Best Digital Media Receivers – Mechless Head Units 2018 [UPDATED]

Below, we’ve compiled a comprehensive, but simple guide to walk you through all that’s worth knowing, including the important details to consider when choosing a digital media receiver for your car.

Included, as well, are handy reviews of the best digital media receivers currently available on the market.

Make use of this piece as your ultimate guide when determining the specific unit you’ll purchase, and you’re definite to get just the right choice!

Table of contents

Best Single DIN Digital Media Receivers

After thinking about the options discussed above, you can list down those that you feel would be most necessary for you. That way, it’ll be much easier to select the right digital media receiver. There are two different types of digital media receivers:

  • Single DIN
  • Double DIN

The term ‘DIN’ refers to the receiver’s height. With that in mind, we’re going to review the best single DIN and double DIN digital media receivers currently available on the market. These are entirely honest and unbiased.

They’re a result of intensive research that took multiple criteria into consideration. We’ve considered vital factors like features, appearance, connectivity, inputs, controls, available apps, and sound quality. We also read through reviews from other customers on various marketplaces.

Most importantly, we took a closer look at each of the model’s brand support, price, and value for money. You can be confident you’ll find a model which perfectly suits your preferences and meets your needs.

Our Pick: Pioneer DEH-80PRS

Pioneer-DEH-80PRS review
Our Pick

Pioneer DEH-150MP

This unit is a top-rated car stereo system. It’s just the perfect example of how great Pioneer is at manufacturing car audio components.

The offers innumerable, amazing features, including the stylish matte black finish which will complement your car’s interior.

  • Dimensions: 11.7-Inch x 6.4-Inch x 8.9-Inch
  • Preamp Voltage: 6V
  • Display: DVD
  • Wireless Remote: Yes
  • Media Formats Supported: CD-R/RW, MP3, WMA, WAV, AAC, CD-Text

It boasts audiophile grade components which have been carefully selected with quality and reliability in mind. Its display is incredibly simple to see, and you’re definite to love how simple it is to operate its controls.

This receiver comes included with Pioneer’s proprietary sound technologies like Auto Time Alignment and Auto EQ. Such help automize the audio in a way that perfectly suits certain listening spaces, in addition to allowing subtle manual control over the settings.

The DEH-80PRS boasts a Three-Way Digital Network. You can, thus, connect up to 3 external amplifiers, dedicating each of them to driving high, mid, and low-frequency ranges.

Other features you’re definite to appreciate include support for Bluetooth connectivity, USB direct control, Internet radio, and SD card slot.

Our Thoughts

We can’t deny the fact that this model has been built in every great way possible. For instance, it grants you lots of customization options. With over 210,000 colors available, you can match its display and illumination to your car’s interior lighting.

It comes included with owner and installation manuals, as well. As such, you’ll have an easy time operating and setting up the receiver. Pioneer packs solid value in the DEH-80PRS for the price.

It’s just the perfect option if you’re seeking high-end sound quality and a high fidelity in-car listening experience.

Also Great: Sony DSXA405BT

The Sony DSXA405BT is another top-performance digital media receiver, packing lots of useful, stunning features. It matches all of its hype.

The handy USB ports and Bluetooth connectivity give you multiple ways through which you can play your MP3, WAV, FLAC, and WMA files.

  • Dimensions: 8.9-Inch x 7.6-Inch x 3.9-Inch
  • Preamp Voltage: 2V
  • Display: OEL
  • Wireless Remote: Yes
  • Media Formats Supported: MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, FLAC

You can make use of NFC for instant Bluetooth pairing, as long as your phone(s) is compatible. This receiver is compatible with all iPods, iPhones, and iPads.

It boasts support for Pandora Internet radio, as well, which works perfectly well with nearly all Android, iPhone, and Blackberry smartphones.

It supports audio streaming and hands-free calling via Bluetooth. Additionally, Sony’s inbuilt Dynamic Reality amp will ensure that you listen to your music with crystal-clear sound.

Although this unit doesn’t play CDs, it comes integrated with an AM/FM tuner. Besides, it comes backed by a reassuring one-year warranty, which only guarantees that the unit is specially built to last.

