Choosing the right head unit for your car is essential to get the most out of your audio system. A car’s audio system is only as good as its weakest link, and the radio is often the most critical component.
The head unit is the control center, allowing you to adjust the volume, select radio stations or playlists, and connect to your phone or other devices.
To find the right head unit for your car, consider the compatibility of the head unit with your car’s make and model, as well as its size, features, and functionality. Some important features include Bluetooth connectivity, navigation, and support for different audio formats.
Tip: One of the best head units on the market is the dual DIN Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX (link to Amazon).
It offers a 7-inch capacitive touchscreen display, Bluetooth connectivity, navigation, support for multiple audio and video formats, and compatibility with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
With its wide range of features and capabilities, the Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX is an excellent choice for anyone upgrading their car’s audio system.
In this article, I will detail what to look for when choosing a head unit and provide an overview of the top rated stereos available.
Finding the Right Stereo Head Unit
Before choosing the right head unit for your car, you need to determine which radio will fit in your dashboard.
Most car head units are either single DIN or double DIN, which refers to the height and width of the unit
- A single DIN unit is the standard size and measures approximately 2 inches by 7 inches.
- A double DIN unit is twice the size of a single DIN unit and measures approximately 4 inches by 7 inches.
To find the perfect radio for your car, you should check its compatibility with your car’s make and model.
Some car manufacturers offer units specifically designed for specific car models, which may provide a better fit and easier installation.
If your car has a factory-installed head unit, you should determine whether it is an OEM or aftermarket radio.
An OEM unit is the original radio that came with your car, while an aftermarket unit is one you can purchase and install by yourself.
Choosing the Right Car Audio Features
Once you’ve determined the size and compatibility of the stereo you need, you can begin to look for a radio with the exact features you want.
Some of the most common features to look for in a head unit include Bluetooth connectivity, navigation, support for different audio formats, and sound quality enhancements such as built-in amplifiers and equalizers.
If you’re a fan of radio, you might want to look for a head unit that includes either satellite radio or HD Radio.
Satellite radio is a subscription-based service that provides access to hundreds of commercial-free music channels, news, and sports.
HD Radio on the other hand is a free, over-the-air service that provides improved sound quality and additional channels.
Choosing a Car Stereo
When choosing a car stereo, you should consider your specific needs and preferences.
For example, if you have a large music collection or like to stream music from your phone, you should look for a head unit with plenty of storage and connectivity options.
Or, if you’re a fan of bass-heavy music, you might want to look for a head unit with built-in EQ settings and 4V preamp outputs to make sure the amplifier will receive strong signals.
In addition to choosing a head unit, you’ll need to select the right speakers. This is a separate topic, so I only roughly touch on it.
The type of speakers you choose will depend on your budget and your sound quality needs. You can select from various options, including coaxial speakers, component speakers, and subwoofers, if you need more bass.
Coaxial speakers are the most common type of car speaker and provide good all-around sound quality.
Component speakers offer improved sound quality and are a good choice for audiophiles.
Subwoofers are designed to produce low-frequency bass sounds and are an excellent choice for music lovers who want to feel the beat.
Different Car Radio Types
There are several different types of car radios available, each with its unique features and functionality.
Below I listed the most common types of head units you may come across:
#1. Single-DIN Radios are the most common type of car radio and are typically the standard size for most cars. They measure approximately 2 inches by 7 inches and are often used in older cars or budget-friendly models.
Most single-DIN radios have a simple display screen. They offer basic audio features such as AM/FM radio, CD playback, and auxiliary inputs.
Still, there are also high-end models with floating or fully adjustable large screens you can find, like the Alpine iLX-F411 (link to Amazon) or other from its Halo series.
#2. Double-DIN radios are twice the size of single-DIN radios, measuring approximately 4 inches by 7 inches.
Double-DIN radios are becoming more common in modern cars and offer more advanced features such as touchscreens, navigation systems, and more powerful audio systems.
#3. Multimedia radios are designed for users who want to take their car audio experience to the next level.
These radios often feature large touchscreens, advanced audio processing, and connectivity options like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and smartphone integration.
They may also offer features such as GPS navigation, satellite radio, and HD Radio.
#4. Satellite radios provide access to hundreds of commercial-free music channels, news, sports, and other content.
These radios use a satellite connection to provide high-quality audio and are often available as an add-on for existing car radios.
Depending on the type, they usually require a subscription and may also offer features such as traffic and weather updates.
#5. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are two popular smartphone integration systems that allow you to control your phone’s apps and features through your car’s display screen.
Radios that support Android Auto or Apple CarPlay can give you access to your phone’s music, messaging, and navigation apps, as well as other apps such as podcasts and audiobooks.
#6. In-dash DVD players offer a high-quality video and audio experience and are often used for rear-seat entertainment systems.
These radios typically feature large display screens and offer DVD playback, as well as USB and auxiliary inputs for other devices. They may also provide features such as built-in Sat-Nav or equalizers.
What Are the Car Stereo Screen Types?
