How Do I Choose the Best Car Stereo Receiver?

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  • Written By: Jeremy Laukkonen
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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Choosing the best car stereo receiver for your automobile can depend on factors such as the vehicle you own, the type of audio fidelity you expect, and your budget. Car stereos come in two main size profiles, known as Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN) and double DIN. When looking for the best car stereo, you will want to find one that has the correct size profile for your vehicle. Audio fidelity can also vary widely from one car stereo receiver to another, as can options such as audio input jacks and compatibility with digital music players. All of these factors can contribute to price, so you may want to have a solid budget in mind before you start shopping for a new car stereo.

The technical term for a car stereo receiver is the head unit, since it is the component that drives the entire audio system. Simple head units contain only radio receivers, though more complicated versions can include cassette tape decks, compact disc (CD) players, global position sensor (GPS) functionality, and many other options. Some car stereo receivers can also be connected to external devices, such as CD changers.


Most head units have a uniform height and width due to a standard known as DIN 75490 or International Standards Organization (ISO) 7736. According to these specifications, a standard car stereo receiver is 180mm wide and 50mm tall (7 inches wide and 2 inches tall), and a double height unit is 100mm tall (4 inches). Since length is not specified in either the ISO or DIN standards, it is important to take the depth of the receptacle in your vehicle into consideration when looking at head units.

Single DIN head units are very common, but some original equipment manufacturers use the double DIN standard. When looking for the best car stereo receiver, you will want to take this into consideration. It is often possible to install a single DIN head unit into a double DIN receptacle, though the reverse is not true. The brackets necessary to install a single DIN unit in a double DIN application sometimes include storage sleeves or allow two devices to be stacked.

Audio fidelity is another factor to consider when looking for the best car stereo receiver. If you want the best fidelity possible, you will typically have to spend more money. You may also want to look for a unit that can be connected to an external amplifier or is directly compatible with component speakers. Another feature to look for is a digital or satellite tuner because either of these technologies may provide a higher quality signal in addition to more stations. Other features, such as compatibility with digital music players and codecs, can also improve your listening experience.


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