Between commuting for work and shuffling kids around town, people can spend a lot of time in the car, which makes having a good quality car audio system important to many drivers. Let's face it though: Not every factory-installed sound system is up to par when it comes to delivering the clear, resonant and deeply rich quality most music lovers desire. In order to get the sound we crave, we often have to replace our speakers, add an amplifier and subwoofer and sometimes, even replace the stereo deck itself.
The purpose of this buyer's guide is to break down the different types of stereo decks available for automobiles so you can make sure you're purchasing the best deck to suit your needs.
Car Stereo Radio
A car stereo radio is the least expensive type of car audio system because all it delivers is basic AM and FM radio. While not flashy, this type of car radio is the perfect stereo deck for someone who loves listening to broadcast music, radio talk shows or sports- or news-related programs. It may be more difficult to find a bare-bones car stereo radio with all of the more modern methods of enjoying music, like CDs and MP3s, but most manufacturers still produce at least one variation of the basic AM/FM stereo for customers who prefer a minimalist approach to car audio.
Car Cassette Stereo
A car cassette stereo enables one to listen to either the AM/FM dial or their favorite audio cassettes. Although this was once a must-have accessory in a car stereo, fewer and fewer people rely on cassettes for their music listening enjoyment these days. Still, manufacturers produce these components for those who either haven't accepted the digital music revolution or simply love the nostalgia of popping in a cassette tape. After all, for many classic car enthusiasts, installing a CD radio in a 1972 Barracuda just doesn't make sense.
Car CD Stereo
Car CD stereos offer both AM/FM radio and compact disc playability. Since the digital music age began, cassettes have slowly gone the way of the vinyl record and the 8-track, and CDs have become the standard for enjoying music in the car. Many car CD stereo components are available that can house numerous CDs (typically installed in the car's trunk), enabling the car stereo to work like a mobile jukebox.
Car MP3 Player
MP3s make it possible to store a large number of music files in a very small amount of space, making them a very popular choice for car stereo systems. Some car stereos feature a plug-in port for connecting your favorite brand of personal MP3 player, whereas other types of stereos allow you to actually load your favorite songs from your CD collection onto a storage device built right into the radio. Some of the best advantages of the MP3 player car stereo are that it has no moving parts and will not skip on bumpy roads like CDs and that the music quality is as clear and crisp as that of most CDs.
Car Satellite Radio
If you love the serendipitous nature of broadcast radio, but you really don't care for the occasional commercial breaks, then a car satellite radio is the perfect pick for you. These car stereos feature subscription-based satellite radio services that deliver hundreds of commercial-free, digital-quality music programs, talk shows, sports programs, comedy performances and much, much more. Remember, however, that a monthly subscription fee is required in order to receive the satellite signal.
Multi-Format Car Stereo
Most car stereos manufactured these days are multi-format, meaning that they provide more than one way to enjoy your car's audio system. In fact, every category of radio previously mentioned is typically a multi-format stereo, with the exception being the bare-bones AM/FM car radio. For example, most satellite radios also include a CD or cassette deck, while some car stereos offer an MP3 plug-in port, CD player, AM/FM radio and cassette capabilities.
Car Stereo Radio Accessories
If you're planning on installing your after-market car stereo yourself, there are certain accessories that help the installation go smoother, make the stereo sound better and provide you with a flexible means of controlling your tunes, including the following:
Wiring harness-Purchasing a wiring harness for your make and model of vehicle will greatly reduce the difficulty that can sometimes accompany the job of trying to wire the new stereo to the vehicle's existing wires.
Amplifier and subwoofer-Adding an amplifier will turn your normally meek stereo speakers into highly powered super-speakers, and incorporating a subwoofer into the mix will greatly improve the overall sound quality of your ride.
Remote controls-Some aftermarket stereos come with their own remote controls, allowing backseat passengers the ability to control the stereo. While this can be handy at times, in the wrong hands, the remote control could be a weapon of mass distraction.