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Many folks have problems with the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) stereos that come with their vehicles from the factory and so they consider getting new ones. That said, with such a large variety of aftermarket car audio system types available on the market, it can be difficult to determine which car stereos can be the right one for your car.

If you’re looking to buy a new aftermarket car stereo, you’ll have a lot of things to consider such as price, size, features etc. If you’re unaware all of the different options available to you, researching details and information is a great idea.

To help you understand aftermarket car audio better, we’re going to go through everything you should know to explain the different types, benefits, and brands of car stereo system options so you’re going to find exactly what you need.

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What is a Car Stereo?

A car stereo is the main part of any car audio system. It is usually installed in the dashboard and it comes with useful features. It can also be called a radio, receiver, or head unit. Current car stereos carry out many different functions that make them more useful for drivers. To understand these functions, it’s better to think of a car stereo as consisting of three supports:

The Source

This is the component that lets you decide what you listen to. Sources can include any regular AM/FM tuner, CD/DVD player, satellite radio, smartphones, Bluetooth, SD card, or a USB port.

The Preamp

This is how you’re able to adjust the sound. The preamp component provides controls to handle the basic volume, balance, fading, source selection and tone changes. Some vehicles have different settings for concert hall-like sound or live music.

The Amplifier

The amp parts increase the minute low-voltage audio signals that the preamp component provides to give a boosted high-voltage audio signal that is transmitted to the speakers.

Why Would I Need/Want an Aftermarket Audio System?

You may be thinking – if I already have my factory speakers, what’s the point of considering a new car audio system? Well, there are a number of reasons for getting aftermarket car stereos.

Your factory speakers are weak

Increase the volume of your car’s stereo to a normal level and listen. Do you have to adjust the treble by boosting it to make the audio sound clearer? Does the bass level seem hollow, over-toned or weak? While you’re driving, do you like blasting your favorite song at full volume, but then you have to turn it down just because the sound seems distorted or otherwise wonky?

If you have any of these concerns, it’s pretty obvious that you’re going to need a better quality aftermarket sound system. These tone and volume changes are a good indicator of weak or damaged car audio systems, so it’s better to get a replacement.

Aftermarket car audio systems can provide better sound quality

Even if the sound quality doesn’t seem weak, it doesn’t mean you can’t get a better system. Your factory car stereo probably isn’t as good as you think it is. One thing to note is that the audio system is one of the areas that many car manufacturers like to cut costs on, so most people don’t know what they’re missing.

If a car system sounds normal to most individuals, OEMs are satisfied and don’t feel obligated to provide the best quality. Even high-grade factory audio systems usually aren’t up to par. That’s where aftermarket audio systems come in.

High-quality power and better circuit designs allow an aftermarket car stereo to not only be louder than the average factory system, but to also provide a clearer, toned, and detailed audio. Improved tone controls in the preamp also help provided better fine-tuning of your audio.

Aftermarket car audio supports different sources for music and provides more features

One of the main reasons to buy a new stereo is to improve your car’s music playback and other features. Aftermarket audio sources provide many functions, including:

  • MP3/WMA/AAC playback
  • Satellite radio
  • GPS navigation
  • iPod, iPhone and Android compatibility
  • Support for Wi-Fi and apps
  • Bluetooth
  • CD/DVD playback

Different Types of Aftermarket Car Audio Systems

2015 Fiat 500c Abarth-dashboard

If you’re looking to upgrade your audio, you need to know what size is compatible with your car. You should know that these systems categorized into different types based on their size and features:

Car Stereo Sizes

Single DIN: The most used size of a car stereo is the single DIN. These systems are usually 7 x 2 inches in dimension and can fit in almost any car or vehicle.

Double DIN: With double the height of the single DIN, double DIN systems have 7 x 4-inch dimensions. The additional height provides a larger surface area of the front section of the stereo, which can then incorporate a useful touchscreen.

OEM Replacement: Some cars inconveniently do not allow a single or double DIN system to replace the OEM system and need an aftermarket stereo that is designed in a size to accommodate your car’s dash like the OEM stereo. These stereos are called OEM replacements.

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Car Stereo Features

Bluetooth

Sound systems that have Bluetooth are made for hands-free use. This allows a driver or passenger to pair their Bluetooth devices like a smartphone to the car stereo to manage calls and music.

The stereos come with an external microphone and play the sound with the car speakers. This is a great way to talk while driving. Other Bluetooth stereos also come with A2DP sound streaming to help any audio file or extension from a Bluetooth device to play through the car speakers.

