Expert Answers: Does Head Unit Affect Sound Quality?


Welcome and I will share with you exactly if the head unit does affect sound quality


The age old question is if an aftermarket head unit can beat a factory one. Well I’m about to settle the score once and for all.


If you don’t have a luxury or ultra-luxury vehicle like Maybach, Bentley or Rolls Royce chances are that the your factory head unit is not the best one around.

You see car makers are doing the bare minimum to get buy so they can carve out as big of a profit as possible and audio isn’t their top priority and more on this a bit later.

With over 20 years of experience in the car audio industry I will share my knowledge to make your choice easy.

Tell me already!





What does a head unit do in a car?

A head unit is a device, often mounted in the center of the dashboard on older vehicles.

The original head unit was purely for audio playback and only had basic controls (play/skip track).

However, with new features being added to cars constantly, car manufacturers started adding more functionality to their vehicle’s head units; such as GPS navigation systems, DVD players, MP3 playback and storage, Bluetooth access to hands-free phone calls. These new head units have evolved the name of “Car Stereo” now into what is known today as a Head Unit or Car Radio.


Benefits of Upgrading to a New Head Unit

Many people feel that speakers are the sole way to upgrade the quality of sound.

However, your head unit or car radio plays a major role in the capability and power of your car sound system. You can simply upgrade your head unit, and improve the power, audio quality and clarity, thus being able to enjoy the tracks of your choice like never before.

Head units consist of tiny amplifiers that help boost speaker power.

It substitutes the traditional radio receivers that pick up signals from radio stations. Modern head units highly surpass their predecessors and pick up satellite signals as well.

These serve as the centerpiece of the car sound system.


Modern Technology

New head unit models can play various types of media, whether video or audio. They come with touch screens and wide screen monitors and can let you choose and create playlists depending on your choice and mood of the day.

Many of these also come with GPS (Global Positioning System) that can continuously determine your accurate location in the city and calculate the hours and distance that will take to reach your preferred destination by typing in the exact coordinates of the place via a satellite link.

So, an upgrade to an aftermarket head unit is essential for improving the interior sound quality as well as the ease of driving and using your car.

[ANSWERED] Does Head Unit Affect Sound Quality? 1

Most modern head units does have both touchscreen and navigation built-in.


Factory head unit vs aftermarket

The technologically advanced features of most aftermarket and modern head units can let you access social media, connect with Bluetooth and stream music from your phone. Even basic upgrades to the audio system can make significant enhancements to your overall listening experience.

If you love music, you can do yourself a great favor by investing in a new head unit.

In most cases, stock head units that come with the vehicles are extremely low powered.

Rather than buying new speakers, you can invest in a new head unit to start out. Although factory head units that are part of the vehicle package can do a fair job, you cannot expect amazing music quality. Taking out stock ones and replacing them with a third-party head unit can let you enjoy a highly superior quality of music.

Most music lovers recommend on building a car sound system from the ground up.

Substituting your stock speakers does not compensate for a low-powered amp or head unit. This is the reason why a lot of audiophiles go for a new system design entirely from scratch. In such cases, it is even more important to use higher-powered aftermarket head units to replace inferior factory units.


How to Choose a Good Head Unit

When it’s time to get a new head unit for your car, the very first thing you should do is to list a couple of features that you absolutely want. This will make it easier for you to filter out head units (which you will need to do). You should also check your current head unit that is in your car. This is because there are two common sizes, single din, and double din and you will need to get the one that will fit in your car.

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What will you connect to your head unit?

A mistake that many people do when they are purchasing new head units or speakers is to look at the advertised wattage of the items.

On head units, it’s very common to see something like 4 x 50W Max Power. This sounds great and all but, in reality, it’s not. The important aspect of that sentence is Max Power. This means that the head unit can output a maximum wattage of 50W. However, on average it will put out much less, more like 14W-18W.

Therefore, you should not focus too much on the max wattage. A more detailed explanation about max wattage and RMS can be found here.

My recommendation is always to get an amplifier that is taking care of the wattage to the speakers. An amplifier is made for powering speakers and will do a much better job of doing that than a head unit. So, for a head unit, go with the features that you prefer.

Do you have an iPhone?

Check out some head units with Apple Carplay. Using Android? Then it’s Android Auto for you. Maybe built-in navigation would be something that you find useful? The head units today are packed with features that you can find on your phone or computer, you just have to mount it in your car.


Conclusions on How the Head Unit Affects Sound Quality

There are many more upgrades that you can go for in your vehicle other than a head unit.

However, the head unit forms one of the most important parts of a car audio system due to its functionality, design, and usability.

If you want to take your old car to 2017, a new head unit is the best way. Once you have a head unit, building the rest of an audio system will be much easier because the brain is already there.

Maybe you can help me out with something. Can you please share on social media what you have learned from this post? It would mean a lot. Thank you.

Roger and out.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

What is a head unit in car stereo?

A head unit is the main component of your car stereo system that contains both an audio and video source. It also provides control buttons for the user to operate it.

What are good head units?

Head units can vary from each other in terms of price, features, performance, etc. However, high-quality brands include Sony, Alpine and Pioneer head units.

Does head unit affect sound quality?

Yes! It does have a direct impact on sound quality. This means that the better your head unit, the better your music will sound.

What is an aftermarket radio?

An aftermarket radio is essentially any head unit that replaces this original equipment.

Do head units have built in amps?

Some high-performance head units have built in amps and equalizers. The rest rely on an external amp to power your speakers.

Will a new head unit make speakers sound better?

A new head unit typically has better sound processing and amplification components. This is why it may improve the way in which speakers sound in your car.

Does car stereo affect sound quality?

Car stereo is one of the most critical parts for sound quality. This is because it provides the power to push your speakers to their full volume. Therefore, having a poor car stereo can definitely affect sound quality.

Does aftermarket radio improve sound?

An aftermarket radio is an upgrade from the original factory installed. Therefore, it generally provides high quality sound and music playback while driving.

Does a head unit affect sound quality?

Yes, a head unit has an impact on sound quality. This is because it determines the power and accuracy of your speakers.

Does a car stereo improve sound?

A car stereo is crucial for sound improvement. It boosts the power of your speakers and provides a high level of sound accuracy.

How many watts is an average factory car stereo?

An average factory car stereo produces 100 watts RMS. However, this number varies from model to model. Since speakers are rated in watts too, you should find a head unit that is able to power your speaker system.

Do head units have built in amps?

Yes, head units have built in amps and equalizers. This helps to amplify the sound of your music.

Is it worth upgrading car speakers without amp?

Head units provide the boost needed to power your speakers. This means that you will need an amp if you intend on replacing or upgrading your car speakers.

What are good aftermarket head units?

The best aftermarket head units would be those that have features such as Bluetooth connectivity, Wi-Fi, USB inputs for iPods/phones/tablets, etc.

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Last Updated on November 4, 2023 by Brian Beasley

Written by Karim