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Choosing Head Units for Your Car

A finger pressing a button on an upgraded Ottawa car stereo system

Looking to Upgrade a Car Stereo in Ottawa? Start Right Here With the Head Unit

So, you’ve read the guides, know the terms, and are ready to start upgrading your car stereo. But upgrading all components all at once might not be budget friendly. So where do you start?

Why not start at the source of the sound itself? The head unit is the command centre for your sound system. When you start making upgrades, it’s worth it to start with the head unit to improve sound quality in your car.

Sure, you could upgrade your speakers first, but they won’t perform at their full potential with a middle-of-the-road head unit. You’re limiting your options further down the road with a stock head unit, after all. Plus, a new head unit gets you access to a wide variety of add-ons and upgrades beyond audio options.

Let’s take a closer look:

Features and Functions to Look For


Even if you start with a head unit and leave other upgrades for a later date, keep those upgrades in mind. You’ll want a car stereo that gives the option to add quality components at a later date, after all. Think of this as future-proofing. Plan out your dream car stereo and start upgrading by buying the head unit. This’ll help take out a lot of the chance in the future. Look for head units with 3 high voltage pre-outs, usually rated at 4 volts.

Built-In Crossovers

Built-in crossovers allow you to filter out frequencies to different speakers; that is to say, tweeters, speakers, and subs will all get the right frequencies they’re designed for. Look for adjustable crossovers for added flexibility with your car stereo sound. Built-in crossovers also make it possible for you to build your sound system in steps over time.


Look for a head unit with a 5- to 7-band equalizer (EQ). The different band values refer to band frequencies that you can adjust. The more bands on an EQ, the more control you have to tune your sound system. But if you don’t know how to properly tune an equalizer, ask your local Ottawa car stereo experts for advice when upgrading your head unit.

Time Alignment/Correction

This is another adjustment feature to consider with head units. You can set the time alignment, controlling the time it takes for each speaker’s sound to hit your ears. This allows you to center the sound around you no matter where you sit in the car. The ideal adjustment is to have each speaker hit your ears at the same time, providing exceptional sound quality for all people in the car.

Volume Offset

This feature is especially useful if you plan to keep the stock speakers for a while. The stock amp in your car gets powered by your upgraded head unit. This can seriously increase the sound output you get from your stereo because you’re basically amplifying an amplifier. That said, this sound output can be too large when adjusting the volume knob in the smallest increments.

Another issue is that a new subwoofer will only be receiving a single amplification signal. But with the volume offset feature, you can match the stock amp with the new head unit amp, reducing the over-amplification and improving sound quality throughout your car stereo system.

General Features

Look & Feel

How the car stereo looks and feels will also be important. When choosing head units, ask for an overview of the functions and test them out to see if you like them. Touch the buttons, turn the knobs, and try to navigate the user interface, menu, operating system, and controls. If it feels too clunky or difficult to use, try another until you find one you’re comfortable with.

Ask yourself:

  • Does it match or complement your dash?
  • Do the illuminations match or complement the interior lighting in the rest of your dash?
  • Is the display easy to read—large enough and bright enough?

Tech Features

Make sure the head unit has all the tech features you want. These might include:

  • USB/Aux ports;
  • A2DP audio streaming;
  • MP3/WMA/AAC playback;
  • iPod® and iPhone® support;
  • Support for Android™ phones;
  • Satellite radio;
  • DVD playback;
  • Bluetooth® connectivity;
  • GPS navigation;
  • Support for Pandora® Internet radio and other app-related sources;
  • Touchscreen monitors; and
  • Security features such as security codes and detachable faceplates.

Next Steps

So what’s next?

If your current speakers are working, add an amp and a subwoofer for your next component upgrades. Subwoofers improve overall sound, even while still using stock speakers.

Subwoofers balance out sound systems by filling in the bottom end and creating a larger sound presence in your overall system. And with a crossover adjustment in your upgraded head unit, you can filter the bass out of the speakers powered from your head unit.

Even if you can’t upgrade your entire sound system at once, you can make a drastic improvement to your sound quality with a new head unit. And you can also enjoy the many convenient added tech features that come with head units today. Contact your local Ottawa car stereo experts for help choosing the best head unit for your vehicle.

About AudioMotive

For over 10 years, AudioMotive has and continues to be, Ottawa’s premier vehicle upgrade experts. With more than 25 years of combined industry experience, we proudly specialize in all things related to HID lighting and mobile electronics sales and installation.