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Play Your iPod In The Car

Last response: in Tom's Guide
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December 19, 2006 1:13:34 PM

You can get tiny FM transmitters that sound good, mid-size transmitters with better quality, or full-size combination transmitters and charging units, where the convenience and quality is worth the price. But iPods have the advantage, because the sound quality from a dock connector is noticeably better than that from a transmitter that plugs into the headphone jack.

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December 19, 2006 6:09:44 PM

A digital connection is better then the analog or FM transmitted signals. I'd rather use a car computer system with a program like this: nGhost Car Media Center, which allows you to connect your ipod via usb and have a digital connection.
December 20, 2006 2:27:21 PM

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A digital connection is better then the analog or FM transmitted signals. I'd rather use a car computer system with a program like this: nGhost Car Media Center, which allows you to connect your ipod via usb and have a digital connection.


Obviously, it depends on the car and the A/V system that's available to plug into. I drive an '06 Civic, so all I had to do was plug the headphone output into the dash MP3 input with a short mini-plug to mini-plug cable. $5 at Radio Shack and on down the road I roll with no RF interference problems. I tried many RF units and returned them all - too noisy! If they are too noisy in a Civic, I can only imagine how they sound in a quieter car. No thanks. Direct mp3 plug: 10/10 on econo score. I use a Belkin cig lighter charger attachment. $8 on sale at CompUSA.

My wife drives a Pilot and I got a Harmon Kardon Drive and Play for her car. With an adapter kit, you can plug direct into the CD changer imput for the Honda head unit. This is not a perfect solution since a tiny bit of ignition moise makes it into the signal. Not bad till you use Spinal Tap 11 and then it's still minor. 9/10 on the overall perf score. Cost of $400 makes this 2/10 on the econo score scale. The dash-mounted LCD is a great feature for those of us without in-dash DVD players. I just wish it had a second joy stick for the back seat.
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December 20, 2006 4:31:53 PM

Nice article. Too bad you didn't include price/quality in your conclusion.
December 20, 2006 6:32:18 PM

How does the sound quality compare to using the old school cassette adapter? I would imagine cassette is better.

Does anyone make retrofit kits to add a line-in jack to car stereos?
December 20, 2006 6:35:58 PM

You should check with your automobile manufacturer for a solution before getting a third party, just in case they have one. In my mazda RX-8 my Ipod plugs into my stereo via an adapter which looks similar to the usb cable that comes with the ipod. This adapter works in most of the mazdas as they have similar equipment. Being able to control the song selection from the controls built into the steering wheel is great.
December 20, 2006 9:55:24 PM

Honestly, I'm disappointed that the article ONLY talked about FM transmitters. The FM transmitter is the poorest-quality, most basic, low-end option available. You'll get MUCH better sound from a $10 cassette adapter (assuming your car still has a cassette deck) or from a "line input adapter" installed in your car...

The "line input adapters" are WAY better than FM transmitters. Most car stereo head units manufactured in the past 15 years have a port for a CD changer that gives a direct LINE IN. (Whether your car has it or not, CD changers have been offered for YEARS from car manufacturers as a dealer-installed option). What they do is fool the head unit into thinking there's a CD changer plugged into the port and give you RCA inputs that you can plug anything into. If you have any sort of premium sound that came with your car, this is the way to go, not a crappy FM transmitter. PIE and Blitzsafe are two big manufacturers in this arena, and parts & labor should run no more than $130. To add, some of the newer ones even allow basic control of your iPod using your radio's (or steering wheel's) REW/FF & track seek buttons...

For example, my 2001 Mustang with the Mach460 stereo system only has a 6-disc in-dash CD changer... So I tried a few FM transmitters and was VERY disappointed. Getting one of these installed in my car has provided incredible sound from my iRiver & my iPod...
December 21, 2006 3:05:38 PM

Quote:
You should check with your automobile manufacturer for a solution before getting a third party, just in case they have one. In my mazda RX-8 my Ipod plugs into my stereo via an adapter which looks similar to the usb cable that comes with the ipod. This adapter works in most of the mazdas as they have similar equipment. Being able to control the song selection from the controls built into the steering wheel is great.


