how to choose a car stereo

What Car Stereo Should I Buy?

Last updated on July 6th, 2023 at 11:51 pm

What is a car stereo?

A car stereo is a general term used to refer to the head units and car audio system. The stereo is typically at the heart of any car audio system and comprises of features such as the source, the preamp, and the amplifier. The source refers to the section that allows us to select what we want to hear such as the CD or DVD player, standard AM/FM, satellite radio, USB input or iPod®/smartphone.


The preamp refers to where we make all sound adjustments. It comprises controls like the volume, source selection, balance, equalizers, crossovers, tone adjustments and et cetera.The amplifier refers to the section that helps boost small audio signal originating from the preamp into a larger audio system dispatched to the speakers.

Single Din:

At the heartbeat of every car entertainment system is the din unit. The din (Deutsches Institut für Normung) is what determines the quality of sound coming from your speakers and the types of devices you can connect. It simply entails the size of the car stereo unit. The single din refers to the standard created by Deutsches Institut für Normung, a standards organization from Germany. Specified in the standard is the height and width for car head units- length is not specified.

Single din differs from the double din in that it is half the size of the latter and of course has fewer features than the double din. It measures approximately 2×7″ while the double din measures approximately 4×7″. Single din is the standard used by most automakers and car stereo manufacturers all over the world. This explains why most head units are interchangeable.

what car stereo should i buy

How to Tell If Your Car Radio Is Single DIN:

Telling if your car radio is a single din is quite easy. All you need is to measure it. A single DIN car radio will measure about two inches tall, anything double is probably a double DIN. There are however rare cases where you can find a DIN measuring 1.5 inches tall. Such DINs usually fall between single and double DINs.

There are certain vehicles that may seem trickier, for instance, those having three vertically stacked slots with heights of about two inches and where only one is taken up by an OEM radio. Such vehicles probably comprise of a regular single DIN head unit.

Double DIN:

A double-DIN car stereo refers to a DIN model that measures the same size as two single DIN stereos stacked together like two bricks. It measures 4×7″ (180 x 100 mm) which is twice the height of a single DIN car stereo, 2×7″(180 x 50 mm) although they have the same width.

Besides being twice as tall as a single DIN unit, a double unit also possesses more features some of which includes more storage features, a larger touchscreen, easier controls, HD video screen, a DVD player with a digital display and advanced connectivity. Unlike single DIN head units that can only be replaced with other single DIN units, double DIN head unit offers more options, meaning you can replace it with another double DIN unit or a single DIN unit.

How To Choose A Car Stereo?

Most people like after-market car stereos because their options and features are far much superior to factory head units. The first thing you need to figure out when choosing a car stereo for your vehicle is whether it will fit. Most in-dash receivers come in the size of regular DIN models that can readily fit in regular DIN dash slots. There are some stereos, however, that are designed specifically for vehicles with double DIN dash holes.

It is important therefore that you figure out your vehicle’s dash slot size before selecting any stereo. This can easily be done by manually measuring the height of your car stereo. A single DIN car stereo will measure 50 mm (height) while a double DIN car stereo will measure 100mm (height).

Apart from the normal controls for an AM/FM tuner that come with standard stereos, aftermarket stereos can possess additional features like MP3, CD, and ACC playback capability. With aftermarket car stereos, playing CDs whether copied or burned, is made possible. There are a number of in-dash head units that now have the capability of playing both MP3s and CDs. When choosing a car stereo, ensure you check its expandability options.

how to choose a car stereo

What about people who need more bass in their car stereo system? There are music enthusiasts out there who only care about the base, which should be an easy upgrade regardless of whether you keep your factory head unit. There are subwoofer systems that come together in an all-in-one system while others can be bought separately. Consider all-in-one subwoofer system if you have a smaller car or that with limited cargo space. If you care about more volume from your car audio, you can consider a new amplifier that will help power your speakers. With amplifiers, your speakers’ signal power will be boosted to enable clearer sounds at high volumes.

You may also want to consider GPS and navigation when choosing your ideal car stereo. Modern-car radio receivers can do more in addition to just playing your music. Those with turn-by-turn GPS navigation, for instance, can be very helpful in getting you where you are going. If you already have a navigation app on your phone then this should not be a big deal since smartphone navigation apps prove to be more superior to in-dash systems.

Security is another important thing to consider when choosing a car stereo. Modern aftermarket stereos now come with enhanced security features for preventing your head unit from falling into wrong hands. Consider head units that have detachable faceplates and stealth modes for ultimate security features.

