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Dive into The History of Car Audio

How Car Audio Has Evolved Over the Years



When you think of history, you think of the defining moments in American politics, advancements in technology, and, of course, the music. More specifically, we think of all the various ways music was played throughout the decades. As soon as the automobile was invented, it didn’t take long before people began diligently working on how to give it the ability to crank out our favorite tunes. Every road trip needs a soundtrack, right?

To give our readers a little blast from the past, we’re doing a deep dive into the history of car audio, starting way back in the 1930s when it all began.

1930s – The Very First Car Audio System

Back in the year 1930, two brothers by the names of Joseph and Paul Galvin developed the very first iteration of the car radio. Their system utilized vacuum tubes that were battery-powered. Depending on your location and reception, you could listen to musical hits of the day.

The Galvin brothers named their invention the Motorola, a combination of the words “automotive” and “Victrola.” For reference, a Victrola was a device that was used to play records in the 1930s.

The AM radio would remain the standard in-car audio for the next two decades. As you probably gathered by the name, Motorola would go on to do big things in the telecommunications industry.

1950s – Two New Radios Enter the Market

After a period of relative dominance by Motorola, they finally got some competition in 1952 with the introduction of the very first FM radio. This would be immediately followed up a year later by another formidable opponent: Becker’s Mexico radio, which had both AM and FM capability along with an automatic station search button. This became the relative king of the hill in-car audio.

1956 – The Year Chrysler Put a Record Player in a Car

There are bad ideas and there are really bad ideas. Chrysler’s attempt to put a record player in a car falls into the latter category. Their Highway Hi-Fi was an in-car phonograph that allowed drivers to play 7” records in the car. There’s only one little problem…if you hit even the slightest bump while driving, the record would skip. As you can imagine, the Highway Hi-Fi was only reliable if the car was parked. This didn’t bode well for drivers.

1960s – 4-Track and 8-Track Players

In the wake of the Highway Hi-Fi, engineers kept trying to figure out how to resolve the skipping issue that they couldn’t seem to get around with records. The solution? Replace records with technology that doesn’t skip. The 4-track cartridge was originally introduced by Earl Muntz, which was an immediate hit because it resolved the skipping issue and allowed more control over the listening experience. The 4-track then evolved into the 8-track, which doubled the amount of music the cartridge held in the same amount of space. This technology held firmly in place for roughly the next two decades.

1970s and 80s – Cassette Tapes

Although the cassette tape was invented in the 1960s, it wouldn’t be until the late 70s that we’d begin to see cassette players become widely adopted by automakers. Not only were cassettes more compact in size than 8-track cassettes, they held far more music on them. It was only a matter of time before the 8-track player was eventually phased out for this more efficient and cost-effective technology. Additionally, blank cassette tapes allowed for people to do what had never been done before, which was to create their own playlist. Hence, the birth of what’s now known as the mixtape.

1980s and 90s – The Rise of Compact Discs

The compact disc (CD, for short) really upped the audio game in a big way. First of all, it finally gave listeners the ability to skip tracks while also bringing crystal clear quality to the listening experience. CDs were quite simply better and easier to use. They also had the added benefit of holding up over time, unlike tapes which would eventually warp or wear out.

The first-ever car CD player was the CDX-1 developed by Pioneer. It was an instant hit with listeners, but it would be some time before CD players became widely adopted by auto manufacturers. By the 1990s, there was a mix of automobiles on the road that either had OEM CD players installed in the dash or cassette players that utilized adaptors that could hook up to CD players.

The 2000s – Digital Takes Over

In the 2000s we went from CDs to MP3 players, which could hold thousands of tracks as the technology quickly developed. People could carry around an entire catalog of music conveniently in their pockets. Car adapters quickly entered the fold, allowing drivers to hook up their iPods and other MP3 players to their car stereo system.

Technology got even better with the introduction of the Bluetooth car stereo, satellite radio, and streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify. Listeners now have the ability to listen to virtually anything in their automobiles. How can it possibly improve from here? Only time will tell.

Upgrade Your Car Audio at San Diego Car Stereo

If you’ve been searching terms like “car stereo installation near me” looking for the very best in aftermarket car speakers and stereos, then look no further than San Diego Car Stereo. We can handle car audio installation on virtually any year, make, and model of vehicle. Bring your ride by the shop and our team will show you the very best stereos and speaker packages that we have to offer.

Visit our storefront at 4220 Convoy St. or give us a call at (858) 879-8034 to schedule an appointment. The professionals at San Diego Car Stereo look forward to helping you find your new aftermarket sound system.



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