Aftermarket car stereos still offer better sound quality and the latest integrated features over most stock car audio systems. But with enhanced audio, navigation, satellite radio, MP3 playback, and iPod integration to consider, shopping for the right system for your car can be difficult.
Before comparing the available mobile electronics technology on the market, consider how much cargo space you are willing to sacrifice for subwoofers, and whether you are willing to go to the trouble of replacing an integrated system or simply keeping the factory head unit and adding only amplifiers and speakers.
As for the cost decision, think beyond the purchase price and budget for installation, labor and additional parts like amplifier wiring and adapters.
Shop only with authorized dealers, and installers should be certified by the Consumer Electronics Association’s “Mobile Electronics Certified Professional” (MECP) program.
Car stereo system component shopping tips:
- Head Unit: A stereo system’s head unit should have a logical layout and should be easy to use without distracting too much from the driving experience.
- Car amplifier: It’s very hard to judge a car amplifiers sound, so buying decisions will often come down to budget, system configuration and your own brand preferences.
- Car speakers: After narrowing your search for speakers based on what will fit your vehicle, you’ll have to trust your ears. Everyone hears sound slightly differently, and evaluating speakers is very subjective. You will be the one listening so it’s best to go with speakers that you like.
Be wary of the shopping environment and demo displays. Demo rooms at most mobile electronics retailers are not ideal for auditioning car speakers. The acoustics and speaker positioning are nothing like what is found in vehicles, so speakers will sound different in your vehicle than in a store. If the retailer has demo vehicles available, check out the speakers in them to get a better idea of how the speakers will sound when they are installed. Bring your own music/CDs to hear how it plays on different car stereo systems. Having your own music as a frame of reference should make it easier to choose a better sounding car stereo system.