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MP3 Players and Cars – How to Stream Music Through Your Car’s Stereo Into Your iPod FM Transmitters
When it comes to playing your iPod through your car’s speakers, you run into some common problems. Typically, your stereo does not have a dock installed that will accept your iPod or MP3 player. Fortunately, you have a few options to solve this problem, and each has its own limitations. Solutions include FM transmitters, cassette adapters, wired FM modulators, stereo or RCA ports with inline ports. Some will have a very good sound, while others will sound static and rough. The author intends to discuss the advantages and limitations of all these possible alternatives.
Your easiest and cheapest choice is to use an FM transmitter. There are two types of FM transmitters: wired and wireless. Basically, wired connects to your car, while wireless uses radio frequencies to play through the car stereo. The basic function of these devices is that you run the plug from your iPod and pick up the signal from your car radio station. The frequency allocated 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 available stations, but FCC rules and regulations for radios will not allow it. The FCC will not allow FM transmitters to transmit more than 18.75 nanowatts, ensuring that they will not perform well. Essentially, you’re 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 MP3 players and radio stations to mix together in a distorted mess. One of the most popular types of FM transmitters is the Belkin Tunecast II.
It is robust, versatile and can clearly pick up many radio frequencies. FM transmitters, although providing clean, listenable sound, cannot reach the standards considered by music purists. As such, it may not be an ideal solution for audiophiles. FM radio stations will never sound like a CD or MP3 player. Fortunately, it’s around $30 a piece, making it a popular choice.
When shopping for your FM transmitter you’ll want to see if it’s battery operated or plugs into your car’s cigarette adapter. Both work well, but plugging it into your car’s cigarette adapter allows your iPod to charge while playing music. Cigarette lighter adapters sometimes come with cradles. The cradle is a great way to hold your MP3 player and charge it at the same time. Accessory Genie makes a Flex Pod FM transmitter with a flexible neck cradle that allows for more customization.
The new transmitter features PSL technology; Positive Station delivers quality sound and minimizes the flow as you travel from city to city. Most, if not all newer versions have an LCD screen showing which station you should tune into. Others, like the Road Master Corp., include a remote control for ultimate ease of use and control.
Another option is to purchase an audio cassette adapter for your iPod. Basically, there is a cord that plugs into the headphone jack of your MP3 players and leads to the cassette. You insert a cassette into your car’s cassette player (if it has one) and off you go. The downside is that many cars don’t have cassette players anymore. The sound quality is much better compared to a wired FM transmitter because there is no interference from other radio stations. Sony cassette adapters are very inexpensive, costing as little as $10 from Philips or other major brands.
A wired FM modulator eliminates your iPod’s music going through the cluttered radio airwaves. They block radio waves from your antenna and radio. It only requires minimal installation, simply replacing the wire on the back of your car stereo’s antenna. You can then run the wire into the headphone jack of your MP3 player. It’s much easier than it sounds and takes about 5 minutes to install.
The modulator is versatile, operating on any FM frequency. It is best to select a station near the beginning or end of the FM station frequency range. Crutchfield has a large selection of wired FM modulators. There is very little noise and zero interference from radio stations using an FM modulator. They are cheap, usually around $15 for a decent model from Crutchfield or some other electronics stores.
The simplest and easiest to install will be a car stereo that includes an inline port. Most newer model cars have this feature. This is a small jack that is on your car radio. Just plug 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’re ready to listen to some quality MP3 sound. If your car doesn’t have a line-in port you can buy a new stereo with this jack for $100. Buying a new radio just for the line-in jack is pointless and not the optimal solution for those on a budget.
Newer car stereos, mainly those with CD players, have an RCA port on the back. You can run a wire through the MP3 player’s headphone jack directly into the RCA port. You can buy an RCA-to-headphone jack cord at any electronics store for a few bucks. These cables come in different sizes and lengths depending on your car stereo and how far it is from you.
Ask your local electronics store what size and length is right for your car stereo. To install this you need to remove your radio and find the red and white inputs on the back. Plug the wires into the RCA port and your car will play great sounding music on your iPod or MP3 player. Now all you have to do is tune your radio to “CD” or “Auxiliary” and away you go.
Remember that 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 should also make sure your MP3 player is compatible with your product, as the new iPhone 3G is not compatible with older models’ FM transmitters. There may be more than one optimal option, so it’s up to you to go to your electronics store and make sure you get what you want.
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