Car Audio Tech Checklist for Car Shoppers

Car Audio Features To Look for When Buying a New Car

Car Audio Head Unit, Controls and Display Basics

Is the car stereo head unit:
Standard DIN size?
Double-DIN size?
Easy to replace with an aftermarket unit, or does the car have individual audio components spread throughout the dash?

Do the audio controls consist of:
Touchscreen interface?
Physical knobs and buttons?
Steering-wheel controls?
A combination of the above?
Are the controls easy to operate while driving?

Does the system have steering-wheel audio controls? If so, does it allow you to:
      Change audio sources?
      Turn the volume up/down?
      Skip forward/back on a CD and switch radio stations?

Does the vehicle have voice activation?
If yes, how well does it work, especially in a moving vehicle?

Does the display for the audio system:
Have a screen large enough to easily see and read at a glance and in bright sunlight?
Provide information such as artist/song/album for a CD or music playing from a connected music player?
Show artist/song/channel for satellite radio?

Radio Features

Which radio sources are available:
HD Radio?

Does the radio have:
Seek-and-scan tuning?
The ability to save favorite stations as presets? How many ___?

Do the controls for radio tuning consist of:
Buttons and switches?

Does the radio display:
Mimic an old-fashioned radio dial?
Only show station frequencies?

Does the radio offer:
Radio Data Service (RDS)?
A "time-shift" feature to record live programming?
The ability to easy and quickly tune to the satellite radio categories and channels?
Alerts when favorite songs play on a satellite radio channel?
Parental controls to block mature content?

CD and DVD Features

Does the CD player have:
Skip forward/back?
Repeat and random playback?
Will it play MP3 files burned onto recordable discs? If so, what formats:

Will the system play:
DVDs and CDs?
DVD movies when the car isn't moving?
DVD-Audio discs? If so, does it play:
      High-resolution, multichannel surround?
      Or does it "down mix" the audio to two-channel stereo?

Music Player, Bluetooth Audio and Hard Disk Features

Does the system have an aux-in jack?

Does the system allow you to plug in portable players like an iPod? If yes, is it through a:
      USB port?
      Proprietary cable?

Does the system allow you to plug in a USB thumb drive with music files?

Does the system have Bluetooth audio for wireless music streaming from a compatible device?

Does the system have a hard-disk drive (HDD) for storing music files? If yes:
      Does the hard-disk system allow you to record music files from a CD?
      From a USB thumb drive?
      Allows both?
      Does it catalog files in a song/artist/album format?

Does it allow you to:
Create playlists?
Repeat tracks or albums?
Play tracks in random order?

Signal Processing Features

Does the system use digital signal processing (DSP):
To combat ambient noise in a moving vehicle?
To give stereo recordings a surround-sound effect?
To optimize the sound for the driver, front passengers or for all occupants?

Does the system have:
Bass, treble, fader and balance?
Midrange and subwoofer-level controls?

See the related articles in the Car Technology 101 series.

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