Oddball Project: $21 eBay Stereo

I’ve been daily driving a thirty year old Toyota FX16 and the aftermarket head unit up and died a couple of months ago.  So, as usual, I took to the internet to see what high fidelity options are out there.  The first result for “Bluetooth Car Stereo” on eBay was $21.  Too good to be true?  I had to find out.

The funny thing is, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of stereos to choose from under $25 on eBay.

What you don’t get with a $21 Chinese car stereo is a CD player and an AM tuner.  Big deal, who uses CD players these days?  (People on their way to Radwood, that’s who.)  So the body of the stereo is only 1/3 as deep as an old school CD head unit. In my car, that made the install a bit easier, as there isn’t much depth between the face of the stereo and the heater controls behind.  The lack of mechanical components is likely what keeps the price down. It also weighs maybe 1/3 of the old unit, making install easier.  Wiring is standard, with power, keyed power, ground, and four speaker channels.

(Probably the worst photo I’ve ever taken – apologies.)

One thing that made install more difficult was the trim ring around the face of the stereo was not removable.  My existing install kit did not utilize that trim ring, so I had to grind it off (I was amused at taking the bench grinder to the brand new car stereo). The install didn’t end up beautiful, but certainly passable.  Additionally, the mounting screw holes on the side of the body were in different locations, so that took a bit of drilling and adapting.

So how does it work?  It works great.  I’ve been using it for about 3 months with no problems.  My speakers aren’t high quality, so I can’t get a perfect sense of the sound quality, but it’s indistinguishable from the previous stereo, which was mid-range model of a well-known brand.  It’s plenty loud, and has pre-amp outputs if you want to pipe the music through a booster.  The bluetooth, the USB port, the FM tuner, and the AUX port all work flawlessly.  Even hands-free calls are ok (not great, a bit noisy on the other end, but then, I’m driving a noisy car). 
I can’t speak for all the other cheap-ass head units out there, but the one I have is worth every penny.

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20 responses to “Oddball Project: $21 eBay Stereo”

  1. Sjalabais Avatar

    In my last 3 cars I have used units from AliExpress for 8.50-11.70$. What I want is FM, USB and SD card access. All of them worked flawlessly and provide enough noise at a tolerable quality.

    1. nanoop Avatar

      Any recommendations for a Ali DAB unit? Will probably bust the budget by a factor two…

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        DAB units are a very Norwegian thing…bought the one for my wife’s car locally. Since I don’t listen to radio at all, I didn’t bother to upgrade mine in any way.

  2. mdharrell Avatar

    “Big deal, who uses CD players these days? (People on their way to Radwood, that’s who.)”
    I’d have thought the preference would be:
    Early ’80s: 8-track.
    Mid-’80s to mid-’90s: cassette.
    Mid- to late-’90s: MiniDisc.

    1. Fred Avatar

      Death to 8-tracks, the evilist of all formats.

      1. Alff Avatar

        You’re about 35 years late with that sentiment.

    2. duurtlang Avatar

      I specifically bought a vintage cassette player for my ’87 Peugeot (205 CTi). The radio is even Peugeot labeled.
      It does have a ‘CD-in’ though, which functions identical to a modern Aux-in. So it’s not much of a sacrifice in modern functions.

    3. Maymar Avatar

      I believe the preferred 90’s Radwood option is using a cassette adapter to route your portable CD player through the radio (how else would you listen to Big Shiny Tunes, which I recognize is a uniquely Canadian reference, and I apologize for nothing).

      1. GTXcellent Avatar

        Big Shiny Tunes has nothing on K-Tel.

        1. Maymar Avatar

          Well, MuchMusic never gave us the Bass-O-Matic, that’s for sure.

      2. Alff Avatar

        If I recall correctly, CD players weren’t common in factory head units through at least the first half of the 90s. My new to me 95 Ford pickup still rocked a cassette player. It will probably end up being a pencil holder.

        1. Maymar Avatar

          Yes, exactly.
          Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if I still have a couple of the removal tools (a set of four question mark-shaped pieces of metal) for a ’90’s Ford radio around somewhere.

          1. outback_ute Avatar

            A friend had his Discman stuck to the dash with velcro. When he eventually went to remove it, he found the velcro was stronger than the UV baked plastic! A chunk of dash came off with it…

      3. salguod Avatar

        My grandfather bought a 1980 Citation new. It had an AM only radio so he added an under dash add on FM unit. It plugged into the antenna port and played FM over a specific frequency on the AM head unit.
        He had a collection of 8 tracks so he bought an under dash 8 track player which plugged in the antenna port of the FM converter and played the tapes over a specific FM frequency. So 8 track >FM > AM > something similar to music.
        When he started collecting cassettes, he bought an 8 track to cassette converter that plugged into the 8 track player …
        I think all of that played through the lone factory 4×10 speaker in the dash.
        Dad bough the car from him a few years later and ripped all that out and had a proper in dash AM/FM cassette unit installed with 4 speakers.

        1. Maymar Avatar

          When I bought my old Cavalier, it had a cassette player – I picked up a junkyard factory CD player and installed that, but it wasn’t plug and play, and I never got the wiring sorted out. But at the same time, it took way too long to disassemble the dash to put the old radio back in. So I picked up an FM transmitter, but could never find a usable station without taking the antenna off. I can respect that level of convoluted.

      4. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

        sounds like my son’s setup using a cassette adapter to link his phone to the factory radio in his 2003 Buick (has a CD/Cassette combo). Ironically he then plays circa 1980 Elvis Costello from his phone.

    4. Van_Sarockin Avatar

      You should really get modern and convert over to DAT cartridges.

      1. outback_ute Avatar

        I’d be more impressed with Laser Discs!

    5. theskig Avatar

      I had 2 MiniDisc car stereos some years ago. And I still have the home deck and many discs.

  3. Zentropy Avatar

    I’m still running the original Alpine cassette/radio in my 31-year-old BMW. I went cheap and use a Bluetooth FM transmitter. I typically only listen to NPR, sports radio, and tunes from my phone. My speakers (stock) are likewise bad enough that I wouldn’t hear a difference from a quality head unit.