As technology advances, more and more goods become part of the “network of things.” Your refrigerator, microwave, and air conditioning can all connect to the internet. However, as an emerging technology, there are still numerous blind spots–whether intentional or accidental–that often force us to seek third party solutions to connect more of our everyday products to the internet for this new freedom. So, why not to upgrade your car stereo with Apple CarPlay and get all the modern features rather than buying a new car?
The Next Big Thing – Apple Carplay Head Units
Enter, Apple Play. With automobiles being a billion dollar industry and manufacturers sometimes having over 100 years of experience in the market, it can sometimes be difficult to get them to make the transition and embrace a new technology when their current models are tried and true. Self-driving cars are the next new thing, but this development is being led not by Ford or Honda but by Google and Tesla.
Best Apple Carplay Stereos of 2018
As such, it has become incumbent on mostly aftermarket manufacturers to offer products which sync your car with your smart devices–regardless of who drives. Thankfully, companies known for dashboard displays and controls see a need and fill a niche. That is why we have put together this list of the Best 6 Apple CarPlay stereos on the market today. Moreover, we have also provided a thorough buyer’s guide to ensure that you can choose your CarPlay device as an informed consumer.
|Model||Touch Screen Size||OS Compatibility|
|Pioneer AppRadio 4 SPH-DA120||6.2 inch||iOS / Android Auto /|
|Sony XAV-AX100||6.4 inch||iOS / Android Auto|
|JVC KW-M730BT||6.8 inch||iOS / Android Auto|
|Kenwood DMX7704S||6.95 inch||iOS / Android Auto /|
|Clarion NX706||7 inch||iOS|
1. Alpine ILX-007 – Best Apple Exclusive CarPlay Stereo
The Alpine ILX-007 can be seen as the legacy product in the Apple CarPlay market. As one of the first aftermarket CarPlay receivers, it specializes in providing the most native and intuitively designed interactive experience the Apple users are familiar with.
However, this specialization has forced the Alpine to take a hit with versatility. As such, the Alpine CarPlay receiver does not support integration with any other OS – including Android. Of course, for dedicated Apple users, this is not an issue, and the Alpine’s focus provides the most familiar and thorough Apple experience available.
Unfortunately, due to the relatively new and immature state of the CarPlay technology, many CarPlay stereo brands have not yet included the ability to control your CarPlay stereo from the comfort of your steering wheel or the automakers have yet to include support for CarPlay stereos. That is where the Alpine’s original partnership with Apple comes into play. As being a member of this technology at the ground floor, any vehicle which offers steering wheel controls to a Bluetooth synced Apple device can also connect with the Alpine CarPlay stereo.
Aesthetically clean designed stereo unit for your car and iPhone. Very easy to install and very functional even from the box. Oddly though, this stereo itself does not support Bluetooth connection with your apple device and must be connected to a USB input. Anyway, that’s a number one choice for today with no doubts.
2. Pioneer AppRadio 4 SPH-DA120 – Best All-Around-Value
Depending on what you are looking for in a CarPlay stereo, the Pioneer can probably be seen as a first option instead of a number 2. While it has not partnered nearly as close to Apple as Alpine has, and thus does not offer the most interconnected experience, it does provide a wealth of options that the Alpine lacks which may push it over the top compared to the Alpine.
One of the main advantages of the Pioneer compared to the entire range of products on our list, not just the Alpine, is its OS compatibility. While the Alpine is an Apple-exclusive product and the other CarPlay stereos offer some Android support, the Pioneer is the only CarPlay stereo on our list to feature MirrorLink, the primary Android software for many Sony and Samsung smartphones that allow you to monitor your vehicle’s condition. Indicators like oil, tire pressure, and various engine readouts are available through the MirrorLink system, though you may need to purchase some hardware separate to get the full use out of this feature.
However, the Pioneer is not without its faults. While it may be the most versatile, it also has the smallest screen. This means that the display may get a bit more cluttered than others, and the video playback will not be quite as nice. Moreover, the UI is a bit outdated and tedious. Finally, one of the more glaring concerns in regard to the Pioneer is its pitiful preamp that can only push a paltry 14 watts per channel. But still, it’s a great branded product worth considering.
3. Sony XAV-AX100 – Best User Interface CarPlay Stereo
Sony is a trusted brand in the consumer electronics industry and its high-end electronics are regularly found at the top of their class. However, the Sony CarPlay is a bit of a mixed bag. This is not to suggest that it truly does anything poorly, but it is not the top of its class which is a rare position for Sony.
