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Old 08-11-2005, 08:51 PM   #1
offset
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Default Head Unit Buyer’s Guide and FAQ

Head Unit Buyer’s Guide and FAQ
**Note: Please post any follow-ups to this thread in the offset’s Car Audio Manifesto thread if you have updates or corrections so this thread can stay clean. Start a new thread for any 'how-to' questions.
http://forums.nasioc.com/forums/showthread.php?t=824983

Introduction -
This FAQ has three major sections: OEM head units, aftermarket head units, and car computers (or ‘carputers’ as they are commonly known). Depending on your goals for the system any of these three can be a good choice. There have been people who have won sound quality competitions with their stock radios (although it wasn’t a Subaru radio). For aftermarket radios there are a lot of factors to base your purchase on. And finally, if you are a techie or just want something ‘more’, then a carputer might be your answer.

Stock Options -
No, I am not talking about Wall Street; I am referring to OEM radios available from Subaru. Everything you have ever wanted/needed to know about the stock radio from Subaru has already been very nicely documented by SVXdc. It includes information on installing and wiring, as well as plenty of additional information regarding the factory subwoofer and using an iPod through the stock radio.

Stock head unit information -- pin-outs, subwoofer, aux inputs, and more
http://forums.nasioc.com/forums/showthread.php?t=749402

Aftermarket Radios -
For this section I will start by running through the features to look for when picking out a new head unit. As with anything else you usually get what you pay for; the more expensive it is, the more features it will have. The first thing is to determine what your future plans will be for your car audio setup. From there you can determine what features you need in a head unit. As for what brands are good (i.e. reliable with good sound quality) the most common ones are Alpine, Clarion, Eclipse, Kenwood, and Pioneer. There are some others that are very good but are less common (usually due to cost and availability) such as Nakamichi or McIntosh. But if you are new to car audio, you can stick with one of the more common brands listed and be just fine.

