Knowing what features are important to you before starting your car stereo search is the key to a successful operation.
There are a host of features available nowadays and very much sought-after. For example (and some things for you to consider), are you looking for a simple Bluetooth connection for hands-free calling and/or music streaming? Or maybe you’re in the market for a touchscreen that permits you to connect your iPhone or Android smartphone (wired or wirelessly) to it in order to pull music, audiobooks, navigation, etc. to make your drives more enjoyable? Perhaps a USB input to plug in a thumb drive loaded with high-resolution audio tracks is more your speed? Those are just a few of the things that are available to you when you replace the current stereo in your vehicle.
We'd like to dive into the most popular requests and share some feedback with you based on our experts’ thoughts and experiences.
What Features Should You Consider When Choosing A Car Stereo System?
We've simplified the decision process for you by breaking down our top 5 features to consider when choosing a car stereo system based on our experience: Apple CarPlay / Android Auto (Smartphone Integration), Bluetooth (Hands-free Calling & Music Streaming), USB / Auxiliary Input, Backup Camera Input, and Capacitive Touchscreen (vs. Clear Resistive Touchscreen). We've been improving car audio since 1979, starting out as a mom and pop stereo shop. If you're in the Philadelphia area, visit our Montgomeryville showroom to experience our selection of car audio first-hand or schedule an appointment to get your new gear installed. We’re experts in stealth, ensuring your car looks totally stock, 100% authentic, even when we're swapping out old for new — and good for much, much better.
Apple CarPlay / Android Auto (Smartphone Integration)
Nothing is requested more nowadays than Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. These two technologies integrate your iPhone or Android to the stereo in terms of pulling navigation (Apple Maps, Google Maps, or Waze), playing your favorite playlists from Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify, and more, and handling incoming calls or texts with ease and, more importantly, safely.
Chances are high that you’ve at least heard of these wonderful technologies and perhaps even had the opportunity to use them. You should know that you may not need to purchase a new vehicle to get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto - you might be able to replace the current stereo in your vehicle with something that offers this kind of integration. Interested? We then suggest that you reach out to us to confirm the fitment of an aftermarket touchscreen into your car, truck, or SUV!
Bluetooth (Hands-free Calling & Music Streaming)
Bluetooth has been installed into vehicles from the manufacturer for almost 20 years at this point. It originally came out strictly for hands-free calling and was pretty darn clunky and unreliable. As newer versions of Bluetooth emerged, the technology (and connectivity) improved by leaps and bounds. Music streaming capability was later added to make Bluetooth even more versatile. For some reason, we as humans just really dislike cables, so having the option to forgo hard-wiring to the radio was very appealing, even if it meant a loss in fidelity. Basic operation from your stereo (think volume and track back and forth) through that Bluetooth connection was a solid feature, too. You don’t get that through an auxiliary cable tied between your phone and the AUX input in the vehicle.
Fast-forward to today, and Bluetooth music streaming sounds really good! Call fidelity improved, too, and on both ends of the call - you can hear the caller and the caller can hear you. Is it perfect? Not quite, but it’s safe and that’s the most important thing.
USB / Auxiliary Inputs
USB inputs are a very common request and for some people, the more, the merrier. Commonly used for integrating a smartphone to play music through a factory-installed radio (or even a whole lot of aftermarket ones), they also provide another benefit: charging the attached smartphone. It’s a total bummer if you get to your destination after hours in the car only for your phone to be knocking on death’s door. A USB input doesn’t allow that to occur.
An auxiliary input (a.k.a AUX) is a tad old-fashioned, but still a popular request. This comes in handy if you would like to use a device that isn’t supported by your current radio’s USB input or Bluetooth connection. Some audio enthusiasts will even use an outboard DAC (digital-to-analog converter) to improve their listening experience and that AUX input is crucial for them to achieve their goal.
Aftermarket stereos tend to have a single USB input in addition to a single AUX input. Some stereos do offer dual USB inputs, which improves the versatility of the unit.
Backup Camera Input
Required by law on new vehicles, a backup camera adds a tremendous amount of safety to your daily drives. Not only can it assist you in avoiding hitting another human or animal, it also helps you navigate around low-lying obstacles and prevent dinging someone else’s vehicle’s bumper when you’re attempting that parallel park job that you haven’t attempted in the past 15 years. From another practical perspective, it allays the concerns of new drivers (and their parents) on those lone drives to the store or a friend’s house.
If you’re driving an older vehicle, you may not have a backup camera (also known as a parking assist camera to some), but you’re interested in adding one. Well, you might be able to do just that! In some cases, you can add a backup camera to your vehicle’s existing screen through the use of a specialized adapter. In other vehicles, you could consider replacing the existing stereo with an aftermarket touchscreen (Sony or Kenwood, for example) that features a backup camera input.
For fitment questions, please reach out to us!
Capacitive Touchscreens vs. Clear Resistive Touchscreens
A lot of people don’t know that aftermarket touchscreens feature two types of screens: capacitive and clear resistive. Clear resistive screens tend to be on the lesser-expensive touchscreen and provide a really good image and color range/contrast ratio. However, the capacitive touchscreens are even better - demonstrably so, in fact. Capacitive screens are brighter, easier to see when sitting off-axis, and offer a better color range. In short, they are certainly the better option if your budget allows it.
These five features are important when it comes to shopping for a car stereo system, but each one may mean something different to you. You owe it to yourself to pay close attention to the smartphone integration, Bluetooth, USB / Auxiliary inputs, backup camera inputs, and touchscreen type of the car stereo you’re considering. Once you’ve evaluated those characteristics, you’ll be in an excellent position to weigh any tradeoffs and pick the perfect fit for your ride. It’s your car, so it should be a reflection of what you love: music and entertainment.
See our best car stereos list to find the right head unit for you.
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