Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Audio bleg:

So, the head unit in the Bimmer is an AM/FM cassette deck. The car was built in '98, when in-dash GPS units were still a novelty and iPods weren't invented yet. What's the best way to get music from my iPod into my car speakers?

I've seen gizmos that broadcast and gizmos that jack in through a dummy cassette. They range from $9.99 flimsy-looking junk to an $89.99 gooseneck cradle that mounts in the cigarette lighter and has as many buttons and blinking lights as anything Jack Bauer's ever defused.

Halp me, lazyweb! What should I do?


Top of the Chain said...

The cigarette lighter thingy comes in many different flavors. Please don't make the mistake I did, and purchase a cheapy. I had only three choices on the radio dial, and sometimes the station signal would overcome the plug in ipod one. Get one where you can choose which frequency the unit will transmit to your radio on. Most of them also, will keep your ipod charged up.

og said...

walmart. $10 rf mod. plugs into headset jack. doesnt steal your cig lighter. choice of a round dozen frequencies. sound quality not the best but its ten bucks. also can be used on any fm receiver.

Don said...

I have the FM broadcast dealie and a cassette adapter. Honestly, the cassette adapter is simple and doesn't use your power source. It doesn't look very cool, but it's what I find myself using.

Wayne said...

Gotta agree with Don, go for the cassette adapter.

Ease of use and sound quality over searching for a clear station and not that great sound.

John B said...

My VW has a walkman jack that feeds into the deck. The Merc Sable I use a casette adapter. I dunno what I'll do for the 82 bio-diesel Jetta.

Right now I have a loud little pair of battery computer speakers for the Pickup as it doesn't feature a radio.

Tam, you know the toys as well as most of us. No magic bullets here. Just the ones Elvis used when his $150,000 car wouldn't start.

Anonymous said...

the best is to have an aux in installed, barring that, either the cassette adapter, or one of the expensive-ish radio transmitters that uses the cigarette lighter; I have a belkin. probably cassette and a charger will be the most cost effective

Borepatch said...

We have a Radio Shack cassette thingie that plugs into your iPod headphone jack. It doesn't work great (it has sprockets that only like to turn for a while, so the player reverses, and then ejects.

The Mrs. got be a built-in, blove box adapter that charges the iPod and which looks to the radio like it's a 6 disc changer. It works great - changing "CDs" will change to the next playlist. It was a birthday present, and I suspect wasn't very cheap.

It might just be easier to swap out the whole radio with a new one.

fast richard said...

I used one of those cassette adapters, to play podcasts and audiobooks, about ten hours per day for a couple of years. The cassette player in the truck radio eventually gave out. I then replaced the radio with one that had an aux in jack. The cassette adapters are cheap and they work. If it breaks, it is cheap to replace.

I have not used the FM type adapters.

Canthros said...

Cassette adapter, if you don't have an input jack on the stereo. I've used an FM adapter in the past, but it was a minor trick finding a frequency that was clear enough to use, and audio quality was a little iffy even then. Additionally, if you travel much (and you seem to), the free frequency will change from area to area.

WV: taxle
If Congress were a motor vehicle, it would have two taxles.

kahr40 said...

cassette adapter. inexpensive, reliable, and easy to replace if need be.

BryanP said...

The cassette adapter will give you significantly better audio than the FM transmitter.

By the way, if your stereo happens to have the connections on the back end for a CD changer then there may be an adapter that lets you have a real line-in.

Also, most after market replacement stereos (or factory units for that matter) now come with a line-in jack.

Anonymous said...

I just bought one of these:


Transmits via FM to your radio. Works well enough. There is some loss of power that requires you to turn the volume up. But it works well enough.


Standard Mischief said...

you forgot to tell us if you have a golden ear or not.

I've used both a cheaply cassette adaptor (with minor internal surgery to remove those damn squealy sprockets) and a(n under a sawbuck) cigarette lighter radio transmitter thingy (made in China on the "happy chain-gang assembly line number 76239").

Both work fine but the cassette thing has more wires to deal with.

I suppose in your case you need to ask how often you use the cigarette lighter for it's intended purpose.

Didn't you already have a trunk CD changer? Easiest way might be to splice something inline that way

Jeff the Baptist said...

If you have a cassette, just use a cassette adapter. The only thing wrong with it will probably be battery life. I only have CD, so I'm using a $30 Kensington radio unit.

If you do go radio, buy a unit that lets you pick the broadcast frequency (instead of choosing from a few presets) and that uses the iPod connector for power and audio.

Anonymous said...

For 8.99 where can you go wrong with the cassette? Keep a spare in the glove compartment.

The other thing to keep in mind is if you area has a lot of radio stations (major urban area), if so finding a piece of the airwaves that's actually free for long enough to listen to a song can be a trial as you drive around and stations fade in an out.

It's a drag changing frequencies.

Anonymous said...

