Steering wheel audio control adapters not as well known and understood as the flashier car audio components, but they are becoming more important as more and more vehicles come from the factory with some type of steering wheel audio control with each new model year.
What is Steering Wheel Audio Control?
The steering wheel audio control is designed to be less dangerous to interact with the car radio while driving. The main idea is that you can use these controls without taking your hands off the wheel or taking your eyes off the road.
The specific controls differ from one vehicle to another, but they often allow you to adjust the volume, switch from the radio to auxiliary inputs, change channels, skip songs, and more.
If your factory car stereo has the ability to connections by Bluetooth steering wheel audio controls usually also contain a button or buttons that can be used to perform calls hang up, and perform other functions using your phone. If the vehicle has some type of voice control, there will usually also be a button for that.
Since these controls are extremely useful and they can increase your safety on the road by making it easier to control your radio without taking your eyes off the road, the idea of losing access to the steering wheel audio controls keeps many people from upgrading their car stereos.
Stereo upgrade without losing steering wheel audio control
The proliferation of steering wheel audio controls has created a situation where what was once a rare luxury is quickly becoming a real headache for anyone who owns a late model car and desire to upgrade the head unit .
The simple solution is to simply give up steering wheel control entirely in favor of a simple creating a premium sound system but it shouldn’t be.
Fortunately there are ways upgrade any factory head unit without losing core functionality and steering wheel audio controls are no exception. In this case, the key to tying the factory steering wheel controls to the new head unit is a component known as the steering wheel audio control adapter.
These adapters function by essentially sitting between your steering wheel controls and new head unit and interpreting the commands one sends to the other.
Steering wheel audio head unit adapter compatibility
Head units aren’t always compatible with steering wheel controls, but the big manufacturers offer pretty good coverage.
Most upscale navigational head units include this functionality, and most of the other secondary units are there as well. You can’t just take it for granted that any given head unit will work with steering wheel controls, but they are. It is important to do your research and check compatibility before purchasing.
To check if the head unit is compatible with the steering wheel audio controls, check the feature list on the box. Head units that are compatible with steering wheel controls will usually say something like wired remote control input or SWI, which means input on the steering wheel.
Some head unit feature lists also list SWI-JS, SWI-JACK, or SWI-X. These are special types of steering wheel audio controls that use both original equipment and car radios.
- SWI-JS: steering wheel stands for Jensen and Sony. Found in Jensen and Sony head units and other head units using this standard.
- SWI JACK: indicates the steering wheel input of JVC, Alpine, Clarion and Kenwood. Used by these four major manufacturers as well as some smaller ones.
- SWI-X: This is a universal standard found in some aftermarket head units.
Steering wheel audio control adapter selection
While there are many aftermarket head units that are wired to accept remote inputs, they don’t know how to interpret commands from all the different original equipment steering wheel audio control settings. In order for the head unit to understand these control inputs, you need an adapter to act as an intermediary.