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HOW TO SHOP FOR A CAR STEREO
Your car stereo is the centerpiece of your car “infotainment” system. As such, it needs to tie in your smartphone with hands-free calling, music streaming, and more.
Below, you’ll find brief descriptions of the varieties of new car stereos and features available. For more-detailed buying tips, check out our car stereo buying guide.
You’ll find a lot of variety in the feature sets. A stereo might might have:
- a CD player (it’s optional these days)
- one or more USB inputs
- Bluetooth® capability
- touchscreen controls
- and there are different degrees of smartphone compatibility
Before you get too distracted by the options and the hundreds of models available, it’s important to know which stereos will work in your car. That’s just one of the reasons we ask you to tell us what you drive — it’ll make your shopping easier.
Let’s discuss the four broad categories of stereos as a starting point. We also group them based on some of the most popular features, but we’ll get into that later.
The basic car stereo. It plays CDs, usually has an auxiliary (minijack) input and maybe a USB input to let you play music stored on or streamed through your phone. They often have Bluetooth capability, but they do not have touchscreens.
DVD receivers have a video screen, which is almost always a touchscreen. Touchscreen control of your stereo makes it tons easier to make adjustments and customize the settings. And yes, they play CDs, too. They’re usually double-DIN size, but there are also some 2″-tall models that have either smaller screens, or full-sized, fold-out screens. These stereos tend to have more features, often including Android Auto or Apple CarPlay for the best smartphone integration.
Navigation stereos feature built-in GPS guidance, with large touchscreens that’ll display your route information. Most will play DVDs.
Digital media receivers & digital multimedia receivers
These stereos are designed for people who no longer listen to CDs. They do all the stuff that other stereos do, but they don’t have a disc player built in. The lack of disc player means that the stereo chassis (the body behind the faceplate) can be a lot smaller. These stereos will fit in places where other stereos won’t, which opens up new options for many vehicles.
We subdivide these stereos into two groups. Digital multimedia receivers offer touchscreen displays which will play video, while Digital media receivers do not.
There are many ways to approach shopping for a new car stereo, so we’ve tried to give you a head start by grouping them by popular features. Here’s what you’ll find:
Car stereos compatible with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
One of the most important car stereo features today is smartphone integration. The two most popular ways to use your phone in the car are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. So if you know that one of these features is a must, then these groups will show you only those stereos that offer one or the other. And there are plenty of models that can do both. If you want to learn more about this topic, read our articles about Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Bluetooth car stereos
If Bluetooth compatibility is a top priority for you, then check out these stereos that allow you to make hands-free calls or stream music. You’ll find lots of options here.
If you know that you want a touchscreen, then you can start here. You’ll see all the DVD receivers, navigation receivers, and multimedia receivers that’ll fit your vehicle. Of course, make sure you tell us what you drive somewhere along the way.
Double-DIN car stereos (4″ tall) and single-DIN car stereos (2″ tall)
Finally, we also let you look specifically at all the stereos classified by chassis size. Some cars will let you choose from either style, but some limit you to one or the other.
These stereos are “marine rated.” That means they are water-resistant and usually have displays that are easier to see in direct sunlight. You’ll find them all in our weather-resistant radios category, but they’re also great for Jeeps, golf carts, ATVs and UTVs, and any other situation where your vehicle might be exposed to the elements.
Custom car stereos
This is a specially curated selection of car stereos, designed to fit in and integrate with specific vehicles, including a line of stereos for classic cars. Whether you’re restoring an old Mustang or looking to upgrade your new Wrangler, definitely check them out.
Mounting kit and wiring adapter
These are needed to properly install your new stereo and integrate it into your car’s electronics. We’ll help you find these when you tell us what you drive.
Steering wheel audio control adapters
You need one of these adapters to keep those handy buttons working with your new stereo.
If your new stereo has a video screen, why not add the convenience and safety of a backup camera when you install the new stereo?
Auxiliary input cable or USB cable
You’ll need these to connect your music player or smartphone to the stereo.
Keep your phone handy and secure while you drive.
Car audio installation tools
We offer a wide selection of tools that’ll make the installation process much simpler.