Every car requires a unique combination of car stereo components to sound great. A car stereo may sound excellent in one car, but sound terrible in another. Additionally, the limitations in size and wiring configuration make selecting the best car stereo even more difficult for you.
The best car stereos will give you the features you love while conforming to the environment of your car and create an excellent reproduction of the music that you love. With the right car stereo, you'll be able to custom tailor frequencies to your car, integrate your favorite music/media device, connect to your smartphone via bluetooth and much more.
At CarAudioNow, we use multiple key criteria when rating products in our top lists, including our Best Car Stereos and Head Units. Below is a list of criteria that we take into consideration while choosing the best car stereos for your vehicle.
Power ratings are extremely important feature to consider while choosing a car stereo. Without an external amplifier, the power output of the car stereo is what dictates the power of your speakers and ultimately the power of sound. There are typically two power output ratings that are given with car stereos:
- Max Power Output: Max power rating is the maximum amount of power that the car stereo can emit for short periods of time. It is the maximum amount of power that will be sent to your speakers (without an external amplifier)
- RMS (Continuous) Power Output: RMS power rating is the amount of power that the car stereo can emit at a constant or continuous rate. This is the most important power output rating.
Along with power handling and output, the level of control of the output sound's shape is also very important. This control is typically made through a built-in equalizer (EQ). It will allow you to tailor the shape of sound, raising or lowering the level of certain frequencies in order to best optimize the output sound for the environment of your car. The higher the number of bands that the car stereo's equalizer has, the more you will be able to customize the frequencies and shape of your music and sound.
Display features play a huge role in how stylish and user-friendly car stereos are. High end car stereos will have a high LED pixel count, and give customizable features like color and brightness in order to match the color of your interior.
Playback can be defined as the methods that your car stereo is capable of playing back audio. CD, DVD, MP3, HD Radio, Pandora, Auxiliary (Aux) Ports, Bluetooth; these are all examples of playback types that the best car stereos will typically have.
You will want to make sure that the playback methods that you intend on using is consistent with the playback features of the car stereo, otherwise you may be stuck with a head unit that doesn't play your music in the format that you have it. Here is a breakdown of the most popular playback features in the best car stereos:
- HD Radio: HD Radio is the same radio stations that you listen to, but with a higher audio quality and more metadata than tradition radio. Metadata includes titles, artists, albums and more.
- CD Player: CD players will play your favorite CDs in multiple formats, including CD,CD-R/RW, MP3, AAC, WAV and WMA.
- Auxiliary (Aux) Port: Auxiliary ports allow you to connect any music device that you may have using a headphone connector. Typically, the best car stereos will have an auxiliary port on the front of the unit.
- Bluetooth: Bluetooth music allows you to connect to your music on a smartphone or other bluetooth enabled device, playing all of your music wirelessly from your device via a Bluetooth connection.
- USB Port: A USB port will allow you to connect your music devices via a USB connection. It will allow you to listen to your favorite music from your device, while charging it for endless listen time.
- XM Radio: XM radio is satellite radio such as SiriusXM, that allows you to connect and listen to thousands of channels of radio via a satellite connection. This increases the coverage of radio that you have, however requires a paid subscription.
All of the best car stereos allow you to fully integrate with your smartphone, enabling the best features such as Pandora and Spotify while allowing you to answer phone calls without touching your smartphone. With recent legislation prohibiting you from using your phones while driving, it is becoming increasingly important for the best car stereos to fully integrate with your smartphone. Additionally, they will come with microphones with noise-canceling technology that will hone in on your voice and eliminate road noise.
Expandability is what allows you to connect external components to your car stereo. The best car stereos will have at least three 4volt RCA outputs (Front, Rear, Subwoofer), Audio/Video (AV) input/outputs, rear view camera inputs (with compatible displays) and a microphone input.