Car Stereo Buying Guide: Things to Consider Before Upgrading

Written by: Miles Walker
Last Updated on:
Car Stereo Buying Guide

Are you in the market for a new car stereo? It can be tricky to know where to start, what features to look for, and how much you should spend. In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know when buying a new car stereo system.

We’ll start by discussing different types of stereos and what each offers, then move on to pricing and installation. By the end of this post, you’ll be able to confidently choose the perfect car stereo for your needs.

What Stereo fits your car?

When it comes to car stereos, there are three main types to choose from: single DIN, double DIN, and Universal Stereo.

Single DIN stereos

Single DIN stereos are the most common type of aftermarket stereo. They’re called “single DIN” because they’re about the size of a deck of cards (7″ x 2″), which is the standard size for car stereos. Most single DIN stereos will fit in any car, but you may need to make some modifications to your dash if your car doesn’t have a standard-size stereo opening.

single din stereo

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Double DIN stereos

Double DIN stereos are twice as tall as single DIN stereos (7″ x 4″), so they offer more space for controls and a larger display. They’re becoming more common in newer cars, but they can be difficult to install in older vehicles. You may need to make some modifications to your dash to install a double DIN stereo.

double din stereo

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Universal Stereo

Universal Stereo also known as Single Din Touchscreen stereo is a type of stereo that can be adapted to fit any car. These stereos usually come with Touchscreen Screen Display and Navigation System. In order to install them, you’ll need to purchase a dash kit that’s specific to your vehicle.

single din touchscreen stereo

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Sound Quality Features

Here are 10 of the most important factors that determine the sound quality of a car stereo.

1. Power Wattage

  • The wattage of a car stereo is important because it determines how loud the stereo can get. If you want your music to be as loud as possible, then you’ll need a stereo with a high wattage. A good rule of thumb is to choose a power wattage that is within the range of 50-200 watts. This will ensure that your car stereo can handle the majority of music files without distortion. Keep in mind that the higher the power wattage, the more expensive the car stereo will be. If you are looking for a budget-friendly option, aim for a power wattage within the range of 50-100 watts.

2. RMS

  • RMS is an acronym for “root mean square.” It is a measure of the continuous power that an amplifier can generate, and it is generally considered to be the most accurate way to compare the output of two different amplifiers. RMS power is typically expressed in watts, and the higher the number, the more powerful the amplifier. The good RMS in car stereo is usually between 15-30 watts.

3. DSP

  • Digital signal processing (DSP) is a type of signal processing that deals with the digital representation of signals. It is used to process audio signals in order to improve the sound quality of car stereos. DSP can be used to remove unwanted noise from the signal, as well as to enhance the sound by adding special effects.

4. Crossover

  • Crossover allows you to direct certain frequencies of sound to specific speakers in your system. This allows you to tailor the sound of your system to your own personal preferences, and can ultimately result in a better listening experience. 
  • There are a few different types of crossovers, but the most common one is the low-pass filter. This type of crossover directs low frequencies to your subwoofer, and prevents them from reaching your other speakers. This can help to improve the overall sound quality of your system, and ensure that your subwoofer is able to produce the best possible bass response.

5. Equalizer

  • An equalizer is a tool that allows you to adjust the balance of frequencies in the stereo’s output. If you want to be able to customize the sound of your music, then you’ll need a stereo with an equalizer.

6. Source

  • The source of your music can also affect sound quality. If you’re using a low-quality MP3 file, for example, the sound quality will be lower than if you’re using a lossless audio file. However, if you ‘re using a high-quality source, such as a FLAC  or WAV file, the sound quality will be much better. Additionally, the type of music you’re listening to can also affect sound quality.

7. Frequency response

  • The frequency response of a car stereo is the range of frequencies that the stereo can reproduce. If you want to be able to hear all the details in your music, then you’ll need a stereo with a wide frequency response. Again, however, wider frequency responses come at a higher price.

8. Signal-to-noise ratio

  • The signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is a measure of how much background noise there is in the stereo’s output. The higher the SNR, the less background noise you’ll hear.

9. Dynamic range

  • The dynamic range of a car stereo is the difference between the loudest and softest sounds that the stereo can reproduce. A wider dynamic range means that the stereo can reproduce a wider range of volumes, which is important for music with a wide range of dynamics.

10. Crossover frequency

  • The crossover frequency is the point at which the stereo’s speakers start to roll off. If you want to be able to hear all the details in your music, then you’ll need a stereo with a low crossover frequency.

Display Features

1. Screen Size

  • Most car stereos these days have a touch screen, so you’ll want to make sure the screen is large enough to see and use easily. Some screens are as small as 4 inches, while others can be up to 10 inches. It’s really a matter of personal preference, but keep in mind that a larger screen may be more difficult to install.


