How to Choose Your Car Stereo? (Buying Guide)

Your car radio is outdated or no longer works, and you want to change it. Choosing your car radio can be a difficult task when choosing a model. Indeed, many technical criteria come into play. On the one hand, to identify your vehicle’s compatibility and choose the functionalities that will have to equip your future radio.

Here is a complete guide on choosing the right infotainment system for your vehicle.

Car Radio Models Changes With Time

Cassette Car Radios

Cassette car radios (see also 8-track tape) are no longer available, and only rarely used to outfit antique vehicles. Just the radio feature is still usable, as it has always been from grandfather’s car radio to the present day.

The first significant change came from the Compact Disk, which replaced the tape player with a higher listening experience. The uniqueness of the CD was also the ergonomics of the number of songs. The playback of digital audio data can only overrate this idea.

A few years back, the auxiliary input finished the integration of the car audio equipment. This input socket has made it easier to use other portable CD players. These jack inputs were subsequently used to stream music to iPod type MP3 players.

AM / FM reception has also experienced a minor transformation with the advent of the RDS (Radio Data System) feature. This device makes it possible to access extra material on the audio stream, such as the artist’s name or the radio station being listened to. But the primary benefit of RDS is the scan option. This helps you to hear the radio and as you leave the reception room. The car radio would then immediately scan for the nearby frequency used by the radio station.

More effective than an external socket, the introduction of USB ports into car radio has freed up digital audio files such as MP3, AAC, WMA, etc. Motorists then finally freed themselves from the many CD boxes invading the passenger compartment and the empty pockets. Nowadays, some car radios integrate SD card readers, making available the music library’s innumerable playlists.

Digital Car Radio

Nevertheless, the current area is 100% digital car radio and connected via Bluetooth and even directly via 3G / 4G. The apparent interest of this technology is to take advantage of the essential Smartphone and its features. Beyond the connection with the telephone for hands-free and, therefore, legal use in a driving context, access to the media library and the Internet transforms the car radio and, ultimately, into a connected terminal.

Car radios, ever more sophisticated, have also integrated navigation functions, formerly available via dedicated devices. Exit, old Tom Toms, the GPS positioning function is now available via your radio screen.

The generalization of touch screens in the daily use of a large majority of the population has pushed manufacturers to offer double-height (2-DIN) car radios. The increase in dimensions makes these multimedia car radios a real multi-function tablet. The time has now come for large screens to display smartphones’ functions and control various screens installed for the passengers in the back to view DVDs or TNT.

Installing a Car Radio

Dimensions, single DIN or double DIN

The location of a car radio is standardized according to ISO 7736. However, some car manufacturers are dispensing with this standard to offer their car radio system. Choosing a new car radio is always possible by using an adapter piece called a spacer.

The DIN format corresponds to specific dimensions that can be simplified to a height measurement: 1-DIN is equivalent to a height of 5cm, then in the 2-DIN form to 10cm.

The importance of your purchasing decision is to identify whether or not you have the option of installing a 2-DIN car stereo. Many current vehicles can be equipped with it, but this is not a generality. In some cases, the presence of a storage compartment above or below the original location will allow the installation of a double-DIN. Otherwise, you will have to transfer your choice to the classic single DIN car radio.

However, keep in mind that there are car stereo models with a large motorized screen that unfolds to provide a larger display area. The 1-DIN format does not condemn you to have a small screen.

The only advantage of the simple DIN format has a detachable front panel, making it possible to limit the risks of attempted theft.

Choosing a car radio comes down to defining your expectations in terms of quality and features. Your attention will have to be focused on connectivity, power, digital audio formats supported, radio functions, presence and quality of a GPS, multimedia functions, brand, etc. We will try to make your choice of car radio more clear.

Connectivity

Input/output connectors can be plentiful on car radios. The questions to ask will, therefore be:

  • What do you want to plug into your car radio (iPod, Smartphone, etc.)?
  • How are you going to broadcast the sound from your car stereo?

The input sockets can be a single Jack, USB 2.0, or SD card reader type. The last two formats allow digital audio files to be supplied to the car radio from a USB key, hard drive, or SD card.