First, the Sony blows the competition away in regards to the form factor. The stereo has a much smaller profile than most of its competitors, allowing it to squeeze into the smallest of dashboards. Moreover, the manual controls on the Sony are set to the side, so they do not interfere with any other dash controls. Also, the Sony is the only CarPlay stereo to feature a knob, which allows much easier control if you choose to use the manual controls.
Worth it or not?
Sony’s screen is only 6.4”, which, while not the smallest on our list, is still below average. Also, the audio quality leaves a bit to be desired. First, it only offers 5 channels, which is odd considering that 6 channels is generally the standard for modern car stereos. Moreover, the stereo’s preamp can only push 17 watts per channel, though it does feature the highest maximum output at 55 watts. However, Sony always was a synonym for Quality. So, you basically pay for trouble-free electronics, quality control, better customer support and guarantee here.
4. JVC KW-M730BT – Best CarPlay Stereo Audio Quality
JVC is a brand that got its start in the audio electronics market, specifically the automotive audio electronics, producing some of the best low and mid-tier market speakers. Eventually, they expanded into numerous consumer electronics markets and even dominated the low-end television category for years.
This CarPlay stereo sees JVC return to its roots and provide an excellent stereo system that still serves as a serviceable CarPlay device. One of the primary advantages of the JVC is its preamp. It provides the expected 6 channels with 50 watts of maximum output. However, it is the 22 watts per channel that really lets the JVC shine.
Unfortunately, you are likely going to need that versatility as the JVC features far fewer inputs than most devices, featuring only a single USB and auxiliary input. To make things more troubling, the JVC does not play video formats, restricted exclusively to audio files.
5. Kenwood DMX7704S – Most Versatile CarPlay Stereo
The Kenwood could be the best CarPlay stereo on out list. However, it is also one of the most expensive. This is to be expected as Kenwood has long produced premium products for automotive audio systems, but many of the features that push the price of the Kenwood higher than many of its competitors are things few people are likely to use.
Still, the Kenwood does offer a wide range of features that, if fully utilized, make this a top-tier product. First, the screen is 6.95”. While this is technically not the biggest screen on our list, we suspect you will be hard pressed to notice that 0.05”.
Some strong features
The visual display is not the only area where the Kenwood shines. As is expected, the Kenwood also features a 6 channel preamp with 50 watts of maximum output. However, it is the 22 watts per channel that is truly exceptional and ties the JVC for the most watts per channel.
In terms of features, the Kenwood rivals the Pioneer for the most offered. For instance, while the Kenwood does not use MirrorLink, which is a native Android car monitoring app, it does incorporate iDataLink Maestro which does the same thing without requiring a specific OS. Also, the Kenwood comes with 2 RCA inputs for onboard cameras to watch your sides and rear – though the cameras are sold separately.
6. Clarion NX706 – Best Budget CarPlay Stereo
To be honest, the Clarion does not truly belong on this list. It supports neither Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. However, it will connect to your smartphone or other smart devices and performs many of the most common functions. Also, while it does not support CarPlay or Android Auto, the Clarion does still respond to both Siri and Android control.
One benefit of the Clarion is its large 7” display. Much like the Alpine, the Clarion will display 480 resolution at 16:9 ratio. Moreover, the Clarion can also play video formats as well. In fact, the Clarion is one of the few CarPlay stereo on our list that offers an RCA input, which allows a few more options in regards to hardware compatibility.
Though, without the use of CarPlay or Android Auto, the Clarion is expected to perform well in the stereo department. However, here it only draws mixed reviews. While the Clarion can push a solid 20 watts per channel, it can only push 45 watts total. With a 6 channel preamp, this limits its overall ability on the high end.
Best Apple Carplay Stereo – Buyer’s Guide
While CarPlay stereos continue to rapidly evolve, there are still a number of features that you can always rely on due to the market to help you distinguish one model from another. However, considering the whole point of a CarPlay stereo is to facilitate connectivity, these features may differ in some respects from other stereos.
Still, qualities like the preamp and its specifications remain a primary concern. Of course, as an interconnected device, previously unseen factors like Bluetooth connection, OS integration, and third-party app integration also take center stage.
Depending on your preferred smartphone service, this will either not matter at all, or it will be a make-or-break feature. Some of the newer models of CarPlay stereos incorporate a wider variety of operating systems than others.
For instance, the Pioneer features the most OS integration, going above and beyond even what is generally expected and including MirrorLink that is associated with Samsung and Sony exclusively. Of course, the main potential conflict in this category come from two behemoths in smartphone operating systems: Apple and Google.