Besides security, another key feature to consider is the signal-to-noise ratings of a car stereo. A high signal-to-noise ratio translates to a sound output that is not only louder but more defined as well. So, even before listening to the radios, comparing their rating will help in comparing their quality.

features of best car stereo

Finally, your budget is a very important factor to consider when choosing a car stereo. Every aftermarket car stereo is for a budget whether you are looking for something that is simple to use or the latest technology in the market. Expect advanced car stereos to cost you a bit more than the standard aftermarket car stereo.

Features of Best Stereo:

While a car stereo may sound great in one car, it can sound terrible in another. A quality car stereo should have the features that make it conform well to your car environment in addition to creating an excellent reproduction of the music that you love. Below are the features of best stereo to look for.

Power Ratings:

When choosing a stereo, one of the most important features to consider is its power ratings. In the absence of an external amplifier, the power of your speakers and sound is by default dictated by the power output of the car stereo. Most car stereos will come with two power output which is the max power output and RMS power output. Of the two, the RMS power output rating is the most important.
Besides power handling and output, another important feature to consider here is the level of control of the output sound’s shape. The control usually comes with a built-in equalizer that allows you to tailor the shape of sound as well as raise or lower the level of specific frequencies. This ensures better optimization of the output sound for your car’s environment. A car stereo’s equalizer with more number of bands allows for more customization of the frequencies plus shape the music and sound.


A car stereo’s display features play an important role in showing how user-friendly and stylish a car stereo is. High-end car stereos come with customizable features such as color and brightness to ensure that it matches your interior’s color.


Single DIN head units, by default, possess basic playback types such as MP3, Pandora, Bluetooth, DVD, HD Radio, CD and Auxiliary Ports. The playback features of the best car stereo will be consistent with the playback options that you intend on using. A car stereo with playback features that lack this consistency may fail to play your music in your preferred format.

Smartphone Integration:

All best stereos provide for the integration of smartphones which allow you to enjoy features such as Pandora and Spotify as well as answer phone calls without touching your smartphone. This integration is very important especially with recent legislation that now prohibits people from using their phones while driving. Best stereos also come with microphones equipped with technology that cancels road noise and hone in on your voice.

best car stereo


The expandability feature of a car stereo is what allows for the connection of external components to a car stereo. Some of the expandability features of the best car stereo include a microphone input, rear view camera inputs, 4volt RCA outputs and Audio/Video inputs/outputs.

Best Car Stereo:

Pioneer DEH-X6900BT:

This model is ideal for those who are looking for the best car stereos but are budget conscious. It comes equipped with a multi-segmented LCD display with LED backlight and ten brightness levels that allow you to totally personalize the on-screen colors and the color choices for every button. Another feature that comes with this model is the Bluetooth connectivity that allows you to wirelessly stream music as well as answer phone calls through the speakers’ operating system with without touching your phone.

With a front-panel USB and AUX input, you are able to hook up a number of gadgets like iPhone or handled music players. Moreover, the model comes with an EQ five-band equalizer that allows you to maximize audio performance through a direct link to Spotify via the Pioneer unit and compatible smartphone.

Kenwood DDX774BH:

This is one of the best high-end stereo systems available in the market when it comes to design. This stereo is not only simple and refined but is also versatile and can work with many types of vehicles. Some of the fascinating features of this brand include 6.95-inch touch LCD backlighting that is easy to read, a USB port for connecting and charging your Android or iOS smartphone and a Bluetooth feature that can connect up to five devices.

Besides, this model comes with several inputs and outputs that enable strong customization. Some of the inputs that come with this model include front and rear view camera inputs, rear USB input and a rear A/V input. Some of the outputs that come with this device include six-channel preamp outputs and rear video output.

Pioneer AVH-4200NEX Receiver:

This model is ideal for music enthusiasts who care a lot about the quality sound coming from their stereos. For these people, music is not music if it is not in the high-quality FLAC format. This kind of people requires a car stereo capable of doing and playing anything, which is what Pioneer AVH-4200NEX Receiver provides. This model features a seven-inch screen and various levels of compatibility with music files and smartphones.

Some of the formats that this model can play include MP3, MPEG-1, 2 and 4, FLAC, AAC, WMV video files, WAV audio files and DivX. The model is also compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphones as well as with music services such as Pandora, Spotify, and SiriusXM. Furthermore, its Bluetooth connectivity can be used for both kinds of music and make calls.

Pioneer AVH4200NEX:

For those who care about multi-functionality and gorgeous display, this model is an ideal option. The model comes equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as DVD compatibility to ensure that you do not experience any shortage of device support.

It also comes with built-in Bluetooth for hands-free calling, built-in iPod, iPhone and iPad control via an extension that allows you to view video content at your own discretion. Furthermore, this model also comes set with AppRadioLive that provides you with all the info about your favorite media and news into a single interface for easy discovery.

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