Car Audio And Stereo: How To Choose The Best New Head Unit

Choosing the best aftermarket head unit to replace your factory stereo can be very confusing, but these tips can help you review your options.

Before you begin searching for the perfect stereo, make sure you know what you already have. If your factory head unit is about two inches tall and seven inches wide, it is single DIN size. Single DIN is the size that most head units come in. If your old head unit is not single DIN size, you will either have to purchase an adapter to fit a single DIN head unit or buy a head unit specially made to fit in the oversized slot. Take this into consideration when you are browsing for your new stereo.

The most obvious thing to look for is the functionality of the head unit. All units will contain a radio, but many people want to be able to play media. Ask yourself how you will listen to music. Will you need a CD player or a tape deck? Are you planning on adding satellite radio in the future? Will you ever listen to an MP3 CD? Do you need an auxiliary port to plug in external music sources? Decide what capabilities you absolutely need, and what you can do without. Now you should have a basic idea of what you are looking for.

Unless your system contains external amplifiers, the power of the internal amp is vital. Power is measured in terms of watts, and there are generally two power measurements for any head unit. The first measurement, peak watts, is insignificant. It is the second measurement, RMS watts, that will determine the actual power of your stereo. In most cases, the powerful head units will have cleaner and louder sound, but it is also important that the head unit does not produce more power than your speakers can handle. If you have any questions about this, be sure to ask around where you buy the unit, because blown speakers can get expensive.

Next, consider whether you plan on making future upgrades to your system in the future. If you plan on adding external amplifiers, try to find a head unit with pre-amp out jacks. These will make the connection much easier when the time comes. There are varying power levels for the pre-out jacks, ranging from 2-10 volts. Generally speaking, the higher the voltage the cleaner the sound will be, but don't go overboard on 8 volt pre-outs if you do not plan on putting a high quality amp on the other end. Also, look at the number of pre-out jacks. Two jacks means you can amplify one set of speakers, four jacks can amplify all four speakers, and a fifth jack will allow the addition of a subwoofer. Again, be realistic; there is no point in paying for jacks that you will not use.

One area that you should not shy away from dropping cash on are the security features, especially if you live in an urban area. There are many different theft deterrent devices available, the most basic of which is the removable faceplate. This will allow you to take the faceplate with you when you leave the car, rendering the stereo useless to potential thieves. If you are prone to losing things, a better choice might be a stealth face, which simply turns into a black face when you turn off the car, giving the appearance that the stereo is non-functional. In high-theft areas, consider a stereo with a built in alarm that goes off when someone tries to remove the unit. Whatever you do, be sure your investment is protected.

Another thing to consider when choosing a head unit is the sound controls. Unless you have an external equalizer you will probably be using the built-in EQ settings. You will be better able to customize the sound of your stereo if you choose a unit with many equalizer bands. If simplicity is your thing, look for easy to use treble and bass controls. Also, if you listen to a lot of bass-heavy rap or rock, look for a bass boost function. Controlling the sound your stereo makes can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.

Before you make the final decision on your new head unit, always remember to look at the controls. Are the buttons laid out in a logical way? It is important that you are able to find the controls without taking your eyes off the road. Be sure that the menus and settings are easy to find. Make sure that the buttons do not feel cheap and easily breakable. Finally, check out the looks of the unit. The display should be big and easy to read at a glance. Also, if you care about the fit and trim of your car, try to find a unit that will match the interior.

Go with the unit that feels right to you. This will be the piece of your stereo that you interact with on a daily basis. It needs to fit the specs you have decided upon, but ultimately picking the perfect head unit comes down to personal taste. If you have to sacrifice a bit of power to get a unit you really like, that's fine. In the end you will be happier with your choice.

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