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Car Stereo Shopping Advice

Modern car stereos, like this Kenwood DDX514 CD receiver, are fun to use and packed full of useful features.

What is a car stereo?
A car stereo is the centerpiece of any car audio system. Also known as a radio, receiver, or head unit, today’s car stereo performs a variety of complex functions. To understand these functions, it’s helpful to think of a car stereo as having 3 different sections:

  1. Source — This is the part that “plays” the music. Sources may include a standard AM/FM tuner, CD player, MP3/WMA/AAC decoding, satellite radio, iPod® connections, USB inputs, DVD player, or even cassette.
  2. Preamp — This is where all sound adjustments are made. The preamp section includes controls ranging from simple volume, balance, fader, source selection, and tone adjustments to sophisticated crossovers, equalizers, and time correction.
  3. Amplifier — The amplifier section boosts the small (low-voltage) audio signal coming from the pre-amp section into a larger (high-voltage) audio signal that’s sent out to the speakers.

Why would I want/need a new car stereo?
A new stereo will give you better sound and more playback options than the typical factory stereo.

Better sound quality — Superior built-in power and better circuit design mean that a brand-name car stereo isn’t just louder than the typical factory stereo, it also produces cleaner, richer, more detailed sound.

New sources — One of most common reasons to get a new stereo is to expand your playback capability. Brand-name stereos offer advanced capabilities, such as MP3/WMA/AAC playback, iPod support, satellite radio, digital (HD) radio, internal hard drive storage, DVD playback, surround sound support decoding, Bluetooth® support, and even GPS navigation.

Other popular reasons for purchasing a new car stereo include:

More features — Advanced features on brand-name stereos include full-color animated displays, customizable color schemes, fold-out monitors, Dolby Digital and DTS® surround sound decoding, and precision sound controls like digital time correction and parametric equalization.

Cool cosmetics — Brand-name car stereos, with their high-tech displays and cutting-edge layouts, can enhance the appearance of your car’s interior.

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Expandability — Auxiliary inputs, USB connections, and audio/video outputs allow you to expand your system by connecting portable music players, flash-memory devices, rear seat TV screens, external amplifiers, and powered subwoofers to your brand-name stereo.

Security — Features like detachable face plates and stealth modes help protect your investment from theft.

What kind of car stereo is right for you?
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number and variety of models in our car stereo listing. How do you know which one is right for you? Use our expert shopping guides:

Crutchfield

by Robert Ferency-Viars, Crutchfield.com. All rights reserved. (reprinted with permission, originally posted May 19, 2009)

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