The Car Stereo Buyer's Guide

October 31, 2012

There can be no denying that the need for a car stereo has become essential as we spend more time in our cars than we did ten years ago. Work and traffic have all played their part in keeping us behind the wheel. This has made the car stereo a little bit more important, as not hearing soothing music or reliable traffic news is akin to madness when stuck behind a large truck on a gridlocked road.

A Car Sound System

The car sound system is comprised of the stereo unit, the speakers and the amplifier. In some cases filters may be used to split the sound frequencies, which means that different sounds are heard through different speakers.  


Speakers are the most important factor for establishing sound quality. They determine whether your sound system is a good one, or lacks clarity. Positioning is the most important factor, as two well-positioned speakers provide a better quality sound than five badly positioned ones.


The amplifier adds volume to the car stereo sound system. Speakers have a watts rating, such as 5W, 10W and so on, and it is important not to exceed this limit, as speaker damage will occur if you do.


Filters split the sound frequencies, so you hear one type of sound in one speaker, and a different type in another. In effect, this is sound panning. If you have ever heard drums in one speaker and lead guitar in another, this is because the filter has split the sound. Filters can be a few components built into an amplifier or speaker, or they can be an elaborate standalone unit.  


DAB radio is often a separate component to the car stereo, though is often discreetly tucked away in the dash. DAB radios need their own antenna to pick up a DAB signal, and this is often a small glass-mounted antenna, or an antenna positioned on a horizontal stand.

Car Stereo

The range of features on most car stereos are similar to a home sound system. Connectivity is the selling point for most stereos, with SD card, USB and auxiliary-in being the most popular.  

Entry level stereos normally facilitate a CD/MP3 player, a tuner and auxiliary-in socket. It is worth noting that in some cases the MP3 player is determined by the fact that it can play MP3 CDs, which have to be converted and burned to a CD to be played. The advantage here is that more MP3 songs can be burned to the disk than conventional music formats.

Taking this a little further, the world of SD cards comes into play. Just like photos can be transferred on and off a SD card, so can music. Many can hold a fair number of songs, and they are more portable than a CD.

USB connectivity is arguably a great step forward. Simply plug in your iPhone, iPod or MP3 player of your choice and hear your playlists while hitting the open road.


As with most electronic components, quality is very important. Brands such as Alpine and Pioneer all make quality components that not only perform better, but are built for reliability. Buy branded, if you can.