Wednesday, August 24th, 2011
If you keep most of your music on your phone these days, you might have given up on trying to get that music playing on your car’s speakers. There’s no ‘smartphone slot’ you can just slide your music into like you could a CD or cassette. With the right accessories though, playing your smartphone’s music on your car stereo can become just as easy.
We’ll have a look at the different options available, including some that you may already have.
Bluetooth Streaming: Convenient, Requires Bluetooth-capable Car Stereo
Probably the nicest solution is that of Bluetooth streaming. Originally designed for hands-free calling, car stereo manufacturers quickly included music streaming too. With this solution, you just need to have a car stereo with Bluetooth connectivity.
Once you’ve paired your phone and the stereo, you can typically use the stereo’s controls (including those integrated into the steering wheel, if available) to control your phone’s music player and accept or reject incoming calls. Any music you play or calls that you accept will be streamed over the car’s speakers.
Parrot ASTEROID Bluetooth Car Stereo and Hands-free Kit
This is one of the easiest methods, but does require that you have a fairly expensive Bluetooth-capable car stereo. One problem is that Bluetooth streaming will take up addition juice, so it’s best to invest in a mobile phone charger.
In many cases, you can achieve much of the same results using much cheaper accessories, which we’ll expand upon in later sections.
iPod Integration: Stream and Charge Your iPhone or iPod
Another easy win if you have it installed, iPod integration is now found in many vehicles sold in Western markets. While you do have to pay extra for the privilege, if you’re a proud iPhone or iPod user, it makes a lot of sense.
Apple iPod in a Mercedes
The system works similarly to Bluetooth, but instead of pairing wirelessly you’ll just plug your iPhone into the provided 30 pin connector, the same connection as your charging and synching cable at home. As with Bluetooth, your music will now play through the car’s speakers. This type of system also commonly charges the iPhone as well, meaning you won’t need a dedicated iPhone 4 charger.
Auxiliary Input: Universal Device Compatibility, No Control
Auxiliary input is the third and final type of car stereo integration, where you just plug a 3.5mm stereo cable (as used by most digital speakers) into your phone at one end, and into the car stereo at the other. You can see what the ‘aux’ input looks like on a typical car stereo:
If you've got a little AUX port like this, you can plug in your phone!
The auxiliary input option has a few advantages: firstly, it’s often the cheapest option; even inexpensive car stereos will have this option. Another point in its favour is compatibility; anything that produces sound through a 3.5mm stereo jack will work. This includes MP3 players of all types, iPods, iPhones, Android phones, BlackBerries, and Windows phones — all except the most budget models will include a 3.5mm port. Plugging it in is simply a case of getting a double-ended 3.5mm cable, then plugging one end into the phone and the other into the auxiliary input.
3.5mm to 3.5mm Audio Cable
One problem with auxiliary input is that you don’t gain the ability to control your music via the car’s controls. It can be quite dangerous to reach for an iPod on the seat while driving, so avoid that wherever possible. Instead, put your music on shuffle, enlist your passenger to serve as ‘iPod commander’, or invest in a mobile phone car holder.
FM Transmitter: Listen to Your Music on the Radio
The trusty FM transmitter is the first of our methods that don’t require a recent or after-market car stereo. The FM adaptor is a small box that you charge with your car’s lighter socket, which comes with a 3.5mm stereo plug for your phone. Some models also use Apple’s proprietary 30 pin dock connector. Once everything’s plugged in and turned on, the box will transmit on a FM channel which you can pick up using your car’s FM radio. Good adapters can also include a phone charger, either via Apple’s dock connector or over USB.
KitPerfect In Car FM Transmitter For iPod And iPhone
If you use this method, it’s important to make sure that the channel you’re transmitting on is empty; if it is close to other local stations then they will interfere. Most modern FM transmitters will allow you a choice of FM frequencies for this reason, so test each one until you find one that’s free of interference.
