A reader writes: I drive a couple hours for my work commute and am looking for a way of hooking up my new iPod touch to my car stereo, which is an old tape deck but puts out great sound. I want something that can put out good audio quality, will keep my iPod charged, and hopefully not create too much clutter. A visit to Best Buy was an exercise in frustration, and if I have to hear another day of drive-time DJ banter I'm gonna lose it, so just tell me what to get already!
In an age when car CD players are already becoming outdated, and virtually every car maker
offers built-in iPod integration, we salute your steadfast loyalty to the anachronistic and obsolete. Talk about rolling old school! As we don't know all the particulars of your car stereo setup, we can't recommend one hard-and-fast solution, but we do have a few suggestions, one of which should surely suit you.
First, allow us to make an important point about iPod and car stereo integration. While the obvious option for getting sound out of an iPod would be to use the analog headphone jack, it turns out that the dock connector puts out much higher-quality, line-level audio. Plus, it allows you to charge the iPod via the connection. The big caveat, of course, is that to use the dock connector your car stereo has to have an auxiliary input (either a standard 1/8-inch jack on the front, or RCA inputs in the back). If that is the case, then great! We'd recommend Griffin's $50 AutoPilot
. We like that you can control tracks via buttons on the charger (and therefore keep your eyes on the road), and, well, it just works. Also, we have doubts about many of the similar models that come with cradles. Often, they either don't fit snugly in the cigarette lighter and so flip around madly, or they're too big or angled wrong to fit in a tucked-away socket.
For the Aux Jack-less
If you don't happen to have an auxiliary jack, well, things get a little hairy. For starters, you're limited to either an FM transmitter/charger, or a combination of an iPod charger and a cassette adapter. Both have their pitfalls.
FM transmitters get a bum rap because their audio quality is often lower in the first place, and they're also frequently affected by interference. In fact, if you live in an urban area where the dial is chock-a-block with stations, you may not even be able to find a sufficiently open frequency. If that isn't an issue for you, then we really like another Griffin product, the iTrip AutoPilot, which can be found online for under $80
. Even in New York, we are able to get pretty good reception most of the time (emphasis on "most"). And though the iTrip auto-tunes to find open frequencies, we've found that it works far better by manually adjusting it to 87.9. (Nifty trick: To do that you have to enable the international mode by pressing 'Function,' then holding down 'Scan' and 'Mode' for 10 seconds, and then selecting "EU.")
If the FM dial is too crowded for you, then you're left with a cassette adapter. We've heard many claims that they offer better quality than FM tuners, but they all rely on the lower-quality headphone jack for audio, and in our experience are susceptible to a host of quirks. They supposedly work flawlessly for many people, but others complain of annoying hiss, buzz, and crackle, or about confused tape decks that constantly flip the cassette heads back and forth between sides A and B. These devices also require buying a separate charger. If you decide to go this route, opt for Monster's iCarPlay Cassette 800
, which you can find for under $20. Avoid the $5 unreliable no-name cheapies that may tempt you, and prevent that crushing regret when they wear out a few weeks later (or just sound awful from the get-go).
Try pairing it with a charger like Belkin's Micro Auto Charger
. Available for $15 or so online, it conveniently offers a dock-to-USB cable with a DC adapter. That being the case, it might even work as a charger for other USB devices. (But definitely check on that first before you start burning up all your electronics.)
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