Buying Guide for Car Stereos

So you’re looking at your car and finally realized that the cassette deck you have is out of style. The problem is you have never gone shopping for a new car stereo and don’t know how to approach the situation. Well, that’s not a problem. This guide can help you and give you all the information you will need in order to survive the retail world of car audio equipment. This is key because some salesmen can be sharks and prey on the unsuspecting, uninformed consumer who walks into their range.

You have you know what you want and how much you’re willing to spend. That is key, because salesmen will try to sell you a more expensive model outside of your budget with features you’ll never need or use, or try to add speakers or more accessories for you to purchase. There are a few features in some of the newer models that you should definitely look for when purchasing a new car stereo.

Features to Look Out For

-A higher wattage output. Nothing too high, because you don’t want the speakers to drain all teh power from your battery into one car function, but you want to be able to turn your radio up should your absolute favorite song comes on the radio, or the traffic report comes on but you can’t hear it among other noise. Anything within the 50w output per channel should be more than adaquate. That has really become the industry standard. But remember, too high and you risk draining the battery and blowing your speakers out.
-Detachable face plate. Security is never underrated when it comes to a car stereo. Fact is there are people all over the world who are just waiting for you to leave your brand new expensive car stereo deck in your car while you run into the mall or movie theater for a few hours. By having a removable face plate, you make your stereo less likely to be stolen. These decks will not work without those face plates and that will keep those thieves from your stereo. Just remember that if you have a stereo that has this feature to use it all the time, or you will fall victim.
-Compatiblity with portable mp3 players/other devices. Nowadays everyone has a portable mp3 player or a USB portable drive. Some new decks even include USB inputs for you to use these other devices. Even if you don’t currently own a portable mp3 player, you should look into this feature because those little iPods are the future technology everyone is getting into and you may eventually decide to get one yourself. This could lead you to be one step ahead when you finally to invest in an expensive mp3 player.
-mp3/wma (Windows Media Format) playability. These decks that play files on discs that are encoded as mp3s or wma files will allow you to store more music. Gone wlll be the days of CDs that hold only 20 songs or so, and in come the mp3 discs. They hold well over 100 songs and make it easier for you to listen to a mix of your favorite songs without having to constantly change discs, leaving you free to drive the road and enjoy your music.

Those are just the basics. Those are what you should be looking for as a novice when it comes to car audio equipment. For those of you more advanced and knowledgable about sound, you’ll want to look for such features as EQ settings, bass programming, etc.

Recommended Units

Having said all of that, now we can take a look at some of the better decks on the market today.

JVC EXAD KD-SHX900 HD Radio/CD Receiver
Suggested Retail:
$800 (
Notes: This JVC model provides you with a good mix of easy operation and advanced features for the techies out there. ONe of the first features you notice is its 256-color display. You can upload your own images onto the deck with Personal Image Capture Techonology, and the deck comes with its own software to convert your digital images for the deck itself. Like many other decks now, this deck has most of the vital controls on the left side of the face, allowing you easy access to the controls from the driver’s position. It comes with CD changer controls should you want to add a CD changer to the system, as well as functionality with portable devices. It plays mp3 and wma files, so you’ll be able to use your favorite mp3 files from your computer. This deck also has specific settings for three different car interiors and four seat-position settings to maximize the sound quality based on the interior of your car and where you passengers are seater. A great deck, easy to use, not too many fancy technologies to learn.

Alpine CDA-9853
Suggested Retail:
$350 (
Notes: This Alpine has a lot of things going for it. FIrst, it’s an Alpine, which has a high reputation for quality aand performance according to my friends who work in a Bestbuy Car Installation Garage. Furthermore, it isn’t as expensive as some of the other stereos that incorporate a lot of the same technologies. For instance, one thing you’ll notice is that there are no preset buttons. A cool feature on this system is the GlideTouch, in which you simply glide your finder across the strip until you find the setting you want, then all you have to do is press. This player plays all of your multimedia discs, including the mp3 and wma files you want to play in your car. There are also built-in controls for satellite radio in case you ever want to add a satellite receiver for XM or Sirius. You can use the iPersonalize system, in which you go to Alpine’s website and set personalized settings for your deck and burn then onto a CD-R and load them into your deck. THis deck has a lot of features and is very easy to use. Pretty much usable once installed without much learning.

Eclipse CD7000
Suggested Retail:
$700 (
Notes: This deck is very fancy. There’s no mincing words here. You’ll notice it right away with the motorized face plate and the vivid color display with its amazing graphics. You can also use the display to display trip information, much like a GPS, and other points of interest using E-iServ. Surround sound isn’t a problem for this deck, regardless of what kind of speakers you are using with the Circle Surround II technology. You will get clean and clear sounds fro the speakers because of the deck’s high-powered 5-volt signal. A cool feature is the Eclipse’s memory stick, allowing you another place to store mp3 files for your stereo. It also contains an onboard amp which ensures powerful sounds from the deck. Pair it with a subwoofer system and you could have concert quality sound in your car.

Kenwood Excelon KDC-X890
Suggested Retail:
$430 (
Notes: This is the deck I currently have in my car, so I can tell you firsthand of my satisfaction with it. It’s a very easy to use deck and you can learn it easily without the use of the manual. It is an HD ready radio, so if there are stations in your area that provide HD broadcasts you can immediately pick them up. This car stereo can play all kinds of multimedia formats, including mp3, wma, and AAC formats. This can allow you to download mp3s fro the computer or your iTunes files and play them as well. A unique feature is the USB input, which allows you to plug in your portable mp3 players or thumb drives. For those really technical people, you can take your portable hard drives and plug them in also, giving you a ton of music without ever having to change a single CD ever. There is software that allows you to make your mp3 files compatible with a feature called the AC drive, which can give you audio guide to the music on the device. It has built-in satellite controls for a receiver and a color display that you can customize, or you can use the Graphic Motion Analyzer to see your acceleration, braking, and cornering stats.


Those are just some example of the great decks. What I would suggest is go to your local electronic retailer (Circuit City, Best Buy, Fry’s) and check out their section for yourself. You can also go to specific car stereo shops when you can learn more about what you are looking for. Whatever you need, you can find it.

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