3 Jeep Wrangler Aftermarket Stereo System to Make Your Jeep Rock!
I see so many questions about how to get better sound from your Jeep Wrangler. Stereo systems in Jeep Wranglers have been a concern for Jeep owners for a very long time.
Many people will try to convince you it is pointless to try to put an amazing stereo system in your Jeep because of the acoustics and poor sound dynamics.
The reality is you can get a fantastic sounding audio system in your Jeep. You just have to know what to use, where to put it, and understand any trade-offs between price, quality, and function.
Decision Number One – How do you use your Jeep?
To get started, you need to think through how you are going to use your Jeep.
- Is this an off-road toy only?
- Will it be kept in a garage when it rains?
- Will the interior likely get wet because you never put the top on?
- Do you have a hard top for or soft top? If you have a soft top, are you worried about someone slashing the top to steal your Jeep stereo system?
Once you think through how you will use your Jeep, you can start to dig into the details You need to answer these questions to decide what type of “head unit” you want to install.
Decision Number Two – What head unit design do you need for your Jeep sound system?
I guess we should first answer, what is a head unit?
A head unit is simply audio geek speak for the stereo receiver (another audio geek term). Put simply, it is you “radio”. The part where you pick your music station, change the volume and it is the brain of your entire stereo system.
There are many different types of head units you can select. They also come in a wide array of price ranges.
There are two primary designs for your Jeep. I am speaking in generic terms because each model of Jeep has different specs of what can and cannot fit. We wil get into that later in this article.
Single-Din Car Stereo Units
When you look at your stereo, a single-din head unit is not as tall. It is the classic unit that has been around for decades. DIN is referring to the size of the car stereo head unit. A 1 DIN or “single-DIN” is almost half the size of the 2 DIN or “double-DIN”.
If you are old enough to remember the old cassette player units or CD player units with a removable face and tiny controls… those were the single DIN stereo head units.
Here’s a photo of a single-din stereo for you to see:
Everything clear as mud now? Don’t worry, you will know everything you need to know to pick out the best Jeep stereo system for your vehicle once you finish reading this article.
Double-Din Car Stereo Units
Most modern Jeeps including the Jeep Wrangler JK and Jeep Wrangler JL models mostly have double-DIN style units. Remember, a 2 DIN unit is nearly twice as large as the 1 DIN units. They are also more likely to be touchscreen units, but we will get into that soon.
Here’s a photo of a double-din stereo for you to see:
If you have 1987-1995 Jeep Wrangler YJ, you are mostly going to be restricted to a single DIN head unit.
If you have a 1996 – 2006 Jeep Wrangler TJ or Jeep Wrangler Unlimited LJ, you can use either a single DIN or double Din unit. If you select a double DIN unit, you will have to make certain modifications to your Jeep including buying a new Jeep center dash section. [Amazon Link]
Before you jump to a quick decision between a single DIN or double DIN unit, let’s discuss features available in both of these units. Some functions are better suited to one design versus the other.
Key Features to Consider When Buying an aftermarket car stereo
Today, aftermarket head units come with an enormous amount of bells and whistles. Some of these features are specific to a certain brand and are not universal across manufacturers.
The differences in technology can be overwhelming even for someone with a lot of car stereo experience. Not to mention the advancement of cell phones and their integration with our vehicles.
Over the last few weeks, I have been trying to decide which head unit I want to use for my 2006 Jeep Wrangler LJ. The research phase has been a really exhausting experience and I thought I already knew a lot about stereo systems.
So what are the most important factors to consider when buying your head unit?
POWERLots and lots of power. As a Jeep owner, this one is especially important. If you want to hear your system with the top down you are going to need plenty of power from your head unit.
We are not talking about teeth-rattling power here. That requires a dedicated amplifier to achieve (more on this later). We are talking about nice crisp audio that you can actually hear when driving with the top down.
To achieve good audio levels in your Jeep you want to get a head unit with a solid internal amplifier because it will let you crank the volume and continue to produce clear crisp audio.
Okay, so here is the “catch”. It’s the audio geek part coming out now.
You see, unless the head unit you are evaluating has a power rating that is CEA-2006 compliant, there is no way to be sure the power specification the manufacturer provides is measures at a level industry standard. There are a lot of brand-name car stereo manufacturers who do not rate their amplifiers based on the CEA-2006 specs. It’s a shame and it makes your job harder to select the right unit.
For me, I want to be able to tell what song is playing when I am driving 65 mph plus with the top down.
For those who say it can’t be done, just keep reading. You will have a great sounding Jeep stereo system if you follow my advice. Whether you buy a head unit at Walmart, Best Buy or somewhere else, you will enjoy your new stereo system.
DEDICATED SUBWOOFER OUTPUTYou want to buy a stereo head unit that comes with a dedicated subwoofer output with low-pass filter and level control built into the stereo unit. You do not have to be a fan of thunderous bass to need this, but for a quality sound system that you will be proud of, you need to get a head unit with a dedicated subwoofer output. It is a must-have. Trust me on this one. Don’t skip this step.
The subwoofer level control is what lets you adjust the volume of the bass up and down based on your listening preferences. If you want to feel the thumping base of hip-hop or enjoy the drum solo of your favorite rock band, being able to control the bass levels will make for a much better experience when you have subwoofer level controls. It is also a safety feature.
Growing up, I had a very high-end stereo system in my 1993 Jeep Wrangler YJ. The bass in my Jeep could rattle teeth out of your head if you wanted it to.
