No road trip is ever complete without some tunes to supplement the long drive. With cars being outfitted with speakers for over fifty years now, our collective passion for listening to music while driving has seen no end.
However, since virtually every car comes in with some particular method to play music, you’ll come across tons of vehicles that do not have modern technologies like Bluetooth or Auxiliary Input (AUX). What do you do in these situations? Well, there are a few alternatives that we’ll be talking about today that can help alleviate your woes and will let you play Music without in-built Bluetooth or an AUX connection!
1. Using USB Input
Most cars from the early 2000s have a USB Input Jack regardless of whether they have Bluetooth or not. Now, there are a few particular ways you can take advantage of this particular jack to be able to play music in your car.
Firstly, you can start off from the basics by plugging in a USB Flash Drive. You can get these at a reasonable price, and they come in different storage space variations according to your needs. If you are only going to be storing Music, 8-16 GBs should be enough to store more than 5000 MP3 songs in a single USB drive.
Generally, most car audio systems can either play .MP3 or .WAV files through USB. So, other higher-quality options like FLAC or AAC won’t be running directly through your USB port. When it comes to the flash drive, there are two particular options that we recommend.
2. PC USB Drive
The most commonly used USB flash drive. As mentioned earlier, these are relatively cheap and very reliable. You can find USB 3.0 supported flash drives online. However, you should be fine if you have an older USB 2.0 stick lying around as the bandwidth can easily accommodate single song audio playback.
In terms of our recommendations, SanDisk is a safe bet. Their Ultra Flair series is durable, resilient, and has read speeds of up to 150 MB/s. Plus, you can also fit in other files for secondary use.
3. Mobile USB Drive
While a typical USB Drive contains a USB-A port that allows it to be connected only to your laptop or PC. However, you might not always have a laptop handy when you want to put in some new songs to eventually listen to using your car’s audio system.
In these cases, we recommend using a flash drive like the Samsung Duo Plus. While relatively expensive, it has both a USB-A and USB-C connection allowing you to use one end of the stick for transferring Music from your Phone and ultimately plug it into your car’s stereo system.
Before you go ahead and buy the drive, make sure that your phone has a USB-C port! Generally, most modern Android phones tend to use this port.
- Relatively Inexpensive
- USB Port exists on most Car Stereo Systems
- Provides high fidelity audio
- Allows for offline listening
- Cannot stream Music
- Tedious to keep adding in new files
- Flash Drive needs to be constantly plugged in
4. FM Transmitter
An FM Transmitter is an extremely common way to play Music if your car does not support onboard Bluetooth and lacks an Auxiliary jack. The transmitter takes advantage of your car’s pre-existing FM Radio system and allows your Phone to connect to itself using Bluetooth, USB, or AUX while it acts as an intermediate.
The process of setting it up is relatively simple. Just plug the transmitter into your car’s cigarette lighter/power socket and tune in to the frequency displayed on your FM transmitter through your car’s radio.
You’ll then be able to play whatever you want using the car’s own radio system. However, the audio quality will be entirely dependent on the quality of the transmitter and the amount of external interference coming in.
In terms of our favorite pick, the Anker ROAV SmartCharge certainly takes the cake. It offers USB charging and promises lower interference. While it can’t interfere with the laws of physics, it certainly does a great job at providing decent audio quality while staying at a reasonable price and also offers a solid one-year warranty too.
- Works on virtually any car no matter how old
- Provides you with the ability to stream music from Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, etc.
- Generally, lower audio quality as compared to other options in this list
- Is prone to interference
5. Sound Routing Applications
Some cars made in 2005-2010 tend to have Bluetooth but are limited to only hands-free calling. So, while you can connect your mobile to your car via Bluetooth, it’ll only work when you want to listen to incoming calls.
In this case, you have two options. You can either use the FM Transmitter mentioned above or resort to a more cheeky solution. You can use a free sound routing application.
The application tricks your car’s audio system into thinking that you are currently on a call and therefore activates the ”hands-free” feature allowing you to stream Music via Bluetooth to your car’s audio system. The method does not rely on a physical device but is contingent on your audio system featuring onboard Bluetooth.
