As you drive to work, listening to your favorite tunes, you might wonder why upgrading the sound system would be important. After all, the factory head unit is playing the music just fine. Why mess with what’s working? However, there are numerous benefits of upgrading to an aftermarket stereo that you might not be thinking about.

While upgrading to an aftermarket stereo might not be the right choice for everyone, there are some advantages that could enhance your ride.

What is a Car Stereo?

The term “car stereo” is used to describe many parts, making up the audio system in your vehicle. Many people interchangeably use the words car stereo when describing the head unit. However, it’s best to think of the car stereo in several parts.

  • Source: This is where the media comes from. Sources can include your standard AM/FM stereo, satellite radio, Bluetooth device, CD player, USB port, smartphone and SD card.
  • Preamp: This is the component that adjusts the sound. It controls basic volume, fading, balance and other tone changes.
  • Amplifier: The amp is responsible for increasing the audio signals given by the preamp for a boosted experience. This is where the final adjustments are made before the sound is transmitted through the speakers.

Aftermarket vs. OEM Stereo

Sony XAV-9500ES in dash
Aftermarket Sony Head Unit installed in dash

What is an OEM stereo and how does it compare with the aftermarket options? OEM stands for original equipment manufacturer. Simply put, it is the stereo that came with your vehicle from the factory. The radio can be produced by a popular electronics company, but it is used in the production vehicle from the automaker.

With that said, an aftermarket stereo is one that is produced for a variety of vehicles. The aftermarket stereo is added to the vehicle after it has left production.

Benefits of Upgrading to an Aftermarket Stereo

If you are on the fence about upgrading your in-car stereo system, consider these benefits.

Audio Quality Improvement

The sound quality in your vehicle is only as good as the speakers and amplifier, as well as the head unit. With the right aftermarket stereo, you can dramatically enhance the quality, allowing you to play the music with more clarity and volume.

Car manufacturers are mainly focused on providing the bare minimum to keep the prices low. That’s why you aren’t going to find the best head units in most cars unless you are buying the optional Burmester High-End 3D-Surround–Sound system in a Mercedes for an extra $6,400.

In general, even the cheap aftermarket head units offer some better features than the factory models. You can find more advanced crossover circuits, along with enhanced output wattage for a better overall sound.

More Precise Control
Equalizer and crossover control on aftermarket Alpine head unit

Moving beyond the sound quality, you also want more control. Many aftermarket stereos are going to provide more functionality than the factory unit. Sure, your factory head unit is probably offering bass, mid-range and treble control, but these are the bare minimum features you should have access to.

An aftermarket stereo can also provide an equalizer or provide support for add-on equipment. When combined with the right components, you gain superior control over the frequency response, giving you the sound you crave.

New High-Tech Equipment

Your brand-new car might include the latest technology, but what do you do if you are driving something older? Are you supposed to be content without Bluetooth and other connectivity features? Absolutely not!

With aftermarket stereo upgrades, you can take advantage of everything that comes in newer models without signing up for new car payments. Whether you choose a single DIN or double DIN receiver, you will be able to get a connection to your compatible smartphone. This function allows you to access your favorite media while on the road. Additionally, you will be able to play music through a wired or Bluetooth connection with many models.

Look for voice control on some aftermarket car stereos, so you can change the music without using your hands. This isn’t just a high-tech function that’s cool, but it also keeps you safer while driving.

If you are looking for the latest in entertainment, consider upgrading to a stereo that allows you to watch movies. DVD head units allow you to watch movies, just not while you are driving, please. You can still add the flip-down DVD player or headrest monitors, but it’s much cooler to have everything located in the dash.

You can also pick a double DIN that integrates your backup camera or GPS navigation for more versatility. Your car stereo can become the hub of everything that’s important to you.

Installation is Simple

If you have some basic mechanical knowledge and the right tools, you can upgrade your car stereo yourself. Whether you are putting in a new head unit or adding Bluetooth capability, our library of car audio installation instructions is sure to help.

Even if you can’t figure out the installation process, there are plenty of resources available in most major cities. Even if you visit one of the chain stores, you are looking at a $65 stereo installation fee. However, we recommend shopping around, especially if you have a local car audio specialist you can deal with.

Increase Car Value

There’s a reason that sites such as Kelly Blue Book and other vehicle valuation platforms ask you about the equipment inside the vehicle. Upgrading the electronics and stereo system can result in a higher resale value.

If nothing else, it certainly adds to the appeal of the vehicle. It’s a selling feature when you are showing the car off. During the test drive, you can even highlight how great the sound is so the potential buyer can experience it.


Sony-XAV-AX5600 Rear Expandability
Look at the rear side of aftermarket head unit for expandability features (e.g. USB, RCA Out, etc)

There’s no limit to the ways you can customize your aftermarket stereo. Even if you just wanted to start with a new head unit today, you could easily add on other equipment later.

Consider performing the upgrades slowly over time. This step-by-step process can help you stretch your budget. It will also give you a list of continual projects that you can work on as you slowly transform your vehicle’s interior.

Stereo Upgrade Limitations on New Cars

While we have focused heavily on the reasons you want to upgrade to an aftermarket stereo, there are some issues that could cause problems. By thinking ahead, you can avoid complications.

If you have a newer car, your stereo head unit might be deeply integrated with the features of the vehicle. Whether it controls the drive modes or has the climate control built-in, replacing this unit could create headaches.

Removing the OEM head unit could cause you to lose the factory controls. In these cases, adding an aftermarket unit isn’t a good idea. However, you can still gain enhanced sound by upgrading the speakers, adding an amplifier or boosting the bass with a subwoofer. You just have to get a little more creative.

Final Thoughts

Why would you want to keep your factory equipment after reading all of the benefits of upgrading to an aftermarket stereo? The time to add more functionality has arrived. Even with a tight budget, you can gain more connectivity and entertainment from an upgraded stereo.