Where are the best places online to buy a new car stereo in-dash receiver?
December 10, 2003 1:29 PM   Subscribe

I am in the market for a new car stereo in-dash receiver, and I was wondering what the best method of buying one would be, and where the best places on the Web to purchase might be? I only want to purchase an in-dash receiver with MP3 capability (no pre-amps, etc.), but I'm also interested in a system that I can plug a portable MP3 player into if necessary. I am looking to spend under $250 total for a receiver.

Here are the alternatives I've found:
1) Buy one online and get it installed through an independent installer (I know one in town). (I noticed that Mathowie pursued this route.)
- Buy on eBay.
- Buy using a service like PriceGrabber to find the online store with the best price.
2) Buy from an established big-box retailer like Circuit City, Best Buy or Fry's and have them install it (more expensive, but less hassle and more immediate).
3) Buy from a specialized stereo store and have them install it (most expensive, but also most experience).

What are the pros and cons of each alternative?

- What is the significance of MOSFET?
- What brand of receiver has the best sound quality without adding pre-amps/etc.?
- What brand of receiver has the best interface (see also)?
- What brand of speakers have the best sound quality?
- How do "aux inputs" work and how can I be sure to get one installed from the get go (and how do they work with outside MP3 players)?
- I have read some reviews that say certain brands take longer to read the MP3 files and switch between MP3s. Which brands are fastest at switching?
- Where is the best place to get install accessories if I choose to buy one online?

Also: are there any other good resources to use for making car stereo buying decisions on the Web?

Thanks in advance,
posted by timothompson to Shopping (9 answers total)
I've heard numerous horror stories from a few friends who have had car audio installed at Best Buy and Circuit City. It seems that a lot of the time the people installing it have no more experience than you would and do not do a very good job. The home installation kit could be a good idea.
posted by Wallzatcha at 1:50 PM on December 10, 2003

Crutchfield is a great place to buy stuff, it's where I buy most of my gear, but I've never installed my own stuff beyond the basics (it's not hard, I just don't want to screw it up).

There are a lot of MP3 playing stereos under $300, for the last one I got I added "stealth functionality" as a primary feature so I didn't have to carry a pullout or faceplate with me. Overall, pretty much every stereo sucks interface-wise. I've seen some strides by Blaupunkt and Alpine, but in general don't expect anything to be easy to use. If you can find a steering wheel mounted remote as an option, go with that, since generally you won't need to look down.

If you have an iPod or other mp3 player, by all means go for an additional AUX input (most stereos don't have them and you'll need some sort of custom attachment that might exploit a CD Changer control). This is something a competent installer is good for, because it's likely to require drilling out a hole in your dash to mount the jack. Then you just run a male-to-male headphone cord from your ipod to your stereo.

You might want to call Crutchfield, their sales staff is good and can whittle down your choices if you give them a list of requirements (mp3 playback, aux in, etc).
posted by mathowie at 1:58 PM on December 10, 2003

I bought one of these a few years back when AIWA came out with it (I think it was the first one, CDC-MP3). It had an RCA jack on the front, as you want, and the interface was OK. However, the "eject" button broke off. Moral: Aiwa=shit.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 2:05 PM on December 10, 2003

I got the base model of Sony's cd-mp3 players and I am very happy with it. It also has inputs, removable face, yadda yadda. I bought a $15 install kit from circuit city and installed it in about an hour. Easy as pie. If you get it from crutchfield, it will come with excellent instructions.
posted by Hackworth at 2:11 PM on December 10, 2003

The relatively inexpensive JVC unit with the RCA jack on the front has worked fine for me with an iPod hooked up to it (I don't have the exact model number here; I can post it later if anybody's interested). I drove roundtrip from Chicago to New York over Thanksgiving, and I'll tell you I was damned glad to have it! I bought it at (and had it installed by!) Circuit City, where I seldom have shopped in the past, and they did a perfectly fine job with it.
posted by JollyWanker at 2:19 PM on December 10, 2003

Last time I purchased, I was on a road-trip, and managed to take full advantage of Circuit City's "same-day-installation-or-its-free" policy. See if it's still in effect.

Crutchfield.com seems an excellent resource for researching. In their site's parlance, you're looking for a CD/MP3 receiver with AUX in.

They have several Sony models with a neat security feature: when you remove your key and power to the deck is cut, the faceplate flips over, giving the appearance of a blank plastic panel - as if you'd detached a faceplate. Put your key back in, and it flips back open, ready for business. They call this feature the "Active Black Panel faceplate."

Happy Hunting!
posted by scarabic at 3:32 PM on December 10, 2003

Response by poster: Thanks, all. Crutchfield sounds like a good option to pursue. JollyWanker, do you like the sound of the JVC? I was looking at that one, but it sounded really different than some other ones.
posted by timothompson at 3:53 PM on December 10, 2003

I bought one of these a few years back when AIWA came out with it (I think it was the first one, CDC-MP3). It had an RCA jack on the front, as you want, and the interface was OK. However, the "eject" button broke off. Moral: Aiwa=shit.

Not true at all. The original CDC-MP3 was a piece of shit, with shitty ID3 support and the cheapest face plate I've seen. But Aiwa doesn't usually make shitty electronics.

I've had an Aiwa CDC-MP32 for three years in two cars, and I even went and bought another one after my car got totaled. Plays MP3's, supports 32 character file naming (as opposed to an 8 char max for many of the other CD-MP3 players that only support ISO level 1 burned CDs), and Joliet CDs. The face plate is all motorized, so you don't have to keep flipping up the damn plate every time you put in a CD. It's also has the "Active Black Panel" faceplate, except Aiwa called "Magic Flap".

The new version is the CDC-MA01, which adds Windows Media support. It's about 200 bucks, but you can find the CDC-MP32s on ebay for much less.
posted by SweetJesus at 3:58 PM on December 10, 2003

I have two JVCs that I'm very happy with.

I bought the first one from Circuit City and had them install it in my Soobaroo. No pain, but of course the cost was a bit more because of installation.

This year I bought a "summer car" (Mustang) and decided to buy a similar unit and install it myself. It took me a couple of days to finish the job, as I had to hunt down the proper wiring harness. I like tinkering, so it was no big deal.

The deck is AM/FM/CD, plays MP3s and has a removable face and miniature jack for exteral input (model KD-S890). Otherwise, it's a fairly plain unit but sounds great to my ear.

I bought the install-your-own on the the web from digitalfotoclub.com. The current price is about $120, which should leave you with enough money for decent speakers.
posted by SteveInMaine at 4:19 PM on December 10, 2003

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