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Car Stereo FAQ
Questions about car audio? We have the answers! (Crutchfield Research Photo)
- If I install a new stereo, can I still use my steering wheel controls?
- How can I connect my iPhone® or iPod®? What’s the difference between using an aux cable and a USB connector?
- I can’t see the display when the sun shines on it. Are there displays that are easier to read in direct sunlight?
- Can I use Bluetooth® to stream music and make phone calls?
- Can my factory speakers handle a high-powered car stereo?
- How much power does my factory system have?
- How much power do I need to get optimum performance from my car's sound system?
- How can I be sure the radio I want will fit into my dash?
- My car has an oversized factory stereo. Why can't I replace it with an oversized aftermarket receiver?
- How difficult is it to install a new radio?
- What's the best way to connect the free Crutchfield wiring harness to my new CD receiver's harness?
- Will a CD receiver play MP3, WMA, or AAC files burned onto a CD-R or CD-RW?
- What if I want to listen to my iPod® or other MP3 player with a new CD receiver?
With the right adapter, you can use your steering wheel controls with a new stereo
Q: If I install a new stereo, can I still use my steering wheel controls?
A: You sure can — if you install a special adapter. See our article about Steering Wheel Audio Control Adapters for more information.
Q: How can I connect my iPod®? And what’s the difference between using an aux cable and a USB connector?
A: When you want to play your iPod in the car, the two most common options are running a cable from the iPod’s headphone jack to your stereo’s aux input, or using your iPod’s cable and plugging into a USB input.
Aux connections tend to transmit background noise, plus you have to control the tunes from the iPod itself — not the safest thing when you’re driving alone. The USB connection, on the other hand, transmits no background noise, gives you receiver-based control, and also charges your player. In many cases the receiver also processes the sound, something it’s designed to do better than your iPod in an amplified system. Check out our article about the benefits of a USB input for more details.
Q: I can’t see the display when the sun shines on it. Are there displays that are easier to read in direct sunlight?
A: We’ve found that displays that let you tilt the face, often found on DVD and navigation receivers, are the best solution. These receivers also give you large touchscreens, let you play movies while you’re parked, and give you a slew of other fantastic features. If your receiver can do it, try changing the color of the display or adjusting the brightness and contrast to help cut through the glare. To see these suggestions in action, watch our video about avoiding glare on the display.
Another solution is a receiver with simple, well-thought-out controls. That way, you'll be able to make simple adjustments without even looking at the receiver.
A Bluetooth connection is a bridge between your smartphone and your stereo
Q: Can I use Bluetooth® to stream music and make phone calls?
A: Absolutely! And you can often do even more, like running and controlling Internet apps. Basically, a Bluetooth connection works as a bridge between your phone and your dash. Even if your receiver doesn’t offer control over apps, you can stream the audio from your phone and play it in your car. Our video about Bluetooth in the car will give you all the details.
Q: Can my factory speakers handle a high-powered CD receiver?
A: Your factory speakers should be able to handle the output from an aftermarket CD receiver, but there are limits to their performance. Turn up your new radio with the car sitting still, make a note of the volume level at which your factory speakers start to distort, and avoid cranking the radio up past that point.
Speaker performance is critical to listening enjoyment, so we recommend adding quality, aftermarket speakers as soon as you can. A new set of speakers will let you take full advantage of the big, rich sound your new receiver has to offer.
Q: How much power does my factory system have?
A: While we don't have exact power ratings for the systems in specific vehicles, we can tell you that factory systems usually have less power than aftermarket units.
But bear in mind that, for example, the 100-watt factory system described by your car dealer probably consists of 4 channels of 25 watts peak power. This translates to roughly 10 watts RMS (continuous) x 4 — not bad, but a far cry from most current aftermarket receivers.
Even if your factory system seems relatively powerful, there are still benefits to going with an aftermarket receiver. These advantages typically include better specs, built-in Bluetooth® connectivity and iPod® controls, MP3/WMA/AAC file playback, USB input for media players and thumb drives, more extensive tone controls, easier (and less expensive) integration with other equipment, like amplifiers, and the enhanced reliability you can expect from a recognized audio brand name.
Q: How much power do I need to get optimum performance from my car's sound system?
A: Since every car stereo is different, there's no magic "wattage formula." As long as you stay within the recommended power range of your speakers, increasing power will always add richness and depth to your music. Compare a spinet piano to a concert grand. The small piano is good enough to play music clearly, but move up to a grand and you'll gain better tone, greater harmonic detail, and more volume. The larger instrument is simply more powerful.
Here are a couple things to consider, though:
- How efficient are your speakers? Your speakers have a direct influence on the overall "power" of your system. If you're planning on powering your speakers with your in-dash receiver, efficient speakers (sensitivity of 90 dB or higher) will give you more bang for the buck. If you're installing high-performance component speakers, an outboard amp will generate maximum performance.
- Are you adding a subwoofer? Subs need substantial amounts of power to reproduce the lowest tones, so it's essential to use an outboard amplifier with them. You should count on using more power for bass than you use to power all of your full-range speakers. If your receiver puts out 20 watts RMS x 4 channels (80 watts total), send at least 80 watts to your sub. Using a 50 watt x 4 amp to drive your components? Dedicate at least 200 watts for bass.