I installed a discrete knob on the dash so I could quickly adjust the base. If I was pulling into a parking lot, I would be sure to turn the bass way down so nobody knew I had an expensive stereo.
Then, when I was on the highway doing sixty miles per hour, I could crank it up so I could hear and feel the bass as I drove along the road.
The low-pass filter allows you even more control. This feature allows you to adjust the frequencies you send to your subwoofer. You can fine-tune the bass from your driver’s seat if you have this built into your stereo. If not, you will have to adjust levels with a screwdriver.
EQUALIZER (EQ) CONTROLSThe more control you have over the sound of your stereo the better. This will allow you to dial in a sound that is pleasing to your ear and not just what the unit has programmed in from the factory. At a minimum, I would find a stereo with an EQ that has a minimum of three bands for adjustment.
If you want to step your game up, you can select a unit with a parametric equalizer built into the unit. This will give you much more flexibility to fine tune the range of frequency outputs.
For some people, this may be overkill, but again, I want to help you get the best stereo for a Jeep Wrangler and these are the features that help you achieve this goal.
DISPLAY TYPEThis is one of the most complained about features on all of the car audio forums. We all see the display in a showroom when we make the purchase of a unit. Indoors under ideal lighting, the unit looks great.
Then you get it installed in your Jeep, you take the top down and guess what… You cannot see the radio controls. It is one of the biggest pains when you cannot see the stereo to control the music.
This is where a unit that has a display like this one from Alpine works well. The Alpine white-on-black display technology is easy to see in most conditions. [Amazon Link]
LOOK AND FEELThis part probably goes without saying, and for most buyers of car stereos, it is probably the number one feature used to buy their unit.
- Do you like the way it looks?
- How are the knobs and buttons?
- Do they feel good or are they cheap and flimsy?
- Do the ergonomics work for your driving habits?
Some people prefer a lot of buttons, others do not want the clutter of buttons and prefer a touchscreen and larger display.
If your Jeep gets wet, you may want to consider a marine head unit.
If you buy a touchscreen unit, what happens if your fingers are wet?
On my boat, I know it can be hard to control a touchscreen device when your hands are wet.
BUILT-IN FUNCTIONALITYIn today’s connected world, you may or may not find some of these functionalities critical to enjoying your music in your Jeep. In my family, we use the streaming service Spotify. I also use the app Waze for my navigation.
As a result, Bluetooth connectivity is a must-have for me. You can also take it a step further with the development of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto features.
Apple CarPlayAllows your stereo connect with your phone, and puts key functionality of your phone right on your car stereo’s built-in display. On certain units, you can send and receive messages, listen to music and more. It’s fancy, but for some, it might be a must-have feature. For other, Bluetooth will be enough especially if you are considering a single DIN unit.
Android Autois similar to Apple Car play. It gives you the ability to talk to the Google Assistant so you can keep your eyes on the road and it brings your phones functionality to your head unit.
I currently do not have CarPlay or Android Auto, so I do not know how either one would work using voice controls when you have the top off of a Jeep. I suspect it will work but it may be a little challenging at highway speeds.
The other features you should consider is exposure to the elements. Do you need a weather-resistant radio? If so, you should look for the functionality you require within the search parameters of a marine stereo head unit.
Don’t worry, just because it says marine. It will work just right in your Jeep. You also have plenty of styles to choose from so you don’t have to just buy a white-faced head unit like you might have had to do in years past.
I think this gives you a good foundation in picking out a head unit for your Jeep Wrangler by yourself.
You may want help narrowing down units that should work well for your Jeep.
As a result, I have put together a short list of units for you to review and I will put a few links so you can price shop the units across multiple stores.
Budget-Friendly Stereo Units with Good Features:
OPTION 1 (single DIN) – KENWOOD BT322U or Kenwood KMM-BT325U [Newest Version]
This is the best unit for the lowest amount of money. It gets great reviews and many fellow Jeep owners swear by this head unit. This single DIN unit is a great buy for the price. This unit has less voltage on it pre-outputs and lacks the CD player and HD tuner which offer better AM/FM sound quality. But it is a great unit for the price – [Amazon Link]
Next Level Up Stereo Units with Good Features:
OPTION 2A (single DIN) – KENWOOD KDC-X702In the single DIN category, this is an excellent performer. It has higher power ratings than the budget unit and it includes a CD player and HD tuner for better over the air sound quality. It’s more expensive, but you get more benefits for the cost. [Amazon Link]
OPTION 2B (double DIN) – KENWOOD DDX395In the double DIN category, this is an excellent performer. It does require modification of your dash, which isn’t that hard to do, but it gives you that modern look and great sound quality too.
This unit has a 6.2” touchscreen display with built-in Bluetooth which lets you take hands-free calls and stream music from your phone wirelessly. You can also tune into your favorite internet radio playlists on Pandora, Spotify and iHeartRadio. It has impressive Kenwood specific sound-sculpting tools. This 13-band equalizer lets you adjust the frequencies of the music to your exact liking. [Amazon Link]
So the big question is what did I put in my shopping cart? The answer, I went with the Kenwood KMM-BT325U. [Amazon Link] — It offered enough features and met the criteria I was looking for to provide ample power and music options while driving at 65 miles per hour. It also allows the pairing of two phones via Bluetooth at once. This way my wife can play DJ while I drive. Safety first, right!
I also put a few other goodies in my cart. More about that is another blog post.