A good car stereo can transform your car into a true multimedia powerhouse. Not only it plays audio from various sources, but it can also enable hands-free calling or play video and audio streamed directly from your smartphone. Before buying a car stereo, make sure to check the dimensions of the opening that is in your car's centre console.
What to look for when choosing a car stereo?
- 1 DIN (180×50 mm) - The most common size. Most 1 DIN stereos have simple controls and features, but there are also models that offer full-sized touch screens and advanced functions.
- 2 DIN (180×100 mm) - Most cars manufactured after 2000 feature a 2 DIN dash opening. Depending on the model, it may be necessary to use a vehicle-specific dash kit with fitted mounting brackets or a radio sleeve.
Do you want a CD / DVD player?
- Car stereos with a CD/DVD player - One of the best opportunities to enjoy your CD collection is during long drives. A CD/DVD player will let you listen to your favourite records without any loss in audio quality.
- Digital media receivers - Ideal if you prefer listening to the radio or playing audio from USB sticks, SD cards, and streaming it from your smartphone.
- Support for Apple (iOS) and Android devices - Enables to stream music from iOS / Android devices, use voice control, mirror screens or share your phone's GPS navigation. The devices can be connected either wirelessly via Bluetooth, or with a USB cable which also charges the battery of your mobile phone or tablet.
- Bluetooth - Ideal for wireless audio streaming and hands-free calling.
- NFC - Offers an effortless way how to sync your devices. For example, it enables to automatically change the stereo's settings by simply putting your smartphone next to it.
- Radio - The models that support the DAB/DAB+ standards offer excellent reception quality and enable you to receive extra multimedia content.
- Supported formats - The common lossy audio formats (MP3 / WMA / AAC) need less storage space. The lossless formats (FLAC, WAV) are significantly larger but offer a much better audio quality. Visual content formats (JPEG / MPEG / Divx / Xvid) are usually supported only by 2DIN devices.
A detachable front panel minimises the risk of theft.
Do you need to use an external amplifier?
Usually, the built-in amplifiers have a maximum output of 4×50W, which translates to approximately 4×20W RMS.
- Low-end speakers without a subwoofer - an external amplifier won't provide any significant change in audio quality.
- Mid-range and top-of-the-line speakers - an external amplifier can make a difference, especially if you use a speaker set with a good crossover. The maximum volume will be louder, but more importantly, the amplifier will have more headroom to process all the dynamic peaks on the record.
- Passive subwoofer - car stereos don't have outputs for passive subwoofers. To connect one, you will need an external amplifier.
- USB - used for playing music and video files from flash drives and external hard drives or connecting mobile phones and tablets. The ports can be connected to both the front and rear of the car stereo.
- AUX / line-in - used for connecting MP3 players, phones, tablets and other portable electronics with a 3.5mm jack.
- Audio RCA (phono) - used for connecting an external amplifier. If you want to simultaneously connect an amplifier for the front and rear speakers and a subwoofer, you'll need at least 3 outputs (5-6× RCA in total, i.e. 2× RCA L/R speakers + 1-2× RCA subwoofer).
- ISO - this is the standard connector for car audio. However, cars from different manufacturers may have connector pins ranked in a non-standard order, therefore it is necessary to check the function of each pin and if needed, use a brand-specific adapter.
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