I use an Audiolink iPod adapter that does exactly that!! (I drive an '06 Mazda3) It's the best all in one solution around and frankly I think that FM transmitter are the worst sounding solutions of them all. Also when using FM transmitters you also have all the wires going about the console of the car which doesn't make for a clean looking install. Also Someone talked about the in dash 1/8" jack, but with all the integration of controls for the stereo in the steering wheels of many model and makes of cars, i wonder why nobody provides solutions that integrates the full control functions of the iPods Via the proprietary port?! (apart from VWs and BMWs options that costs an arm and a leg to get in the first place).
December 23, 2006 5:40:44 PM

I've tried three different FM transmitters for various mp3 players, and they all suck (have tried 2 out of the 3 featured in this article). They have poor transmission strength and quality, and aren't grounded properly to save their life. Like everyone else has said, these are the worst solution to playing your mp3 player in the car. Most newer cars these days offer at least a mini-stereo connection for auxiliary inputs, but even so, most stock stereos in cars aren't the best quality. The best recommendation is to scrap your stock stereo and get an after-market deck that offers ipod controls with an adapter. This way you retain full control of the ipod (instead of limited control like prev. and next and pause). The best solution, but obviously not the cheapest either, but for good quality sound in your car, I'd say it's worth it. Besides, if you can plunk down $300 for a new ipod, you probably could spend the same on a new deck.
December 23, 2006 5:46:45 PM

Wow, you spent $400 on an ipod adapter for your stock stereo? Aftermarket stereos with ipod interface included aren't even that much, plus you get a better-quality deck with more options and built-in ipod control. Though I will admit, if one is concered with the appearance of the interior looking stock, an aftermarket deck will stick out like a sore thumb, but if price is an issue, I'd choose the one that doesn't look like the others...especially if for $400, all I'm getting is ipod interface.
December 24, 2006 3:32:27 AM

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Wow, you spent $400 on an ipod adapter for your stock stereo? Aftermarket stereos with ipod interface included aren't even that much, plus you get a better-quality deck with more options and built-in ipod control. Though I will admit, if one is concered with the appearance of the interior looking stock, an aftermarket deck will stick out like a sore thumb, but if price is an issue, I'd choose the one that doesn't look like the others...especially if for $400, all I'm getting is ipod interface.


I've heard expensive aftermarket car systems that don't sound as good as the Pilot's. It's won't play low quality bass as loud as some popular subs, but it does a decent job. The HK ain't cheap, but it is a pretty good interface. Probably worth ~150 bucks in a more competitive world - and thet competitiveness is coming.
December 24, 2006 2:16:38 PM

Quote:
Wow, you spent $400 on an ipod adapter for your stock stereo? Aftermarket stereos with ipod interface included aren't even that much, plus you get a better-quality deck with more options and built-in ipod control. Though I will admit, if one is concered with the appearance of the interior looking stock, an aftermarket deck will stick out like a sore thumb, but if price is an issue, I'd choose the one that doesn't look like the others...especially if for $400, all I'm getting is ipod interface.


I've heard expensive aftermarket car systems that don't sound as good as the Pilot's. It's won't play low quality bass as loud as some popular subs, but it does a decent job. The HK ain't cheap, but it is a pretty good interface. Probably worth ~150 bucks in a more competitive world - and thet competitiveness is coming.

Yeah, $400 seems a bit steep, but I guarantee you that if you spend $400 on a new deck, sound quality won't be an issue, plus you have the option of playing an ipod through the deck. I agree with you--~$150 is a more reasonable price for the interface, which is very nice (I'll admit that some of the deck's ipod interfaces out there do suck). But I'd sooner upgrade a stock sound system if it's going to run me $400 for just the adapter.
December 26, 2006 3:14:33 AM

Im watching all these iPod accessories selling it it makes me laugh....

On topic, it really is so much better to have an input into your headset... even stock stereo systems are coming with them these days.

On a similar topic, don't down custom built car stereos because you think all the money went into the sub woofer. I know that in my car the 10" DVC sub was the LEAST expensive item (tied with my two front speakers at $100) The amp(s) were the most expensive. I have en eclipse head unit, eclipse amp, memphis sub, and memphis co-axials. It is without doubt far better than the premium stereos in Lexus vehicles etc. I think the only ones that can compare (and they surpass it by far I admit) are the premium Bose systems present in some cars like the new corvettes. /rant

Sorry about mentioning so much about my system.... but seriously, FM modulator solution?? BAH.
December 26, 2006 7:24:24 PM

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On a similar topic, don't down custom built car stereos because you think all the money went into the sub woofer.


I'm not down on custom car stereos per se. But if you go talk to the average shop owner, they will tell you that the majority of the stuff they sell goes for low quality "sub-enhanced" systems. Being able to reproduce music as it is recorded has little to do with many auto systems. And don't dis on Lexus systems. I've heard the noise cancelation on the road and it works well.

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The amp(s) were the most expensive.


As a rule of thumb, the key to building a high end system is consistency and compatibility. I've heard people say that they were going to get super expensive drivers and that they would make their existing components sound good. It just don't work that way. It's like a chain: limited by the weakest link.

Quote:
Sorry about mentioning so much about my system.... but seriously, FM modulator solution?? BAH.


Why not talk about your system? It's data. But, agreed, FM mod doesn't cut it. Then again, 128kbps MP3 doesn't cut it either.
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