What is a Head Unit in a Car Stereo & How to Pick Right One?

The dictionary related to car audio is complex and full of lots of jargon words. There’s a lot of confusing terms among these also. Radios, stereos, receivers, head unit and so many more parts that need clear understanding.

One very important part known as the head unit is often confused with car stereo. Well, it’s actually the in-dash car stereo unit. Let’s know what is a head unit in a car stereo and everything related to it today.

The Whole Thing About Head Units in Car Stereo.Best Car Stereo for The Money

Before I start with a complete explanation of what this part refers to, let’s go over a few terms that are also the same as to head unit. The most commonly used ones are:

  1. Controller – No radio turner including the type of head unit.
  2. Mechless – No-CD, VD or cassette payer including head unit.
  3. Receiver – Head unit that comes with a built-in amplifier.
  4. Tuner – The opposite type of head unit for a receiver

Head Unit – The Mastermind Behind Your Car Audio System

To help with speaker power boosting, a head unit comes with multiple tiny amplifiers. This is a complete replacement of the radio receiver’s technology. There’s no picking up signals from radio stations. Most of the modern models of head units come with satellite signalling.

You can have the best car audio system and still lack a good quality sound. Yes, that’s so much possible if the car audio lacks a head unit. No matter what other deal-breaker components you include, the thing won’t ever be right.

So, you must think about getting an appropriate head unit that has the capability to distribute right. It needs to send quality sound and video waves to other components. And that’s why this one part of your entire car audio system needs maximum attention while buying.

There are many other names like base unit that one might use to refer head-unit. Your vehicle’s overall multimedia system quality depends on choosing the right head unit. So, there’s going to be a section covering that also.

Technologies that Rock Head Unit Performance!

There are various upgradable technologies that actually makes a lot of difference in your overall audio system. So, let’s know about some of the most popular ones.


In place of AM/FM radio, a very modern and incremental upgrade is gaining attention. It’s an HD Radio. If you are living in an area that has some good HD radio coverage then definitely think about it.

However, sometimes you may have to buy a completely new head unit for this. Also, it’s important that HD radio stations are available in your area.


If you can’t have HD radio due to the coverage issues, this option will be great to try. Internet radio only needs a continuous hotspot system inside your vehicle. And in no time, it would connect with the numerous stations available online.

There are also options to stream internet radio through your smartphone or tablet by connecting to the head unit’s Bluetooth.


Another smart option to go for the head unit is satellite radio. These are really a great choice over traditional radio. However, you need to pay a monthly subscription fee for this service.

This could be an ideal option for those who have to stay inside their cars a lot. You can also easily travel to various countries without having to change the station.


I had a huge CD collection that was all piled inside my car. My obsession with collecting CDs started due to frequent journeying and touring. So, if you are also someone who likes music while long drives, CDs can be a great option.

Most of the Head units will support CD player. However, be sure that the head unit can manage AAC, MP3, and WWA formats.


If you want to have unlimited digital music on the road, then the best option is MP3 players. In this case, you just need to get a head unit with front-facing auxiliary input. And then you’ll easily connect the MP3 player through it.

There are also head units available with rear-mounted auxiliary inputs. These are pretty confusing to use with MP3 players that need unplugging. You can try Bluetooth for streaming MP3s and other digital music files using your smartphone.


This is basically a great answer from Apple that helps to play music with head units that support generic players. Though, some of the head unit models might come with an in-built iPod control.

Buying the Best Head Unit!

  • Set a budget for car stereo beforehand and keep it in mind. So that you don’t spend hours looking for products that you’re not going to buy.
  • The front panels in different vehicles are distinct and these do not match. So, figuring out what size of the head unit you’ll need is actually very important. Make sure you have an idea about the minimum and maximum space requirements for the new upgradation.
  • Many want their head unit to solely power the speakers. This is alright if you chose a head unit with enough watts per channel.
  • Today’s modern audio technology allows you to play videos as well. So, you might want to consider a DVD playing or video streaming head unit for that intention. That’s surely going to increase the total bill.
  • The display of head unit is a very important point to note. If you want a huge display, go for double units. These are great to show what music you’re listening to or who are making a call.
  • Some people prefer to play their smartphone’s videos, audio, and photos while driving. In this case, you surely need the stereo head unit to have multimedia convenience and support features. Bluetooth integration is a huge relief here to make that wish come true.
  • One very handy feature that you should include in the list is GPS. Trust me, it’s very important when you live in a busy city. The routes that are free from traffic are not always known to you. Also, a GPS will help find the way when you are on the wrong track.
  • Make sure the head unit is easy to install. Try to get models with a harness that allows separate wiring. These are pretty easy to notice and connect when necessary.


There are lots of concerns, information and stories to know before you actually make a decision on buying a head unit. Knowing what is a head unit in a car stereo and technologies that it handles like a genius, was completely necessary.

I’m not saying you should go for any technologies that seem correct right now. Be smart and do your part of overall research before deciding anything at all. Your car audio system is a body where the head unit is its mind. Remember that! Hopefully, this article was easy to understand and you’ll be able to make a practical decision. If there’s any confusion still hanging into your mind, feel free to reach out. I’ll get back to you for another fun topic. Till then, ENJOY THE MUSIC.