Car audio is a very well established industry with a wide range of manufacturers offering a full catalog of components. One major component of car audio systems include the head unit, which used to be an analog tape deck or player around 25 years ago and earlier. Later, in the 1990s, the head unit turned into a CD player as we entered the digital world of audio. Later, more sophisticated CD units, including changers, were introduced. These changers allowed you to have 4-10 or even more CDs are inside of your system. You could change which CD was playing and then choose tracks within individual CDs as normal. Later, we also got the ability to play multi-channel CD audio and a few occasions of other exotic stuff.
Everything changed again dramatically in the early 2000s with the advent of digital file technology and the MP3 file format. This was coupled with the introduction of cheap CD “burner” drives in personal computers and we had a revolution of people getting control of their own music. Back in the tape player days, you did have people going to the trouble of recording their own “mix” tapes of their favorite music. So, now, with the CD-R technology and MP3 file format, people were doing all of this with the CD media. So, head units kept pace by being able to read CD-R (rewrite-able) media and playing MP3 file format music. If we fast forward to today, the main focus is on head units and car audio systems being able to interface with people’s smart phones, whether they are Android-based or Apple iOS devices like the iPhone. This is either accomplished via wired USB connectivity or increasingly with just Bluetooth wireless technology.
Another major component is the speakers, which are the critical playback device of the system. Here, you have a wide range of sizes to fit particular cars. There are some sizes that are quite standard, like a 6.5″ speaker in the car doors. Another popular addition for those that enjoy bass or just want to make sure that the music has all of the frequencies well represented is the subwoofer. The subwoofer extends the bass response of a system to the lower spectrum and allows some musical instruments to be heard and felt as they are in real life. Popular brands include Kicker and Rockford Fosgate subwoofers. Next time in our post, we’ll continue this conversation into other major components of car audio systems.