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|
|7 inch||iOS||Check Price|
|Pioneer AppRadio 4 SPH-DA120||6.2 inch||iOS / Android Auto /|
|Sony XAV-AX100||6.4 inch||iOS / Android Auto||Check Price|
|JVC KW-M730BT||6.8 inch||iOS / Android Auto||Check Price|
|Kenwood DMX7704S||6.95 inch||iOS / Android Auto /|
|Clarion NX706||7 inch||iOS||Check Price|
1. Alpine ILX-007 – Best Apple Exclusive CarPlay Stereo
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.
- More secure than Android compatible models
- 7” touch screen
- Steering wheel controls compatible
- Does not support Google Android Auto
- Not Bluetooth compatible
- Does not play video files
2. Pioneer AppRadio 4 SPH-DA120 – Best All-Around-Value
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.
- Broader range of apps and file formats
- Some Android support as well as MirrorLink
- Bluetooth pairing for both Apple and Android smartphones
- Only 14 watts per channel
- Poor User Interface
- 6.2” touch screen
3. Sony XAV-AX100 – Best User Interface CarPlay Stereo
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.
- More convenient manual controls
- 55 watts peak output
- Smaller profile than most to fit smaller dashes
- 6.4” touch screen
- 17 watts per channel
- Only 5 output channels
4. JVC KW-M730BT – Best CarPlay Stereo Audio Quality
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.
- 22 Watts per channel
- Can sync with 2 different smartphones simultaneously
- 6.8” Display
- Does not play video files
- Fewer inputs than most other models
- No real manual controls
5. Kenwood DMX7704S – Most Versatile CarPlay Stereo
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.
- 22 watts per channel
- 6.95” display
- Offer more input channels than most
- Too many manual buttons
- More involved installation
- A bit pricey
6. Clarion NX706 – Best Budget CarPlay Stereo
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.
- 7” display
- Supports a broad range of file formats
- 20 Watts output per channel
- Does not support CarPlay
- Does not support Android Auto
- 45 Watts peak output
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.