Car Audio Review

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Why Buy a New Car Audio Head Unit?

Factory-installed car stereos are not necessarily going to be the best, and they may not even last as long as you would like. Fortunately, you can buy a new stereo that will pack more of a punch for less than you might think. You want to find the best car audio system that fits both you and your car. You can choose to replace your audio system or update it. The first step along that path is to choose a new head unit for your car stereo system. A head unit is the device at the front of your car that includes the clock, the AM/FM radio and other forms of music players, and through which you can control the whole stereo system in your car. By buying a new head unit, you can upgrade to features you didn't have before, such as Bluetooth connectivity and MP3 compatibility.

With thorough research, we have found that the Kenwood eXcelon series, the Pioneer DEH series and the Kenwood KDC series have the best head units. For more articles related to car audio upgrades, check out our informational learning center.

Car Audio Head Units: What to Look For

If you're going to buy a new car stereo system, it's important to find a head unit that you are comfortable with and that has the features you need and maybe a few extras you find useful. Look for one that makes it easy to change the settings to your preferences – you'll appreciate a high degree of customization. Here are a few things to consider when purchasing a new head unit, also referred to as an in-dash receiver.

Sound Quality
The important thing to keep in mind when shopping for a new head unit is the quality of sound it produces. A head unit that sounds good on its own is a convenient choice if you don't want to deal with hooking up an external amplifier. A great unit will produce high-quality sound on its own power, but has the potential to be even more impressive when paired with an amplifier.

When you replace a factory installed head unit, the features, new buttons and sleek appearance are nice, but don't forget to make sure that the sound will be everything you want. Pick a head unit that has enough RCA outputs to let you upgrade to more speakers should you choose to do so. The best head units will have three RCA outputs – one for front speakers, one for rear speakers and one designated solely for a subwoofer.

A good head unit will have a built-in crossover, but the best head units will feature both high-pass filter and low-pass filter controls. Control over both these filters will allow you to direct the appropriate frequencies to the correct speakers, helping to protect your speakers. The ability to customize settings on the equalizer is nice, allowing you to create the best balance for your vehicle, as well as your own personal preferences. Preset options are useful because they take out the guesswork for beginners, but still give you the freedom to find a setting is comfortable.

Features
Aesthetic appeal is important when you're looking for aftermarket stereos for your car, but you also need to keep in mind the features that have more to do with function than looks. As many states enact hands-free driving laws, you will likely want to purchase a new head unit that has built-in Bluetooth, or at the very least Bluetooth capabilities. Answering calls through your head unit is convenient and safer than trying to do the same on your phone while driving. The best head units will have a microphone included with your purchase. This gives you the freedom to place the microphone as close to your mouth as possible, with the hopes of better picking up your voice on a phone call. Some head units will come with a built-in microphone, while others will utilize a combination of the two – a built-in microphone paired with an external one.

An aux input is especially important because it means that you can play music from any music player that features a 3.5 mm headphone jack. A USB port is also useful because this allows you to charge a mobile device while it is plugged in to your head unit. The best car audio head units will also allow you to access and control your device through the USB port. Some head units only support iPods, while others can control Android and Blackberry devices as well.

Be aware that many contemporary head units don't include a CD player. A head unit without a CD player or other internal moving components is known as a mechless unit. If having a CD player is important to you, be sure to look carefully before you purchase to make sure the one you're considering isn't a mechless unit.

Media Formats
It's a safe assumption that you'll want an AM/FM radio in your new car stereo, but a definite perk would be getting a head unit that plays several different digital media types, such as MP3 and WMA files. An exceptional unit will also play AAC files, which are the standard format of audio files purchased from iTunes. You will also want to look for a head unit that is HD and satellite radio ready.

Conveniences
The ability to change the display color on your head unit is a fun feature because it enables you to match the light from your unit to that of your dash. This makes your new unit look less like an aftermarket purchase. Another important thing to consider is whether or not you can control the brightness of your head unit. You will want to find a unit that lets you dim the brightness at night and make the screen brighter to see it better in daylight.

A detachable faceplate is a great theft deterrent. A good head unit will have a detachable faceplate that is small and easy to conceal. Along with this convenience, look for a remote control that allows you or your passengers to control the head unit without having to physically touch the stereo. Look for the option to mute your music for an incoming call, or to mute your own voice while on a call. Additionally, you should be able to mute your head unit from either the remote control or the head unit – and the best option would be to be able to mute from both sources.

Also, if your car has stereo controls on the steering wheel, look for a head unit that can connect to the steering wheel controls. If you can connect your head unit to steering wheel controls, then your hands don't have to leave the steering wheel as often to adjust your music or phone call.