There are four main types of screens used in car radios:
#1. LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) screens are the most common type of screen found in car radios and have been used in car radios for many years. They are relatively affordable, have good visibility in sunlight, and have good color reproduction.
LCD screens block or allow light to pass through the liquid crystal layer sandwiched between two sheets of polarizing material.
They can be found in single and double DIN radios and often have a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels, but you can find high-resolution models with 1280 x 720 pixels.
- Good visibility in sunlight
- Good color reproduction
- Long lifespan
- Poor contrast compared to other screen types
- Limited viewing angles
#2. OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) screens are becoming more common in car radios.
OLED screens are known for their deep blacks and bright colors and have better contrast and visibility in sunlight than LCD screens.
They also have a faster response time, which makes them well suited for fast-paced applications such as video playback.
OLED screens use organic materials that emit light when an electrical current is applied, eliminating the need for a backlight.
This allows for a thinner and lighter display and can be found in some double DIN radios with higher resolution than LCD screens.
- Deep blacks and bright colors
- Excellent contrast and visibility in sunlight
- Fast response time
- Thin and light design
- Can be more expensive than LCD screens
- Lower lifespan than LCD screens
- Susceptible to burn-in
- Limited in terms of size and resolution
#3. Capacitive Touchscreens have become the preferred type of screen in car radios over the past few years. They offer a more responsive and intuitive interface compared to resistive touchscreens, which require pressure to register a touch.
Capacitive touchscreens use a conductive layer on the screen’s surface that senses the electrical charge of your finger, allowing for multi-touch gestures and pinch-to-zoom.
They also typically offer higher resolution than LCD screens, with some double-DIN radios featuring screens with a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels or higher.
- Highly responsive
- Multi-touch gestures and pinch-to-zoom
- High resolution
- Sleek and modern design
- Can be more expensive than LCD screens
- Poor visibility in direct sunlight
- Limited viewing angles
- Prone to fingerprints and smudges
#4. Resistive Touchscreens are more common and less expensive. They use two layers of material separated by a gap, which must be pressed together to register a touch.
Resistive touchscreens lack the responsiveness and multi-touch capabilities of capacitive screens, but they can still be useful for simple applications such as selecting a radio station.
- Generally more durable than capacitive touchscreens
- Can still function even if the screen is damaged
- More affordable than capacitive touchscreens, especially for smaller or lower-resolution screens
- Can be operated with a stylus or gloved hand, which is not possible with capacitive touchscreens
- Less sensitive and accurate than capacitive touchscreens
- Do not support multi-touch gestures.
- May not provide the same level of clarity and color accuracy as capacitive touchscreens, especially for larger or higher-resolution screens
- Require more pressure to register a touch, which can be tiring for users and lead to more wear and tear on the screen.
Installing Your Car Stereo
Once you’ve chosen the perfect head unit for your car, it’s time to install it.
If installing the system yourself, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and double-check everything before powering up the system.
If you’re uncomfortable with the installation process, I recommend having a professional to install your car stereo.
During the installation process, you must ensure that the head unit is securely mounted in your dashboard and that all wiring is properly connected, especially if the harness connections are secure.
I always pay attention to this because there is not much room behind the radio, and the wires can be twisted or damaged.
Also, if you already have or plan to have an amplifier (which I always recommend doing), make sure to properly connect the RCA signal wires as well as the thin blue remote control.
If you connect the stereo to the factory wire, you do not have to worry about it, but if you make the wiring manually, make sure the radio is grounded correctly to avoid any unwanted noise or interference.
Finding the perfect head unit for your car can be a daunting task, but it’s well worth the effort.
A high-quality car stereo can transform your driving experience and provide hours of entertainment.
When looking for a head unit, determine the compatibility, size, and features you need for your car’s audio system, and once you’ve chosen the perfect head unit, be sure to have it installed properly.
With the right head unit, car speakers, and installation, you can enjoy your favorite tunes, radio stations, and other audio content in the comfort of your car.
How Do I Determine the Right Head Unit for My Car?
The first step in finding the right head unit is determining what type of unit is compatible with your car.
You can look for a head unit that matches your car’s factory specifications or choose a unit that fits your car’s stereo’s dimensions.
If you have a single DIN head unit, you can replace it with another single DIN head unit. The same goes for double DIN head units.
What Features Should I Look For in a Head Unit?
The features you should look for in a head unit depend on your preferences and needs. If you’re looking for basic functionality, you can choose a head unit that supports FM radio, Bluetooth, and auxiliary input.
If you want to go further, you can opt for a head unit that supports satellite radio, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and other advanced features.
How Do I Choose the Right Head Unit for My Car Speakers?
Choosing the right head unit for your car speakers is crucial for the best sound quality.
You can also choose a head unit that supports high-quality audio formats like FLAC or WAV for better sound quality.
What Are the Different Types of Head Units?
There are two main types of head units:
- Single DIN head units are smaller and typically have fewer features.
- Double DIN head units are larger and support more features like touchscreen displays and more advanced audio processing.