  • Some car stereos now come with a touchscreen feature that allows you to control the stereo using a touch-sensitive screen. This can be a great feature if you want to be able to control your music without taking your eyes off the road. However, it is important to note that not all touchscreens are created equal. Some may be  more responsive than others, and some may be more difficult to use. If you are considering a car stereo with a touchscreen, be sure to test it out before you buy to make sure it is something that you will be comfortable using.

3. CD/DVD Player

  • If you want to be able to play CDs or DVDs in your car, you’ll need to choose a stereo that has a built-in player. The CD/DVD player is available in both Single Din and Double Din Stereo.

4. GPS Navigation

  • A GPS navigation system can be a valuable addition to your car stereo. It can help you get where you’re going, even if you’re unfamiliar with the area.

5. Boot Time

  • One of the most important things to consider when buying a car stereo is the start up time. You want a system that will be quick to boot up so you’re not waiting around every time you get in your car. Some stereos can take up to 30 seconds to start, which can be frustrating if you’re in a hurry. Look for a system with a fast start up time so you can get on the road as soon as possible.

6. Backup Camera Compatibility

  • Another thing to consider when buying a new car stereo is whether or not it will be compatible with your backup camera. If you have a backup camera installed in your vehicle, you’ll want to make sure that the new stereo you choose has a video input so that you can continue using the camera. Many stereos on the market these days are compatible with backup cameras, but it’s always best to double check before making your purchase.

Smartphone Features

1. Bluetooth Calling

Hands-free calling is one of the most popular features of car stereos that offer Bluetooth connectivity. This allows you to make and take calls without ever having to pick up your phone. Most of these systems use voice commands so you can keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. Some systems will even read text messages aloud so you can stay connected without ever having to look at your phone.

If you’re looking for a car stereo with Bluetooth calling, be sure to check for compatibility with your phone. iPhone users will have the most options, but there are some Android-compatible systems on the market as well. You’ll also want to make sure that the system you’re considering has all the features you’re looking for, such as hands-free calling, music playback, and text message reading.

2. Apple CarPlay/ Android Auto

If you’re looking for a car stereo that will allow you to use your smartphone’s features, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are two great options. Both systems allow you to connect your phone to the stereo and use it to control music playback, make hands-free calls, and more. CarPlay is compatible with iPhones, while Android Auto works with Android phones.

When choosing between CarPlay and Android Auto, there are a few things to consider. First, make sure that the stereo you’re considering is compatible with your phone. If you have an iPhone, CarPlay is a great option. If you have an Android phone, Android Auto is a good choice.

Another thing to consider is what features you want. Both CarPlay and Android Auto allow you to control music playback and make hands-free calls. However, Android Auto also offers a few additional features, such as the ability to use Google Maps for navigation.

Finally, think about your budget. Apple CarPlay systems tend to be more expensive than Android Auto systems. However, there are a few budget-friendly options available. If you’re looking for a car stereo with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, be sure to check out our top picks. Pricing and Installation. Now that you know what features to look for in a car stereo, it’s time to start thinking about price.

Car stereos can range in price from around $100 to over $1000. The price you’ll pay depends on a few things, such as the brand, the features, and the quality of the stereo.

3. Android Mirroring

A newer feature that is becoming increasingly popular is Android mirroring. This allows you to connect your Android phone to the car stereo and use the stereo’s display to control your phone. This can be handy if you want to use navigation apps on your phone while driving, or if you want to control music playback without taking your phone out of your pocket.

To use Android mirroring, you’ll need a car stereo that is compatible with your phone. Not all car stereos have this feature, so be sure to check before you buy. You’ll also need to have an Android phone that is compatible with the car stereo’s mirroring software. Once you have both of these things, you’ll be able to connect your phone to the car stereo and use the stereo’s display to control your phone.


One of the most important things to consider when choosing a car stereo is expandability. Many stereos nowadays come with built-in Bluetooth and aux inputs, but you’ll also want to make sure there are options for expanding your system in the future. 

For example, if you eventually want to add a subwoofer or upgrade your speakers, you’ll want to make sure your stereo has pre-amp outputs. You should also consider how many channels you want your stereo to have. Two-channel (stereo) systems are the most common, but if you’re looking for a more immersive experience, you may want to opt for a four- or five-channel system.

Ease of Use

Another important consideration is how easy the stereo is to use. You’ll be spending a lot of time in your car, so you’ll want a system that’s simple and straightforward to control. Many newer stereos come with large, easy-to-read displays and simple controls that make it a breeze to change settings on the go. If you have a smartphone, you may also want to look for a stereo that offers hands-free calling and text messaging.


If you’re not comfortable installing your own car stereo, you’ll need to factor in the cost of professional installation. This can be done at most electronics stores or car audio shops. Be sure to ask about pricing and installation times before you make your purchase.

Capacitive Vs. Resistive Touchscreen in Car Stereo

There are two types of touchscreen technology that are commonly used in car stereos: capacitive and resistive. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to know which one is right for you before making a purchase.

