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Make your drive much more enjoyable with new car stereo receivers or upgrade your existing system with connected car tools

What is a car stereo receiver or head unit?

When it comes to a car stereo, there is always a primary component that is the focal point of the entire system, the part the user interacts with. This has the operating system, the buttons, controls, display, and usually provides the power for the speakers as well. This goes by multiple names but is usually called the car stereo receiver or head unit. Some people simply refer to it as the “car stereo.”

Features of car stereos

The features of car stereos are always evolving with technology. Older cars typically have stereos with cassette and CD players. More modern systems include technology like GPS navigation. They also reflect the growing importance of smartphones. At first this was limited to USB inputs and Bluetooth. This allowed music to be streamed from a smartphone to the car stereo and hands-free calls could be made, while keeping the smartphone charged. Increasingly, car receivers are starting to support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto—smartphone-based automotive features that go beyond streaming music to include navigation, messaging and apps.

The one thing almost all car stereos share is support for AM/FM radio.

Types of car stereos

There are two major types of car stereos or head units: Single DIN and Double DIN. Single DIN stereos are the traditional form factor. There’s room for a small display that shows track or station info, buttons and knobs for controls and sometimes a CD slot will be included.

Double DIN stereos are becoming increasingly popular. These are the “double-size” units that have the space for a big touch display that supports advanced features like GPS navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with displaying the live view from connected backup cameras. Many of these Double DIN car stereos can also play DVDs on their display, although the vehicle should not be in motion at the time.


Car stereos have other components besides the receiver or head unit. All car stereos will also require speakers. More advanced models might have a remote control, a standalone amplifier, equalizer, and a subwoofer. Some car stereos also have inputs to connect a back-up camera.

Other connected car tools

Just because your car stereo is an older model, that doesn’t mean that you can’t upgrade your driving experience.

Replacing the car stereo receiver with a new one is the best way to get all the latest features, but there are connected car tools that can help to modernize an older system. For example, there are FM transmitters that stream Bluetooth audio from a smartphone to a car stereo on a select FM channel. A USB/Bluetooth receiver can plug into the USB port on a car stereo, allowing a smartphone to stream music to the system. Versions are available that use a 3.5mm AUX input on the head unit instead of USB. There are even cassette adapters that let you connect to a phone’s headphone jack to play digital music over a cassette deck.