If you type something like Car Stereo for Any Budget into the Google search engine, you’ll get thousands of options. But how do you know which product will be the best choice for you? How do you differentiate between worthy investments and low-quality equipment? In this post, we’ll tell you everything there is to know about car stereos. We’ll talk about the key aspects so that you master the art of finding just the right unit for your vehicle.
What do you look for in a Stereo System?
That’s right: before you even begin to think about buying a new car stereo, ask yourself – why do you need it? Or, rather, what are you looking for? Is it a big, high-res display, or an advanced head unit? Some drivers put navigation first; while others need a strong enough power output to make that bass pop. And these are just some of the factors to keep in mind. Join us, and let us talk about it all in more detail.
This is the first thing that most drivers pay attention to. The display is like the heart and soul of any car stereo. It needs to be relatively big, HD, and easy to use. Speaking of the size, we don’t recommend going for anything smaller than five inches. More expensive units have 7-, or even 9-inch touchscreens. You can expect to get a big enough display (like a 7-incher) with a Car Stereo Under $200.
Keep in mind, however, that not all car stereo systems have an advanced screen. Some devices only have some buttons/knobs on the front and maybe a tiny LED screen with numbers – that’s it.
The Head Unit
This term is used to describe the in-dash control unit. In contrast to a receiver, it doesn’t have a built-in amplifier. A car stereo, in turn, has it all: a control unit and an advanced speaker system. Now, you should look for a head unit that has at least a couple of USB and auxiliary ports, a decent radio (AM/FM) tuner, and maybe also a CD player (this one isn’t that important, though).
Connectivity is also a big deal. We’re talking about wireless access through Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, of course. That allows linking your Smartphone to the car stereo and enjoying an extended set of features and functions (like your music collection, podcasts, and more). A head unit that fully supports CarPlay and Android Auto is an even better investment.
These apps can be installed directly into the control unit or accessed through a phone/tablet. They’re great for navigation. True, most car stereos do have built-in GPS navigation systems, but they’re not always very reliable. With Car Play or Android Auto, it’s very easy to launch Google Maps and get precise directions as you go. However, it can be quite a challenge to find a Car Stereo Under $100 that is compatible with any of this software.
The built-in preamp will define how strong, clear, and crisp the audio output will be. What you need to do is check the RMS power. It indicates how loud the system can get without overloading, peaking, and dropping the sound quality. A quick note: you’ll most likely see the peak power in the specs, but, again, it’s NOT what you should pay attention to.
For the average driver, 4 x 40-50 watts RMS should be more than enough to enjoy their favorite tunes when camping out somewhere in the wilderness.
Ease of Installation
Are you planning on letting a professional handle the installation? If so, prepare for a steep check, as they usually charge a lot for that. This is why it might be wise to do everything on your own. You’ll have to disassemble the dash panel first, remove the stock stereo system, and replace it with the new one. The hardest part is connecting it to the wire harness (sadly, most stereos have low-quality wires).
And don’t forget about the different DIN standards. Most car stereos on the market are single-DIN devices. They fit a long list of vehicles and will be (relatively) easier to install. In contrast, double-DIN devices are bigger, bulkier, and might not fit some older cars. The width is the same – the height is different. On the bright side, they’re more reliable, have a longer lifespan, and can “house” bigger displays. The feature set is larger, too.
If you want that extra layer of safety, especially when driving out of a parking lot, a Car Stereo with Backup Camera might be the perfect pick. The market is full of various offers, but the idea is the same. A rear-view camera helps to keep an eye on what’s going on in the back to avoid costly collisions. So, if you’ve got some extra bucks, this will be a very reasonable investment.
Alright, that’s about it for our guide into the world of car stereo systems. As we learned today, there are quite a lot of factors that need to be considered before making a purchase. The head unit, the connectivity options, the power handling – it all plays a key role in defining how good or bad the stereo is. Thankfully, you won’t have to spend thousands of bucks to get a decent device.
So, go through our tips and tricks once again to make sure you didn’t miss anything important, and ask any questions you might have left in the comments!