However, there are a few caveats to this method. Firstly, sound routing applications are not readily available on iPhone’s due to limitations placed on Apple’s App Store. Moreover, the method itself is janky and stops working immediately when you receive a call.
Lastly, the sound quality coming out using this method can be quite poor as the audio is channeled from Stereo to Mono sound, which can reduce fidelity significantly and lead to resonance and echoes. We do not recommend this method for the long term as you are better off with any of the other methods in this list.
- Completely free and easy to set up
- It does not require any external physical hardware
- Poor audio quality, susceptible to interference
- Audio cuts off immediately when you receive a call
- Mono sound does not deliver an accurate listening experience
6. Change Your Deck
We get it; you love your car. You don’t want to get rid of it just because it can’t play music wirelessly. Thankfully, there are much less drastic options you can take which are more permanent in nature.
Consider changing your infotainment system. They can be expensive or quite reasonably priced, depending on what features you require. Generally, a good infotainment system has the following:
- AUX Input
- Bluetooth Connectivity (A2DP)
- USB Input
While you can go for fancier infotainment systems such as ones that have a Blu-Ray CD Player or a fancy touch screen, they’ll also be costlier! Before you make a decision, though, make sure that the infotainment system you are picking up matches your vehicle’s dimensions.
The Jensen JCR311 is our recommendation for a simple, easy to use, infotainment system. It features Bluetooth, a simple LCD that displays the song that’s currently playing, and also has an AUX port for further convenience. As mentioned earlier, you can resort to pricier options such as ones that have Android built-in for navigation, watching movies, and more!
- Tons of customization, pick the infotainment system that suits your needs!
- A permanent solution does not require any janky hacks.
- A certified electrician can only install it
- Relatively expensive compared to other solutions
- All infotainment systems might not be compatible with your car.
7. Cassette Adapter
The age of cassettes has certainly passed by now. However, these relics of the past might still exist in your car. While you might consider them useless now, you can actually your trusty old Cassette Jack into a modern Bluetooth player with the help of an Audio Cassette Adapter.
The solution itself is relatively inexpensive and only requires your car to have a cassette jack. It is quite easy to set up too. You are given a Cassette Adapter that perfectly fits into your tape jack.
With a Bluetooth receiver inside (that requires batteries), you’ll be able to head to the ”Tape” section on your car’s infotainment system and connect the receiver to your phone via Bluetooth.
Once done, you’ll be able to stream music and play all your favorite songs without needing any external wires leading anywhere.
Our recommendation for a good Bluetooth Cassette Adapter is one made by Arsvita. It uses Bluetooth 5.0, which leads to an extremely high range and good audio quality. Moreover, the batteries inside only take 1.5 hours to charge and last for up to 8 hours.
- It does not require any wiring
- Extremely easy to set up and seamless
- Requires the Adapter’s batteries to be changed at least once a month
- Audio Quality isn’t all that great
- Requires your car to have a functioning cassette player
8. 30 Pin iPod Adapter
Even luxury car brands like Mercedes, BMW, and Audi tend not to pay a lot of attention to the audio systems present in their base models. Therefore, it is not uncommon for your brand new shiny Merc not to have the latest Audio System and, therefore, lack essential functionalities like Bluetooth and AUX Input.
In these cases, you are presented with two options. Either spend thousands of dollars on upgrading your car’s infotainment system to meet modern standards or use a 30 Pin iPod Adapter which generally is present in almost every car’s infotainment system developed by these luxury brands.
The concept is simple. You plug the Adapter in with your 30 pin car interface cable, and voila, you are done! You should now be able to connect to the adapter via Bluetooth and will be met with a high-quality A2DP connection.
While the interface you are using is proprietary and is made by Apple, you should not have an issue connecting your Android Phone to the Adapter as well. The Adapter also displays the song that you are currently playing on your car’s infotainment display and lets you seek through your playlist, providing you with an enjoyable experience.
