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Buying a car stereo

Buying a car stereo

07 08 14

The only thing better than cruising the streets in your very own car is driving around listening to your favourite sounds. A car stereo that only plays cassette tapes or requires you to pull over in order to safely switch songs can seriously limit your driving experience – so if music is one of your must-haves, here’s what to look for.

Getting connected

Start with how you normally choose to listen to your music. Are you a CD purist or do you prefer to plug in your MP3 player? In reality, you probably want the ability to use both. Even if you tend to stick to CDs, a friend may want to use their iPod to play you their new favourite song. Not to mention, you’ll probably move with the times yourself at some point – if you unwrap a new media player on Christmas Day, you’ll want to be able to use it in your car without a major overhaul of the sound system.

It’s recommended that your new stereo should include at least:

  • One USB port for MP3, AAC, or WMA playback from flash storage devices
  • One 3.5mm analogue auxiliary input for universal connectivity

Apps and Smartphone integration

To keep up with the times, look for the ‘Made with iPhone’ badge that ensures the USB port on your new stereo supports full speed access to your iDevice's media. Do you have a device that uses the new Lightening connector (e.g. iPhone 5S or any of the iPads)? Make sure the receiver uses a plain-vanilla USB port and not an older 30-pin connector. Suffice to say, check before you buy a new stereo that it will work with your devices.

Local and satellite radio

All car radios today offer AM/FM radio. You can improve on this by purchasing a stereo with built-in HD Radio decoding. This will provide better quality audio from those stations that broadcast in digital format. You may also be interested in Satellite radio – although this depends on your budget, as you will normally have to buy an optional module and pay a subscription fee.

GPS and navigation

Today’s car stereos can also help you reach your destination with turn-by-turn GPS navigation – especially helpful if you hate maps or do a lot of driving to new destinations.

Physical dimensions and physical controls

Basically, you’ll need to decide between a single or double DIN receiver, which refers to the size of the in-dash stereo. The single-DIN option occupies less space, and is less obvious for would-be thieves. Double-DIN options often have large, touch-sensitive displays.

How easy is it for the driver to change controls?

Touch screens look good, but physical controls can be changed more easily (and safely) when you are driving at speed.


The stereo receiver is designed to output audio to the car’s speakers through its internal amplifier. Peak power is measured in Watts, and is most important only if you often listen at full volume. The RMS power rating is essentially the amount of power produced by the amplifier with regular use. The more RMS power, the more space you have to play with before the audio signal becomes distorted.


This can be a bit tricky, as there are many different types of systems. It’s often best to have this done by a certified installer, since installation is usually cheap, or even free.

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