MP3 player specifically for the car?
December 16, 2004 7:12 AM   Subscribe

XmasGiftFilter: I would like to get my sweetie an MP3 player for the upcoming holiday ... but what he really needs is a player that is built exclusively for use in his car. I've tried stuff like cnet reviews with little success -- any suggestions?
posted by anastasiav to Technology (22 answers total)
When you say exclusively for use in his car, do you mean something that's actually built into the car, like (for example) the Empeg, or simply something that he won't be strapping to his arm, carrying on planes, using as a removable drive, etc.?
posted by box at 7:46 AM on December 16, 2004

He would only use it in the car. It could be something that we have installed in his dashboard to replace the CD player thats there now, or it could be a more portable unit that just bigger than your average iPod. However, our experience with those "put the thingy in the cassette player to make the music come out of the speakers" type products has been less than good, so I'm looking for some kind of solution that would be hard-wired in some way.

He has a fairly long commute, and we travel a lot by car. He would not be strapping it on his arm, taking it on a plane, or using it as a removable drive. We would be ripping his current (enourmous) CD collection on our desktop PC and transfering the music over to the more portable version (my idea here, in fact, is to get him a travel version of his current 250-CD Cd player).

Ideally this would also be under $175.
posted by anastasiav at 7:57 AM on December 16, 2004

You're going to have a tough time finding any player for $175 that can hold more than a couple of songs.

This has 40 gigs of storage, fits into standard DIN mounts, and is $319.

This plugs into the CD-changer slot (no FM modulation) and works with the iPod -- but then, you'd have to get an iPod.

Empeg used to be the defacto-standard, but they're discontinuing the car models.

PhatNoise is the new king, but their players are in the $600 range.

There are some in-dash CD players that can play MP3's, like Aiwa and Kenwood, but then you have to burn a new CD every time you want to change the line-up.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:10 AM on December 16, 2004

Many car stereos have an aux input now specifically for MP3 players. Mine plays MP3's on CD, and has a plug if I wanted to get a portable MP3 player. A lot nicer than those awful tape player things.
posted by Kellydamnit at 8:16 AM on December 16, 2004

This is not directly relevant, but have you considered satellite radio like Sirius or, if you must, XM? You could probably get a cheap receiver and a year's worth of service for around $200. They both have free 3 day trials on their website, if you want to know if your SO would be satisfied with their programming, instead of an mp3 player.
posted by gd779 at 8:20 AM on December 16, 2004

I've seen in-dash CD players that will play MP3 CDs, but otherwise it seems you'll need something removable if only to have a way to transfer the files between computer and car.
Crutchfield has a few in-dash systems here, here, and here. It looks like they are all a bit above your price ($300 or so) - though of course you could shop around.
There are other adapters for portable players besides the cassette ones. One type just plugs into the existing stereo's AUX jack - if it has one. Another is the type that transmits through the FM radio. These are powered by the player, so you'd probably want to add some sort of AC adapter, also, so it doesn't suck out all the juice in the middle of driving.
It looks like you get more for your money if you go with some sort of portable player/adapter set-up. I guess the only real downside there is he wouldn't have in-dash controls. It looks like some manufacturers are just starting to come out with car players that integrate with portable players - but looks like it will be a pricey convenience for now.
posted by sixdifferentways at 8:22 AM on December 16, 2004

While it's not exactly what you're looking for, I *LOVE* my MP3/CD player. Or, more precisely, lovED it until it got stolen earlier this week. it was last years model of this player. I'm headed over to best buy to buy another one to replace it in a couple hours actually.


you could go for the iPod + iTrip combo. that has the added benefit of being portable as well, and you don't have to replace his current in-car stereo

sorry, neither of my suggestions are spot-on. i'll be watching this thread for a couple hours before i make a trip to best buy to see if anyone has any better ideas :)
posted by slhack3r at 8:26 AM on December 16, 2004

Don't buy the iTrip or any other FM transmitter!

I was not pleased at all with the results from either the iTrip or Dr. Bott's FM transmitters, if they worked at all. If he is ONLY going to be using it in the car, I'd say it is definitely worth it to spring for something that interfaces directly with the car's system, either directly through the dash or with an AUX input.

I had an AUX input installed in my car for my iPod and it was the single best car audio decision I've ever made. It was definitely worth the money and it wasn't particularly expensive either.
posted by stefnet at 8:44 AM on December 16, 2004

FM transmitters are a dime a dozen, and don't work in heavily populated areas.

There are literally dozens and dozens and dozens and dozens and... well, you get the idea.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:44 AM on December 16, 2004

Unless you're willing to build an in-car pc, and you're fairly handy, and you've already got a bunch of pc parts lying around, and you're planning to shop around and cheap out on the parts like crazy, I don't think it's very likely that you'll get what you want for anything close to $175.

What's your objection to the put-the-thingy-in-the-cassette-player method? If it relates to sound quality, I can say with total confidence that you will be even less satisfied with an FM modulator (i.e., an iTrip or any of its competitors).
posted by box at 8:50 AM on December 16, 2004

I have a car ('99 Saab 9-3) with a very tightly integrated stereo (display shared by lots of other components, controls on dash, etc.), no cassette deck, and no aux in, so I went with an iRock FM transmitter for my iRiver SlimX. I used it the day I got it and it's sat in the glove box since. The sound quality was so awful and the battery drain so inconvenient that I'd rather cart around CDs or just listen to the radio.

If I wanted to do it right with a portable player in my car, I'd go with an FM modulator, which attaches to the antenna input of the receiver and has RCA jacks and an antenna jack. Put the switch one way, and the antenna connection passes through; the other way blocks the antenna and converts what's coming in on the RCA jacks to FM. This way you don't have to worry about transmitting, just modulating. You still only get FM quality.