Our Thoughts

You’ll want to look into the Sony DSX-A405BT if quality, performance, and reliability are your key preferences in a digital media receiver.

Yet, it’s among the most affordable offerings currently available on the market. If you’re far into high-performance driving, this model comes packed with all the features you’d require to hit that road in style.

Top of the Line: Pioneer DEX-P99RS

Don’t rush into thinking that this unit is just another CD receiver. The Pioneer DEX-P99RS undoubtedly leads the pack.

It packs the highest quality audiophile platform, built right from scratch for the audio enthusiast who’d not want to settle for the second-best.

  • Dimensions: 11-Inch x 9.5-Inch x 7-inch
  • Preamp Voltage: 5V
  • Display: OEL
  • Wireless Remote: Yes
  • Media Formats Supported: CD, CD-R/RW, MP3, WMA, AAC

This model comes housed in a copper-plated chassis which eliminates magnetic and RF signals that could introduce unwanted noise.

All of the internal components are carefully shielded and well-arranged. In turn, such steps help reduce interference which may diminish sound quality.

Pioneer has designed this receiver’s Preamp section to use the same outstanding Linear Technology found in most high-end home audio systems. As such, it receives substantial supplies of current. That’s undeniably a rarity in typical car stereo construction.

The DEX-P99RS Stage 4 Receiver is compatible with nearly all factory steering wheel controls. But, you’ll require an adapter, which you can purchase separately.

You’re definite to love the motorized, detachable face, integrated with a great-looking, white OEL display.;

Our Thoughts

The DEX-P99RS is a phenomenal car stereo, offering plenty of high-end features. These include the tuner for Satellite and HD Radio, App Mode, Bluetooth connectivity, compatibility with, Pandora Radio, iPods, and iPhones. Besides, its visual aesthetics are simply excellent.

Nearly all users who own this unit have reported indisputable satisfaction with the experience they’ve had. We recommend it as a top option for all true fans of music, offering much more capability than anyone would expect. It’s worth every buck!

Top of the Line: Sony RSXGS9

Sony has gone all way back to the roots of digital media receivers with the RSGS9. They deliver a device which is specially designed for pure, high fidelity sound, supporting almost all formats of media you could think of.

It offers a broad range of top-quality wireless and wired connection options.

  • Dimensions: 10.2-Inch x 8.9-Inch x 3.9-Inch
  • Preamp Voltage: 5V
  • Display: OLED
  • Wireless Remote: No
  • Media Formats Supported: MP3, WAV, AAC, PCM, WMA, AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, DSD

It’s a single DIN head unit that looks nothing like any car media receiver you’ve probably seen. You get an exclusively classy piece of audio equipment.

It incorporates a sizeable rotary volume knob (with a well-lit ring around the base), a 3.5-mm auxiliary input, and handy USB plugs.

The Sony RSGS9 Media Receiver supports Bluetooth, which is much convenient for audio playback, hands-free operation, and remote control. It’s compatible with Apple and most Android devices.

In fact, you can use this receiver with a Windows or Mac computer, credit to the integration of the USB-DAC function.

The exceptional 10-band graphic equalizer provides a thorough means to precisely tune the sound to your liking. The RSGS9 stands out as the first in-car head unit that supports DSD media format, a codec that’s specifically designed for high-resolution audio.

Our Thoughts

Clearly, the RSXGS9 isn’t the mechless car stereo for everyone. It’s only worth considering if you’re seeking the highest-quality music available for a car. Undeniably, Sony made use of carefully engineered components when designing this unit.

These revolutionize in-car music listening in an all-new way. Upon securing this unit, you’ll get to enjoy the same caliber of audio usually reserve for the high-end home audio equipment.

Top of the Line: Alpine iLX-207

Alpine is among the oldest brands in the high-end automotive electronics’ niche. They understand what it takes to manufacture reliable, high-end audio equipment. That’s evident with the iLX-207 Digital Media Receiver.

