What is a Head Unit?

Also known as a receiver, or most often referred to as the stereo, the Head Unit in any vehicle is the source of all media to be played over the speaker or video system of your car stereo. Todays head units can play a multitude of media from many different sources while offering you hands free connectivity to your wireless devices for making calls and connecting with your apps so you can keep your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road and both off of your phone.

Todays head units can play audio and video from a multitude of sources like a USB thumb drive, a CD, an 1/8″ auxiliary input and even connecting wirelessly over Bluetooth, or BT in short, from your phone. Select head units can display GPS through built in navigation or through the Google Maps app from your smart phone through Apple CarPlay™ or Android Auto™ connectivity. Backup cameras, sideview cameras, and even frontal cameras can now be added to vehicles and viewed on select head units. Options like HD radio, Sirius/XM, and DVD playback integration are available in todays head units along with capabilities like displaying crucial vehicle information such as low tire pressures and other vehicle warning messages when vehicles are equipped to communicate with iDatalink Maestro devices. Some head units are even able to connect a CB style mic for communication between the driver and the passengers of larger size vehicles like busses.


DIN and DDIN refer to the spacing of a head unit. A DIN size head unit is half of the height of a DDIN. A DDIN size head unit would be just about any touch screen size head unit on the market today. A DIN head unit is typically just a radio and typically does not have a touch screen. A DIN head unit may still play a DVD and if available may provide a storage pocket built into the dash kit under your new DIN head unit after replacement. Some DIN size mountable head units do have a touch screen like the floating 9″ screen of Alpine’s ILX-F309.

Todays vehicles are moving away from the typical standard DIN and DDIN size head unit openings. New vehicles today like the Jeep Wrangler, Dodge Ram, and Ford F-150 to name a few, have their head units designed to integrate into the dash sometimes with the vents and the HVAC controls all integrated as one unit. For replacements or upgrades in vehicles like these, Alpine currently is the only car stereo manufacturer now specially designing and manufacturing head units that are designed for todays evolving vehicles and progressive demands of the car stereo enthusiast.

Replacing your Head Unit?

Did your head unit finally bite the dust? Do you want to level up on your car stereo game? Do you just require an upgraded head unit for added functionality? Whatever your reason may be Jackson Tint and Sound can help you pick out the right head unit with your desired accessories and provide you with simply the best professional installation within your budget from top manufacturers like Alpine, Kenwood, JVC, Sony and Pioneer.

Dash Kits: Most vehicles will need a dash kit that will allow your head unit to adapt to the footprint in the dash that your factory stereo currently fills. Some dash kits will provide the addition of a storage pocket to fill the space leaving a nice clean look.

Wiring Harness: As todays vehicles continue to progress in the advancement of their car stereo designs it is necessary to use a wiring harness to safely connect to the pigtail harness of your new head unit. These wiring harnesses are typically colored to match the wiring of your new head unit. Some vehicles require the head unit to communicate with the factory amplifier and a special wiring harness is necessary for this communication. Some vehicles have no accessory power and instead send a digital accessory signal to tell the factory radio to turn on. Some cars will even require an antenna adapter to convert the factory antenna connection to a standard Motorola style FM Connector. We stock many common wiring harnesses, dash kit adapters and antenna adapters for head unit replacements.

Steering Wheel Controls: If you have radio controls on your steering wheel and you would like to retain these controls for operation of your head unit than a steering wheel control interface module will have to be added to the car when replacing your head unit. Even if you don’t use these controls much you can still benefit from the resale value of your vehicles car stereo being in 100% working condition. These control modules must be connected and pre-programmed before completing the head unit installation. The head unit will also require an input for the steering wheel control module.

Sirius X/M: If your vehicle is currently equipped with Sirius X/M, if you’ve had it added on before to your existing stereo, or if you would like to add Sirius X/M service to your new or existing head unit, you may require a Sirius X/M tuner added on to your head unit.

In some cases we can add an extension from the factory Sirius X/M system in your vehicle but most times we cannot. Some head units will retain the factory Sirius X/M function through connectivity with iDatalink Maestro modules but you might not find the service available under the source media page of the head unit. Instead you might have to navigate to a satellite menu page within the head unit to get to your Sirius X/M service which our President has found to be a nuisance of extra steps when driving while regularly changing media sources. If you purchase a Sirius X/M Ready head unit and would like to add the Sirius X/M Service, then adding a Sirius X/M tuner to your head unit would be necessary. We have in-dash tuner and dash mountable tuners that can be moved between vehicles and your home with the addition of other Sirius X/M docking stations.

