We all have a special connection to our first cars: freedom, fun and (ir)responsibility. It’s likely your first car was old, either a hand-me-down from your folks or the best you could do with the cash you saved up from your summer job, and odds are the first thing you did to that old beater was put in a bangin’ sound system. You cruised around town, blasting your music and enjoying the freedom of youth.
Fast-forward to adulthood and you still have an old car — now by choice. You like its simplicity and old-school looks, but you don’t like the limitations of the old-school stereo unit (do you really listen to cassettes anymore?). And just like your teenage self, you’ll likely find yourself looking to upgrade.
For the Ultimate Upgrade. If you’d like to update your car to as close to a modern factory infotainment system as possible, Pioneer’s top-of-the-line head unit should do nicely. It features both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay with the capability to seamlessly switch between the two. It also has a highly detailed navigation system on a 7-inch touchscreen display, voice command, compatibility with forward- and rear-facing cameras and iDatalink Maestro, which can sync the system to your car’s climate control system. What’s more, the system can also accept DVDs and CDs, if you haven’t given up on those just yet.
JBL Legend CP100
For the Modest Upgrade. You’re looking for the latest and greatest smartphone connectivity, but you have given up on CDs and you don’t want many bells and whistles. JBL’s Legend CP100 is great because its main purpose is to link up your smartphone to your car’s infotainment system though CarPlay and Android Auto but not much else. There’s no additional navigation receiver (only whatever nav app is on your phone), no CD input and no Datalink Maestro. That said, the system still supports connection to parking cameras and steering wheel buttons in addition to its smartphone connectivity.
The Best Upgrade for Single-DIN. While the audio aftermarket is devoid of single-DIN head units equipped with CarPlay and Android Auto, Kenwood’s flip-up unit offers a modest solution by way of “True Mirror” which allows you to hook up your smartphone via an HDMI cable and mirror its screen onto the dash. The Kenwood also supports hands-free calling and audio streaming via Bluetooth, and has CD/DVD playback.
For the Audiophile. Pioneer’s DEX-P99RS looks unassuming, but it’s part of the brand’s “Stage 4” line of in-car audio equipment, which is meant to deliver audiophile-quality sound. Stage 4 is also a favorite among the “SQ Car” (the SQ stands for sound quality) community. The Pioneer has a whopping 31-band equalizer for an incredible amount of control and fine-tuning of audio tracks, floating-point digital signal processing for high-fidelity sound processing and a copper chassis to reduce magnetic induction noise.
Porsche Classic Radio Navigation
The Best for Classic Porsches. If you actually drive your vintage Porsche (as you should) and are keen on roadtrips (and aren’t so keen on paper maps), this clever, single-DIN navigation unit from the company’s Classic division is perfectly designed to fit in any vintage Porsche from the ’60s to the early ‘90s.
Retrosound Model Two
The Best for Classics That Aren’t Porsches. Retrosound Model Two is a great option if your classic isn’t a Porsche — because it looks like any other anonymous radio from the ‘50s through the ‘80s, but can link up to your smartphone via Bluetooth for hands-free calling and audio streaming. You also can pick up one of any number of faceplate and control knobs to match your car, no matter if its a ’55 Chevy or an ‘80s-era Alfa Romeo Spider.
BOSS Audio 612UA
For the Driving Purists. We get it — you own an older car because you’re not into modern features, and you’d rather hear the sound of your car’s engine. Right on. But we also know that road trips get pretty boring without Spotify or podcasts. This single-DIN unit from BOSS is about as no-frills as it gets: no CD, no Bluetooth (you can add an extension for that, though), no navigation. There’s just an SD slot, a USB port and an AUX input for hooking up your digital media. And at $22, it’s perfect if minimalism is your main goal.