- How good is your wiring? Your system's chain of components is only as strong as its weakest link, so don't cheat your amps and speakers with substandard power cable and speaker wire.
- Before you buy, think about your vehicle and how you use it. If you drive a quiet sedan with the windows up, you'll need much less power than someone who goes off-roading in a pickup. Speaker location, extraneous road/car noise, noise damping material, and personal taste are factors that may affect how much power you'll need in your ride.
Q: How can I be sure the radio I want will fit into my dash?
A: You can count on Crutchfield to have stereo fit information for just about every car, truck and van on the road today. Our Vehicle Research team has gathered data on thousands of vehicles, and your car or truck is probably one of them.
When you call to place an order, we check our one-of-a-kind installation database to make sure what you want will fit. When you're visiting Crutchfield.com, you even get to check this info yourself (that's why we ask for your vehicle info). And for most car stereo orders (priced $119.99 and above), we include the installation kit, wiring harness, and installation instructions for free. You can see the specifics about this gear, and which stereos and speakers will fit your vehicle by entering your vehicle details into our Vehicle Selector.
This Ford radio looks like a double-DIN, but it's not quite that big (Crutchfield Research Photo)
- the 3" tall (or DIN-and-a-half) slot found in many GM/Chrysler vehicles.
- the 4" tall (or double-DIN) opening in many other vehicles.
If the dimensions of your car's dash opening differ by even a fraction of an inch from these standard oversized openings, you won't be able to install an oversized aftermarket radio without modifying your dash. Many Fords, for instance, look like they can handle a double-DIN radio with ease, but in reality, the opening is a little too small. In some other vehicles, the bracket system that holds the factory radio in place won't work with an oversized aftermarket receiver. In either case, we recommend installing a standard DIN-sized radio with a mounting kit.
Illustrated installation instructions (Crutchfield Research Photo)
Q: How difficult is it to install a new receiver?
A: Helping you install your own gear is our specialty. Since 1974, Crutchfield has helped hundreds of thousands of first-time installers put a new receiver in their dash, and get the job done right. With most new receivers, you'll receive our exclusive, free step-by-step instructions for your vehicle. We also have the wiring harness and installation kit that lets you plug right into your factory wiring, and mount the stereo in the dash with a professional look. (These items may not be available for older or unusual vehicles; they're often free with most purchases, but when not free, we'll discount them up to 50%.)
Plus, you're able to take advantage of our friendly, comprehensive tech support, seven days a week. It's like having a pro looking over your shoulder while you work! For additional installation information, read our Car Stereo Installation Guide.
Once you've attached the Crutchfield wiring harness to your new receiver, simply plug it in to your car's harness
Q: What's the best way to connect the free Crutchfield wiring harness to my new CD receiver's harness?
A: The most important factor here is getting a tight connection that won't come loose over time. Simply twisting the wires together and taping them with electrical tape won't give you a strong connection.
Soldering used to be the go-to method, but these days most people find crimping the wires to be much easier. Our favorite method is using Posi-Twist® connectors. They're even easier than crimping and provide a strong, secure connection. You'll find more Posi-Products, crimp tools, connectors and more in the car stereo installation tools section of our web site.
Q: Will a CD receiver play MP3, WMA, or AAC files burned onto a CD-R or CD-RW?
A: Most CD receivers will play at least MP3 and WMA files, but be sure to check the receiver's "Details" tab to find out for sure.
Q: What if I want to listen to my iPod® or other MP3 player with a new CD receiver?
A: Most new CD receivers have built-in iPod controls, tied to a USB input on the front or rear of the receiver. Just plug in your iPod and you're ready to go. These USB inputs also let you play music stored on thumb drives or other USB devices. If your receiver is not iPod-ready, you can add an iPod adapter.
A majority of receivers also offer auxiliary inputs. You can plug almost any audio device into these receivers with a simple patch cord. Remember, with an "aux in" connection, you won't have control of your iPod or other player from the receiver, but it's a simple, easy way to enjoy your music library when you're on the road.
A growing number of CD receivers and digital media receivers are designed with smartphones in mind. If you have a recent iPhone, for example, some receivers work with Siri to give you eyes-free control over your iPhone's functions.
The Siri-friendly Pioneer SPH-DA110 AppRadio 3 receiver works with your iPhone
Q: I still have a lot of old cassettes. Is there any point in buying a new cassette receiver?
A: That depends. New cassette receivers are still available, but they're increasingly hard to find. Look for a cassette receiver that has either an auxiliary input or changer controls. That way, you'll have the ability to add other listening sources — SiriusXM satellite radio, an iPod, or an MP3 player, for example.
If you can't find a new cassette deck that suits your needs, there are still ways to enjoy your cassette-based music on the road. If your home stereo includes a good cassette deck, you can connect the deck to your computer and digitize your music. Once that's done, you can copy the files onto a USB thumb drive. It takes a bit of work, but you'll be able to enjoy your music without worrying about jams, snags, and broken tapes.