If you're still listening to music through your phone's weak, crackly speaker on your drives, it's time for an upgrade. It's tough to beat the convenience of wireless streaming, but chances are you'll need to upgrade your vehicle's stereo head unit to use that feature. And iPhone users will want to make sure that they're upgrading to one of the best CarPlay head units on the market right now.
There are tons of benefits to using an Apple CarPlay head unit beyond access to great music, too: Anyone with an iPhone can use simple voice commands with CarPlay for navigation, taking calls, sending texts and more. What's more, you don't need a brand-new vehicle to experience any of this functionality in a safe, distraction-free way. Since Apple CarPlay's 2014 debut, aftermarket stereo manufacturers have been designing head units with Apple's automotive OS to fit a variety of vehicle models.
Beyond Apple CarPlay, many head units from the likes of Sony, Kenwood, JVC, Pioneer and others include HD radio, satellite radio, USB ports, CD and DVD players, preamps, built-in GPS navigation and wireless and Bluetooth connectivity. With all of their capabilities, there's a reason the term "infotainment system" has caught on. Upgrading to a new Apple CarPlay head unit also opens the potential for a bigger display screen than what you may already have. Some new stereo system units may even add features your factory stereo didn't have before, like the ability to add a backup camera or gauges for engine performance.
With so many options, trying to figure out the best Apple CarPlay head unit for your vehicle can be tough. That's why we spoke with the folks at Crutchfield to help us pick the best Apple CarPlay car stereo head units. Crutchfield has helped over 6 million customers upgrade their car audio experience since 1974. Check out some of the best Apple CarPlay head unit options below to find the right fit for your vehicle.
Criteria for choosing the best Apple CarPlay head unit
We've assembled our list of the best Apple CarPlay car stereo head units from models that fit the most common radio sizes: single DIN car stereo and double DIN head unit car stereo slots. These car stereo system picks are based on Crutchfield's expert recommendations, user reviews and ratings at popular shopping sites.
Before you dig in, find out exactly which Apple CarPlay car stereo will fit in your vehicle by using Crutchfield's Find What Fits tool. Enter your vehicle make, model and year and you'll be greeted with speakers, Apple CarPlay head units and more to outfit your ride.
Three things to look for in a new Apple CarPlay head unit
Double DIN or single DIN: DIN is a standardized head unit size, so the two most common unit sizes are double DIN and single DIN. Single DIN stereo openings measure 2x8 inches, while double DIN openings measure 4x8 inches. If you're replacing a double DIN unit, there are more options for adding smarts to your stereo. If you have a single DIN unit, that doesn't automatically mean you're out of the running for pairing your Apple iPhone to your car for Apple CarPlay, but you will have fewer choices.
Types of receivers: There are a few different head unit categories, each offering a different feature set depending on your needs. Can't let go of discs? You're in luck, as you can have physical and digital in one auto head unit package with a DVD receiver. Digital multimedia receivers don't have an optical drive, but they can play back audio and video and many have touchscreens.
Features: When you're looking for an Apple CarPlay stereo head unit, Apple iPhone integration isn't all you'll get for your dollar. If you want something closer to your smartphone look for a capacitive touchscreen rather than a resistive one. Many models also include pre-outs for adding external amps and subwoofers, in addition to HD and satellite radio tuners. For the ultimate convenience, look for a unit with Bluetooth and wireless Apple CarPlay app connectivity for your Apple device.
Using Apple's Siri in a car is great; plugging and unplugging your phone when you're running errands isn't. We like the Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX as our best overall Apple CarPlay car stereo head unit because the double DIN head unit has the option for a wired or wireless Apple CarPlay connection, HDMI input and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming. For music lovers, this CarPlay stereo's CD/DVD drive, HD Radio, FLAC support and satellite radio have you covered regardless of digital format. Coolest of all? With an accessory (sold separately), you can view engine performance info on this Pioneer head unit's 6.9-inch touchscreen.
You don't need to spend a fortune to get Apple CarPlay into your vehicle. If money is tight, look no further than the DMH-1500NEX car stereo head unit from Pioneer. Control your Apple iPhone's music library from the 7-inch touchscreen, and use Siri to answer questions like "Has anyone ever found a marmoset in Topeka?" before you cross into the city limits. This Alpine stereo receiver isn't lacking for expandability either, featuring six-channel preamp outputs, compatibility with most digital audio formats and dual camera input options.