One downside to the FM transmitter is that the transmission isn’t perfect; you will find that you will receive better or worse quality based on where the FM transmitter is located in your car; again experimentation is the key to success here. Another is that even at the best possible transmission, you are limited to a fairly low quality signal; approximately equivalent to 48kbps in digital music. This compares unfavourably to the Bluetooth and auxiliary input methods, which typically stream as high as necessary for the source files.
Tape Adapter: Old Reliable
Tape adapters are for the most part relegated to use in older vehicles, but I thought I’d include them for the sake of completeness. Essentially, they are dummy cassette tapes with a 3.5mm stereo cable attached, which comes out of the cassette slot and into your phone.
Cassette Tape Adapter
While these adapters boast none of the complications of FM adapters, fewer vehicles still have cassette players in the first place. Another down side is the audio quality, which isn’t ideal (as you might expect for something transmitted via magnetic tape.)
Still, the tape adapter is often the solution which works best for older vehicles, and certainly deserves a mention for technological ingenuity.
Crossover Methods: A Good Compromise
In addition to the methods listed above, there are crossovers. For example, take the TrailBlazer Bluetooth Car Kit & FM Transmitter. It connects to your phone via Bluetooth, then transmits the resulting signal over FM to your car’s stereo.
TrailBlazer Bluetooth Car Kit & FM Transmitter
This hybrid method has a few benefits, namely that you can control the phone using the transmitter itself, instead of having to change songs using the phone’s touchscreen. Another advantage is that it offers a USB port for charging your phone.
A Universal Solution: One Accessory to Rule Them All
Some accessories, instead of choosing one method of doing things and accept the tradeoffs that come with it, you can simply bundle as many options as you can into a single piece. Usually this turns into a rather cumbersome, multi-fangled monstrosity, but sometimes an unusually elegant design results. One instance of this is the Tunelink Auto from New Potato Technologies, which presents many of the same features as the TrailBlazer covered earlier but in a much neater package.
TuneLink Auto Bluetooth FM Transmitter for Android
The idea of the TuneLink is to provide all of the options you’d want for an in-car connection with the absolute minimum of physical bulk. The TuneLink’s small chassis has a USB socket, 3.5mm stereo jack and plugs into the auxiliary power point. Instead of relying on physical controls, which necessitate plugging in your transmitter where you can reach it, the TuneLink instead opts for a wholly app-based approach, where you can select the FM transmission channel and access other controls through your phone itself after connecting over Bluetooth.
This means that the entire assembly can be left safely in a glove box or other niche area, oft-times next to the auxiliary power point and auxiliary stereo input. This elegant placement keeps the car clutter free, and built in features like automatic pairing whenever you turn on the engine mean you can keep it there indefinitely, instead of constantly having to plug and re-plug.
The TuneLink also features some other nice features, like a USB socket for charging and RDS capabilities so that the song title can show up on your car’s display. Of all the solutions listed, the TuneLink provides the most features in the most elegant package, making it a good choice particularly if you have a hidden-away auxiliary power supply.
Rejecting the Premise: Install Your Own Speaker
You might find that installing your own small speaker works just as well, if not better than your car’s built in speakers.
Enter Bluetooth in-car speakerphones like the Jabra Freeway that support A2DP streaming. These speakers are fitted to be slung under your sun visor, and deliver streamed music (as well as podcasts, GPS directions and calls) without needing to be connected with your car’s speaker system.
Jabra Freeway Bluetooth In-Car Speakerphone
This is an excellent option if you want a very simple solution, particularly if your car’s speakers aren’t that great anyway.
So if you’re looking to stream music from your phone to your car, there are quite a few options available. Here’s the short version:
- Check to see if your car stereo supports Bluetooth, auxiliary input or a direct iPod/iPhone connection.
- If it doesn’t, what else do you have available? If you have a working radio, an FM transmitter is a good option. If you have a cassette player, then a cassette adapter works well.
- If you’d prefer a higher quality solution, then you will need to replace your car stereo or install your own Bluetooth speakers, depending on how much time and money you’re willing to invest.
Leave a comment!
So that’s it, I think. I realise it’s a fairly complex topic, so I hope that this article has proved elucidating. If you have any questions or would like advice, please feel free to send me a message via the usual channels. Thanks for reading!
