Selecting Head Units

Selecting Head Units

The head unit, often referred to as a “radio,” is usually located on your dash and allows you to choose things like: what song you wish to hear, what station to listen to – along with many other functions. Keep reading to learn more about head units!

Disc-Based Music Sources 
Car head units play recorded material from many different sources. Some head units have an integrated hard-disk drive that stores music files transferred from a DVD or CD. Disc-based storage formats are still popular but many present-day users prefer iPod-type portable sources. This is the case according to the service manager at Performance Dodge RAM, a full-service car and truck dealership in Woodbury, NJ. 

The Tuner 

In the early days, the only entertainment available for your vehicle was to tune in a radio signal — hence the name “tuner.” Today’s tuners vary from simple to complex to let you select AM and FM stations and in a few cases, many digital formats. Digital formats are preferred by some because they provide quality sound that is free from analog noise.   

The first of these digital formats are the satellite-based systems, like XM and Sirius. These are subscription-based services that offer hundreds of programming channels.  Because the systems are digital, the stations do not fade the way AM and FM does as you get further away from a transmission area, and the sound is high quality. HD radio is another high-quality format.  Some HD stations broadcast entirely separate programming on sub-frequencies that are only available with an HD tuner.  

Portable Music Sources 

Most all modern head units today offer a way to integrate portable music players like the iPod into a vehicle’s audio system and control them through your head unit. You plug an inexpensive accessory cable into the aux-in jack, which in turn connects to your headphone jack of an iPod or other music player. A better way to connect your portable music player is via a USB port. In many cases, you may operate the device using the head unit’s controls.


In addition to operating the chosen audio source, the head unit may also tailor the sound with treble and bass controls or with an integrated equalizer. High-end head units also use sophisticated digital signal processing (DSP) technology to help shape the sound and control the ambient noise that’s common in a car’s cabin. Many car audio systems have steering-wheel volume controls that can change music tracks or radio stations. When looking to purchase a head unit for your car’s audio system, we suggest that you do your research and make sure you choose a unit that meets all your needs.  


Finally, there’s Bluetooth audio that can wirelessly send music files from a compatible device to the car’s audio system. There’s a downside with Bluetooth, however: the controls are limited to basic functions such as track-skip forward/back and play/pause. 

We hope that you have enjoyed this in-depth look at what makes up today’s automotive head units! According to, they really are an essential component of today’s cars!