Buying a Head Unit first is the best option for increasing both your driving and sound experience as a whole rather than just the sound quality that speakers would bring.
If you have never bought stereo gear for your car before, one of the first questions you should ask yourself is whether you should get a head unit or speakers first.
Although you may get various answers, we recommend starting with the head unit before moving on to the speakers. Read on to find out why.
Head Unit vs Speakers
The head unit is the in-dash stereo that you use to control the speakers and sounds. It will also include a variety of other features, like CD players, aux inputs, and amplifiers. More modern head units are touch screens with other features, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
It may be helpful to think of the head unit as the brain of the sound system.
Speakers, on the other hand, are what the sound is coming out of.
It will typically include external crossovers, tweeters, and woofers. Whereas the head unit is the brain, it may be more helpful to think of the speaker as the mouth.
Pros / Cons Head Unit or Speakers
Start With The Head Unit
Even though the speakers allow you to hear the music in your car, you should start by upgrading your head unit.
Whenever people have issues speaking, doctors typically check out the brain first. Think of the head unit and speakers in the same way. Since the head speaker acts as the brain, you want it to be as updated as possible before moving onto the speakers, aka the mouth.
By updating your head unit, you will dramatically improve the interior sound quality in your car. Many people have experimented with the order of updating their head unit or speaker.
Almost everyone we talked to agreed that starting with the head unit causes a more noticeable difference in sound quality.
In addition to the sound quality, updating your head unit will make your driving experience more enjoyable and easier. Modern head unit devices typically have a built-in touch screen, navigation, and other features that will make the car more useful as a whole. Simply upgrading your speakers will only make the sound quality better, not necessarily the whole driving experience better.
To put it more simply, start with the head unit since it is the brains of the operation. Unless the head unit is up to date, you won’t get all of a good speaker’s benefits. Upgrade your head unit first before upgrading your speakers to achieve this.
When To Upgrade Speakers
After you have updated your head unit, then you can move on to the speakers. Unless you have an old car, most speakers have the same technology and features unless you have an outdated vehicle, meaning your speakers can wait.
Getting a more updated version will simply allow you to have a crisper product. You shouldn’t have to update your speakers for a couple of years, either.
When you upgrade your speakers, you should purchase consider these factors:
- High-efficiency and sensitivity speakers, somewhere around the 90 DBS range, for the best sound quality.
- Low power handling, ideally as low as possible.
- The right size and fit for your car. You can check compatibility at Crutchfield.com.
- Frequency response rate. Aim for around 20,000-hertz range.
When buying the speakers, you’ll have to make sure they are compatible with your head unit and fit the above factors.
Because of this, it might be a good idea to plan out what speakers you’ll want or via or vice versa. If you decide to buy the speakers first, you’ll want to plan out the head unit you’re looking to purchase and check they will be compatible.
Overall, head units have little to no improvement of sound quality, so if that’s your main priority, we recommend installing speakers first.
Best Value - Upgrade Head Unit or Speakers
Depending on your existing head unit or stereo installed, you may get more or less value by upgrading your head unit first rather than your speakers.
For example, older car models may not have phone connectivity as standard and only have a CD or FM radio connectivity for music. In this instance, you would get a massive benefit from upgrading your stereo even to a 100 dollar setup that has BlueTooth, USB and AUX connections.
While speakers can be relativity inexpensive, the time it can take to install them could be significant. Especially, from the labor cost. The labor cost for replacing a head unit is usually around an hour for most professionals, which is a substantial part of the price when getting car audio components installed by someone else.
In the video below, see Bagertronix compare his purchase of both a new stereo in one car and new speakers in another, where he discusses his thoughts on the idea of installing a head unit or stereo first.
You should buy a new head unit first. As the brains of the sound system, you want it as advanced as possible. Not only will a new head unit make your sound system sound killer, but it will make your entire driving experience more leisurely, enjoyable, and easy.
Once you finish with the head unit, then buy new speakers.