Is anybody happy with an aftermarket car stereo?

I was thinking of getting a new head unit for my car stereo. I’ve been told it might help the sound of my particular system. Also, I’d like a way to play my Itunes library in the car.

The problem is, as we all know the new aftermarket head units all look flashy. They tend to have tiny buttons and weird, huge displays with flashing lights. It seems that nowadays most of them come with remote controls, which seems very strange to have for a car stereo. I get the impression that maybe you’re supposed to use the remote for most controls, like you do with most new TVs or home stereos.

Has anyone actually been happy with one of these things? My principle is that a device in a car should work for most things without having to look at it. I’m wondering if anyone has actually bought a new car stereo and found the controls practical. Do you use the remote?

I don’t have a full Ipod, just a Nano. Also leaving an Ipod in the car might be bad. So, I think I want a unit that can play AAC data discs. I could fit my collection on a couple dozen CDs. This Pioneer: looks to be my first choice, because it plays AACs and also has an aux-in on the front. Nakamichi makes some heads that look basically like stock stereos, but they don’t have the features I want. Are there any others?

iTunes can convert unprotected AACs to MP3s, so you could burn MP3 CDs, which would give you many more options for a new head unit.

What kind of car do you drive? This was a problem I had myself this year, and my answer was buying a kit that allowed me to plug my iPod into what was basically the CD changer port of my stock head unit. I can control my iPod with my head unit (forward, back, rewind, fast forward, volume), and also through my iPod (going to different playlists, etc.). The Nano would work just fine with this set up as well. It’s kind of a hassle to remember to take my iPod with me whenever I go inside or whatever, but its worth it to carry all my music without messing with dozens of CDs. Something to consider.

I went thru this process myself. I have a 5 year old car and it was driving me nuts that I couldn’t play mp3s on it nor plug in an mp3 player. So I took the plunge and had a Sony unit installed. The Sony cost $180 and the parts for the installation about $150. They might have messed up my headlights which also cost $500.

I am happy with the Sony. I actually use the remote. I thought it was silly, but find that it is easier to use it with my hand on the armrest, than constantly going for the little buttons on the Sony. Also with mp3s I tend to switch songs a lot and maybe listen to one in ten all the way through.

The Sony I have plays mp3 cds, has an input for audio in from an mp3 player, and has a usb connector. I put 750 songs on a 4 gig usb flash drive and mostly use that. I usually put the drive away when I park in public so as to reduce the risk of theft.

One happy bonus was that my Bose speakers definitely sound better with the new amplifier. I was not expecting that.

The problem with that is that converting one compressed format to another (“transcoding”) gives you less quality than if you ripped either format straight from the source. I still have the CDs but re-ripping them would be a huge pain.

I already have an outboard CD changer, so I don’t think using that input. Anyway, I can’t keep fit my whole collection on the Nano.

I bought some aftermarket front speakers and was disappointed. Some people told me I should buy a head unit. Personally, I think it might just be that the enclosure (and the fact that they point at my legs) of the doors makes a lot of the sound. With the stock speakers, the rears always sounded better to me. I might try getting rears sometime. The people in car-audio forums like to concentrate completely on the front speakers.

That’s actually a little suprising. A lot of Bose systems in general have equalization designed to improve the frequency response of the matching speakers. Switching out just the head, or just the speakers, could actually result in worse sound. People told me even my cheap system might have some EQ built-in, and that’s one reason I might want a new head unit for my new speakers.

I am definitely getting out of league here, but when they put in the new Sony they had to add a $100 universal electronic unit of some sort (kind of looked like a radar detector). It wasn’t just a straight wiring harness, so maybe that has something to do with the sound.

I also know it is easy to fool oneself into hearing better sound if you are expecting it (thinking $100 a foot speaker wire), but I was expecting things to sound the same, and to me songs now sound more clear. Has the technology gotten better over the last 5 years?

I swapped out a number of audio components in my last car and spent quite a bit of time in the “culture” of car audio. The aftermarket stereo is likely to make you quite a bit happier with the sound. Even though a lot of newer cars come with stock stereos that sound a lot better than they used to, stock stereos are still relatively underpowered. Amps aren’t everything, but pushing more power to decent speakers is going to make them sound better. Since you’ve already replaced at least the front speakers, I think you’ll be a lot happier with the new head unit.

Of course, I got addicted after doing that and ultimately spent about $1300 on my last sound system, but I’m not recommending that for everyone. :slight_smile:

Just my $0.02.

My used car came with upgraded sound. Someone had put in a Nakamichi head unit. It’s a very nice unit for its age (I think it’s probably 10 years old) and does what it does well and with no flash. Looking at their website it looks like they’ve made them flashier now, but it’s still not as bad as some of the massive LED displays of some units. I know no one makes Fairplay-compatible (the DRM iTunes uses) head units. So you’d have to strip the DRM first.

If I were you, I’d either find an iPod-compatible head unit (it will have controls built into the unit for controlling the iPod) or just find something with a 1/8" stereo input on the front and connect the iPod through that. You’ve got a Nano after all, and that would be easy enough to detach and pocket when you leave the car.

I have seen the ridiculous light shows on some of the units. The Sony is not too bad. It mostly just flashes the artist and album once.

I’m mainly just interested in who is or isn’t happy with the style of the controls and displays on the aftermarket stereos. I’m fairly certain of what features I would want, so I don’t want to delve into the minutia of that.

I’ve seen the Nakamichi ones and they look good, but they don’t have the right features, so I’m left wondering if I could be happy with the prevalant style, whether it’s actually practical.

Just as an FYI, almost every head unit out there gives you the ability to turn off the flashy displays. I wouldn’t base your purchase on what you see in a demo that shows a lot of crazy colors or whatnot.

I bought a Clarion 3 years ago when I needed a new unit. It has a nice blue display and zero flash. It looks like stock unit for the most part. It wasn’t expensive and I use it to play MP3 CD’s for at least 2 hours a day. It has never given me any problems. I have heard others say that Clarion is good for that no-bling niche and I concur.

Does anybody know where I could find a 1.5 DIN (GM/Chrysler size) car stereo that has an auxiliary input on the front? I’ve had nothing but disappointment with those FM broadcaster gizmos, so a couple years ago I had an FM modulator installed in my 2002 Saturn SC2. The modulator worked for a while, but now some radio station has begun to drown out the signal from my mp3 player. I thought the modulator was supposed to completely cut out the antenna, but apparently not. Anyway, I’m thinking of getting a new radio. I’d prefer a DIN-and-a-half size, since the buttons will be bigger, and the installation will just look better than if I use a small radio with a trim kit. Failing that, I’ll settle for a standard DIN-sized radio that isn’t a gaudy flashing thief magnet, and is easy to use. I’d like to be able to switch between radio and auxiliary input very easily, since I will be doing this quite often. Easy volume control is also required (a knob would be a plus) and I need to be able to turn it off without having to locate a miniscule 1mm diameter button and hold it in for five seconds, or some nonsensical crap like that.