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Car Stereo Buying Guide

Double DIN HeaduntBuying a new head unit for your car sound system can be an overwhelming undertaking. If you’re new to car audio, it can be easy to get lost in all the features and design differences and maybe miss the perfect head unit for your car. A quality car stereo is the central point of your car sound system, and it can make or break your entire system.

Aftermarket stereos come with any number of upgraded features over factory units, including better AM/FM radio reception, digital media capabilities, Bluetooth, integrated navigation and most importantly, they can make your whole system sound better. They feature far better circuit design and more built-in power than factory stereos to get the most out of your speakers, woofers and amps.

Aftermarket head units come with a number of additional features that most stock factory units do not include. To get comparable features, you would have to spend several thousand dollars with a car dealer. Your needs for your new head unit depend entirely on what you listen to and what your intended use is.

Aftermarket head units can come with every bell and whistle you can imagine, including built-in navigation, HD radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, DVD player for the rest of your car, total smartphone integration and much more.

Click the links below to view a specific section or scroll through and read it all!

  1. What Design Fits Your Car?
  2. What Kind of Unit Do You Want?
  3. Options and Features
  4. Benefits of Buying from Sonic

What Design Fits Your Car?

Aftermarket head units come in double DIN and single DIN configurations, and the way the dash in your car is set up will determine which configuration you need. It is important to know how much room you have available in your dash to install a new head unit. If your car only has space available for a single DIN unit, a double DIN size receiver simply won’t fit. Vehicle’s with room available for a double DIN head unit provide much more flexibility for your purchase as you can install a single or double DIN head unit.In many cases, if you are looking to install a single DIN stereo into a double DIN space, all you need is the proper dash kit (select dash kits come free with the purchase of your head unit). Installing your own car stereo is simple with our Sonic Electronix Car Stereo Installation Guide. Vehicle specific stereos are also available.

Sony MEX-GS810BH Single DIN Stereo

Single DIN head units are stereo units designed for vehicles with less dash space and require a physical opening of 2” high and 7” wide. Single DIN units installed in a double DIN opening will have a pocket underneath the head unit which can be used for storage. Being restricted to a single DIN unit doesn’t mean forfeiting the functionality of a large touchscreen display. Select single DIN units include a motorized pop-up display that is not restricted by your dash opening.

Kenwood DDX5901HD Double DIN Car Stereo

Double DIN head units are for vehicles with a little more room and require a physical dash opening of 4” high and 7” wide. These stereos tend to have a cleaner and more OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) feel to them because they do not come with a pocket like most single DIN installations.

As a result of the larger overall chassis size of double DIN head units, they are able to have larger, easier to read displays. Many double DIN units feature intuitive touch screen controls to navigate through the system and access your favorite features.

For those who want to avoid the aftermarket look and want a seamless look, vehicle specific head units are available. Vehicle specific head units are designed for a direct fit with a particular vehicle make and model. These units require no dash kit or wiring harness and provide a true plug-n-play solution along with an authentic OEM look.


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What Kind of Unit Do You Want?


Once you have determined what size head unit your vehicle has room for, you need to figure out what you plan to use your head unit for. If you plan on using your stereo strictly for enjoying your music while you drive, chances are you’re going to want a simpler CD/MP3 player head unit. However, for those who want to get a little more out of their head unit, you have several options to choose from including DVD players and fully loaded GPS navigation systems.

Digital Media Car Stereos

These head units do not come with a CD drive and rely solely on MP3 or digital audio playback. Digital media stereos include SD card slots, USB ports for use with iPods, smartphones, MP3 players or USB thumb drives. Auxiliary inputs allow for use with most other audio output devices.

Car CD/MP3 Players

Single DIN CP/MP3 Player

In-dash CD/MP3 players are the classic aftermarket head unit. These head units are compatible with MP3 and WMA formats, allowing you to play both regular and burned CDs. Basic CD/MP3 player units are the most common type of head unit. These head units are available in both single and double DIN configurations, although they are most commonly available as a single DIN design.

Select CD/MP3 player units include features like Pandora playback, complete smartphone integration and more. They can also have a built-in USB ports for digital music playback and smartphone/MP3 player connections.

In-Dash Car DVD Players

Adding home entertainment functionality into your vehicle with an in-dash DVD player is a great option for long road trips. Most of these units come as a single DIN with a pop-out screen or as a regular double DIN. They generally feature dual zone, which enables the unit to play multiple audio or video sources in two separate locations. This allows you to listen to the radio up front while your back seat passengers enjoy a movie. To play your DVDs on headrest monitors, dropdown screens or any other in car monitor, connect them through the built-in A/V outputs in the head unit.

In-Dash Car GPS Navigation

Power Acoustik PNX-721 Navigation System

Another solution for those who spend long periods of time in the car is an in-dash car GPS navigation system. These navigation systems are powered by map databases such as Garmin, iGo Primo, Navitel, NAVTEQ, Tele Atlas and TomTom. In many models, the maps can be displayed in both 2D and 3D and include both preset and customizable points of interest, live traffic tuners and lane guidance.These head units can play music and, if capable, videos while providing directions to your destination without a problem. The map databases that power these head units can cover anywhere from the United States lower 48 to Europe and Canada. Select navigation units are also capable of audible directions in multiple languages.

While smartphones have largely taken over in-car navigating, having a nav capable head unit is still incredibly useful for areas with limited cell phone coverage and for times when your phone is dead or left at home.

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Options and Features

In addition to the size and type of head unit you want to purchase, you also can choose from a wide range of additional features to add to your vehicle. Many aftermarket head units come with built-in Bluetooth which allows for complete smartphone integration with your vehicle’s sound system as well as hands-free conversation. Taking smartphone integration a step further, units with the MirrorLink allow you to control your phone from the head unit’s display. In addition to your standard AM/FM receiver, you can also purchase an aftermarket headunit that is HD radio and/or SiriusXM (subscription required) ready.

Aftermarket stereo’s are also capable of boosting the overall quality of your vehicle’s sound system. Adjustable graphic and parametric equalizer bands allow you to customize your music settings to meet your tastes and your music’s style. You can also purchase a head unit with Digital Time Alignment which synchronizes the timing of your speakers to provide an optimized sound stage. Preamp RCA Outputs allow for stronger signals which clean up distortion and unwanted sound.

Depending on the configuration of the head unit you purchase, display type could also be a factor. The screen size will vary depending on what type of unit you purchase. Double DIN units typically have between 6.2″ and 7″ displays whereas single DIN units can have a built-in motorized pop up screen not limited by the size of your dash opening. Installing a new head unit also doesn’t mean you have to give up your steering wheel controls. Select receivers come with built-in steering wheel integration, but most require an additional adapter. Many aftermarket head units also include an input for both stock and aftermarket backup cameras.

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Benefits of Buying from Sonic

Sonic Electronix offers free installation accessories with in-dash head unit purchases*. For local customers we have onsite installation with one of our expert installers. Our easy to use vehicle fit guide ensures your head unit will fit the make and model of your vehicle.

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