The car stereo renaissance
In-car entertainment options have come a long way from the choices of AM and FM radio stations, the tape deck, and the CD player. The arrival of compressed digital-audio formats such as MP3--and the enormous popularity of portable music players such as the iPod--means that people are more able and willing to take their songs with them on the road, and an array of digital-audio storage devices from USB flash drives to SD cards has facilitated the portable-music revolution. The advance of satellite radio and the emergence of HD radio and DVD audio have added even more options for in-car audiophiles. Bluetooth technology has given drivers the means of streaming calls and music from their cell phones through their car speakers.
Car stereos have rapidly evolved to accommodate these additional features. From stereos that read compressed audio format discs, to receivers with dedicated iPod adapters and USB ports, to systems with built-in Bluetooth receivers and HD radio tuners, in-dash systems now often boast up to six different means of playing music with the option to connect even more sources. Moreover, car stereos are no longer exclusively for playing audio. Many larger (double-DIN-size) systems feature touch screen LCD displays with integrated GPS navigation and the ability to play DVD video.
On top of the bewildering number of source options, drivers also face an increasingly complex series of choices when it comes to audio quality and acoustic output. Do you want a car stereo with preouts for an external amp? What kind of stereo will be compatible with a standalone subwoofer? What does a system's wattage rating really mean?
Our buying guide helps to answer the array of questions facing the aftermarket car-stereo consumer. While we won't be delving too far into the realm of audio components such as speakers and amps, we'll be looking at the major features and specs of modern in-car systems to help you make the best decision for your mobile media.