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With all the variety of ways to play audio on your phone, you definitely also want an easy way to enjoy your music and/or podcasts in your car. But what’s the best and easiest way to do so?
In this article, we explore your options for playing music from your phone in your car, no matter how old or new it is.
The Universal Option: Bluetooth FM Transmitters
Nearly every modern car has an FM radio and a cigarette lighter/power socket, which you can combine to play your music using an FM transmitter. This is a great option because the devices are relatively inexpensive and easy to set up.
The exact setup varies by device, but these transmitters usually plug into your power socket and connect to your phone via Bluetooth. After setting the device to an unused FM station in your area, you can play your phone’s audio through your car stereo.
I used this Coocheer model in my old car and it worked fine, but this model from Nulaxy features a lot more for your money. It has a screen that displays song names as well as an auxiliary jack to give you more playing options.
This is a great all-around option if your car doesn’t have Bluetooth or an auxiliary jack built in. However, depending on the number of FM stations in your area and the specific device you buy, audio quality may vary.
For Older Cars: Cassette Adapter
If your car is old enough that it still includes a cassette player, you can make use of that for playing audio from your phone. Cassette adapters are basic devices shaped like a cassette, and include an audio cable on the outside.
You simply plug the adapter into your cassette player, then connect your phone via the attached 3.5mm auxiliary cable. Then play whatever you’d like from your phone, and you’ll hear it through your car’s stereo.
Reviews vary for these adapters, but this cassette adapter from Insten should work fine, and won’t break the bank.
Compared to FM transmitters, cassette adapters don’t have many advantages. Cassette audio quality isn’t great, and you’ll have an auxiliary wire hanging around your dash. Plus, some new phones like the iPhone 7 and newer don’t even include a 3.5mm port, rendering this option useless.
We only recommend using a cassette adapter if your cigarette lighter/power port doesn’t work, or if you can’t get a clear signal with an FM transmitter.
For Reliability: Auxiliary Cord and Ports
Most modern cars feature a 3.5mm auxiliary jack, either on the stereo unit or underneath it. This allows you to plug in a cable from your device’s headphone port directly into your stereo. From there, simply play any audio on your phone that you’d like to hear through your car.
Auxiliary audio will sound clearer than both the cassette and FM transmitter options. Of course, this won’t work if your device doesn’t have a 3.5mm jack. But if both your car and phone have a stereo jack, it’s a simple way to play audio without any fuss if you don’t mind a wire.
If you don’t have an auxiliary cord yet, this high-quality one from Anker should serve you well.
For Convenience: Bluetooth Audio
Even if you don’t have an auxiliary jack on your phone, newer cars have you covered with built-in Bluetooth. Simply connect your phone to your car’s Bluetooth like you would any other device, and you can play media from any apps you like.
Depending on your car, you may be able to control your media and see song information on the display. Bluetooth is convenient because once paired, your phone will automatically connect to your car for easy streaming. It also has the benefit of allowing hands-free calling, which doesn’t work with an auxiliary cable since all the audio goes into the sound system.
However, Bluetooth audio’s quality will likely be inferior to that from an auxiliary cable.
The Best of All Worlds: USB Input
One of the newest options on this list, lots of cars now ship with a USB port inside. This allows you to charge your devices without a power socket adapter or even plug in a USB flash drive for music. But you can also plug your phone in to play music directly.
If your car has a USB port, it’s the best way to play audio to your stereo. Not only does it provide a reliable connection and clear audio, it also charges your device and lets you make hands-free calls all at once.
Of course, you’ll need a spare USB cable for your car to do this (an accessory you should keep in your car at all times). Depending on your phone, this could be an Apple Lightning cable, micro-USB, or newer USB-C cable.
USB input is also the only way to use…
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
A growing number of cars support Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto apps. These allow you to connect your phone to your car’s head unit to access music, navigation, messaging, and more.
Not every car supports them, but if your car does, you should definitely take advantage of them. Slick interfaces as well as voice integration with Google Assistant and Siri make them a joy to use. We’ve covered the best apps for Android Auto as well as your app choices for Apple CarPlay.
Even if your car’s infotainment unit doesn’t support it, you can use Android Auto on your phone’s display. Combined with Bluetooth or a USB cable for audio, it offers nearly the same experience. Apple has no equivalent for this, unfortunately.
A Note on Third-Party Stereo Units
We’ve only covered factory and simple upgrades here. If you have an older car without built-in USB, Bluetooth, and auxiliary options and don’t want to use an FM transmitter or cassette adapter, you can replace your entire stereo unit.
Doing so is a moderately intensive task, not to mention more expensive than anything above. So we don’t recommend it unless you have some experience with that kind of work, and really don’t want to use any of the above options.
If you’re interested in this, Crutchfield is a great website to check out. It finds stereos that will fit your car, and every purchase includes a detailed setup guide.
What’s the Best Option for You?
The above options all vary in audio quality and convenience. USB and auxiliary connections provide the best audio quality, while the cassette adapter and FM transmitter are the lowest quality.
Keep in mind that other factors can affect the quality of your phone’s audio in your car. If you have an older car with lousy speakers, you probably won’t tell much difference between an auxiliary cable and FM transmitter. The same goes if your car is especially loud or you drive in noisy areas.
That being said, from best to worst, in general we recommend:
- If your car has USB input, use that. Android Auto/Apple CarPlay support is a bonus if available.
- Without USB input, use Bluetooth or auxiliary based on your preferences for convenience, hands-free calling, and presence of an audio jack on your phone.
- If your car has no USB, auxiliary, or Bluetooth built in, use an FM transmitter.
- Only use a cassette adapter if your power socket doesn’t work or FM transmitters aren’t reliable enough.
Start Enjoying Music From Your Phone in Your Car
We’ve covered options for every phone and vehicle to play music from your phone to your car. Once you’ve gotten connected, all you have to do is start the music or other media you want on your phone and let the tunes roll. Just remember to keep your focus on the road while driving.
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