Do you want the factory or aftermarket? Factory systems have generally improved in quality and now offer many different audio system choices. Some offer branding systems from Bose, Harman-Kardon, Infinity and other aftermarket companies tailor-made for the vehicles interior.
Factory systems also provide an integrated look with lighting and controls that match the rest of the dashboard. Buttons and knobs are often bigger and easier to use, and many systems have controls on the steering wheel. And they can be covered by your new car warranty, which can make service easier if problems arise.
But expect to pay a high price for an advanced factory system. And many do not let you easily upgrade with new features or technologies, or to replace the radio with a more current one.
Almost always you get more features for your book with an aftermarket system, and you may be able to equip your car with premium features that were not available for the model you purchased.
Aftermarket purchases require more effort to trade for the right system. You can take the time to find the individual components yourself and then take them to an installer or talk with an installer for a complete system.
Before you buy, check your car warranty to make sure that nothing you plan to do will invalidate it.
For most, the automaker radio that comes with your car will probably be good. If you are looking for the best sound quality or more features, compare what you get with an automakers optional premium system and what you can get with an aftermarket system. If they are the same and the factory system is not much more expensive, it is probably the best way, as it will save you installation problems, will probably be better suited for your vehicle and will cost less in relation to the total price of the car.
But you may find that you will get a better system for the same or less money by going aftermarket.
Do you want satellite or HD radio? If you want good sound quality but do not want monthly fees, you might want to try HD radio. The digital signal makes AM sound closer to FM and FM sounds more like a CD. You can also explore the various subchannels broadcast by broadcasters. But you might want to wait before investing in HD-radio equipment, especially when more and cheaper switches come and more stations add HD radio capacity.
However, if you want a much better selection of music, news, sports and other music than you can get through local stations, satellite radio is the way to go. It is appealing if you travel a lot from your region and do not want to be limited to the local radio. Sirius and XM provide musical choices similar to each other, but if you like sports or celebrity DJs, check their channel selection when registering.
If you want to choose your music along the way but do not want to transport many CDs, look for a system with a USB port, hard drive or iPod / MP3 player. With a hard drive, you do not have to worry about wobbling around and plugging in another device, and it can store and let you sort quickly through lots of data, regardless of audio or image files. But the media stops with the car. You can not take it with you unless you download it to another device. Additionally, if you already have an MP3 player or iPod, you can spend a lot of time adding a hard disk drive and creating new playlists.
A device that allows you to connect an iPod or MP3 player would be a good choice if you already carry your player with you most often and do not feel the need to resume your music collection. If you buy a device or aftermarket adapter with a docking station, you can charge the device while driving. And some aftermarket systems allow you to handle the device with radio / and / or wheel-mounted controls.
You can also make an existing system accept an iPod, but it would not have a good look.