Imagine getting into car with no music or radio to listen to. It would be a rather dull experience. Thanks to some innovative thinking, there are a lot of motor and sound engineers who made the car audio possible and to become as advanced as what it is today.
1930’s – The First Commercial Head Units:
Audio enthusiasts had already been finding creative ways to integrate radios into their cars for over a decade, but the first true car radios weren’t introduced until the 1930’s.
1950’s – AM continues to dominate:
Blaupunkt was the first to sell the first AM/FM head unit in 1952, but it took a few decades for FM to really catch on. The first on-demand music system also appeared in the 1950’s. At that point, it was still almost a decade away from eight tracks, and records were the dominant force in home audio.
1960’s – The Car Stereo is born:
The 1960’s saw the introduction of both eight-track tapes and car stereos. Up until that point, all car radios had used a single (mono) audio channel. Some had speakers in both the front and back that could be adjusted separately, but they still only had one channel available.
1970’s – Compact cassettes introduction:
The eight-track’s days were numbered from the start, and the format was rapidly pushed out of the marketplace by the compact cassette. The first cassette head units showed up in the 1970’s.
1980’s – The Compact Disc (CD) fails to dislodge the Compact Cassette:
The first CD head units showed up less than 10 years after the first tape decks, but the adoption of the technology was much slower. CD players wouldn’t become abundant in head units until the late 1990’s, and the technology coexisted with the compact cassette for more than two decades.
1990’s – CD Players become dominant:
CD players became increasingly popular in head units during the 1990’s, and there were a few notable additions toward the tail end of the decade. Head units that were capable of reading CD-RWs and playing MP3 files eventually became available, and DVD functionality also appeared in some high-end vehicles and aftermarket head units.
2000’s – Bluetooth and Infotainment Systems:
During the first decade of the 21st century, head units gained the ability to interface with phones and other devices via Bluetooth. This technology was developed in 1994, but it was originally intended as a replacement for wired networks.
In automotive applications, the technology allowed for hands-free calling and created a situation where a head unit could automatically mute itself during a phone conversation.
2010’s – The death of the cassette and what the future holds:
2011 marked the first year that manufacturers stopped offering cassette decks in new cars.
The CD player was the next format on the chopping block. Most head units are now capable of playing music from mobile devices and even from cloud, and others can connect to internet services like Spotify. With mobiles devices that can connect to head units via USB or Bluetooth, the phone is beginning to stand in for old physical media.