Car Stereo Buyer's Guide
- CD/DVD, mechless, and multimedia are the three most common audio sources for car stereo receivers.
- Car stereo receivers are measured in DIN, which is a German unit of measurement meaning “Deutch Industri Normen.”
- There are single-DIN, double-DIN, and OEM replacement car stereo receivers in the market.
- Car stereos may feature various technology, including Bluetooth, touch screen, MirrorLink, GPS, or Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
- An OE car stereo replacement can cost you around $800 depending on the brand and size.
When talking about car stereo, most people are quick to picture the slab of the media unit on the center console. While it’s true that the component found on the dashboard is the “car stereo,” it is just a part of a whole system. That component is technically known as the receiver, which is also widely known as the head unit.
Whether you’re planning to get an OE replacement for your faulty car stereo or upgrade your dashboard, there’s a lot to consider when looking for a car stereo. You’ll have to look into the types of stereos in the market as well as the available features that come with it. This guide will help you find the best car stereo for your car.
Car stereo audio sources
Before we dive deeper into the types and features available for car stereos, you have to decide which audio source of the head unit you want for your dashboard. There are various audio sources to choose from:
If you like it old school, try going for a CD receiver or, if you want upgraded entertainment, get an audio/video (A/V) receiver. A/V receivers come with a color screen, which, unlike some CD receivers, can project videos and images.
Also known as digital media receiver, a mechless receiver negates the need of having to bring 20 CDs in your car. It can play music via Bluetooth, USB drive, or an SD card. It comes with a simple display that projects all basic but important information.
A multimedia receiver combines sophisticated technologies to upgrade your in-car entertainment. The number one characteristic of a multimedia receiver is the touch screen display. Apart from that, it also incorporates USB ports, Bluetooth, and smartphone functions. Some car manufacturers also equip high-end models with their own in-car technology, operable by your fingertips.
Sizes of car stereos
Another important factor to consider when shopping for the right car stereo receiver is the size of the provision on the dashboard. Most cars, especially those from the 2000s, are fitted with slim receivers while others from later years are equipped with screen-integrated receivers.
Car stereos can be categorized according to their size, which is measured in inches. You’ll see the term DIN when comparing receivers in the market. DIN is a German acronym that stands for Duetch Industri Normen, a unit that Germans used to standardize head units for Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen vehicles in the ‘80s.
Here are the different sizes of car stereos:
A single-DIN measurement means that the receiver measures 2”x7”. These are common on older cars. Single-DIN receivers are the CD or mechless receivers you know of. They come with multiple buttons, a dial, a basic screen, and a disc drive.
Double-DIN receivers measure 4”x7” and often come with a decent-size screen. The extra height allows for the fitting of a bigger display that’s often touch screen, especially in newer units. Multimedia receivers can be categorized as double-DIN receivers, although they can also fall under OEM specs that have the size of their own.
OEM replacement receivers are those that don’t fall under the single or double DIN categories. Some cars are fitted with a uniquely built car stereo receiver with sizes that don’t conform to the standard DINs. These head units are specifically molded to fit the provision on the dashboard.
Car stereos technology
You also have to take note that car stereos differ in terms of the level of technology they come with. Below are the different features you may come across when looking for a replacement or upgrading your car stereo receiver.
Bluetooth car stereo receivers have become the standard of head units mainly because most drivers own a smartphone. The convenience offered by this feature, wherein the driver only has to connect his phone in a matter of seconds, is the reason why most car owners choose a head unit that has this function.
If there’s a head unit that would look good on the dashboard of your car, it has to be a touch screen car stereo. However, not all cars fit a touch screen receiver, most especially older models that originally came with a single-DIN receiver. With touch screens, commands are made simpler and more straightforward. Some even come with hand gesture sensors.
One of the later additions in car stereo technology is the MirrorLink feature that allows users to transfer the screen of their phone on the head unit screen, real-time. This makes mobile apps more accessible through the media screen.
The MirrorLink feature is helpful if the app being used is navigational. With it, the driver wouldn’t have to hold his phone for a look. Instead, information can be passed on by just quickly glancing through the car stereo screen.
Apple CarPlay or Android Auto Compatibility
The more exclusive features compared to the MirrorLink—not to mention more expensive, too—are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Compatibility. Connecting the phone to the receiver using a USB cable or wireless connection will enable the user to control the head unit via the phone. For example, the Apple Carplay feature includes Siri voice control on top of making the interface more iOS-like. Android Auto, on the other hand, improves convenience through the “Ok, Google” voice command, which can be used to operate in-app features.
