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Which Audio Format is Supported by Car Stereo?

Which Audio Format is Supported by Car Stereo?

Have you ever searched online for aftermarket car stereos?

If yes, you’ll know that there are a lot of factors that differentiate one model from the others.

One such factor is the audio formats a car stereo supports.

This is crucial as a car stereo won’t recognize (and play) a file if it’s in an unsupported format.
In general, these days, MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, and WAV are the commonly supported audio formats in car stereos.

This post will discuss these formats, their support, and their potential pros and cons.

Which Audio Format is Supported by Car Stereo?

FormatTypeBitrateSampling RateFile Extension
MP3Lossy8 – 320 kbps16-48 kHz.mp3
WMALossy32 – 192 kbps32 kHz, 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz.wma
AACLossy8 – 320 kbps11.025 – 48 kHz.m4a, .mp4
FLACLossless16-bit, 24-bit44.1 kHz, 48 kHz.flac
WAVLossless16-bit44.1 kHz, 48 kHz.wav

The audio file formats can be divided into two forms generally: lossy and lossless.

Lossy file formats are the ones that compress audio files to reduce their size. In doing so, the compression algorithm removes some audio information from these files that reduce slightly lesser sound quality.

On the other hand, we have lossless audio formats. These formats focus more on sound quality than file size.

Here is list of latest aftermarket head unit that supports these formats:

MP3 (MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3)

The MP3 stands for MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3 and is the most commonly used audio format. The main advantage of MP3 is smaller file size which allows you to save a lot of files in small memory size. For example, you can buy a 64 GB USB drive once and store thousands of soundtracks over the years.

You can play this format via a USB drive, AUX port, or Bluetooth. The main issue with this format is the low sound quality at lower bitrates.

Can Car Stereos Play MP3 CDs?

The MP3 CDs are the CDs that contain MP3 audio files instead of the regular CD files. The main idea is to save storage space as these files are compressed (unlike CD files); you can save tens of songs in a single CD.

However, the downside is that very few car stereos can play MP3 CDs. Even those featuring a CD/DVD player won’t necessarily support this format (unless specifically mentioned).

WMA (Windows Media Audio)

The WMA was introduced by Microsoft as an alternative to the MP3 format, as it gives you slightly better sound quality at lower bitrates.

Despite this advantage, it gained little traction due to its proprietary nature.

 Can Car Stereos Play WMA Files?

Although many car stereos can play WMA files, the support is not as widespread as that of MP3 format. Therefore, check your car stereo’s owner manual to see if it supports this format.

AAC (Advanced Audio Coding)

The AAC format was developed by Apple in 1997 as the successor to the MP3 format. A more advanced compression algorithm allows AAC files to have slightly better sound quality than MP3 files of the same bitrate.

Although less popular than MP3, it’s widely used on different platforms, such as iOS devices, Youtube, Android devices, etc.

Can Car Stereos Play AAC Files?

Some modern car stereos (released after 2008) can play AAC files. If you have older models, search for this information on Google or the owner’s manual.

FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec)

The FLAC is a lossless compression audio format that aims to mimic the source audio as much as possible despite compressing the file. As a result, you get almost similar sound quality as you do in CD format, in nearly half the size.

Can Car Stereo Play Flac Files?

The FLAC support is generally found in flagship car stereos. But it’s better to confirm before making any purchase, as not all will support it.

WAV (Waveform Audio File Format)

The last commonly used audio format is the WAV. Developed by IBM and Microsoft, it’s an uncompressed format. It means it doesn’t compress files and retains all the audio information.

However, the downside is that the huge file size makes it less ideal for regular users.

  Can Car Stereos Play WAV Files?

Yes, many modern car stereos can play WAV files. But they can only do so via CDs, not USB drives.


So these are some of the commonly supported audio formats in car stereos.

Many car stereos support multiple formats. In such cases, the format you’ll go with will depend on your existing music library, file space, and personal preferences.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Format Does A USB Need To Be For A Car Stereo?

Most car stereos require the USB to be formatted in the FAT/FAT32 system. Otherwise, it will not recognize the USB drive.

Can MP3 Be Played On A Car Stereo?

Yes, MP3 can be played on most car stereos as it’s the most widely supported audio file format.

 Can Car Stereo Play Mp4?

Generally, the mp4 format is only compatible with touchscreen-based car stereos. So, if you have a button-based car stereo and only want to hear the audio part, you can convert the mp4 files into mp3/AAC files to make them compatible.

Can Car Stereos Read DVD-R?

Only car stereos that have a built-in DVD player can read DVD-R discs. These stereos are rare as DVD/CD players are getting out of fashion.

Which Sounds Better, AAC Or MP3?

AAC files are generally considered slightly better quality than MP3 files of the same bitrate. That’s primarily due to a better compression process.

How Can I Play Music Through My Old Car Stereo?

If you have an older car stereo, there is a high chance it won’t support sources like Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, or SiriusXM. In such a case, you’re feasible options are an FM radio, cassette adapter, and AUX port.

Why Won’t My USB Play Music In My Car?

There can be various reasons why your car radio is not playing music from the USB drive, such as an incompatible file system, incompatible audio format, too nested folder structure, or faulty USB drive/port.

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Miles Walker is the founder and lead reviewer at CarAudioWise. com. With over 20 years of experience in the car audio industry, he is an acknowledged expert on all aspects of car audio technology and installation.

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