Cassette adaptor. I tried a mid-range cassette adaptor and a mid-range FM gizmo, and the cassette is a lot easier to work, and plays louder, and doesn't require changing freqs every thirty miles.

WV: mutoster - what you find in your kitchen after the appliance apocalypse?

Anonymous said...

Neither is the best option, both are compromises. Golden ear or not, neither will provide the best sound quality that your sound system can provide (I don't know if you're using the BMW business system or the Harmon Kardon.)

If I had to choose, I'd go with the tape deck. I used both, the tape deck on my first car, and the broadcaster on an E46 3er. The broadcaster could never overpower even the lowest power stations around here (DFW).

Your best option really is to get a new head unit. They aren't horribly expensive anymore, and you can get one with an Aux In.

Joseph said...

Buy a head unit that accepts the USB input from an iPod, that way you can control and charge it while jammin away. I bought this unit and like it a lot. Crutchfield will supply whatever you need to connect it and instructions for doing so.

You're driving a Bimmer sportscar, do you really want some lame contraption that works like shit?

atlharp said...

I use an FM Transmitter, but if I had a cassette deck I would definitely go that way. The sound is a lot cleaner with the cassette deck and you don't have to tinker with with finding a station, plus when you wanna crank it you aren't gonna get that some hiss or noise in the background.

My vote is for the cassette adapter.

Divemedic said...

This is the one I used:


Jim said...

Why not just use the earphones, and maximize the dweeb factor?

Oh, and also enjoy the added benefit of noise-blocking minor things like horns, sirens and the screams of terrified pedestrians.

Seriously though, those suggestions to look for the aux CD-IN jacks on the back of the unit have it right. I've owned four BMWs, the first being a '77 model 320i, followed by an '88 735i, and a deuce of 90/91 735il sleds.

I drive a Crown Vic now. Plenty of power, good ride, fair handling, and absolutely invisible. The Geezermobile also nets me 27mpg highway, and I'm about to prove that out this afternoon, leaving Galveston en-route to Orlando.

That aside, all of the later Bimmers had CD-AUX input capability in the cable bundle. The BMW branded changer used (as I recall) Pioneer compatable 6 CD stack cartridges.

Your later model likely is wired to accept a changer. Get a Crutchfield rep on the phone, and ask 'em to help out.

Sunk New Dawn
Galveston, TX

captcha = "undies" No comment!

The Raving Prophet said...

The pantheon of audio input, in terms of DECREASING audio quality, goes like this:

1) Hard wired AUX input
2) Cassette adapter
3) Wired FM modulator
4) Wireless FM modulator

The AUX input is a possibility if the head unit was intended to also control a CD changer. The problem is, these AUX adapters tend to be pricey; check out PIE and Peripheral Electronics, but a new head unit may not be much more expensive. These are mainly intended for those who are married to their stock head units for whatever reason; I use one in my Jeep because of the steering wheel control buttons.

The cassette adapter is by far the cheapest, isn't limited to FM's audio quality, won't suffer interference, and won't require a power source. However, it's only workable if your cassette deck works.

The wired FM mod goes in line between your antenna and head unit. They tend to be expensive to install; only recommended if there's no AUX input adapter and you want to keep your head unit.

The wireless FM mod is the last resort. They're low power so they're prone to interference, you may not be able to find a clear channel to use, and as you drive cross country you may have to fiddle with it. They also require a power source. Sound quality is mediocre at best by comparison to the others. They're only worthwhile because they're relatively well priced (at about $30, as opposed to a new head unit for $100), easy to use, and don't require wiring anything.

T'were I you, Tam, I'd get a cassette adapter for ten bucks (they're flimsy but they're simple) and forget about it. Stay away from the wireless FM mods- if you want to blow a Franklin, go to Crutchfield and get a new head unit with an AUX input or iPod control and be done with it.

Brandon said...

I bought one of these Pioneer head units from Crutchfield for my wife's minivan. It has a built-in iPod interface that will play and charge your iPod via the dock connector. The head unit can either control your iPod directly, or let you use the iPod's interface.

According to Crutchfield's site, no installation kit is required, meaning the unit will bolt right in place of the factory radio. If you can match a few colored cables and crimp them together, you can install this, easy-peasy.

The cassette and FM adapters will work, but don't sound very good IMHO, and I'm not even an audiophile. Direct connection is the way to go.

NotClauswitz said...

My wife's '94 BMW cassette-player has an output to a CD changer in the trunk. I'd (like to) go off that and splice-in an AUX jack.
Our experience driving around listening with an FM modulator is that you have to find a weak station to play-through. On our last trip the rental jeep had an automatically digital-tuned radio, so there were simply very few weak stations available, it tuned straight to one strong signal after another. Luckily it had an AUX input jack so I got a miniplug stereo cable, jacked-in, and that was it.
I have the same problem now with my Ford truck, only it has a CD player and so there goes the wired cassete adapter - and I don't know of anybody who makes a wired CD-adapter.
I think I'm going to have some ricer boom-box-boyz at the local deafening emporium drill a hole for a hard-wired AUX plug-in point.