Look and Feel (ergonomics) - As silly as it sounds to some people (or purists), liking the way the radio looks and how it works can be very important. Maybe you want a green display to match the gauges in your WRX (or amber for the STi); maybe you even want the overall color to be silver to match your interior trim (or black if you got the carbon fiber trim like I did). Some people prefer lots of flashing lights and screensavers, while others like a very plain and simple look. More importantly though is that you are comfortable using the controls. The way you access controls on the head unit can be very important as well. This can include getting a remote control (something I like as I don’t have to take my eyes off the road for most any simple control). Some head units have so many features they can become very complicated just to adjust the bass. Or maybe it is the type of control like the touch glide bar that so many people seem to hate on the Alpine CDA-9855 (while some get used to it and really like it). You will be happier with your purchase if it suits you aesthetically and ergonomically.
CD-R or CD-RW capability - A CD-R can save you from winding with scratches in your favorite CD. It has become fairly common for most head units to play a CD-R, while a good amount can also play a CD-RW as well. This is virtually a prerequisite for MP3 playback as well.
mp3 capability - Almost everyone knows what an mp3 file is these days. And with the ability to store so many songs on a single CD, everyone loves it. This is one feature that can definitely make people step up to a higher priced model. It is becoming available even on the lowest end head units these days. Something to consider is that while a head unit can play mp3 files that does not mean a matching CD changer will also play them (not that most people care considering a disc full of mp3 files is like having CD changer full of music on one CD already). If this is an important feature, you may want to learn how the head unit you are considering deals with navigation of files and how well the display shows information such as file name or data tags. Some head units are so painful to navigate through to find a particular song that people regret their purchase.
DVD capability - The ability to play DVDs is a feature people would expect out of a head unit with a built-in LCD; but there are some head units who may also have outputs for an external LCD as well. There are a select few that can play mp3 files from a DVD currently as well.
iPod Adapter - If a CD-R filled with mp3’s or CD changers where not enough, now head units are starting to be capable of connecting and controlling an iPod. For models that are capable you will need to purchase and iPod Adapter of some type as of right now (some day they may have this all built-in). Things to watch for are ease of navigation and amount of characters that can be shown on the display.
RCA Pre-outs - Any aftermarket head unit with purchasing will have at least one pair of RCA pre-outs included. This allows for the addition of a low level signal to be sent to an external amplifier. There are two things to watch for with RCA pre-outs, how many and at what voltage. There can be just one pair for lower end head units, but it is more common to see two pair for the front and rear. This allows use of the fader controls to adjust the amount of sound between each set. The rear can also be used for a subwoofer connection as well. On higher end head units there will be three pair; front, rear, and sub. This allows for front and rear speakers along with a separate set of controls for a subwoofer signal. The voltage determines how clean the signal will be in reaching the amplifier. The cheapest radios typically use 2V (two volts) for the pre-out while the most common mid to upper range have 4V. There have been some manufacturers who have started bumping up to 5V, while Eclipse leads others using 8V. Be careful though, some amplifiers can actually have problems taking in eight volts worth of power. My preference is to at least get pre-outs rated at 4V or higher if possible.
Equalizers - A car is one of the worst environments to try and recreate music with good sound quality. An equalizer can is a way to help correct some of the problems with the sound. There are two types of equalizers, graphic or parametric. The graphic equalizer simply lets you increase or decrease a certain frequency, while the parametric type allows for the selection of a frequency from a group that can be adjusted (this is a very basic explanation). Even if there are fewer bands available, The parametric is a much more flexible and better choice (especially if it has an adjustable ‘Q’). Either way, look at a built-in equalizer as a very advanced set of bass and treble controls.
http://www.bcae1.com/equalizr.htm
Crossovers - A built-in crossover can allow the adjustment of frequency cut off to a certain channel. This can be very handy to only send lower frequencies to a subwoofer for example. While this feature may be available on an amplifier you have or it comes with the component set of speakers in your doors, there are times it is desirable to use from the head unit. Besides being used with a subwoofer, some people use more sophisticated ones for running an active component setup (see the Cabin Speaker Buyer’s Guide and FAQ for more info).
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Last edited by offset; 08-11-2005 at 09:04 PM.
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Old 08-11-2005, 08:52 PM   #2
offset
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LCD display - For some people today audible music alone isn’t enough. Even automakers are including the ability to watch movies inside the vehicle. All head units with a built-in LCD have a restriction that the video can not be shown unless the car is not in gear for reasons of safety (this can be bypassed of course, but if you want to know how to do that you will have to search it out yourself). You can also separately find LCD panels that will work with certain models of head units. There is more information in the ‘carputer’ section of this FAQ concerning LCDs.
Motorized bits - The old cassette radios had a slot for the tape right in front that could always been seen. As time went on and CDs became more common, manufacturers started putting the CD slot behind the face of the radio. To get to the slot you can manually flip down the face. Now at the push of a button a lot of radios are motorized so that the face will slide down on its own so you can change CDs. Since doing that, some even tilt out at an angle while turned on so they can be better seen (although I don’t really feel the angle is a problem in a Subaru). While this can be a nifty feature, it is something else to wear out or break. It seems the motorized faces on head units are prone to this. And this includes flip-out LCDs in some head units as well. I have heard of plenty LCD screens that would no longer flip out correctly after just a year of owning them. That is not to say they are all bad and to avoid them, just that I would recommend doing a little research in terms of reliability of the motorization.
Optical output - An optical connection can be used to send a digital signal to or from the head unit. This is considered a higher end option for use with items such as digital processors (e.g. Alpine PXA-H701). An optical cable ensures that the source signal is transferred with zero loss of sound quality. This is not a common feature for most people, but is very well appreciated by those with higher end systems.
Surround Sound - Usually reserved for a more elaborate install, some head units now actually come with surround sound capabilities. This is for people with an LCD who want to turn their car into something similar to a home theater. Correctly placing the center channel can be one of the bigger challenges involved with utilizing this. There are also amplifiers designed to work with this type of setup (e.g. Alpine MRA-D550)
Satellite Radio - Most people are now aware of XM and SIRIUS. It is a static free way to listen to the radio; and there are over 100 channels with content for just about any taste. But not everyone is willing to pay a monthly charge for it. There have been many debates over the internet about which is better, but almost everyone agrees they much better than regular AM and FM radio. The good news is that all head units are gaining the ability to let you choose which service you prefer based on the extra tuner module you buy. So you are no longer limited to which service per which brand of head unit. But you do still need to make sure that the head unit you buy is capable of connecting to a satellite radio tuner (if wanted). As for the decision which is better, my advice is to listen to both and see which programming you like better.
HD Radio - This is still a fairly new feature that has not been quite as accepted in car audio yet. HD Radio is a free service that provides the ability to listen to your normal AM and FM stations static free and with much improved sound quality. You can also receive digital information on your display such as the artist and title of the song (along with advertisements). The downsides to this is that the additional tuner is still costly (~$300 and only if your head unit supports it) and the stations in your area must broadcast using the new format. Could this possibly be a contender with the satellite radio market?
A more in depth overview of the technology…
http://www.crutchfieldadvisor.com/S-...io.html?page=1
Home page of the company starting this which includes a list of all stations broadcasting in HD…
http://www.ibiquity.com/index.htm