Monday, February 8th, 2010
If you’ve got an iPhone you’ve probably got most, if not all, of your digital music is stored on it and you can enjoy it pretty much anywhere you go – as long as you’re wearing your headphones. What about when you’re in the car? It’s not safe to drive with two earphones in and it can get really uncomfortable on long journeys. There is another option. An iPhone FM Transmitter. Since they were made legal in 2006 FM transmitters are a great way to listen to music from your phone through your Hi-Fi or car stereo. They’re easy to set up and don’t require any technical knowledge other than being able to tune in a radio!
There are essentially 3 different types of FM Transmitter available for the iPhone, stand-alone FM transmitters, Charging FM Transmitters and Bluetooth/FM car kits. To give you an overview of what’s available, here are some of the most popular iPhone FM Transmitters.
1. Belkin TuneBase FM With Hands-Free
The TuneBase FM falls into the Charging FM Transmitters category. It plugs into the cigarette lighter in your car and has a flexible, adjustable arm to hold your iPhone or iPod. What makes this kit so great is that the holder can be rotated through 90° making it perfect for using with Sat Nav Apps. The TuneBase FM is one of a few holders that can hold your iPhone with a case fitted.
The FM Transmitter has 4 memory slots that you can use to store frequencies, this allows you to switch to a clear station quickly and easily. The Belkin Tunebase can also be used as a handsfree system in the car, but not in the same way as the Venturi or TrailBlazer further down the page. Instead of connecting your call over a bluetooth connection, the Belkin Tunebase transmits incoming audio through your car stereo and uses your iPhone’s internal microphone. It saves the hassle of pairing your phone to the car kit but works just as well.
Belkin TuneBase FM With Hands-Free
2. KitPerfect In Car FM Transmitter For iPod And iPhone
The KitPerfect works in a very similar way to the Belkin TuneBase. It’s an in car holder & FM transmitter that can also be used for calls. It has a flexible neck that allows you to position your iPhone exactly where you want it. It has a clear LED display that shows you the frequency that you need to tune your stereo into and will work with iPhones and iPods.
The KitPerfect will charge your iPhone while it’s docked and has a separate on/off switch so you can turn it off when it’s not needed. The KitPerfect is designed to be used in portrait mode but the flexible goose-neck can be rotated if needed for use with sat nav apps.
KitPerfect In Car FM Transmitter For iPod And iPhone
3. Griffin iTrip with App Support
When Apple released iPhone OS3.0, one of the big new features was that you could now get apps that can control third party accessories. As excited as the developer community got about this, there are still very few accessories out there that take advantage of this.
Griffin iTrip FM Transmitter With App Support
The latest version of the Griffin iTrip is one of the first mainstream accessories to take advantage of this, and once you’ve installed the free app, you can adjust the frequency, save stations and scan for a clear frequency all through your phone. The App also allows you to control music playback and will scroll track and podcast information on the screen when the display is sleeping.
4. Belkin TuneCast Auto Live
Another charging solution from Belkin. Like the iTrip above, the TuneCase Auto Live uses an app on your iPhone to establish which is the clearest frequency. It uses GPS data from your iPhone to work out which frequencies are unused where you are and then suggests a frequency for you to tune your stereo in to. If you don’t like the idea of it using your location the Belkin Tunecast Auto with ClearScan doesn’t use an app or GPS – Instead it scans the airwaves to find a clear frequency.
Belkin TuneCase Auto Live FM Transmitter
5. Jabra Cruiser
The Jabra Cruiser is a small, slim portable car kit that combines an FM transmitter with a Bluetooth Car Kit. The Jabra Cruiser simply clips to the sun visor of your car and pairs to your iPhone or 2nd generation iPod touch using Bluetooth. The Cruiser supports both the A2DP and AVRCP profiles which means that you can stream your music to it over Bluetooth for playback either through the built in speaker or through your car stereo using it’s built in FM Transmitter.