  • Dimensions: 10.5-Inch x 10-Inch x 9-Inch
  • Preamp Voltage: 4V
  • Display: VGA
  • Wireless Remote: Yes
  • Media Formats Supported: MP3/WMA/AAC/HE-AAC, FLAC

It’s easily the most comprehensive and comfortable head unit, especially when it comes down to Apple products.

You can connect this unit with Apple smart devices, including iPhones, iPads, and iPods. Although it doesn’t support the iWatch, they’re sure to fix that with a simple firmware update soon.

With the iLX-207, you get to enjoy innumerable benefits. For instance, you can answer phone calls via Bluetooth and connect your device using a USB cord.

This model comes equipped with other exceptional features like SiriusXM connectivity, an HD Radio tuner, AUX, USB and HDMI inputs.

Additionally, it comes included with an external microphone. It does a considerable lot right out of its box.

Our Thoughts

The Alpine iLX-207 packs phenomenal functionality into a sleek, yet user-friendly package. It’s a commendably versatile digital media receiver, compatible with nearly all smartphones. It looks good, sounds amazing, and you’re definite to love the intuitive user interface. It’s the multi-tool version of digital media receivers, well worth its price.

Best Double DIN Digital Media Receivers

Our Pick: Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX Digital Media Receiver

This model is our pick for the best double DIN digital media receiver for all the right reasons.

The AVIC-8200NEX stands out as a striking addition to this brand’s portfolio of aftermarket car media receivers.

  • Dimensions: 11-Inch x 6.5-Inch x 10-Inch
  • Preamp Voltage: 4V
  • Display: WVGA
  • Media Formats Supported: CD, DVD, MP3, FLAC

This unit boasts a 7-inch capacitative touchscreen display which supports multi-touch gestures such as swipe, scroll, and pinch to zoom. It has been built to replicate your smartphone’s navigational actions.

The clarity and the vibrancy of the display are all fantastic. You can customize this receiver’s user interface to suit your specific desired style, too.

When it comes down to connectivity, this unit packs a multitude of stunning options. For instance, it brings the experience of both iOS and Android right to your vehicle, credit to its Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support.

It has two USB ports, one HDMI port, SD slots, and supports Bluetooth connectivity.

Our Thoughts

This unit comes integrated with an inbuilt HD Radio which provides top-of-the-line sound quality radio at just the push of one button. It’s obviously geared towards audiophiles and anyone who intends to power up their car stereo system.

The Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX has satisfied the majority of users from the overall feedback. And, although it may seem relatively costly, it’d be worth it if you’re willing to splash that cash. The price tag is truly justified.

Bang for the Buck: Pioneer AVH-290BT

This brand’s name is associated with the very best when it comes to the car stereo system industry, manufacturing leading models in terms of performance and quality.

Such include the Pioneer AVH-290BT, an outstanding double DIN digital media receiver.

  • Weight: 4.21 Pounds
  • Dimensions: 7-inch x 6.75-Inch x 4-Inch
  • Preamp Voltage: 2V
  • Display: WVGA
  • Media Formats Supported: MP1, MP2, MP3, MP4, WMA, AAC, WAV, AVI

With a 6.2-inch WVGA display, it’s certainly not the widest on the market. But, it’s still wide enough for reliable visibility. Additionally, this screen boasts a high sensitivity index. You’ll only need slight touches to access the broad array of onscreen functionalities and buttons.

Its remarkable resolution guarantees immense clarity when viewing the menu offerings.

The AVH-290BT also features inbuilt Bluetooth support, iPhone, iPod, and iPad control. But, you’ll require an adapter if you wish to view video content.

You get to make and receive calls hands-free and stream audio via Bluetooth wireless technology.

The package comes included with an adapter, as well, which enables you to connect the receiver to the steering controls.

Our Thoughts

This unit has appealed to lots of users. And, it doesn’t disappoint when it comes to performance. It’s a worthy option, praised for how easy it is to access the controls on its LCD.

Sure, it doesn’t offer support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. But, the Pioneer AVH-209BT provides all-around entertainment at quite an affordable price.

It ought to be among your top options if you are seeking the best double DIN receiver, but are on a tight budget. It’s simply unbeatable for such a price.

