Car Audio Review

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Why Upgrade Your Car Audio System?

Your car is like a second home. You spend hours each week commuting, running errands and going on weekend road trips. By the time your car runs its last mile, you will have devoted a significant portion of your life to sitting behind that wheel. You deserve to make the best of that time with a car stereo that can play your favorite music and radio stations over high-fidelity speakers. You deserve a car audio system that keeps you connected to your smartphone without taking your eyes off the road. You deserve the best car stereo.

A high-quality car audio experience begins with the car stereo head unit. You can have the best car speakers on the market, but if you don't have a good head unit with a good built-in amplifier, you'll never know how good those speakers actually sound. Factory-installed car stereos are generally cheap, with minimal features and below-average audio quality. The best car stereos combine high-fidelity audio with comprehensive playback options and smartphone integration. The Sony MEX-GS810BH, Kenwood eXcelon KDC-X998 and Pioneer DEH-X9500BHS are prime examples of the best car audio systems available. To learn more, check out our articles on car stereos.

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Car Audio Receiver: What to Look For

Cars are notoriously difficult environments for creating excellent sound. Every car has a unique acoustic landscape. A car stereo using a flat EQ setting might sound amazing in a Honda Accord, but that same stereo might sound terrible in a Dodge truck. In addition, every car sound system has to compete with frequencies created by the engine and road. A car stereo that sounds great in a parking lot won't sound the same when you're flying down the freeway.

The best car stereos give you as much control over the sound frequencies as possible so that you can adjust the audio accordingly. You should also consider the playback options and smartphone integration. Below are the criteria we considered in our reviews.

Audio Performance
Unless you have an external amplifier, the power output ratings are important to consider, because you don't want a car stereo that can't power your speakers. The max output rating is the maximum amount of power that the stereo can output to the speakers for short periods. The continuous power output, measured in RMS watts, is the amount of power that the amplifier can output to the speakers at all times. We also considered each car stereo's highest signal-to-noise ratio, which measures the amount of the desired signal sent to the speaker against the unwanted signals.

You should consider the amount of control you have over the shape of the sound. This is done with EQ band presets, which allow you to enhance or diminish certain frequencies to optimize the music. For example, if the vocals seem buried in the mix, you can enhance the 1.3kHz EQ band to make the vocals more prominent. The more EQ band control that a car stereo has, the more you can shape the sound to your environment. The best car stereos have 10 to 13 EQ bands.

Playback Options
You'll want to consider your preferred method of audio playback. The best car stereos allow you to choose from every option available. CD players aren't as popular as they once were, but they still provide the highest-quality audio. USB ports are good for connecting music players, flash drives filled with audio files and mobile devices, which can also charge when plugged in. The AUX port allows you to play any analog signal through the car stereo. Bluetooth is the most popular playback option because it connects you to internet radio apps and podcasts from your phone.

The best car radios also come with a built-in HD Radio receiver. Since the radio is broadcast in a digital format, the audio quality is much better than traditional radio and contains metadata such as the song's title, artist and album. You should also consider car radios that are SiriusXM ready, which means that it has compatible features with the satellite radio provider but you have to purchase the receiver and subscription separately.

Smartphone Integration
The best car stereos are fully integrated with your smartphone so that you never have to pull it out to change a song on Pandora or answer a phone call. It's important to keep your eyes on the road, so you should consider car stereos with voice dialing and voice commands that connect you with Siri or Google Now. The best car stereos also come with microphones that have noise-canceling technology so that your caller hears your voice clearly over the sound of the road.

Display Features
Most car stereos are designed to be stylish. However, this can attract the attention of thieves, so a detachable faceplate is important because it allows you to take the functional part of the stereo with you when you leave your car. Many car stereos also allow you to change the color and brightness of the display to match your interior.

Help & Support
The best car stereo has a three-year warranty, but most car stereos have a one-year warranty. Car stereos aren't always easy to install, so it's important to make sure that the support staff is easy to contact and able to help you with any concerns you encounter. You should also look for authorized service centers to help install or service your car stereo so that you don't void the warranty.

You spend much of your adult life in your car. Don't waste all those hours stuck in traffic listening to your favorite tunes on a cheap factory-installed car stereo. Upgrade your car audio system and make the most of time behind the wheel.

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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
Sony MEX Kenwood eXcelon Pioneer DEH Alpine CDE JVC Regular Clarion CZ Dual DC Blaupunkt Toronto Boss Audio UA Pyle PLR
Sony MEX Kenwood eXcelon Pioneer DEH Alpine CDE JVC Regular Clarion CZ Dual DC Blaupunkt Toronto Boss Audio UA Pyle PLR
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Ratings
10.00
9.80
9.40
9.07
8.85
8.63
8.03
7.85
7.73
7.00
10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
10.00
10.00
10.00
10.00
10.00
9.63
10.00
10.00
10.00
9.38
8.75
9.63
10.00
10.00
9.38
9.38
8.13
10.00
9.38
8.13
8.75
8.13
9.38
10.00
8.75
8.75
8.00
9.38
8.75
8.13
7.75
7.50
8.13
9.38
8.75
8.13
7.50
7.50
8.75
7.50
7.25
7.50
8.13
10.00
6.88
6.88
6.88
8.13
7.50
5.00
 
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Audio Performance
Max Power Output (watts) 220 200 200 200 200 200 240 200 240 320
Continuous Power Output (RMS watts) 68 88 88 72 80 76 72 88 80  
Signal-to-Noise Ratio (dB) 120 110 94 105 98 94 80 80 50 50
Pre-Out Voltage 5 4 4 4 4.8 5 2 2 2 2
Equalizer Band Presets 10 13 5 10 3 5 5 3 5 1
Front Speaker Preamp Outputs
Rear Speaker Preamp Outputs
 
 
Subwoofer Preamp Outputs
 
  
High-Pass & Low-Pass Filters
    
Playback Options
Internet Radio Streaming
AUX Input
Rear Only
USB Input
Rear Only
Rear Only Rear Only
CD Player
 
MP3
WMA
WAV
 
     
AAC
       
SiriusXM Ready
    
HD Radio Receiver
       
Smartphone Integration
Pandora Control
   
Hands-Free Calling
Voice Dialing
Playlist Control from Dash
 
Caller ID
 
  
App Mode
   
 
Noise-Canceling Microphone
   
iTunes Tagging
 
    
Display Features
Detachable Faceplate
Variable Color Display
 
Brightness Control
 
Remote Control Included
 
Artist Details
 
 
Anti-Dust CD Cover
 
   
 
Help & Support
Warranty 3 Years 2 Years 1 Year 1 Year 1 Year 1 Year 1 Year 1 Year 1 Year 1 Year
Phone
  
Email
 
 
Manuals
Authorized Service Center Database
   
FAQs
 
   
Tutorials