By connecting your mobile phone to the receiver with either a compatibility function or a USB cable, the screen will instantly transform into a mirror of your phone’s screen. The user will also be able to control the receiver via the connected phone. Just make sure the one operating it is the passenger.
One of the most important features that a car stereo can have is built-in GPS navigation. Having one eliminates the need for using the phone as a navigational medium. The shotgun passenger only has to input a few details into the GPS system to search for the destination.
How much does it cost to install a car stereo?
When shopping for a head unit receiver, you’ll have two options: go to a physical store like a car stereo shop or save time by buying it online. An OE car stereo replacement can cost you around $800 depending on the brand and size. A double-DIN receiver will obviously be more expensive compared to a CD, single-DIN receiver. At least, you now have a clear picture of what to get for your car.
You can buy car stereo receivers by piece. You can also buy it as part of a kit, which may come with other car audio system components. You need to have proper DIY skills for car stereo installation. It is recommended that you take your vehicle to a certified technician along with the replacement part you wish to install.
Things to Consider When Buying a New Car Audio System
A long, sunny drive wouldn't be complete if there's no music everyone can enjoy. Even a stormy, frightful night on the road needs weather condition updates on the radio. These are just examples of how essential a car stereo is. If you want to change your stereo and upgrade to the latest models, then you've come to the right place.
In this portion, you can find additions that fit your style, and some very useful tips when buying a new car stereo.
What to check first in a car stereo
There are a lot of types of car stereos around from different brand because this might be the most popular car modification every owner would like to have. But before you get too excited, here's a list of things you have to consider first before putting your hands on a new one.
- Size - Check the size of your front console first before you run to the next audio store. There are stereos with screens which is bigger than the regular flat ones.
- Compatibility - Another useful tip for a music junkie, check if your car's make, year, and model are compatible to the stereo you want. This will have an effect in the wiring system so make sure to check on this one also.
Car stereo upgrade list
The stereo in your car right now isn't that bad, but it can be greatly enhanced from its factory settings. Here's a list of features you might want to include in your new set-up.
Simply put, these great additions can play thousands of songs from your portable storage devices. Gone are the days when you still flip through CDs while you drive.
This will give easier control when switching stations. No one needs to stretch his arm anymore and press the button on the front console.
A very useful and innovative feature, this prevents the driver to use his cell phone and steer at the same time. Voice activated commands instantly dials and calls any number from the driver's mobile.
It is very helpful to a driver to have a map by his side. A GPS device is not a new technology, but new models can now send and receive messages via the device.
This upgrade is very prominent for modified cars, a monitor in front and two more at the back. The dual zone audio/ video operation separates control for all monitors, giving each passenger the power to choose whichever he station likes.
- USB port/ Memory card reader slot
- Remote control
- Bluetooth, hands-free cell phone access
- Navigation System
- Dual Zone Audio/ Video Operation
It's Time to Level up and Replace your Old Car Stereo
Can you see the dust of previous years cover the surface of your car stereo? Do you still hear the feed when you switch stations? Well it's time to put that to an end, and begin a new generation with the best car stereo out there. You don't have to call any professional audio guy to help you out, this step-by-step guide will provide easy to follow instructions.
Difficulty evel: Easy
Step 1:Disconnect the negative terminal of your car's battery. Make sure that the cable will not make contact to the battery.
Step 2: Locate the bolts or the tabs that seal your car's dashboard kit. Use the screwdriver to remove it so you can gain access to the console area.
Step 3:Remove your current car stereo on the dashboard kit. Unscrew or disconnect the tabs if necessary. Remember to place the screws in a safe location where you can readily re-attach them later.
Step 4: Pull the car stereo out towards you until it is completely out of the holding bracket.
Step 5: Disconnect all the wires attached to the current car stereo until you can already carry it out.
Step 6: Take your new car stereo and connect all the wires that were attached in the old one.
Step 7: Slide it in the holding bracket and check if it's totally in place.
Step 8: Screw the dashboard kit back to its position, and connect the negative cable of the battery.
Step 9: Switch on the car, and observe the new car stereo for sound clarity and response of the buttons.
There you have it! This entire installation guide will only take 15-20 minutes to finish, and even a novice DIYer can accomplish it easily.