The iPhone and iPod touch don’t fully support AVRCP, but you can still play/ pause your music using the play controls on the front of the Cruiser. Hopefully the next update from Apple will bring full AVRCP support to both devices. Find out more about A2DP and AVRCP profiles.
Jabra Cruiser Bluetooth FM Car Kit
The Jabra Cruiser will also play your phone calls through your car stereo speakers for improved clarity. The Cruiser has dual microphones that work together to cut out background noise, making this a perfect choice for any one who spends a lot of time driving on motorways or noisy roads.
6. Belkin TuneFM3 FM Transmitter
The TuneFM3 is about as simple as you can get when it comes to FM transmitters. You just plug it into the dock connector on the bottom of your iPhone and tune your stereo in. Music playback starts automatically, saving you the hassle of having to launch the iPod app and press play. Unlike most FM transmitters that use the Dock Connector, the TuneFM3 has a mini USB port that allows you to charge your iPhone at the same time using a Mini USB Car Charger. The White on Black display makes reading the display effortless, especially at night.
Belkin TuneFM3 FM Transmitter for iPod
The TuneFM3 was primarily designed for use with iPods, so when you connect it to your iPhone you will see a pop up message saying that “this accessory is not made for iPhone”. This isn’t the case, if you press no it will work just fine. This warning is only displayed as there is no shielding built in to prevent calls and messages interfering with the FM transmission.
7. Bubblegum FM Transmitter iPhone – Black
This is similar in many ways to the transmitter above it, but with a few less features. It doesn’t have a charging port, and the LCD isn’t backlit, so adjusting it at night will require you to pull over and put the interior light on.
Bubblegum FM Transmitter iPhone - Black
8. Griffin iTrip Auto With SmartScan FM Transmitter
As you might have noticed, Griffin and Belkin are the leading manufacturer when it comes to iPhone accessories – particularly FM Transmitters. The iTrip Auto with smart scan charges your iPhone at the same time as broadcasting your music to your stereo.
Griffin iTrip Auto With SmartScan FM Transmitter
The SmartScan technology scans the airwaves for the three best frequencies then saves them automatically to 3 programmable presets for easy recall at the touch of a button. You can control your music play back using the buttons on the in-line remote or on your iPhone. The feature that stands out to me with this one is that it broadcasts song information over RDS, so as long as your car stereo supports it, you’ll be able to see song and artist information on the screen of your stereo.
9. Venturi Mini Bluetooth Car Kit
The Venturi Kit is an FM transmitter and Bluetooth Car Kit combined. It sits in your cigarette lighter socket in the car and has a couple of ways for you to listen to music from your iPhone through your car stereo. You can either connect your iPhone to the Venturi using a 3.5mm audio cable, or you can stream your music to it over Bluetooth. The Venturi supports the same Bluetooth Profiles as the Jabra Cruiser, so you can play/pause your music without having to touch your phone.
Venturi Mini Bluetooth Car Kit
There is a USB charging port on the side of the kit so you can connect and charge your iPhone using your existing USB cable. As the Venturi is a Bluetooth kit you can use it for handsfree calling too. Any calls that you receive will be broadcast over FM to you car stereo and the callers name and number will be sent to the stereo display using RDS.
10. TrailBlazer Bluetooth Car Kit & FM Transmitter
The Trailblazer is a new arrival to Mobile Fun and like the Venturi above you can connect your iPhone to it using either a 3.5mm cable or Bluetooth. Both calls and music are broadcast over FM to your car stereo and you can answer/end calls and play/pause your music on the Trailblazer.
TrailBlazer Bluetooth Car Kit & FM Transmitter
If you have a cigarette lighter in an awkward position in your car this is a better option than the Venturi. The control unit is on the end of a flexible neck rather than at the base and as a result, the part that goes into your cigarette lighter is no bigger than a standard car charger. The Trailblazer also has a USB port for charging your iPhone.
This isn’t all of the iPhone FM Transmitters, just the ones that I think do a great job with the iPhone, if you want to see what else is available, take a look at our range of iPhone FM Transmitters or iPhone Car Kits.
If you’ve seen an iPhone FM Transmitters that we don’t currently range, let us know using the comments form below