Upgrade or Keep My Factory Radio?
It used to be a no brainer in the late 90s through the early 2010s, if you wanted better in-car entertainment the first thing you did was swap your old factory radio for a clean & crisp new aftermarket unit, loaded with the latest features. In the 2020s the answer isn't so cut and dry. Let's see why this is.
Bluetooth is Not Created Equal
"All new cars have bluetooth right?" Not necessarily.
They still make cars in 2021 without bluetooth! (I know, insanity.) This will depend mainly on the make and trim level, but in those cases it's a no brainer to get an aftermarket radio in those vehicles.
A lot of cars will have bluetooth calling but still not music streaming. Even if so, there's a good chance your factory deck doesn't support the apt-X codec, that'll bring CD-like streaming quality to your ears. Bluetooth is an ever-evolving technology.
Who knows, there might be a case where your bluetooth might be buggy, disconnecting, or the factory microphone might be of less quality, or in a poorly chosen stock location.
These are all reasons why you might want to upgrade.
Unique to the aftermarket radio is the ability to update the firmware, which contain bug fixes, often pertaining to bluetooth functionality & stability. Sometimes even adding new features entirely.
Android Auto / Apple CarPlay
The game changing feature that's been added to radios in recent years is Android Auto & Apple CarPlay. This technology lets you control your phone through the radio face with a automotive tailored, user interface, that's easier to operate at a glance.
Since you're using your phone's data connection, this also solves the problem of out-of-date GPS maps. The use of Google/Apple Maps and/or Waze through the car's dash provides the most accurate, up-to-date, navigation available.
Also, until recently, you had to add a separate Satellite tuner to get Sirius XM but with the introduction of Android Auto & Apple CarPlay, you can now stream the Sirius XM app over your phone's data. You no longer need to have a subscription for every car or have to purchase a separate tuner & antenna for only one feature.
Factory radios have come a long way in recent years and may satisfy the average listener, but it still holds true that, aftermarket radios provide better sound quality. Most factory radios these days have multiple layers of processing, which adds complications when using aftermarket speakers and/or amplification.
In the case of bass roll-off, there are devices on the market that correct this problem such as the AudioControl LC2i Pro, though a quality aftermarket radio will be sonically superior for the integration of aftermarket amps & speakers. It's always better to have a clean, unaltered signal from the start.
Looks & Other Factors
Sometimes you just want something new or different. Yet, there are times when it isn't worth upgrading. Maybe you’re perfectly happy with what your factory radio has to offer.
Another consideration is the dash kits that are available for your particular vehicle. Your aftermarket kit options may be more appealing than factory, but unfortunately, there are also times when they don't compliment the vehicle well. This all depends on your specific car.
A good installer will keep notes on which dash kit looks and fits best on a certain make and model, as there is often a kit from one manufacturer, that's fit & finish is more complimentary than another.
When it comes down to it, sometimes it's just not worth upgrading. Other times it's still the obvious choice. It all comes down to what your car has, and ultimately your wants and needs. Swapping out your radio in 2021 is far from dead and can still be a worthy investment.