One last very important thing to mention is that with any aftermarket radio you must make sure to connect the power antenna wire to the head unit. There have been a lot of threads complaining of poor radio reception that turn out to be a lack of power to the antenna built into the back glass. I will also mention that if you have your back window tinted with a metallic based tint, this can cause reception problems as well.
04 WRX/STI Antenna WIRING within + picture
http://forums.nasioc.com/forums/show...hreadid=464212

Carputers -
Rather than rehashing much of the discussion and information that is already out there, I have listed some of the best sites and threads dealing with the topic. If you are new to the concept of a carputer then be prepared for a lot of reading. The first link is a site with a nice carputer setup in a WRX; this should provide a good general idea of what a carputer is, and what it takes to put one together. The next link is the major site for all carputer discussion on the Internet. The last link in this section shows the famous (and very expensive) pop-up LCD that a few lucky people have; with all the rest of the links in between showing more examples and uses of carputers in relation to Subaru.

Nice WRX carputer overview
http://www.tmz.com/wrx/carcomputer.html

Standard carputer site
http://mp3car.com/

Carputer in 2005 FXT
http://forums.nasioc.com/forums/showthread.php?t=817066

Impreza 2.5RS Wagon Car PC Install, w/build pics
http://forums.nasioc.com/forums/showthread.php?t=802393

2004 WRX CarPC
http://forums.nasioc.com/forums/showthread.php?t=801428

Those who've done a carputer... (lengthy discussion)
http://forums.nasioc.com/forums/showthread.php?t=694468

New JDM Subaru Impreza OEM Navigation/Video Screen
http://www.kingofimports.com/product...=&idproduct=79

Last edited by offset; 08-11-2005 at 08:59 PM.
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Old 08-11-2005, 08:52 PM   #3
offset
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Mounting Options -
The normal location for mounting an aftermarket radio in most Subaru’s is the stock double-din opening. The term ‘din’ just denotes a standard measurement of size, with most aftermarket head units being single-din in size. People have had luck installing the radio in the top of bottom section. The other opening can be filled with anything that fits; however most people choose one of the DIN pockets listed in the links below (also see the Post Pics of Your Head Units thread for plenty of pictures of the pockets or other items used to fill the second slot). There are also a couple options for pockets that have no door on the front listed as well.

But you aren’t limited to just mounting a radio in the same old stock spot. Some people choose to put their radio in place of clock on the dash using the Subaru gauge pack housing. This leaves the double-din opening for all kinds of other things; but it is quite common for a LCD screen to be put there as well (see the carputers section above for more info on LCD screens that would work). If you want to use that double-din opening for something else and don’t want to mount your radio up on your dash, it can be remotely mounted somewhere else like the glove box or trunk (see the link to Radio Boxes below as an example). That can make using your head unit difficult however, so it is usually only done by experienced people. The last link included is a thread of iPod installs in case you need an idea on where and how to mount that as well.

Post Pics of Your Head Units!
http://forums.nasioc.com/forums/show...hreadid=205649

Legacy Black DIN pocket (fits perfect with no cutting) - P/N 66120AE050
http://www.subaruparts.com/cart/?pn=66120AE050

Forester Silver DIN pocket (requires some re-drilling) - P/N 66128SA040
http://www.subaruparts.com/cart/?pn=66128SA040

Pocket Center (no door) - P/N 66128AE000
http://www.subaruparts.com/cart/?pn=66128AE000

METRA 88-00-9000 FORD/MAZDA/NISSAN/TOYOTA/VOLVO MULTI-POCKET
http://www.partsexpress.com/pe/showd...=6604&CATID=35

Gauge pack housing (putting radio in place of dash clock) - P/N H0010FE920OE
http://www.subaruparts.com/cart/?pn=H0010FE920OE

Radio Boxes
http://www.hotrodproducts.com/RadioBoxes.htm

Index of iPod installs
http://forums.nasioc.com/forums/showthread.php?t=683903
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Old 08-11-2005, 08:52 PM   #4
offset
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.....
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Old 08-11-2005, 10:39 PM   #5
a87supra
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Quote:
Originally Posted by offset
.....
Thanks again for the FAQs offset!!!
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Old 12-14-2005, 03:26 PM   #6
lawn boy
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if you buy the gaguepack, theres no kind of other fit kit u have to buy to make a headunit fit in there???
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Old 01-22-2011, 11:19 PM   #7
jwhispersc
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http://www.tmz.com/wrx/carcomputer.html

Link is dead and host requests that people not reference it anymore.
:/
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Old 05-25-2014, 11:41 AM   #8
GLwagon
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Another OEM pocket (silver face door) P/N 66128SA000 , may be hard to find in USA
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Old 05-27-2014, 02:46 PM   #9
zFlash
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Great guide!
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