CD/DVD Playback

Almost any aftermarket car stereo comes with a CD player except for digital media receivers. Some stereos also have DVD playback so that you can use them to watch films or play some music if you have your songs burned on a DVD. Usually, only double DIN stereos have this feature since they have a touchscreen that can actually manage the DVD playback.

USB Inputs

Newer products come with USB inputs in their design to provide a better connection with other devices. This allows the user to plug in their USB devices, smartphones, and even portable hard drives.

These devices provide a larger storage capacity for music and movies and don’t take up much room, unlike most CDs.

GPS Navigation

An in-dash GPS receiver is handy if you rely on maps to get you where you’re going. These receivers are built with a GPS antenna along with the navigation software so you can access maps, points of interest, and directions whenever you need.

Many of the popular stereo manufacturers usually work with well-known GPS technology innovators like Garmin to offer the most up to date location details. These stereos can be either double DIN or single DIN devices but double DIN is preferred since the big display allows you to view the maps more easily

Device Compatibility

Some of the more recent car stereos can support iPhone and Android smartphone connections using a USB connection. This means that a person just simply has to plug in their devices to the car stereo using their connecting cables and they’re good to go.

Some of these benefits can include sound playback for music on your phone, video playback, Pandora benefits, Siri management, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, MirrorLink usage, and many other cool features. The stereos are ideal for people who rely on their phones for music and entertainment.

MirrorLink

One of the newest trends for car stereos is the use of MirrorLink, which lets you display your connected phones by mirroring their displays onto the car stereo screen. Depending on the stereo, a person can even be able to control their devices using the stereo system.

The advantage of MirrorLink is the ability to access any smartphone apps using the touchscreen of the car stereo. One of the main uses of MirrorLink these days is the ability to connect a compatible mobile device using USB and just leave it in the glove box. You can still use your apps without being distracted by text messages, emails etc.

Read More Top 10 Best Head Units for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

What to Look for in Aftermarket Car Audio

 

Everybody has their own specific needs and requirements when it comes to their car stereos. Some people want better sound, others want Bluetooth functionality, and some don’t care about all that and just want a touchscreen. When you’re looking for a new car stereo, make sure the one you pick has the right inputs. If you want to install a new subwoofer or more speakers, for example, the receiver you pick must come with the right inputs to support them.

Either way, you should know what criteria to focus on so you can pick the right aftermarket car audio for your needs. Here are some things you should look out for in your new car audio system:

Sound Quality

The focal point of getting good aftermarket stereos is picking one that can provide the best sound quality. If you want to use your car stereo to power the speakers, you’ll want a device that has a large efficiency rating. This is called the “sensitivity” or “SPL” rating. Look for a sensitivity rating of 90 decibels or more so that you won’t need to use a lot more power.

Car stereos can produce a distorted sound both when they’re underpowered or overpowered. If you’re using an amp, choose high-quality stereos that are made to handle high power. If you’re getting additional component speakers like the woofer and tweeter parts, you’ll get separate amps for them to get even better aftermarket car audio.

Ease of Use

Advanced features on new stereos like useful touchscreens can make it easier to manage music, navigation, calls and so much more, either remotely or through other devices. This way of traveling and driving becomes not only more fun but safer and more convenient as well.

Better Sound Controls

Useful sound management options such as digital time correction and parametric equalization are provided by premium-grade receivers for people who want full and precise control of their car’s audio.

That said, even cheaper aftermarket car audio systems can provide a better audio control that a standard factory stereo. The control and precision are things that would make anyone want an aftermarket car audio system.

Aesthetics

Aftermarket car stereos have cool displays and stylish designs that can definitely boost the look of your car’s interior. You can choose between full-color animated screens, personalized color themes, and even touchscreen models that generally have customizable backdrops and colors.

Expandability

AUX inputs, USB ports, and source outputs help you diversify your system by connecting different player devices, backseat video displays, separate amps, and powered subwoofers with your aftermarket stereo. You should get a stereo that has either a USB port or Bluetooth for better music and sound experiences.

Security

Features like removable face plates and passcodes codes can help you protect your sound system from being stolen. Such aftermarket audio options are great investments in the long run.

Budget

In the end, it all comes down to the money. While all the above-mentioned features are important, you’ll find that some of these can come with much more money than others. That is why it is important to research and review different brands and products to see which ones offer you the features and styles you need within your budget limit.

You can own high-quality brands without breaking the bank so long as you prioritize the features and requirements that are absolutely necessary instead of spending on extra accessories or specifications.

Can you install an aftermarket car audio system on your own?

Yes, it is quite possible to install an aftermarket car audio system on your own. It’s not that difficult to manage without professional help. That said, the installation process varies based on what type of stereo you will be using. If you are going to use a single DIN car stereo, it won’t take that long.

