Think of DIN as a unit of measurement for the middle console of a vehicle and it’ll be clear that double DIN is twice as big as single DIN, which is exactly the case as single din is a slot in the middle console measuring 7 inches wide by 2 inches tall and double din is two slots one on top of the other at 7 inches wide by 4 inches tall.
Therefore, a double-DIN car stereo head unit is twice as big as the traditional single-DIN version. As with all electronics, with twice the space to work with manufacturers would be able to cram more substance and bells and whistles into it. Besides featuring either a large touchscreen or more controls on the front panel, a double-DIN head unit can have a bigger and more powerful amplifier section, more DSP circuitries, wider array of outputs, additional radio receivers, GPS module, built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and the top-end models even include a DVD player.
A head unit is technically a car stereo receiver. Just like the home theater receiver is the entertainment center of a home, the head unit or car receiver is the entertainment center of a car. We will use head unit and receiver interchangeably.
DIN stands for Deutsches Institut für Normung, the German national standards organization (which also created the DIN electrical connector). The fact that DIN is a standard measurement unit for the middle console of an automobile is why a double-DIN receiver will fit most modern cars by the major brands. Upgrading a factory head unit to an aftermarket double-DIN head unit can be a virtual plug and play for some models while others will require an adapter bracket or professional installation.
We will make our selections of the best double-DIN head units at three different levels.
Alpine is a top player in mobile electronics and the CDE-W265BT is their best non-touchscreen double-DIN head unit. The CDE-W265BT is a CD receiver with 4 channels of amplifications rated at 18W RMS per channel (50W max).
High fidelity audio is emphasized in the design of this receiver. Digital-to-analog conversion is by super low-noise 24-bit DAC. The built-in amplifier with MOSFET output stages is capable of driving any car speakers to ear-splitting level. You’d have to spend a couple hundred bucks on outboard amplifiers to achieve a noticeable difference in sound quality, and if you ever get the itch, this receiver has preamp outputs for 6 channels plus the subwoofer.
The CD drive can read regular audio CDs and also CDRs containing MP3, WMA and WAV files. It has built-in AM/FM tuner and Bluetooth capability for hands-free calling and audio streaming (microphone included). This receiver is designed for iPods and iPhones.
It’s an expandable receiver with an adjustable crossover in the 6 preamp outputs for routing the appropriate low-passed and high-passed signals to the external amplifier(s) to support subwoofer integration and 6-speaker systems with separate front twitters and midranges. It’s SiriusXM ready and you can add a third-party adapter to control this receiver with steering wheel buttons (if your car is equipped with them).
The JVC KW-R920BTS CD receiver offers the biggest bang for the buck of all double-DIN head units. It has all the features that drivers want and is upgradeable to others.
This car receiver looks and sounds like a more expensive unit. The amplifier is rated at 22W (non CEA-2006 compliant) for all 4 channels. The front panel features 3-zone variable illumination that’s actually quite stylish, nothing like the cheesy displays of cheap receivers.
Besides its built-in AM/FM tuner built, this receiver is SiriusXM ready and features Pandora and iHeartRadio internet radio control with iPhone and Android phone, either of which it can automatically connect via Bluetooth. You can connect up to two phones at a time.
Finally, the JVC KW-R920BTS has an excellent 13-band EQ. This is important for any budget receivers. Skillful EQ settings can make an affordable head unit sound almost like a high-end unit. Go easy on the EQ if you don’t know what you’re doing. The music should be rather flat with just the right accentuations, never boomy in the bass or ear-piercing in the treble.
The Pioneer AVH-X5800BHS is a DVD receiver with the touchscreen. The touchscreen is a large 7-inch 16×9 motorized display with 800×480 WVGA resolution. Pioneer’s new clear resistive touchscreen is highly intuitive and responsive, and a pleasure to use. The user interface is the same as the one in Pioneer’s high-end NEX series.
It can read all discs: DVD, CD, DVDR and CDR with MP3, WMA, WAV and FLAC files. It has component video outputs at the high resolution of 480P. Pioneer’s radio control is called AppRadio One. IPhones and Android phones can be connected via Bluetooth or cable. This receiver has a built-in HD Radio tuner and is SiriusXM ready.
For iOS devices, Pioneer’s voice recognition engine (same as the one in iOS) can respond to voice commands at the touch of a button.
We haven’t even reached the amplifier section yet, and it’s a capable one. The amplifier section is conservatively rated at 14W RMS x 4 channels. An honestly rated 14W amplifier can drive one 91dB speaker to 105dB continuously. With the doors closed and all four speakers blaring, the sound pressure level should easily hit 110dB. This is rock concert level that you’ll get from this Pioneer car receiver.
Our best double-DIN head unit is the Pioneer AVH-X5800BHS. Needless to say, this is not a price-no-object recommendation. Everything else the Pioneer AVH-X5800BHS has in spades. It’s a DVD receiver with a high-quality amplifier section and very good audio and video digital processing. It’s also a handsome-looking unit with a responsive touchscreen that one can master in no time.
For something closer to audiophile audio performance, we recommend the Alpine CDE-W265BT. You’ll have to forgo DVD playback and touchscreen but what you get is the best audio performance save investing in separate amplifiers.
Finally, there’s also a high-performance double-DIN head unit that anybody can afford, and that would be the JVC KW-R920BTS.