The world of car audio systems has gone through a lot of changes in the past few years, yet one popular question still remains. And that is whether or not your head unit affects the sound quality of your car’s sound system. It remains an essential question in the modern day, even with the general standard of car audio quality being leaps and bounds ahead of what it used to be. So in this article, we take a look at the question of “does head unit affect sound quality” and reveal all you need to know before you choose an aftermarket radio.
What is a Car Stereo System?
Before we go through “does head unit affect sound quality”, let’s learn what a car stereo system is. A car stereo system or audio system is the equipment in a vehicle that gives entertainment and audio playback. They consist of multiple parts, being the head unit, speakers, amplifiers, equalisers and signal processors, and source devices.
Many people refer to the head unit colloquially as just the radio or stereo. This piece of equipment is the central control centre of the stereo system for user adjustment. The name comes from how it is acting as the ‘brains’ of the whole system. The large majority of head units are factory installed into the middle of the dashboard for easy access, coming with a display screen, buttons and control knobs.
The head unit has various functions, such as the selection of audio sources, adjusting the audio volume, changing of settings, and at times control of GPS navigation and phone calls. They can also come as single din or double din. Single din units are smaller, with a thin rectangular shape and more basic display. A double din is about twice the size of a single din head unit and allows for larger screens and even touch screens, which with a single din unit is only possible with a flip up screen.
The piece of equipment that produces the audible part of the sound are the car speakers. These devices convert electrical audio signals from the head unit into sound waves. Speakers are also placed in specific positions throughout the car, with typical positions being the front and rear doors, rear parcel shelf, and sometimes in the dash and A pillars.
They also come in different sizes and as different types. Woofers take care of low frequency sounds, or bass. Tweeters handle high frequency sounds, known as treble. And mid range speakers output mid range frequencies, which include vocals and instruments.
Better known simply as an amp, amplifiers help your sound system by boosting the audio signals being sent from the head unit to the speakers. What’s the point of this you ask? This delivers more power to the speakers, enhancing the sound and allowing you to get higher volumes. Amplifiers can come integrated into the head unit or separately for more customisation and power capabilities.
Equalisers and Signal Processors
More detailed pieces of equipment, these help with the fine tuning of your audio system to your liking. Equalisers take care of adjusting how the bass, mid range and treble frequencies balance with each other in their sound profile. Signal processors on the other hand optimise sound performance by providing advanced audio shaping, audio effects, active crossovers and time alignment.
This is the part where the sound signals come from. A source device could include AM/FM radio, CDs, usb or bluetooth phone connections, or through dvd players depending on what the head unit features are. Quality double din head units now also feature mobile device support through Apple Carplay and Android Auto. These apps give increased functionality of phones to be used with the head unit.
So, Does Head Unit Affect Sound Quality?
The short answer to the question of “does head unit affect sound quality” is that yes, it definitely does improve sound quality. This is because they convert digital signals from the source device into analog signals that your speakers use to produce sound. With poor quality head units, the signal conversion in this process becomes inefficient, creating lower quality analog signals for your speakers to use.
Low quality head units often lack the correct equalisation settings, or non adjustability of those equalisation settings. This becomes a problem when there is a specific sound profile that you prefer. For many people, bass is an important factor in how they enjoy their music during drives in their car. The lack of adjustment to increase or decrease this setting can make the sound quality seem worse than it really is.
A Lack of Power
Another major factor in answering the question of “does head unit affect sound quality” is the power output. In most cases, high quality head units will come with higher power outputs. This allows for your speakers to deliver better sounding audio.
The closer the power output of the head unit is to the RMS, or continuous power handling capability of the speakers, the better the sound quality will be. Low power outputs result in the need to turn the volume up to abnormal levels. This leads to distorted sound and clipping.
Further, the dynamic range is also negatively impacted. This means that the range of frequencies and notes in a song is more limited with a low power system. And the largest impact is to the bass, as speakers need a large amount of power to produce low frequency sounds.
How To Choose a Quality Aftermarket Head Unit
For the best way to choose your head unit, we recommend choosing a reputable brand. This is the first step to get a high quality sounding system. Head units made by manufacturers such as Alpine, Pioneer, Kenwood and Sony contain high quality digital to analog converters in general. The signal conversion is better and more efficient, leading to better sound quality being put out by the speakers.
Upgrading Your Car Head Unit Isn’t Hard
The answer to the question “does head unit affect sound quality” is a definitive yes. It’s not the only factor however, and choosing and installing a quality head unit can be difficult. That’s why we at Seven Smart Auto offer expert head unit installation using only the best quality offerings on the market. Head over to our website and book your car in and get the quality head unit you need today!