Also Great: Sony WX920BT

Sony’s WX920BT (a newer version of Sony WX900BT) is a hugely affordable CD receiver that’s worth considering as an ideal option for in-car music listening. It begins its impressive array of features with inbuilt Bluetooth.

  • Dimensions: 9.7 x 9.1 x 7.9 inches
  • Preamp Voltage: 2V
  • Display: LCD
  • Wireless Remote: Yes
  • Media Formats Supported: CD-R/RW, MP3, AAC, FLAC, WMA

You can pair it up with your smartphone for hands-free calls and wireless content streaming. With a Siri-compatible iOS device, you’ll be able to command her to compose text messages and make calls at just a tap of one button.

Additionally, the unique SongPal app lets you use voice control to find your favorite tracks, which is made possible using Bluetooth.

The unit boasts a high-contrast display that’s simple to read in almost any lighting condition. Besides, it’s incredibly customizable as you can select from over 35,000 different color options for the controls and display.

Our Thoughts

The Sony WX920BT Digital Media Receiver perfectly fits double-DIN dash openings. You’ll surely like the advanced audio technology and customizable playback settings. These will enable you to tailor the sound output to your liking.

This model has been designed to bring out the dynamics and details in each sound, delivering powerful sound. It’s well-built to add a cool, all-new level of capability and convenience to your car’s stereo system. Listening to music while driving couldn’t be any simpler.

Top of the Line: Alpine INE-W957HD

The Alpine INE-W957HD is an outstanding combination of an in-dash GPS system and a premium digital media receiver.

This unit excels when it comes to navigation and traffic. In fact, it comes integrated with free maps. As such, you won’t need to use your phone data to navigate.

  • Dimensions: 10.5-Inch x 10-Inch x 8.8-Inch
  • Display: WVGA
  • Media Formats Supported: CD/CD-R/CD-RW, DVD/DVD-R/DVD-RW, MP3, WMA, WAV, AAC, AIFF, DivX, FLAC

See our review of best in-dash DVD players.

Also, it comes with an inbuilt traffic receiver and a lifetime traffic subscription (completely free).

The INE-W957HD has a handy i-Personalize function, which has been built to craft the sound to your car’s specific speaker system. It allows communication between the unit itself and your smartphone via HDMI and Bluetooth. The latter allows you to receive and make calls using the receiver’s touchscreen.

Besides, it features a satellite radio antenna. In turn, that enables it to receive signals from the SiriusXM Satellite Radio. It has an HD receiver, too, picking signals transmitted by multiple FM stations.

Our Thoughts

This Alpine INE-W957HD is a top-of-the-line navigation and media receiver system. It offers top-notch navigation and a plethora of ways you can listen to music.

The brand packs a fantastic deal of features such as Satellite Radio, Internet Radio, Siri-Eyes Free, lane assistance, traffic updates, and HDMI mirroring, among much more.

The manufacturer backs this unit with a one-year warranty. That reassures you of this device’s durability. If you’re willing to spend the amount, you’re definite to be happy with the value you’ll obtain.

What’s a Digital Media Receiver?

You’d be right to say it’s just a fancy car stereo. Digital media receivers (also know as mechless car stereos) are car stereo head units which enable you to listen to music in your car via USB, Bluetooth, and auxiliary, among other features.

The key difference between traditional car stereos and digital media receivers is that the latter can be integrated with nearly all kinds of other electronic gadgets. CD players or cassettes are not a must-have in cars, now.

Key Factors worth Considering when Selecting the Best Digital Media Receiver

I. What Type of Inputs do you Need?

The best digital media receiver can be defined as one that includes everything, from USB ports to slots that you can use to charge your smartphone. As such, you’ll surely want to consider the type of inputs you’d need in your mechless car stereo. Among the options you might need include:

iPod® and iPhone® Controls

Finding and playing music on iPhones and iPods is incredibly simple, credit to their innovative features. And, thankfully, most of the premium digital media receivers on the market come included with iPod and iPhone controls. In turn, these enable you to choose and play music as you’re driving effortlessly.

USB Inputs – Auxiliary Inputs

A USB input will enable you to play music by just plugging your USB thumb drive into the receiver. Pay keen attention to the specific location of USB ports on the receiver, though. Some may be placed in areas which make them inconvenient to use.

