The factory-standard car audio systems that ship with new vehicles often leave much to be desired, but thanks to a wide range of aftermarket in-car entertainment systems, there’s room for improvement. Here’s your guide to investing in a car audio upgrade.
Determine your car audio requirements
You can get a modern car audio system for well under $100, which will still be an upgrade if you have an older system with a limited range of features. However, even the most basic systems made in the last decade still provide a degree of flexibility. For example, if your in-car entertainment unit provides a USB port, you’ll likely be able to connect a pen drive or a smartphone, allowing you to listen to music from that device. Some systems also allow you to easily hook up a satellite radio.
Decide whether you want HD radio
HD radio technology has become very widespread in recent years, but many older in-car entertainment systems still don’t support it. If you want to take advantage of the clearer sound quality than what is provided by standard FM radio, you’ll want to buy a system featuring a built-in HD radio tuner. Opting for something which has HD radio support is also the foward-thinking choice as more radio stations shift towards the new technology.
Decide whether you want Bluetooth support
Bluetooth is a short-range wireless connectivity and data transfer technology found on all smartphones and tablet computers. Most higher-end car audio systems provide built-in support for Bluetooth and may even include a built-in Bluetooth microphone. Others simply allow you to add the feature as an optional extra. The main advantages of having Bluetooth support is that it provides safer hands-free communication by having callers’ voices come through the car speakers.
Consider a “mechless” car stereo system
A mechless in-car entertainment system provides a reduced range of built-in features while still offering all of the connectivity options you need for things like smartphones, pen drives and even memory cards. They do not include CD players or any other moving parts, hence the “mechless” name. They are usually cheaper than more feature-rich systems, and they tend to be the favoured choice for those who don’t want to carry around a large inventory of CDs.
Installing a car audio system
Most car stereo units are easy to install on your own, although you may need some additional help if you want to install new speakers as well. The majority of systems feature the standard DIN or double-DIN form factor, but you may need some specialized tools to remove and replace them. However, many auto accessory retailers will install the system for you at no additional fee, and this presents a major advantage if the process involves any disassembly of the dashboard.