts on digital radio if you want to make a call or talk to a passenger without missing out on the news or a drama. 

There are a few niggles, though. It’s a big unit to fit, there’s no USB extension lead, and the start screen takes a long time to load. Once it’s woken up, though, the responses are lightning fast.

Buy now from Amazon

Kenwood DMX8020DABS

The really nifty trick with this Kenwood is that it can offer wired and wireless connection between your phone and the unit, not just for Bluetooth streaming, but also for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This means you don’t have to end up with wires trailing across your dashboard, and can tuck your phone away safely. Built-in WiFi even allows you to connect to a dash cam.

It has slightly more power than the 5020 too, but we’d guess many buyers would struggle to justify the extra £200 it costs over the cheaper unit for the additional features the 8020 offers.  

Buy now from Amazon

Sony XAV-AX5550D

  • Price: £479  
  • DAB: Yes  
  • Power: 4x55w
  • Rating: 3.5 stars
  • Contact: www.sony.co.uk

Sony’s big-selling double-DIN could well be the only choice if you’re upgrading from a single to a double unit, because the space it takes up behind the screen is small. That means it will fit in older, classic cars without having to butcher the dashboard. 

Once it’s fitted, it has great sound quality and there are proper buttons for the most commonly used functions, such as volume and track selection. These make it easy to use the unit when you’re on the move, but date the appearance a little. The screen isn’t the fastest to respond to touches and swipes can be a little laggy, too. 

Buy now from Amazon

JVC KW-M565DBT

  • Price: £329.99  
  • DAB: Yes  
  • Power: 4x45w
  • Rating: 3.5 stars
  • Contact: www.uk.jvc.com

Whether you choose this unit over the almost-identical M560BT will be entirely down to how important DAB radio is to you. If you would like the capability to listen to broadcasts crackle-free and without using your mobile phone data to connect to online services, then it could be worth the extra £30. 

Otherwise everything is the same, including the compact fitment and neat rear camera input with built-in parking guidelines. We liked the way you can adjust the volume by simply drawing a circle on the touchscreen. 

Buy now from Amazon

JVC KW-M560BT

  • Price: £299  
  • DAB: No  
  • Power: 4x45w
  • Rating: 3 stars
  • Contact: www.uk.jvc.com

If your budget is tight, this JVC could appeal, because we couldn’t find a cheaper branded CarPlay/Android Auto audio unit. There are compromises of course, the most obvious of which is the lack of a DAB radio. However, this may not bother you if you’re happy to put up with FM or use phone apps for your entertainment. 

The lack of features also means the JVC is very shallow, which might be crucial if space in your dashboard is tight. Its main problem is the Kenwood DMX5020DABS, which does everything just as well while also including DAB – and other extra features – for not much more money. 

Buy now from Amazon

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