How To Buy Car Stereo Systems and Equipment

Your car stereo system is made up of several components that work together to produce either crystal-clear highs and big thumps or muffled noises and barely audible lows. The quality of your car stereo system really depends on each component. Also, good sound systems have quality installation that prevents rattles of noises that don't belong. Before you go and buy your dream sound system, here are some important things to know.

It's important to choose quality stereo equipment when you decide to upgrade your factory-installed sound system. Every sound system is made up of a few equally critical components. If any of the components is weak, then the whole system will suffer.

  1. The Head Unit. A Head Unit is the brains behind the entire operation. It's also usually the radio receiver and CD / DVD player. Good head units, even if they already come with a low-power amplifier, have pre-outs that are designed to feed low-voltage signals to a power amplifier to give you the biggest, clearest, most impressive sound. A lot of the head units on the market today are filled with flashy LEDs and displays, but you shouldn't trade quality sound for lots of flashy lights on the dash. When you're selecting a new head unit, get something that has RCA preamp outputs for an amp, plays all your wma and mp3 files, and has a theft deterrent face like a flip-down or detachable screen.

    Pre-outs exit through the rear of the head unit, next to the power connection and speaker wires. Although it's uncommon, some head units come with just a preamp and no amplifier. On the other hand, some head units that have a low-power amplifier already supplied also have pre-outs that allow you to utilize a better, more powerful amplifier. The pre-outs, with their potential for allowing you to get better amplification, are the important feature to seek.

  2. The Amplifier. Amateurs are most likely to eliminate the power amplifier from their system because it seems like a hassle to install, but that's a big mistake. If you want sound that's clear and loud, you had better get a good amplifier. Your amplifier is the muscle behind a good system. Amplifiers are fed by wires from the head unit, and they are best powered by a direct line from the electrical system.

    It's important to make sure your amplifier is sufficiently grounded by using a big enough wire to connect to substantial bare metal. Experts go to great pains to do a good job grounding the amplifier to the vehicle chassis. Otherwise you may be setting yourself up for some background hiss or static. When buying an amplifier, get one with enough wattage to power your speakers, but don't get too carried away; huge amplifiers use up huge amounts of electricity.

  3. Speakers. The speakers are what change the electricity coming from the amplifier into vibrations. You and I might call these vibrations sound, and we'd both agree that good vibrations make for what we'd call music.

    The truth is, factory speakers are too frequently weak, dual cone speakers that produce a muffled sound through all frequencies. If you don't believe me, go to your local electronics store and listen to a quality component speaker system.

    There are two different types of speaker arrangements that are common today:

    • Coaxial: These speakers have two or more speakers combined into one unit. Examples are two-way and three-way speakers. These offer great sound for the money, and they should satisfy all but the pickiest (and richest) of consumers.
    • Component: Component speakers divide the work between speakers designed for specific frequencies. If you're picky, then a good component speaker system might be what you're looking for. Component systems include tweeters for high frequencies, midrange speakers, and woofers.

      A note on subwoofers: The other speakers provide the tunes. The subwoofer provides the thump. If you crave good bass, then don't miss out on getting a good subwoofer installed.


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