You’ll also want to select a receiver that features one or more auxiliary inputs. With minijack auxiliary inputs, you can plug in your external player or satellite radio. But, ensure you consider the side on which you’d want the auxiliary input(s) to be located.

Some people may prefer to have them located in front since it makes them much more straightforward to use. However, others may want to have them more hidden to provide a neater look.

Although some people would prefer receivers with SD card slots to those without, they’re becoming increasingly uncommon. That’s especially the case with newer models.

Bluetooth® Connectivity

Perhaps, you’re among those who’ve most of their music on their phones. Then, you’ll want to purchase a receiver that supports Bluetooth connectivity. While some models come with Bluetooth, others offer it as an additional option.

This feature will allow you to stream music directly from your handheld device to the digital car stereo via Bluetooth. Among the advantages of using Bluetooth is that you won’t have to mess with any external storage devices or wires.

App Mode

Most digital media receivers feature the ‘App Mode’. It allows the user to access music apps on his/her phone, controlling and selecting music right through the receiver itself. That’s made possible using Bluetooth or USB streaming.

HD Radio™ Reception

The prevalence of radio stations’ broadcasting digital signals is only becoming more prevalent. And, with a car stereo that features an inbuilt an HD Radio tuner, you’re assured of better sound quality and static-free reception.

Android™ Support

Newer receivers boast the ability to access apps and music on the user’s phone. It’s a feature you’ll especially want to have if you’ve got an Android smartphone.

Satellite Radio

You can now integrate satellite radio with your car stereo. To achieve that, ensure the digital media receiver you intend to purchase is ‘SiriusXM-ready’. That implies that it’s capable of controlling a hideaway satellite radio tuner.

II. Preamp Outputs

These enable you to connect your receiver to external amplifiers, powering your subwoofer or speakers. A particular model will have a different number of preamp outputs from another. Just ensure you’ve at least one set. A higher output voltage rating translates to a cleaner signal.

III. Sound Controls

These are a factor worth looking into, as well. Controls beyond basic treble and bass adjustments allow you to tailor music to your car’s particular acoustics. Expect improved sound if the unit’s midrange can be adjusted.

If you’re the kind that likes tweaking and experiment with sound adjustments, seek a unit with an advanced equalizer, digital time correction, or digital signal processing. Such capabilities will grant you complete control over what you get from your car’s acoustics.

IV. Power

Do you intend to keep your car’s factory speakers? If that’s the case, then you won’t need to worry about the receiver’s power rating as it’ll still drive the factory speakers well. But, if you’re looking to replace the factory speakers, we’d recommend you seek a higher-powered model.

V. Display

Look for a unit whose display shows the track, artist, and album information without much scrolling. Seek a model that boasts enhanced graphics. It’ll be much simpler to view the display, providing you with even more information at a glance.

In fact, there are displays which will allow you to choose their color. You can, thus, pick one that better matches your dash lighting.


Almost all of the models featured above boast improved processors, with flexible tuning. In turn, you get better sounding music. With their advanced controls, you’ll find it much simpler to operate them. You can settle for a unit that has touchscreen controls if you want a receiver that’s intuitive to use and feels futuristic.

Begin with the obvious — select a unit that fits perfectly in your car. Filter out options which won’t fit. Additionally, determine if there are any special adapters or installation kits you might require.

In the end, what makes the best head unit for one person may not do the same for another. Don’t go for a particular stereo just because it’s lower-priced. Similarly, spending more doesn’t necessarily imply you’ll get more.

Thankfully, the mechless car stereos reviewed above are affordable, yet they offer improved performance and cutting-edge technology.

Ultimately, you ought to identify what you seek most from your digital media receiver. You should then make use of that as the basis of the entire selection process. You want a unit which will help you enjoy listening to your music while affording you great room to concentrate well on your driving.

To save you a significant deal of time, effort, and stress, follow the above guide. You’ll be better placed to make the right choice — one that suits your taste and meets/exceeds your requirements. Good luck!

Vincent Talbot