When it comes to playing your iPod through your car’s speakers you often run into some common problems. Typically, there is not a dock installed on your stereo that will accept your iPod or MP3 player. Fortunately, you do have a few options to solve this problem, and each has its own limitations. Solutions include FM transmitters, cassette adapters, wired FM modulators, stereos with an inline ports, or RCA ports. Some will have much better quality sound, while others will sound static and choppy. It is this author’s intention to discuss the benefits and limitations of all these possible options.
Your simplest and cheapest choice is using an FM transmitter. There are two types of FM transmitters: wired and wireless. Basically, a wired one connects to your car, while a wireless uses radio frequency to play through the car stereo. The basic function of these devices is that you run plug from your iPod and pick up a signal from your car’s radio stations. The frequency allotted is very low and will only work for stations between 88.1 FM – 107.9FM. Any other station will not pick up the sound coming through the FM transmitter.
It is possible to increase the stations available, but the FCC rules and regulations for radio will not allow it. The FCC will not allow FM transmitters to broadcast over 18.75 nanowatts, ensuring that they will not work well. Essentially, you are creating your own low-wattage radio station. Unfortunately you are competing with major radio stations that are pushing out 6,000 + watts of music. This can cause the MP3 player and radio station to mix together into a distorted mess. One of the most popular types of FM Transmitters is the Belkin TuneCast II.
It is strong, versatile, and can pick up many radio frequencies clearly. FM Transmitters, although providing clean, listenable sound, may not approach that standard hailed by music purists. As such, it may not be the ideal solution for audiophiles. FM radio stations will never sound the same as a CD or your MP3 player does. Luckily, these go for around $30 a piece making this a popular choice.
When shopping for your FM transmitter you want to look to see if it is battery operated or plugs into your car’s cigarette adapter. Both work well, but plugging it into your car’s cigarette adapter allows for your iPod charging while playing music. Cigarette lighter adapters will sometimes come with a cradle. A cradle is a nice way to hold your MP3 player and charge it simultaneously. Accessory Genie makes a Flex Pod FM transmitter that has a cradle with a flexible neck allowing for more customization.
Newer transmitters have PSL technology; positive station delivers quality sound and reduces drift as you travel from city to city. Most, if not all the newer versions have LCD screens showing what station you should tune into. Others like the Road Master Corp include a remote control for the ultimate ease and control.
Another option is to purchase an audio cassette adapter for your iPod. Basically, there is a cord that plugs into your MP3 players headphone jack and leads to a cassette. You insert the cassette into your car’s cassette player (if it has one) and off you go. The downside is not many cars have cassette players anymore. The sound quality is much better than that of a wired FM transmitter because there is no interference from the other radio stations. Sony cassette adapters are very cheap as well, costing as little as $10 from Philips or another major brand.
A wired FM modulator eliminates passing through the cluttered radio airwaves when playing your iPod’s music. They intercept the radio waves from your antenna and radio. It only requires minimal installation, replacing a wire in back of your car stereo’s antenna. Then you can run the wire into your MP3 player’s headphone jack. It is much simpler than it sounds and takes about 5 minutes to install.
The modulator is versatile, running on any FM frequency. It is better to choose a station near the beginning or end of the FM station frequency range. Crutchfield has a large selection of wired FM modulators. There is much less noise and zero interference from the radio stations using the FM modulator. They are inexpensive, typically costing around $15 for a decent model from Crutchfield or some other electronics stores.
The simplest and easiest to install would be the car stereo with an inline port included. Most of the newer model cars have this feature. It is a small jack that is on your car radio. Simply insert the wire into the iPods headphone jack and the other end of the wire goes into the stereo’s line-in jack. Set your stereo to Auxiliary and you are ready to hear some quality MP3 sound. If your car does not have the line-in port you can purchase a new stereo with this jack for $100. Buying a new radio simply for the line-in jack is wasteful and not the optimal solution for people on a budget.
New car stereos, primarily those with a CD player, have an RCA port in the back of them. You can run a wire through the MP3 player’s headphone jack straight into the RCA port. You can purchase an RCA-to-headphone jack cord for a few bucks at any electronics store. These cables come in different sizes and lengths, depending on your car’s stereo and how far it is located from you.
Ask your local electronics store what size and length is right for your car’s stereo. To install this you must remove your radio and locate the red and white inputs on the backside. Plug the wires into the RCA port and your car will play perfect sounding music though your iPod or MP3 player. All you need to do now is tune your radio to “CD” or “Auxiliary” and away you go.
Remember there are many options for your iPod or MP3 player and knowing what your budget is and what features your car stereo has can help you make an informed decision. You also must make sure that your MP3 player is compatible with your product the new iPhone 3G are not compatible with older model FM transmitters. There may be more than one optimal choice, which is why it is up to you to go to your electronics shop and make sure you are getting what you need.