While Apple may often lead the way in developing new software applications and further ways to integrate into existing products, Google is never far behind. As such, it is often seen as an expectation – if not outright given–that any CarPlay stereo support Android Auto at the very least, though the more Android integration the better.
Apple is known for being fairly restrictive when it comes to users and third-party products. Unfortunately, Apple CarPlay is not an exception to this philosophy. As such, if your CarPlay stereo is limited to Apple’s OS, your app selection will similarly be limited.
That being said, there are some distinct benefits to Apple’s restrictive app policy. For one, Apple products, and their iOS specifically, are far more secure than Android or other third-party apps. Considering the degree of integration and control CarPlay can exhibit, not to mention the potential control for self-driving cars, security may well soon be placed at a premium. Still, few of us own self-driving cars, so while that concern may soon creep up in our rear-view mirror, it is not presently a primary factor. Thus, the more third-party app integration the better since many people might use multiple types of the same class of app – like with navigation for instance – in different scenarios.
The ability to directly and wirelessly sync your smartphone or other smart devices to your car with Bluetooth is already a well-developed and mature technology, often seen as a given for most cars manufactured within the last half decade. However, since CarPlay is still an emerging technology this is not always a given.
Many of the older models of CarPlay stereos still rely on some form of wired connection to sync your smartphone or other smart devices to the stereo. Ultimately, this is a less than ideal setup, and the better CarPlay stereos–and definitely the newer ones–will generally allow you to sync your smart devices to the stereo directly via Bluetooth.
The display will have numerous uses and, while generally not a primary factor, can break the tie between 2 equal products or justify investing a bit more in the purchase. The primary concern when it comes to the display is screen size. The floor of an acceptable CarPlay stereo’s screen size is 6”. However, anything under 6 ½” is currently smaller than the average.
Also, the resolution of the screen should be at least 480 while supporting a 16:9 ratio. Obviously, anything higher than 480 and the option of different ratios are nice, but they are largely superfluous to needs of a CarPlay stereo. The screen itself should be illuminated by at least LED backlit technology.
Of course, these settings do not take into account the possibility of playing videos on your CarPlay stereo display. In this instance, the resolution will generally be less than 480, though you should not even bother if it drops below 240. However, the ability to play videos is far less common on CarPlay stereos at this point in the technology’s development and should be seen as more of a premium extra feature, rather than a primary consideration.
While directly connecting your smartphone to your car through Bluetooth, one of the more common interfaces of this arrangement involves managing the various features of this connection through button activated controls directly on your steering wheel. The ability to turn up or down the volume as well as switch tracks or answer calls allows you to keep your focus on the road without having to look away or otherwise divert your attention.
Unfortunately, many CarPlay stereos are still playing catch up in this regard and have yet to partner with enough automakers to truly provide a worry-free experience. As such, it is generally far more common than not for a CarPlay stereo to have no native vehicle connectivity.
However, with the rise of popularity of the CarPlay service, more and more cars are being built with the option of controlling your CarPlay stereo from the comfort and safety of your vehicle’s steering wheel. Moreover, a modest number of automakers actually have the ability to retrofit cars manufactured with two years to manually control your CarPlay stereo from the steering wheel.
If you are an audiophile with an elaborate, and expensive, custom audio setup, this feature will be irrelevant as you have already far surpassed any capacity and capability that all but the most expensive CarPlay stereos can offer. In truth, even the top tier CarPlay stereos do not come with an amp that can be compared to a top-of-the-line car audio system.
However, for the rest of us–especially those that still rely on the factor speaker systems that came with the car, your CarPlay stereo will need to come with an embedded amplifier. In this regard, the amp should provide power to no less than 4 channels, though 6 channels would be preferred. Moreover, the number of watts pushed per channel should not go below 15 watts, though 18 watts per channel is generally the average with anything over 20 being superior.
As you can see, the choice of CarPlay stereos can be far more complex and nuanced than simply picking the most expensive product and hoping for the best. If you are exclusive and dedicated Apple user, it is hard to wrong with the Alpine. While it may be a bit long in the tooth compared to some of the other CarPlay stereos, it is also the first brand that partnered with Apple. As such, its integration with Apple’s iOS is seamless, and the security it offers in unmatched.
So, you are a consumer that simply cannot choose one brand and constantly finds their self-flitting between one format to another as the next new thing comes out? The Pioneer is more likely to satisfy your desire to sync with a wider variety of devices, software, apps, and formats. However, it also features the smallest display on our list.
Whatever you choose, you can at least feel comfortable that you know have the knowledge available to make an informed decision. With the help of our buyer’s guide, you should be able to confidently navigate the CarPlay stereo market – now, and for years to come.