The Evolution of Car Stereos
The car stereo that we find today – be it in cheap or luxury vehicles – has a history of over 80 years. Let’s see how the stereo has evolved over the years…and you’ll feel old by the time you are done reading this.
1930s – Early Car Radios
The first commercially successful car radio cost $130 each, introduced by the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation. You might know the company’s later incarnation – Motorola.
1950s – First Radio with Hi-Fi and FM
German company, Blaupunkt, went a different “wave” by introducing the first in-car FM radio, in a time when AM was the more common radio mode.
In 1953, Becker’s iconic “high-tech” Mexico radio was launched, the first premium in-car radio. It had both AM and FM, and featured a novel automatic station-search button.
Sometime in 1955, Chrysler started including a small turntable in its high-end cars, which could play 7” records that offered about 45 minutes of music. Not a smart idea, though. With every bump, the record would skip, and no surprise that the system was phased out after a few years.
1960s to 1970s – Tapes on Tapes
The first all-transistor radio was introduced in 1963, and a number of transistor manufacturers produced aftermarket car radios. Becker’s Monte Carlo was the first fully solid state version.
Onward to 1965, and we had the first in-car eight-track tape player, jointly introduced by Motorola and Ford. The compact cassette already existed, though, and the eight-track player died out by the early eighties.
1969 saw the introduction of Becker’s Europa, the first in-car stereo setup with the tuner amplifying two channels instead of one.
The roll-out of cassettes during the seventies led to one of the greatest entertainment medium in history, the mix tape. Branded aftermarket cassette tape players, from the likes of Alpine and Pioneer, also became available.
1980s to 1990s – The Rise of the CD
Philips and Sony developed prototypes for the compact disc in the mid to late 1970s, but its commercial potential was doubted, delaying the mass availability of CDs and CD players until 1982. In 1984, Pioneer’s first in-car CD player was a game changer. During the late eighties and mid-nineties, multi-disc CD changers – which could hold up to 10 discs at a time – gave drivers a comparatively larger song playlist to keep them entertained while driving.
2000s – MP3 Players
In the late nineties, digital audio players had been introduced and later, in 2001, Apple’s iPod sparked a revolution in the way we enjoyed music. Experiments began on how to link the portable digital audio player to the car system.
2000s to 2010s – Satellite Radio
Sirius Satellite Radio single-handedly invented the satellite radio industry. XM Satellite Radio launched two satellites the year after, once again changing the way we enjoy radio. Today, satellite radio offers a wide variety of programmes, from music to sports, and it is commercial free (if you pay a subscription fee, that is). Sirius has more than 26.3 million subscribers from partnerships with automakers and dealers, which include long-term agreements inked with the likes of General Motors, Ford, Toyota, BMW, Bentley and Volkswagen.
2010s – Streaming Services
Satellite radio has a new competitor in recent years. Music streaming services, like Spotify and Pandora, have rapidly gained popularity. It hasn’t been widely adopted by the automotive industry yet, but that is set to change. BMW has begun to integrate Spotify into several of its newer BMW and MINI models.
In November 2014, Spotify and Uber partnered to allow the latter’s customers stream music of their choice during rides.
Present – The Digital Revolution
Throughout history, it is evident that the aftermarket industry led audio technology breakthroughs, with brands like Pioneer, Sony and Alpine at the helm. Our in-car audio experience has only gotten crisper and clearer. A high-fidelity listening experience can be achieved now with just USB, Bluetooth or aux cord connection. Today, we have smartphone integration systems, which sync our smartphone with the car’s infotainment system. Automakers are integrating systems like Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto into new models, for a seamless entertainment experience as we go about our days.