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Car Audio - A UK Buyer's Guide

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Car Audio - A Guide to Head Units

The part of a car stereo audio system that is most frequently changed or upgraded is called the Head Unit. The Head Unit is the unit that is installed in the dashboard of your car, and can comprise a radio, cd player, cassette player or any combination thereof.

Some head units are compatible with cd changers. CD changers are units into which multiple cds can be loaded, and are either fitted separately in the boot of the car, or within the head unit itself.

Compressed Music Formats

Many head units that play cds will now play other music file formats including MP3, WMA (Windows Media Audio) and AAC (Advanced Audio Coding - the Apple music compression format). The advantage of having a system that will play these compressed formats, is that you can effectively do without a CD changer unit by writing in the region of 10 albums worth of data onto one cd-r.


Most head units nowadays have removeable faces, which would make the unit useless to a thief, provided you have detached the face and taken it with you. Some thiefs though, once they have broken into your car, will search the glove box, the boot and under the seat for the face from your head unit, so it is not infallible.

Another method of security is to have to input a code if ever the unit is powered down. This will deter a thief if he is aware that your head unit has this feature - otherwise he will steal it anyway then find out later that it doesn't work.

Make sure that the head unit you are looking to purchase will play cd-r disks. They virtually all do these days. The advantage of using cd-r disks is that you can copy your cd collection onto cd-r's for the car, and leave your precious originals safely in your house out of temptation's way (subject to any copyright restrictions).

Other features to look for

Preamp Outputs
If you really like your music and are not content with the power output from your head unit, you may want to install a separate amplifier. If this is the case, then look for a head unit that has the preamp outputs (RCA jacks) you require.

Make sure that you like the look of the unit, that your fingers are not too big to press the buttons and that the unit is straightforward to use.

Audible Search
You can hear the music speeded up whilst searching

Some units can illuminate in different colours to match your car.

Remote Control
A remote control mounted on the steering wheel can be a useful addition.

Skip Protection
Usually not necessary unless you happen to drive on a lot of bumpy roads.

Revo Digital Radio
- This digital radio can be used in conjunction with your existing setup. It can be installed in any vehicle, plus you can also buy the optional home and mobile kits to use your radio anywhere.
- Halfords range includes the latest in in-car entertainment.
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