Here’s the thing: When buying an after-market car stereo, you can’t just go into the shop, ask for the best or the best-on-a-budget system, and come out happy. Well, you can, but that’s unlikely unless you happen upon a salesperson in a fairy godmother dress who can figure out all your needs and wants by her magical power of intuition.
What we’re trying to say here is that you have to know what you’re looking for in an after market car stereo before you can expect to get what you want. A great salesperson can certainly help you figure out your needs by asking the right questions, but it’s best to put some thought into your sound system goals before you go shopping.
If you walk into the shop armed with the answers to these eight questions, you’ll be that much closer to the car stereo of your dreams.
What size components will fit into my vehicle without much modification?
After market car stereo manufacturers and online retailers have guides that can help you determine what size radio and speakers will match your vehicle. Knowing this, along with your other sound-system goals will help you determine whether or not to budget for major modifications.
How much modifying can I realistically do?
If you’re putting an after market stereo in a leased vehicle, you’ll want components that can be easily removed and installation techniques that won’t permanently alter the vehicle. And if bass-thumping is your thing, you’ll want to consider how much cargo space you’re willing to give up for those sub-woofers you’ll need.
What’s my budget?
If you’re planning to purchase an entire system, keep in mind that you’re not just paying for the receiver, but also for parts, labor, and installation. Remember, too, that if you’re on a limited budget, you still want to go for quality. That’s the whole point of getting an after market car stereo, right? Even if you can’t get everything you want right out of the gate, you’ll be much happier in the end if you build a great system over time than if you get all cheap parts now.
What audio sources do I use most often?
If you use CDs or plan to use your receiver for DVD playback when you’re parked, you’ll want a traditional head-unit with a slot for discs. If you’ve given in all the way to digital media, then you’ll want to look at mechless receivers that have no mechanical playback methods but are optimized for iPods. They can also use other MP3 players and USB flash drives as their primary music sources.
What are my app and smartphone integration needs?
If you’re a serious user of streaming apps like Pandora and iHeart Radio, you’ll want a receiver with controls for those apps. That way, you’ll be able to easily customize your stations and rate your music right there in the dashboard. If you want a more closely integrated app experience, app mirroring devices may be the way to go, although Android users will have to consider the added expense of making it work for an Android phone.
How much do I care about local and satellite radio?
If you’re a frequent road-tripper or a major sports fan who spends a lot of time in the car, the answer to this may be “Very.” If so, you should know that choosing a receiver with built-in HD radio decoding will increase the audio quality of local radio stations broadcast in HD. If access to subscription based service for sports programming makes a difference to you, consider this as well.
What feels right to me?
If you shop on weekday mornings, you’ll get more time to play around with the equipment and more attention from salespeople if you want it. Don’t just rely on what the salespeople tell you or show you, though. Get your hands on the controls and feel them out for yourself. Does the screen layout make sense to you? Do the buttons respond quickly enough to your touch? Remember, you’ll be driving while using these controls, so you want it to feel right when you use them.
What sounds right to me?
When auditioning speakers in the store, do so in a demo vehicle if available. And try them out with your own music so you can really assess the sound quality. Ask which amplifiers are driving the speakers and how much power they’re using in watts. Be sure you’re only auditioning speakers compatible with the head-units and amplifiers that will fit your car. Why fall in love with a sound you can’t have?
Buying an after market car stereo is the kind of project that makes you understand the saying, “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.” We get it. There are so many options out there it can be confusing. At Car Stereo City, we can help even if you can’t answer all the above questions about your own vehicle and your sound system goals. Our staff is knowledgeable about available products and experienced enough to help you determine the best fits for you. But, like we said, if you can answer those questions, then by the time you come in, we’re that much closer to fulfilling your sonic dreams.