Help & Support
A good manufacturer is easy to contact for help. You will want to look for a car stereo manufacturer that offers a few ways to contact the company in case you run into a problem during installation or further down the road. Look for a company that provides not only a phone number and email address, but also one with active social media accounts. The best manufacturers will provide a copy of the user manual on the website for your convenience.

When you're replacing your car stereo, make sure to look for the features that appeal to you. A well-built in-dash receiver will provide a variety of listening options with multiple customization options at the touch of a button. Find one that works for you, and you'll be sure to have an enjoyable car audio experience for years to come.

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Electronics » Home Audio » Car Audio Review
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Rank #1#2#3#4#5#6#7#8#9#10
10-9  Excellent
8-6    Good
5-4    Average
3-2    Poor
1-0    Bad
Kenwood eXcelon Pioneer DEH Kenwood KDC JVC Arsenal Sony CDX Sony DSX JVC Regular Sony MEX Kenwood KIV Alpine CDE
Kenwood eXcelon Pioneer DEH Kenwood KDC JVC Arsenal Sony CDX Sony DSX JVC Regular Sony MEX Kenwood KIV Alpine CDE
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Ratings
9.90
9.45
9.25
8.82
8.58
8.58
8.53
8.45
8.35
8.32
10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
10.00
10.00
10.00
9.38
9.38
9.38
9.38
10.00
9.38
8.75
8.75
10.00
10.00
8.75
8.75
8.75
8.75
8.13
10.00
9.38
8.75
8.13
8.13
8.75
10.00
8.75
8.75
8.13
8.75
6.88
8.13
8.75
8.75
10.00
7.50
8.13
8.75
8.13
8.75
10.00
8.13
8.75
8.75
7.50
8.75
7.50
8.75
10.00
9.38
6.25
 
Sound Quality
Sound Quality (Percent) 100 98 90 95 90 92 93 85 90 80
RCA Outputs (Pairs) 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3
Subwoofer Preamp Output
Low-Pass Filter Control
High-Pass Filter Control
Preset Equalization Settings
Custom Equalization Settings 13-Band 5-Band 7-Band 5-Band 7-Band 7-Band 3-Band 7-Band 5-Band 9-Band
Features
CD Player Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes No Yes
Bluetooth Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Microphone Included Included Included Included N/A Built-In Included Included Included Included
Aux Input Front Front Front Rear Front Front Rear Front Rear Rear
USB Input Dual Rear x 2 Dual Rear x 2 Rear Dual Rear x 2 Rear Rear Rear
MP3 Compatible
iPod Control
Android Control
 
SD/MMC Input           
Media Formats
AM/FM
MP3
AAC
 
 
WMA
Satellite Radio Ready Ready Ready Ready Ready Ready Ready Ready Ready Ready
HD Radio Yes Yes Yes Ready   Ready Yes   Ready Yes
Conveniences
Color Customization
Illumination Control
Detachable Faceplate
 
Flip-Down Access  
 
 
  
Remote Control
Ready
Mute  
 
  
  
Steering Wheel Controls
 
 
Tuner
FM Memory Presets 18 18 18 18 18 18 18 18 18 12
AM Memory Presets 6 6 6 6 12 12 6 12 6 6
FM Frequency Range (Mhz) 87.9 - 107.9 87.9 - 107.9 87.9 - 107.9 87.9 - 107.9 87.5 - 107.9 87.5 - 107.9 87.9 - 107.9 87.5 - 107.9 87.9 - 107.9 87.7 - 107.9
AM Frequency Range (Khz) 530 - 1700 530 - 1710 530 - 1700 530 - 1700 530 - 1710 530 - 1710 530 - 1700 530 - 1710 530 - 1700 530 - 1710
Installation Specifications
DIN Size Single Single Single Single Single Single Single Single Single Single
Total Output Power (Watts) 50W x 4 50W x 4 50W x 4 50W x 4 52W x 4 52W x 4 50W x 4 52W x 4 50W x 4 50W x 4
Width (Inches) 7.19 7.00 7.19 7.19 7.00 7.00 7.19 7.00 7.19 7.19
Height (Inches) 2.06 2.00 2.06 2.06 2.00 1.97 2.06 1.97 2.06 2.06
Depth (Inches) 6.25 6.50 6.25 6.31 7.12 7.09 6.31 6.97 6.25 6.30
Help & Support
Warranty 2 Years 1 Year 1 Year 2 Years 3 Years 1 Year 1 Year 3 Years 1 Year 1 Year
Email
 
Telephone
Online Manual
FAQs Page
  
 
 
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