The installation usually involves replacing the OEM system, followed by connecting of the wires. If you’re also going for new speakers to compliment the aftermarket car audio system, the process can take longer, but it’s still just as easy.

To install the stereo, you need to find the right position first and figure out how all the connections work. If you don’t have an understanding of the stereo, you could end up obstructing other components. One important thing is you remember is to re-check your connections because any mistake can end up making more problems for you.

You may need to make some alterations, including removing your door panels, unscrewing a part of the dashboard, or crawling into the car trunk. Again, all of this is more time-consuming than it is difficult to carry out.

Stereo wiring harnesses are provided by most OEMs, so you can connect your aftermarket car audio system without actually getting rid of the factory speaker plugs. That means you can re-install your factory radio back any time in the future, which is especially useful if you’re leasing your car.

Best Brands for Aftermarket Car Stereos

Compiling a list of the top aftermarket car stereo brands isn’t a simple task since there are so many top-tier manufacturing companies competing in the market. Even so, after thorough research, reading and comparisons, we’ve managed to shortlist some of the best brands out there.

This list is just our own evaluation of a number of brands and does not represent an absolute opinion or definitive answer. That said, we did want to provide people with some reliable options. These are some of the most well-known car stereo brands that are appreciated by buyers, reviewers, sellers and manufacturers of audio devices.

These brands come in different price ranges, styles and size. Once you’ve reviewed them, you should be able to find one that meets your criteria and suits your car.

Pioneer

When it comes to aftermarket car audio, Pioneer is one of the best in the market. The company is legendary and has stood the test of time. They provide everything between speakers and subwoofers to amplifiers and stereos, all differing in style, price, and features, but providing the same level of quality.

Many people across the globe, especially hardcore audio nuts, are huge fans of Pioneer’s single and double DIN stereo systems. This is because the sound quality and stereo design are impeccable. Pioneer provides a large variety of car stereos of different types, so no wonder the company is so popular!

Some Pioneer premium-grade touchscreen car stereos are a bit on the pricey side. That said, they’re versatile and well-designed, so that when you choose one, you’ll know the high cost was worth it. Pioneer touchscreen car stereos provide a great mix of features and stunning audio options that almost anyone can enjoy.

Kenwood

kenwood car speakers

Kenwood is yet another popular company on our list of the best aftermarket car stereo brands. It is a Japanese company that has been around since 1946. The company produces and sells many different types of car audio devices including speakers, subwoofers, amps, and car stereos.

Kenwood has a well-known reputation for providing quality products at an affordable price point. Their car stereos, especially the single DIN aftermarket products. are quite affordable, unlike many other competing models. Even so, they don’t comprise on quality for cost. Kenwood touch screen car stereos, however, tend to cost a lot more since they provide a wider variety of features and controls.

Clarion

clarion car stereo

Clarion is a second well-reputed Japanese company on our list that focuses on car and consumer technologies, providing different car audio products and navigation systems. While Clarion isn’t the most well-known or sought-after brands out there for most audio nuts, they still manage to amaze clients with their great quality and design.

The one drawback to Clarion car stereos is their expensive price tag. The car stereos are definitely costlier than other similar aftermarket stereo models. However, Clarion earns the right to higher costs with such a strong seven-decade legacy in which they’ve perfected the production and provision of quality in their products.

Alpine

apline car stereo

Alpine is another Japanese company famous for their aftermarket car stereo solutions and they pride themselves on being innovative. They’re also one of the biggest manufacturers of multimedia solutions for cars. The company has been around since 1967, has factories all over the world, and sells a lot of equipment to car manufacturers.

Alpine makes a lot of audio equipment for cars including amps, speakers, head units, subwoofers, and more. They have a reputation for manufacturing quality products they back with a great warranty. They also have an authorized Amazon shop so you know you’re not getting a counterfeit product.

Read More Alpine Type-S Speakers Review

JVC

jvc car stereo

JVC is not only one of the best providers for home audio systems, but it is also undeniably one of the best aftermarket car stereo brands. Founded in Japan, the brand has gained a reputation over its 80 years of service for its top-tier production and equipment even though the audio industry does not rep it as much.

The products represent the ideal quality to cost ratio so you get your money’s worth. Each and every stereo provides the same high quality and sound control that most people are looking for.

Sony

sony car stereo

Sony is a household name in the audio industry. Speakers, headphones, earphone, sound systems are just a tip of the iceberg when recounting Song’s product masterpieces. The company manages to outshine other brands in the automotive industry as well.

Sony is one of the best reliable aftermarket car stereo providers. It makes use of state-of-the-art technology to produce compatible stereos that work in any car to give you the best sound quality at an affordable price.


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