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How To Choose a Car Stereo

Make Sure You Find the Right Stereo for You

After-market car stereos provide superior options and more features than factory head units. When selecting a car stereo for your vehicle, first you must figure out if the stereo will fit. Most in-dash receivers are DIN-sized models, ready to fit in regular DIN dash slots. However, some stereos are specifically designed as DOUBLE DIN models, ready to fit in vehicles with DOUBLE DIN dash holes. Check our DOUBLE DIN application guide to figure out your vehicle’s dash slot size.

Besides standard controls for an AM/FM radio tuner, aftermarket stereos can have CD, MP3, WMA and AAC playback capability. Aftermarket car stereos allow you to play burned or copied CDs in your vehicle. Since most in-dash head units now play both MP3s and CDs, consider a stereo’s expandability options when making your selection.

Most car stereos include options for further expansion possibilities. You can use your car stereo’s auxiliary inputs and audio/video outputs to connect portable media players, TV monitors, amplifiers, and subwoofers. Some head units allow you to control your iPod via the stereo faceplate using an adapter. Others have front aux inputs that allow you to play music on your iPod through your car stereo speakers. The latest stereos feature front USB inputs and SD card inputs that allow you to carry a disc-less music library.

If you want DVD playback, check our in-dash DVD player head units. Some have built-in monitors but if not, you can easily add headrest, sunvisor, flipdown and more monitors by browsing through our Car Video section.

Don’t forget about Satellite Radio and HD radio. If you plan on adding XM or Sirius Satellite radio down the line, make sure the car stereo you choose is “satellite radio ready.” If you want to have the option of adding HD radio, the car stereo must be “HD radio ready.” Some stereos have built-in adapters, tuners and antennas, so all you need to do is purchase a subscription.

Aftermarket car stereos give you greater control over your sound system. You can adjust the treble, bass, balance and fader controls. Many after-market car stereos include built-in equalizers and digital sound processing for total sound control. High-end car receivers have sound processors that are Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound compatible.

If you want to connect an amplifier to your car stereo, pick a receiver with at least one pair of preamp outputs. The higher the preamp output voltage rating, the crisper the signal to your speakers and subwoofers. If you plan on running a subwoofer, choose a car stereo with a separate subwoofer preamp output. This enables you to adjust the subwoofer volume separately.

Car stereo designs are always getting flashier. Browse our photos and specs to find car stereos with animated displays that will suit your tastes. Note that most in-dash car stereos have customizable color schemes to match your dash and interior.

Most car stereos now come with enhanced security features to prevent your head unit from being stolen. For the ultimate security features, look for head units with detachable face plates and stealth modes.

One final key to consider when choosing a car stereo are their signal-to-noise ratings. The higher the signal-to-noise ratio, the louder and more defined the sound output. This is a key spec often overlooked by newbies, but comparing this rating this will help you compare the quality of radios across the board without actually having listened to them.

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Staff writers at Sonic Electronix are experts in their field. In addition to a complete in-house training program, these experts typically have many years of hands-on experience in their specialty. Some come from car audio installer backgrounds, while others come with extensive retail experience.
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