Also known as a car stereo, a head unit refers to the control center for your automobile’s sound system. It can significantly influence how well your sound system sounds, how good your dash looks, and how easy it will be to switch inputs while you drive.
With so many options, it can be difficult to find the right head unit for your car. And since they can get quite pricey, choosing the wrong one can adversely impact how your sound system sounds.
If you’re looking for a new car stereo but don’t know what to look for, you’re at the right place. Here are some of the vital things to consider when selecting your new head unit.
Why You Need an Aftermarket Car Stereo
Aftermarket head units often come with various advanced features compared to factory stereos. They are made with an enhanced circuit design and are more powerful to ensure your woofers, amps, and speakers give you the best sound experience while driving. Alpine and Pioneer make some of the best aftermarket car stereos – here’s a quick comparison between Alpine vs Pioneer units you can check out to get a better idea of how they function.
Head units typically come with additional properties factory stereos don’t, such as built-in navigation, SiriusXM satellite radio, HD radio, DVD player, smartphone integration, etc.
1. Choose the Right Physical Dimensions and Controls
You have two choices when it comes to the physical dimensions of the head unit – single-DIN and double-DIN. Most people prefer double-DIN because it offers a bigger display that’s easier to read. While the size of the screen varies based on the unit you buy, double-DIN stereos usually feature displays of between 6.2 and 7 inches.
Still, if you want to install a single-DIN unit into a double-DIN space, you need only the right dash kit that contains a buffer space to place below or above the stereo. Even with a single-DIN stereo, you can still enjoy the perks of a big display if you choose a stereo with a floating screen or pop-up display.
If you don’t wish to change how your dashboard looks, you can opt for custom-fit car stereos as these are created for a direct fit.
2. Think About Audio Sources
Before buying a head unit, make sure it accommodates different playback formats. Formats like AAC and MP3 provide regular quality. If you want a better sound, go for formats like WAV, FLAC, and ALAC. You may also want to ensure your head unit supports different audio sources, including Radio, AUX, CD, DVD, SD card, Bluetooth, and Smartphone.
3. Smartphone Integration and Bluetooth Connectivity
Most aftermarket stereos feature built-in Bluetooth, allowing smartphone integration with your car’s sound system and conversation without using your hands. For example, with AppleCarPlay, you can use all native Apple apps on your head unit, listen to music, call, receive and send messages, and get directions.
Alternatively, Android Auto features GPS maps, calls, messages, playback, and internet search. The system accommodates both button-controlled and touch screen stereos.
4. Digital Radio
Besides music, radio also features news, which is a great medium for staying informed while driving. Now, digital radios are quickly replacing conventional ones, offering a better quality of sound and valuable functions, such as playing music from Spotify. This way, you can enjoy your favorite music while being focused on the road ahead of you.
5. Consider the GPS System
With a GPS navigation system, you can concentrate on driving and navigate where you’re going without having to ask locals for directions. Although many head units come with built-in GPS, you won’t have to buy a more expensive stereo if you use it via smartphone integration.
6. Head Unit Power
Head unit power is one of the most critical factors you need to consider when buying a car stereo. If you’re on a budget and perfect sound is your top priority, you should look for a stereo with adequate power output.
If you want to build a system gradually, you may want a stereo with quality RCA and amplifier line outputs. This way, you’ll be able to enjoy quality sound and add an excellent amplifier in the future.
To discover the power of your built-in amplifier, you need to check the RMS value. Note that car stereos usually can’t output the full RMS value on all speakers at the same time. Also, bass requires more power than other frequencies, meaning some distortion is bound to happen, except if you use a high-pass crossover.
7. Consider Your Budget
Think about how much you are willing to spend on your new head unit. While you can find fairly good head units at an affordable price, you’ll have to set aside more if you want an advanced car stereo. That said, it may be a good idea to decide what your budget is before investing in a new car stereo.
This way, you will also narrow down your choices, making it much easier to pick the best head unit for your budget.
Choosing the Best Head Unit for Your Car Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
Aftermarket head units have many advantages compared to built-in ones, including advanced features. And after reading this article, you have a good idea of what to look for when choosing an aftermarket head unit for your car. Picking the right car stereo doesn’t have to be hard if you follow our tips.
Before investing in a stereo, you’ll want to make sure it fits your car – do you need a single-DIM or double-DIM? This information will help narrow down your options, making it that much easier to pick the right unit for you.
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Next, you will want to think about the quality of sound and how high you want it. The best head units offer many options when it comes to audio sources, and choosing the versatile model is typically the best choice.
You will also want to consider the additional features stereos come with, such as GPS, Bluetooth connectivity, and smartphone integration, which are all valuable properties that can ensure your satisfaction and safety on the road.
Finally, think about how much you are willing to spend and choose accordingly. Good luck with finding the car stereo that suits both you and your car!