Audio upgrades – are they really worth it?

There used to be two choices for car radios – a cassette or CD player. Often they’d come equipped with a security pin code to stop someone from stealing your stereo. Those tech-savvy drivers among you may have even had a stereo unit that had an integrated speaker inside it, which would only be able to pick up the entertaining talkback radio stations on AM signals.

Today there are plenty of options and your car stereo is so much more than just a radio. Stereos often have many systems integrated within them, such as GPS navigation, reversing cameras, fuel economy readings and controls for the air conditioning.

To reduce costs, many manufacturers integrate systems into their stereos as standard now, but they do also offer plenty of upgrades to help meet the needs of every motorist.

Buying a brand new car

For those who have a flexible budget and want to focus on the quality of sound produced, there are designer speaker system upgrades. Some premium vehicle manufacturers work with brands such as Bose, Bang & Olufsen, Harman Kardon and Logic 7 to give customers the opportunity to transform their vehicle’s audio system. These can cost an additional $10,000-$15,000 but, for those who are buying a new premium car, a top of the range audio system to go with it may be a no brainer.

Where sound quality isn’t a priority, there are also upgrades such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, GPS navigation and reversing cameras. Of course, adding these features to your stereo system comes at an extra cost but, if you consider them as a necessity today, they are worth spending the money on. It’s also a good idea to think about what may be useful in the future as potential upgrades later down the line may end up costing you more than if you bought them as part of an initial upgrade package. What’s more, they could also become unavailable and incompatible when newer vehicle models being released.

Buying a used import

Be aware of further complications if you’re looking to buy a used import with a top of the range audio system. Once it’s in New Zealand, it may not pick up all our radio stations and it may well provide its information in a different language, making it even more difficult to operate.

Swapping these radios out for an aftermarket isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds or possible and, even if they can be changed, it’s generally a complicated and costly process. That said, if you’re unable to swap radios and your vehicle is a Japanese import, you can at least get a band expander fitted to pick up more radio frequencies.

The other thing to consider is that other useful functions on an import such as GPS may not be compatible in New Zealand either, so avoid spending money on extra features as there is a good chance that they won’t work.

When buying a brand new car, making choices relating to your audio system needs to be carefully thought through. What was once a relatively easy decision to make is now more complicated, so don’t rush as these systems truly are multi-functional devices that can add a lot to your driving experience.

Of course, your budget is likely to determine your decision, but also be mindful that upgrades are sometimes only available when you buy the car. If you change your mind years later, those upgrades may no longer be on offer and even if they still are, you’ll probably end up paying a lot more. Gone are the days where you used to be able to go down to your local automotive accessory shop to pick up a new aftermarket stereo to replace the original. So, think as much about what will be useful in the future, as what you feel will be useful right now.

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