Starik Igolkin said...

From best to worst:
1. Replace deck with one that has iPod adapter. You'll be able to see song titles on the deck display and control the iPod via deck buttons. The most expensive option.
2. Replace deck with one that has Aux In. Quality - same as with #1, but have to control what you listen to via iPod.
3. Use cassette adapter. Cheapest option. Sound quality mostly good, you may hear the cheaper adapters squeak in the deck occasionally, just as regular cassettes do.
4. Use FM transmitter. Worst quality in general, and (in my experience) practically unusable in large urban areas, where most frequencies are taken by one station or the other.

Kevin said...

+1 on the cassette adapter.



CastoCreations said...

Not sure about there, but here it is illegal to drive with headphones. Just FYI for those suggesting it.

My CD player broke the other day so I just went and got a cassette adapter ($10!) at WM. Works great, though I can hear it chugging along when I am stopped at a light. On the freeway though I can't tell.

Allan said...

I use a Monster brand FM wireless unit and have found that if I unscrew and remove my external antenna the outside interference goes away completely. Sort of a PITA but it does work better that way.

Dregan said...

Cassette adapters will give the best sound quality. RF adapters are subject to interference and fine tuning difficulties.

Assrot said...

Tear that junk out of your dash and go here for a suitable replacement.

Crutchfield Ipod Options


mts1 said...

Go for a replacement unit. I'm thinking your junkyard might have some options, especially if it's a u-pick, and you can get the unit from the car yourself. Sure, it's a crap shoot (even if the car was wrecked, radios are solid state, and centrally located, i.e. furthest from impact and likely to have had the dash absorb a lot of the punch), but do you feel lucky today? I know someone who got a sweet radio for his van for $20 that way.

bullbore said...

We've had both a 30 buck FM unit to a 5.99 cassette tape that I used with my old discman when I thought my old truck could use CD music. The tape works the best, the FM unit was fairly temperamental.

Anonymous said...

The dummy cassettes are far better than FM transmitters. (The transmitters can vary from weak to weaker. So the quality isn't always that great...)

SpeakerTweaker said...

The more expensive docking-station-type cigarette lighter adapters are by far and away the most convenient: the don't move, you drop your iPod in it, and it charges and plays at the same time. There are even some of those with an 1/8" stereo (read: headset jack) output so you can adapt it with a cassette adapter if you want.

On that note, if your casette deck is of decent quality (and most factory Bimmer decks are), then in my opinion that's your best bet. The fm transmitter versions are occasionally reliable and rarely consistent, which is important for the traveller (i.e., you).

That is, of course, unless you are fortunate enough to have an "AUX" jack anywhere on that deck. A hard-wired connection beats all.

I assume that buying a new head unit is out of the question, but if it weren't there are aftermarket versions out there that are fully compatible (i.e., will control and display date from) with iPods.

Since I get paid for such services, I'm gonna need to know where to send this invoice...:)


Anonymous said...

Cassette adapters are your best bet. I've had 2 or 3 of the FM transmitter types that plug into cigarette lighters (and accept usb sticks or aux inputs), and have thrown them all in the trash.

Old Grouch said...

Couple of considerations if you're thinking about the cassette adapter:

1) Compatibility problems with the player logic. As Borepatch noted above, a lot of players have auto-reverse or auto-eject functions that depend on sensing tape motion. Some adapters have no tape to move (so the player thinks you're at the end of the cassette and ejects it), others have some Rube Goldberg arrangement intended to "fool" the player (these tend to have a short useful life).

2) Wear and tear on the cassette transport itself. Not really a big deal, but the motor and associated drive components will be running when you use the adapter. Less wear than playing real tapes, but more than when playing the radio.

I'd say pick up a cheap cassette adapter and give it a try.

Dr. StrangeGun said...

"Your later model likely is wired to accept a changer. Get a Crutchfield rep on the phone, and ask 'em to help out. "


Or, despite it being a bit spendy, you could just get this:


Goes to ebay, a $99 BMW Z3 to iPod adapter that uses the factory buttons for controls. Looks like it just plugs in to the factory head unit (with a note: no DSP head units) and off ye go.

And now, off to write more SQL/WQL statements, do a little NT batch and VBS work, and then enjoy the day before the last day of my last "full" week at CCA.

I'm dropping to Mondays only next week, till business picks up for the holiday season.

Wolfwood said...

The trick with the cassette adapters is to find a good one. I had a great, cheap one from Panasonic that I accidentally broke a few months ago; the replacement I bought from Sony wasn't nearly as good.

Some of it also depends on what you're listening to. If it's Palestrina, you're going to really notice a bad adapter. Cannibal & the Headhunters? Not so much.

Every FM adapter I've ever used has been awful.