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Why are car stereos so flimsy?

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I've been thinking about getting a new car stereo, but in looking around I'm kind of dismayed to find how cheaply made they all seem. The knobs and buttons seem to be made out of the same plastic they use for the toys that come out of gumball machines. None of them looks like they were built to stand up to years of use the way my factory radio / CD player is.

Also, it just seems like there's a lot of needless complexity. I realize they do a lot more than just station presets and equalizer settings these days, but holy cow, the faceplates are chockablock with info overload. I'd have thought with the advances in usability brought about by web apps and smartphones, car stereos would be not only more capable but also more intuitive than ever. But it seems like they been racing in the opposite direction.

Any recommendations? I'm not a big-time audiophile, I just want a new unit that can play the songs stored on my smartphone!

I have no recommendations, so feel free to skip reading. :)

But you mention how flimsy things are. I've noticed that across a broad spectrum of products. What I've seen, personally, is that you can expect the product to fail very shortly after the warranty expires. That to me says that these people are spectacular engineers! It can't be easy to design a valve (or whatever) to fail after X years of use. But I've found in multiple products that it's like clockwork.

On a meta level, you likely won't get the best advice here at DC on car stereos specifically, as the perspective that you're likely to get is more software-centric. An actual car audio forum will likely have better answers to some questions. Still... there are more focused questions where you'll get better answers here.

I do audio software, but I also have some non-traditional views on some of the "accepted dogma" in some sectors. Those are largely irrelevant considerations for most consumers though. But I say that to point out that you will find differing opinions in technical areas. Also, when you see opinions on topics, consider who it is coming from, and whether you agree with their conclusions on some issues.

As for my own car stereo... I only listen to the government run station, and mostly for the parliamentary debates. :) So, my car audio needs are pretty low on the totem pole. :)

Good luck with finding something that fits for you! 8)


I think there's like 3 separate mini culture-effects going on here.

1. Flimsy knobs - Renegade's funny semi-paranoia version aside, I'll say it's because the Upper Mgt comes from the older "rule by committee" culture where someone decides to shave off "$3 per unit" so "let's take it out of the knobs!"

2. Different design specs. "A car stereo with one button?! (Apple) Who wants that?!" -- Imagined consumer reaction, per the minds of the engineering management committee.

3. "But ... it's in a car!" Carmaker says "But it's not ours. Dealer just stuck it in there." Instead of looking at either Apple or Google's Android phones, try instead like pharmacy brand imitation ipods.

I haven't noticed a "flimsy" problem in car stereos. That especially true because moving parts are almost extinct. The motors, servos, etc., that were necessary in the classic autoreverse cassette deck, or CD players/changers, are much less useful today. My current car I've had for a year, and I have yet to put a CD into it, even though that's supported. All my music comes from Bluetooth, or a flashdrive, or radio. So the only moving parts are the buttons and knobs.

But what I have seen is that while the demands on the stereo's user interface and overall usability of interaction has increased, the makers haven't kept pace. The UI on my car stereo is just awful, I swear it must have been developed by a summer intern.

I've learned a few weeks ago that DC isn't the right forum to ask for car stereo advice. I'm looking for a new one too, but I have a few specific features I'm looking for. The only response I got back was for some Portable wireless speakers... :o :huh:


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