Facilities on car stereo systems for playing digital music varies considerably from one make to the next. If you've got a new in-dash system, then you may find that there are multiple ways you can play and enjoy your MP3 music library. These options may include: USB ports, memory card slots, or even Bluetooth connectivity.
But what if you've got an older system?
You may find that you're limited to just a CD player, a cassette tape deck, or FM radio. However, there are still options available so you can play digital music. For ideas on the types of low-cost products you can use, take a look at the options below.
FM transmitters broadcast radio frequencies that you can tune your car stereo into. This makes it possible to listen to digital music on your car's speakers from portable devices that you wouldn't normally be able to use.
Portable devices that have a standard 3.5mm headphone jack such as an iPod, MP3 player, PMP, are plugged into the FM transmitter which then takes the analog output of your device and broadcasts it on an FM frequency -- this can be adjusted in order to find a clear frequency that radio stations aren't broadcasting on.
The advantage of using this car accessory is that all you need is a radio capable of picking up FM. If you've got an old car stereo that only has a radio, then this method might be your only choice.
If your car stereo has a USB port, then one of the best options for playing MP3s is to use a portable USB flash drive. Unlike mechanical USB hard drives that can be damaged due to vibration and physical shock, flash drives are solid-state and therefore very robust. Even though the storage space on a USB flash drive is a lot less compared to a hard drive, a 2Gb unit for example can hold approximately 1000 songs (based on a song being 3 minutes long with a bitrate of 128 kbps).
Using a USB flash drive to carry around your favorite songs also makes it easy to enjoy your music, not just on your car stereo, but on other USB-capable consumer electronics such as: home Hi-Fi systems, TVs, HD streaming media players, game consoles (PS3), etc.
Flash memory cards such as SD and MicroSD use the same technology as USB flash drives (NAND memory) and are therefore very compact and robust. If your car stereo system has a card reader, then using a flash memory card is a smart way of instantly plugging in your MP3 library without having to carry around your portable player, FM transmitter, or collection of MP3 CDs for instance.
If you already have a flash card, but your car stereo's reader is incompatible with it, then there's also the option to purchase an adapter. These make it possible to use a different sized card -- an SD adapter for example can be used to convert a MicroSD card into an SD card.
If your car only has a cassette deck built into its stereo system, then apart from using an FM transmitter (assuming you've got an FM radio of course), this option could be your only choice for playing your collection of digital music files. A cassette tape adapter works by converting analog sound via the 3.5mm (1/8") headphone jack on your iPod, MP3 player, portable CD player, etc., into a magnetic signal that the cassette player's heads in your stereo can read.
Even though the cassette tape adapter is quite dated compared to an FM transmitter, you are less likely to get interference during the playback of your MP3 files. This is because a cable is used and is more shielded from interference than an FM signal is.
5. MP3 CD
This solution isn't a car accessory as such, but if you don't have the facilities for reading usb devices, memory cards, etc., it could be the ideal option. If your car CD stereo system supports MP3 CDs, then you can burn your own multi-album compilations. On average, you can store around 8-10 albums on one MP3 CD which is a smart way of carrying around your favorite songs. Most software media players such as:
- Windows Media Player
For more information on some of the best CD authoring software to use, read our Top CD/DVD Burning Software Programs guide.