So the steps to decide what to do end up in this order:
  1. If he doesn't care about keeping the factory stereo, replace it.
  2. If he wants to keep the factory stereo and it has aux in, get a portable player and have an extension on the aux in jacks made available under the dash on the passenger side.
  3. No aux in jacks? You'll get way better sound from a portable player out of a cassette adaptor than out of FM anything. You might go through one a year or so, since the cable's always flexed a lot on those.
  4. No cassette? Have an FM modulator installed for about $100 and plug the portable player into that.
  5. Can't spring the extra $100 for a modulator and installation? Probably not worth bothering with mp3, then, because it'll sound awful and go through batteries in the transmitter like you wouldn't believe.

posted by mendel at 9:12 AM on December 16, 2004

After owning two of them, I'm a firm believer in in-dash replacement stereo CD/MP3 players. The first one I bought I had Circuit City install, and the second one I installed myself in a different car. Speaking from my experience, both stereos ($150 JVC units) perform flawlessly. You'll find that Circuit City (scroll to the bottom for MP3) and Best Buy sell in-dash players well within your budget. I have 3 or 4 favorite discs that I've burned my ripped MP3s onto,. I'll load one up, put it on shuffle and go like the wind!

Assuming your sweetie lives in Maine, theft isn't much of a matter with these units. That said, I believe most or all of these now have a removable faceplate. This would be a concern if you live in a bad neighborhood (like Yarmouth or Cumberland).

Drop me an email if you need help picking out a specific unit.
posted by SteveInMaine at 10:22 AM on December 16, 2004

I have one of these ($150 from Crutchfield) and am pleased with it. Yeah, I can't shuffle my entire collection, but 700MB at a time still holds plenty.
posted by mookieproof at 10:26 AM on December 16, 2004

Stefnet - how did you add an AUX input? How much did it cost?
posted by Coffeemate at 11:10 AM on December 16, 2004

i have an iriver mp3 player that i plug into my car stereo using the aux in. A lot of car stereos have these nowadays and sometimes need a company specific setup for < $50 or even just a cable (like mine). if your car stereo supports those multi disk cd changers then it probably has an aux> otherwise you need to buy a new one.
another option i would suggest for someone with a big commute like mine is the XFM or Sirius digital radio. its supposed to be pretty good.
posted by alkupe at 11:39 AM on December 16, 2004

Steve, Mookie, that's very helpful stuff. Thank you. This may, in fact, be the way I go, although we've been talking for a while about getting an XM Radio set up, I think that's more than I can get into this Xmas.

He does (I think) have an aux in plug since he currently has a six disc changer in the car that lives under the front passenger seat and is somehow wired to the indash stereo. If we went that route could I just get any MP3 player and the appropriate cable? (As you can see I'm not very technical...) Thanks for the help!
posted by anastasiav at 12:40 PM on December 16, 2004

I have the same in-dash stereo as mookieproof and I am happy with it. I sort my music collection by genre and have about one genre per CD. MP3s written to a CD will (depending on bitrate) allow about 10 albums per CD. Most of the MP3-CD in-dash receivers looked to have really bad controls, but this one is pretty well laid out.

My gripes are:
1. stereo is flashy, which will clash with the interior of any car (red and blue lights, WTF?).
2. There is a light clicking sound when MP3s are played. It is not noticible at all when driving, but it is really inexcusable in an audio player.
3. It wont play "gapless" mp3. In other words, tracks which flow together on the CD will have a tenth of a second gap.
4. Poor quality CD-Rs take awhile to "boot up" (30 seconds). On Sony blanks, the music starts in about 5 seconds.

On the plus side, it is cheap and easy to install. It will read ID3 tags and display artist/title for tracks which is nice feature. Mine has an input for integrated SIRIUS satelite radio, but I couldn't find it on the specs for the cruthfield page. Perhaps I have a slightly different model.
posted by phatboy at 12:44 PM on December 16, 2004

well if i were you figure out what model/make stereo he has and check the specs online. if it has an aux in, you should bring the car to an installer and have them put in a cable (or possibly the adapter and the cable). that's what i have. here's a link to the adapters i'm talking about.
then, yes, any mp3 player will work. you may have to get rid of the 6 disk changer, but trust me its worth it--he can rip all the cds he has on to the mp3 player.
posted by alkupe at 1:36 PM on December 16, 2004

You might want to consider this XM-ready model if you think MP3s are okay for now, but he might want to head towards the satellite service eventually. I believe you just need to buy an add-on XM gizmo for about $50, plus the monthly 10 bucks for the XM service when you're ready.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:30 PM on December 16, 2004

Well, I was lucky. I have a MINI Cooper and the stereo system is compatible in the aux input and during a regular service, I asked them to install it. It was about $100ish all in all.
posted by stefnet at 9:06 PM on December 16, 2004

Your best option may be to swap the existing CD changer for an MP3 CD compatible one (probably needs to be the same brand). If you can get a 10 disk one, that'll be 100+ hours of music, and you might even be able to do it in budget.
posted by cillit bang at 9:09 PM on December 16, 2004

Oh, rub it in why don't you stefnet. :-) someday....

Thanks to everyone for the great ideas. My taking his car anywhere to get something installed prior to Xmas is not going to happen without him noticing, but I'll try to get a peek at what brand his CD changer is this weekend (I also think the box is still in the attic). I'll also look at the Crutchfield and JVC units on my Saturday shopping spree.
posted by anastasiav at 6:23 AM on December 17, 2004

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