A single DIN car stereo opening in your vehicle doesn't mean you can't have a huge touchscreen anymore. With the Alpine Halo9 iLX-F309 car head unit, a 9-inch floating display attaches to a 2-inch head unit. There's plenty of height and angle adjustment, too, in addition to a rear USB port input, aux input, HDMI input and Bluetooth. Built-in Apple CarPlay means Apple Maps, text messages, phone calls and weather are only a voice command away.
On the aftermarket, Apple CarPlay head unit stereos don't get much bigger than the Pioneer DMH-WT8600NEX. This digital wired and wireless CarPlay multimedia player ditches optical discs in favor of a 10.1-inch 720p capacitive touchscreen that floats over a single DIN dash unit. For $1,500 you also get wireless Apple CarPlay connectivity, HD Radio, Bluetooth and compatibility with a variety of digital music formats including AAC, FLAC, MP3 and WMA.
Who needs discs and a CD player? Not the Alpine iLX-W650 Apple head unit. Forgoing an optical drive frees up space and makes this double din stereo unit an easy choice if space inside your dashboard is at a premium. In addition to the usual Apple CarPlay car stereo head unit integration, the iLX-W650 boasts front and rear camera inputs and six-channel preamp outputs. Speaking of expandability, you can easily add Alpine's power-pack amplifier for an additional 50 watts RMS by four channels for even more sound.
The Pioneer AVH W4500NEX is our pick for best overall Apple car stereo above, but it's also our pick for the best wireless Apple CarPlay DVD head unit because it brings the right combination of expected features to the mix along with surprises like the aforementioned ability to display engine performance read-outs. And while there are cheaper options, if you're a die-hard CD enthusiast, this is the best way to play them for most people with the CD/DVD drive and still have all the features of Apple CarPlay from your Apple iPhone or Android phone at the same time.
What does a $2,000+ Apple CarPlay-capable car stereo head unit look like? The Kenwood Excelon DNX997XR. All those ducats get you a raft of features, the headliner being a built-in Garmin GPS navigation system with three years of free updates included. In addition to wireless Apple CarPlay, wired and wireless screen mirroring, passengers can wirelessly control Pandora from an Apple or Android device. This double DIN car stereo model also has a motorized 720p, 6.75-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth and a built-in HD Radio tuner.
This head unit typically sells for closer to $1,400, but it's pretty tricky to find in stock right now. The best available price at the moment it's $2,300 at Amazon, but it's probably worth waiting for a restock at other retailers, which could save you $900.
Best wireless Apple CarPlay head unit if money is no object details
Head unit size
Double DIN auto head unit
Wired and wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
2x USB, mini aux, RCA, 2x camera, memory card slot, Bluetooth
Yes with tuner
CD and DVD
Before you buy
Depending on where you buy your Apple car stereo, it may come with free installation. Failing that, Best Buy charges $100 for installation and promises a factory-installed look without a loss of factory functionality. You'll have to pay for any additional parts beyond the flat labor fee.
When it comes to self-installation of a head unit, you have a few options, but both involve premade wiring harness adapters. Scosche and Amazon sell a variety of connectors that eliminate the need for cutting and soldering into the factory wiring harness. You can also pick up adapters so you don't lose features like OnStar, steering wheel controls or door chimes. These range in price from a few dollars to more than a few hundred bucks, depending on the complexity. You can buy trim pieces and mounting kits as well and chances are finding a YouTube how-to video for your stereo model and vehicle won't be too difficult.
If you don't have the time or energy to track everything down yourself, consider buying your Apple CarPlay stereo head unit from Crutchfield. Crutchfield's trademark is making installation dead simple for do-it-yourselfers. By including premade wiring harnesses, connectors, trim pieces and vehicle-specific installation instructions with every head unit and speaker, Crutchfield takes the intimidation out of upgrading your stereo yourself.
Best of all, DIYing doesn't mean you lose steering wheel audio controls, backup cameras or other factory creature comforts, either. That comes at a price, though. When you're drafting your upgrade budget, expect to set aside between $300 to $500 in addition to the cost of your head unit for the necessary harnesses and data controllers. Older vehicles make for cheaper installs, however. The Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX's install kit for a 2008 Ford Ranger lists for $56, for example, but it's currently discounted by $50.
"You can 100% get a very modern [smartphone-connected] radio experience in your car," even if it's over a decade old, said Adam "J.R." Stoffel, a training manager who's been with Crutchfield since 1996.