Capacitive touchscreens are made of a material that conducts electricity, like glass. When your finger touches the screen, it creates a conductive path between your finger and the electrode on the other side of the screen. This causes a change in capacitance, which is detected by the electronics and converted into a touch event.

Capacitive touchscreens are more sensitive than resistive touchscreens, so they can provide a better user experience. They’re also more durable, since there’s no need for a physical button to be pressed in order for the touchscreen to work. However, capacitive touch screens don’t work well in cold weather, since your body won’t conduct electricity as well when it’s cold.

Resistive touchscreens are made of two layers of glass, with a conductive coating on one side and a resistive coating on the other. When you press down on the screen, the two layers make contact, allowing electricity to flow between them. This creates a voltage drop that is detected by the electronics and converted into a touch event.

Resistive touchscreens are less sensitive than capacitive touchscreens, so they don’t provide as good of a user experience. They’re also not as durable, since the physical button needs to be pressed in order for the touchscreen to work. However, resistive touchscreens work well in cold weather, since the conductive and resistive layers are close together and don’t require your body to conduct electricity.

How much does it cost to install Car Stereo

The cost of installing a car stereo can vary depending on the type of stereo you choose as well as the complexity of the installation. Some stereos can be installed by the average do-it-yourselfer, while others may require the assistance of a professional. On average, car stereo installation costs range from $100 to $200.

Installation costs will be higher if you choose a more complex stereo system with additional features such as GPS navigation or a video screen. If you have your stereo professionally installed, expect to pay around $50 to $100 per hour for labor. Most car stereo installations can be completed in two to four hours.

To get a better idea of how much it will cost to install your car stereo, contact a few local car audio shops or search online for installation estimates. Be sure to have the make, model and year of your vehicle handy as well as the type of stereo you want to install so the estimate is accurate.

If you decide to install your car stereo yourself, be sure to read the installation instructions carefully and follow them step-by-step. It’s also a good idea to consult a friend or family member who may have more experience with car stereo installation. And, of course, be sure to disconnect the battery before beginning any work on your car’s electrical system!

Tips to Save money while upgrading your Car Stereo

If you’re on a budget, there are a few ways to save money on your car stereo purchase. First, you can look for a used stereo system. This is a great option if you’re not concerned about having the latest features. You can also look for a stereo with fewer features. For example, if you don’t need smartphone integration, you can save money by choosing a stereo without it.

When it comes to installation, you have a few options. If you’re handy, you can install the stereo yourself. This is a great option if you’re on a budget and you don’t mind getting your hands dirty. However, it’s important to note that some car stereos require professional installation. If you’re not sure whether or not you can install the stereo yourself, it’s best to leave it to the professionals.

If you decide to hire a professional to install your car stereo, expect to pay around $50-$100. The exact price will depend on the type of stereo you have and the complexity of the installation. For example, installing a basic car stereo is typically less expensive than installing a more complex system.


How do I know what size stereo will fit my vehicle?

When selecting a new car radio, it is important to ensure that the radio’s size will fit in your vehicle.

To determine what size radio you need, measure the depth and width of the existing space in your car where you plan to install the new unit.

Once you have these measurements, compare them to those provided by the radio manufacturer you are considering. If the measurements match up, you know the radio will fit in your vehicle. If not, it may be necessary to look for a model that is either smaller or larger. Additionally, some cars come with special adapters and brackets that allow them to accommodate different sizes of car radios.

Installing a new car radio can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it is important to make sure that the size of the radio you choose will fit in your vehicle before making a purchase.

What is the difference between 1-DIN and 2-DIN car stereos?

The difference between a 1-DIN and a 2-DIN car stereo is quite simple. A 1-DIN (single-DIN) car stereo has one slot for mounting the unit, usually measuring 180mm x 50mm. On the other hand, a 2-DIN (double DIN) car stereo has two slots for mounting the unit, generally measuring 180mm x 100mm. 

This allows for more space to fit larger displays and controls. Also, 2-DIN car stereos usually have more features than 1-DIN options. For example, they often have built-in GPS navigation or DVD playback capabilities, whereas a single DIN has none of these features. Ultimately, a two-DIN car stereo allows for more control and customization options when compared to the single-DIN model.

How many amps do I need for a car stereo?

When shopping for an amplifier, look for one that has at least enough power to match the wattage of your head unit and speakers.

Generally speaking, amplifiers are rated in watts-per-channel, which can help you determine how much power each speaker will receive. For example, a 4-channel amplifier that is rated for 100 watts per channel would be enough to support four speakers with up to 25 watts of power each.

Also, you need to consider what type of music you are playing on your car stereo. If you like listening to a lot of bass-heavy music, you may need an amplifier with more watts per channel than a system that plays mainly mid and high frequencies.

I'm Miles Walker and I'm the founder of I've been in the car audio industry for over 20 years and have a wealth of knowledge to offer on all things related to car audio. I graduated from UC Berkeley with an electrical engineering degree, so you can rely on me for top-notch expertise and advice when it comes to upgrading your sound system.

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