Some relatively high-end car radios also allow you to connect directly to your Smartphone. This will enable you to control your phone now from the car stereo’s touchscreen. If you are interested in this type of function, you will need to opt for a position that includes:

  • Apple car play for iPhone users, including Siri and ergonomic access to SMS, music, and GPS.
  • Android Auto for Android smartphone users and allowing applications to be displayed on the car radio screen.
  • SmartDeviceLink or SDL, an opensource version of a Ford solution enabling the use of compatible applications.

Supported audio formats

Most car radios support the classic MP3 digital audio format. But your music library can have many different forms. Please choose a car stereo that will not require you to convert your music files. The preferred digital formats are MP3, Flac, AAC, WMA, and Wav. Many of the car radios endorse the popular MP3 digital audio format.

Radio

Both new car radios incorporate RDS (Radio Data System) with the scanning alternative to track the station even while adjusting the frequency.

Choose a car radio that incorporates the DAB / DAB+ (Visual Audio Broadcasting) system, enabling radio stations’ transmission in digital format. This system is similar to TNT for television, which will gradually replace terrestrial broadcasts via FM.

GPS Navigation

For many of us, this navigation role has been important for several years. But using a particular computer or a smartphone on a ventilation grill is not always feasible. Buying a car radio can be very realistic regularly by purchasing a car radio.

Of course, GPS would be more convenient on a 2-DIN touch screen to display navigation and traffic information that can be obtained from the TMC (Traffic Message Channel) system.

If the GPS feature is supported by connecting your mobile via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, the data link would be used for the map and traffic data.

Screen size

A complete 7-inch screen is a significant improvement in convenience relative to the displays controlled on a 1-DIN car radio. Reading knowledge is streamlined and no longer allows attention to be paid to driving. It is also a defense commodity.

These measurements make it possible to turn your car into a digital lounge by replicating the features of your Smartphone or by offering unique facilities. DVD streaming is possible, much as digital video file formats such as DivX and TNT access for individual car radios.

For multimedia car radios providing functionality, specific connectors will also allow the reversing camera and parking radars to be connected.

Bluetooth Connectivity

Via a Bluetooth connection, almost all smartphones can connect to this type of car radio, whether they are mobiles running Android, iOS (iPhone), or Windows phone.

The obvious advantage is the hands-free telephony function giving the possibility of conducting telephone conversations while driving while remaining within the legality framework. Via this type of Bluetooth wireless connection, you will also be able to access music or podcasts stored on your phone.

Apple Carplay and Android Auto

Apple and Google are proposing competing solutions based on their platform. Their goal is to provide services to you through your mobile via a driving sense app. Car radio manufacturers soon started to integrate these devices with the monitor of their touchscreen appliances. The effect is the prospect of getting access to a range of resources from your Smartphone, on your car radio, using an app ergonomically built for use while driving. The GPS, music library, and other resources are all at your fingertips.

Voice assistance

Your car radio relays your phone call speech’s sound… it can even do so by using voice assistants such as Apple Siri and Google Talk “Yes Google.” So you can give your car radio and even your phone directions without having to take your hands off the wheel. Labeled “Siri Eye Free” for an iOS helper, this feature is provided by several mid/high-end car radios of notable brands.

Steering Wheel Controls

The steering wheel controls provide quick access to your car radio’s services without taking your hands off the wheel. In addition to being a safety element, it is also an asset of comfort in using a car radio.

Many vehicle models are pre-fitted with steering wheel controls for original car radios. Therefore, it will be essential to identify if your harness meets the ISO standard or if you will need to use an adapter.

Brands

As with all equipment, not all brands are created equal. The market leaders are brands that have been present for decades in this field of activity and have forged their fame on the reliability and quality of their audio equipment to equip vehicles.

We recommend that you trust Sony, Kenwood, JVC, Pioneer, Clarion, and Alpine. Of course, there are many models of unknown East Asian brands, but the quality of the models varies greatly. These brands will still have some difficulty in competing with the references to car radio equipment.

Conclusion

Your choice of car radio will relate to your vehicle’s characteristics, the technological criteria you want for your position, and of course, your budget. Current car radios are small gems of technology using many electronic parts. A low price will inevitably imply low-end components, which will impact on quality and longevity.

Within a few years, autonomous vehicles will relieve humans of driving and transform an automobile’s interior into a real multimedia lounge. The car radio will still have to change to become a whole encompassing participatory activity. The infotainment system will then become central in the equipment of a vehicle.  

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