So Many Choices, Where Do I Begin?

Spacing: Can you fit a DDIN or do you need to find a DIN size head unit? Do you need a custom fit head unit from the Restyle line at Alpine? Is there enough depth behind the factory stereo to accommodate a larger DDIN size head unit? Is there enough space to accommodate the connections of all the accessory wiring? Jackson Tint and Sound can help you narrow down what units are your best options and what obstacles might be found. We have decades of A/V installation and car stereo experience to help you select the right stereo.

Budget: There are many brands to choose from in the car stereo market. Brands like Pyle, Boss, and Pioneer offer highly functional stereos at low prices to attract the do-it-your-self market. We have come to know these brands for their design flaws and being less equipped then what they appear to be. Quality of construction, short life span, low resolution screens, available pre-outputs, little tuning capability if any at all and sometimes un-desired ground hum and engine noise are typical problems with cheaper units. Jackson Tint and Sound only sells from trust worthy brands that we can stand behind through years of experience in the installation market. In the car stereo industry we find that you get what you pay for and we only offer products that we truly believe in and use in our everyday cars at home. If it isn’t good enough for our own President’s vehicles then it’s not good enough for yours.

With DIN units from Alpine starting under a hundred dollars to the high end functionality and audiophile capability of Alpine’s more modest DDIN units, the cost of installation is the same. Even if you are one of the do-it-your-self type, the effort required is still the same. Spending an extra $20 to $100 for a DIN or entry level DDIN head unit could very well last longer, will usually sound better, and will generally function in a more coherent manner.

Accessory Functions and Capabilities: Why are you replacing your head unit and what kind of functionality do want to integrate into it? Most customers will find that it is time to replace their head unit because their current make and model has ran it’s life span. Others are looking for BT hands free calling and connectivity with their phone to stream music media directly from their phone storage or through apps like Pandora and Spotify. Perhaps you would like a backup camera image to show up on a larger screen from a DDIN head unit. Perhaps you would like to watch a DVD while camping. All this is possible and the right head unit depends on your specific needs and budget.

Most head units will work with Apple CarPlay and AndroidAuto offering you the ability for easy streaming of music and in some cases certain apps like Maps, Spotify, and Pandora. Most head units that work in this way require your phone to be connected directly to the stereo with a wire. However every phone can play music media from any app over BT audio when connected to the head unit with a wireless BT connection. Some head units are even offering WiFi connectivity now for faster transfer times of information.

Will your head unit be exposed to water, dust, salt? Marine Grade head units for these applications one might find in a boat, convertible or an ATV are specially designed to be water resistant and host corrosive resistant components and added protection from salt water, dust and debris.

Your head unit is the brain of your car stereo. It can simply tune your favorite radio station and get you down the road or your head unit can be a full infotainment system with HDMI inputs for the addition of external video inputs like DVD players and video game consoles. Some head units come with full tuning capabilities like time correction and 9 band parametric equalizers and can distribute multiple video outputs to other TV’s!

The head unit is the first and only device in your car stereo that reproduces your media. Essentially, no matter what speakers, amplifiers, or subwoofers you have in your car, those devices only sound as good as the signal they get from your head unit. Pairing a full set of JL Audio speakers and subwoofers for instance with a Pioneer head unit is a waste of your JL Audio speaker’s potential. With that said, your head unit will only sound as good as your media type. Compressed audio from an MP3 streaming over BT will never sound as good as a 16bit 48kHz audio file as you would find on a CD or a 32bit 96kHz high quality audiophile format you would generally find on a Blu-Ray disc. Now you can be put everything onto a USB thumb drive as a media option.

Whatever functionality you need from your head unit and whatever your level of interest is in improving the sound quality of your vehicle, Jackson Tint and Sound has head unit options you need around your budget from brands like Alpine, Kenwood, JVC, Sony and Pioneer

Jackson Tint and Sound isn’t here to just sell you a head unit for your car, Jackson Tint and Sound is here to sell you the perfect head unit for your car. We are here to provide you with the best professional installation possible. We are here to provide you with un-compromised satisfaction in your car stereo purchase. We are here to provide you with parts and labor warranty services on the products you purchase from our store. We stand behind our manufacturers warranties and we stand behind our installation so you can be confident in your purchase of your car stereo electronics and you can enjoy your car stereo installation maintenance free for years to come.