Our recommendation for the best iPod Car Adapter certainly goes to the Bovee 1000. It features a robust design, is compatible with most car brands, and lets you play songs through A2DP (Bluetooth) and Airplay. Moreover, it does not require a battery and automatically reconnects whenever you move in the range of the adapter.
You’ll need your 30 pin media interface cable to be able to connect the adapter to your car. You can find them in your glovebox or inside your center console. If not, contact your car’s authorized dealership to purchase one.
- Extremely minimal design
- It does not require any cables
- Provides greater Audio Quality than an FM Transmitter
- It does not require charging
- Requires a 30 Pin iPod Jack in your car’s infotainment system, which most don’t have
- Susceptible to the interference of a lesser extent
- Aftermarket solution. Therefore, it does not look great on your car’s dashboard.
9. Apple Carplay and Android Auto
Apple Carplay and Android Auto are proprietary car entertainment firmware developed by both Apple and Google respectively for both iOS and Android devices. Generally, these are built into the infotainment systems of modern cars.
While replacing your deck might be one way for you to get your hands on Apple Carplay and Android Auto, it might be relatively expensive, and going to an electrician to get it installed can get quite hectic.
In these cases, there’s a wonderful solution you can take advantage of. Standalone Carplay and Android Auto Adapters come built-in with both instances of the firmware and do not require your car’s original deck to be replaced.
Instead, they can be powered using your car’s cigarette lighter and can connect directly to your phone via a USB cable that also charges your mobile device. In terms of connecting to your car’s audio system, they use the same tech an FM Transmitter does.
With it installed, you can take advantage of Carplay and Android Auto’s features, including voice navigation, Google Assistant / Siri, integration with your Phone’s applications like YouTube and Apple Music, and more!
You can also connect your phone to the system and enjoy the same features via onboard Bluetooth too. So, the choice is completely yours! Our recommendation for the best Carplay and Auto adapter is definitely the INTELLIDASH.
It features a 7″ IPS Display and has a sturdy mount that you can put right on your windshield where your original infotainment system might be. The solution itself does not take a lot of space and is clutter-free.
- Provides you with unlimited access to both Android Auto and Apple Carplay
- It does not require any additional wiring/installation
- Charges your phone on-the-go
- Relatively expensive solution compared to an FM Transmitter
- Can take up space on smaller cars blocking AC vents
- Has the same audio quality as an FM Transmitter
- Is prone to interference
10. Direct to Phone Connection (USB)
We know, we know. We’ve talked about this earlier! However, using a USB Flash Drive and directly plugging your Phone in through USB is quite different. Firstly, you’ll need an infotainment system that allows you to stream music directly from a USB connection.
The method itself is extremely simple and only involves you purchasing a USB-A to USB-C or Micro USB cable, depending on what type of Phone you have. You can also use the same method with an iPhone with a USB-A to Lightning Jack adapter.
However, your mileage may vary depending on the infotainment system you have. Your best-case scenario is to have a functioning audio system that displays the current song you are playing and lets you seek and scrub using the buttons found on your car’s own system.
We won’t be recommending any particular cables or products for this option as you probably have one lined up at your home. If you don’t, however, you should go for a cable that is braided (to avoid breaking under heat) and is smaller in length (to avoid unnecessary clutter and resistance.)
- High audio quality (Greater bandwidth)
- Plug ‘n Play does not require any fiddling
- The cheapest option here, only costs a wire.
- Visible wire can ruin your car’s aesthetic
- It might not be compatible with all car infotainment systems which have USB-A input
- It is fiddly with iPhones and tends to not work in some situations.
With all these methods now available to you, which one do you think is the most effective? If we were to rank these options for ourselves, you should just try plugging a USB wire from your infotainment system into your car first.
If that doesn’t work, try an FM Transmitter or a Car Adapter next. If you aren’t satisfied with their audio quality, only then should you go for a more permanent solution like changing your car’s deck.
All in all, not having Bluetooth or AUX Input in your car should definitely not stop you now!