|If there simply isn't a case large enough to store all the CDs you want to take with you in the car, you might want to add an MP3 player. To play MP3 tunes in your car, you can get a new head unit that plays MP3 CDs, install a hard drive player, or hook up a portable to your current stereo head unit. |
The most straightforward route is to install a new head unit that plays MP3 and regular CDs. Most major aftermarket car stereo manufacturers offer MP3-compatible head units, such as Kenwood's EZ500 or Sony's Xplod CDX F5710. You can fit a lot of MP3-formatted songs on a CD, but this solution still entails carrying around CDs. You will also most likely need to have the unit professionally installed. When looking for an MP3-compatible head unit, make sure that it easily helps you navigate file and folders on your discs.
For a more esoteric and convenient solution, a few companies make hard drive systems for your car. For example, the PhatNoise PhatBox Digital Music Player
uses portable cartridges that hold 40GB, 60GB, or 80GB of MP3s. With these systems, you install a unit in your car's trunk and transfer music from your computer to the unit's removable storage device. Music can be searched by artist, genre, or playlist via the control buttons on your radio. The major drawback of these types of systems is that you need to keep your MP3s synced up with your computer hard drive and the portable disc.
If you want the ability to carry your tunes with you anywhere, a portable MP3 player hooked up to your car stereo is the logical choice. Because of its popularity, there are many solutions customized for the iPod. Some cars come with iPod compatibility, and aftermarket solutions also exist. Read our Weekend Project on how to iPod your car
for specific solutions.
If you have a different brand of MP3 player, the cheapest solution uses an adapter that plugs into your car stereo's cassette player. But most new car stereos eschew cassettes in favor of CDs, so a cassette adapter may not be an option. Another method is to get an adapter cable that plugs directly into your head unit. To go this route, your car stereo needs a spare input, such as an unused CD changer port. If you're not sure if you have an input available, you can check the owner's manual for your vehicle or stereo or look up your stereo or vehicle information online. To install an adapter cable, you will need to plug it into the back of the stereo by either removing the head unit or reaching under and behind the dashboard. Some head units come with an 1/8-inch auxiliary input mounted in their face. With any of these solutions, you will need to control your music selection from the MP3 player, as only the volume will be controllable from the car stereo itself.
Once you're connected, you'll probably want a bracket or a cradle to hold your MP3 player so that you can see the screen. A wide variety are available, for about $20, that mount to your windshield, your dashboard, and even your air vents. Choose a mounting method that makes the screen easy to view while you are driving but doesn't block the air bag or any of your dashboard functions.