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Picking the right car audio system

Car audio systems today come with a wide range of features and at different price points. Here's what you need to look for when buying one

Car audio components
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Music can soothe your nerves in heavy traffic or even distract you enough to cause an accident, but most drivers cannot do without an audio system. Some like it loud, some mellow but whatever be your style, there are numerous products to choose from and ways to customise your in-car audio system.

Think, prioritise, eliminate, decide
First things first. Do you need to need an audio system which sounds absolutely right or would you be content with any old system? Are you sourcing your music from CDs, mp3 players, SD cards or just using a basic CD/radio combination? Do you need Bluetooth phone connectivity, navigation system, video playback? Do you want your audio system to blow the roof off your neighbour’s or just be adequate?

Get informed
Getting the loudest audio system is not the brightest thing to do, as the panels of your car could come loose because of excessive vibrations. Refer to your user manual about the size of the audio unit holder (1 DIN or 2 DIN systems, 1 DIN = a 7 inch wide, 2 inch tall unit), the panels available for installing speakers, electrical systems, sound dampening etc,  and what type of audio system is suitable for your car.

Make sure the audio dealers understand your needs and find out about the different options available for your car.

In car stereo system

Brands to look out for

For the entry level car audio systems, look at brands like Pioneer, JBL, Kenwood, and Sony. They provide value for money options with decently specced head units (HUs), coaxial speakers and amplifiers.

For the mid-level car audio systems, check out Blaupunkt, JBL, JL Audio and Sony. These brands provide good HUs, with features like touch screen, a dash-screen for playing movies, Bluetooth connectivity, component speakers, and high power amplifiers.

The high-end car audio scene is as crowded as the other segments, Rockford Fosgate, Nakamichi, MTX Audio, Kicker, JL Audio, Infinity, Harman Kardon and Alpine are some of the best brands available in the country.

In car TFT display head unit

In-car audio components explained:

The head unit

The head unit is the audio system control interface found on the dash of your car. Most modern HUs can play CDs and only a few rare ones still offer cassette play capability. The cheapest branded MP3 compatible audio systems cost around Rs. 5000. It is recommended that you adjust your budget to buy a USB compatible player -- a good quality 4GB USB pen drive costs around Rs. 200 and can store a lot of songs saving you from carrying a hundred CDs along.


Amplifiers increase the performance of your basic audio unit. It relays power to the speakers, taking the load off the HU, improving the performance of the audio unit and also amplifies the sound coming out of the audio unit. Prices start at Rs.5000 for a four channel amplifier and at Rs.3000 for two channels.


There are two basic types of speaker: coaxial and component. In coaxial speakers, the low frequency (woofers) and the high frequency units (tweeters) are moulded into a single physical frame. This set up is cheaper but the sound quality is not the best. In component speakers the low and high frequency units are separate; some even contain a third part, called the crossover. Component speaker systems are more expensive but offer superior sound quality.


The importance of proper wiring cannot be emphasised; bad wiring work can be bane of the best sound systems. Power wires connect the battery to the HU and amplifiers and also ground the whole system to prevent a short circuit. Cheap power wires and bad layout may affect sound dynamics and cause other noticeable disturbances like flickering of lights at high volume. Disturbances can also creep in if the wires connecting the HUs and amplifiers are not connected properly. This problem can be identified if the song playing has a buzzy or whining background noise.

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