Android car audio via USB
January 26, 2013 7:38 PM   Subscribe

I want to buy an aftermarket car stereo that supports streaming audio over a USB connection. I want the audio to be streamed over USB so that I can play audio from Pandora and Google Navigation through the car stereo.

I have a GSM Galaxy Nexus with Android 4.2 on T-Mobile. I think this should be possible because Jelly Bean recently added support for playing audio over USB, but this seems impossible to search for on the web because all of the information that I've found is about treating the phone as a mass storage device and playing MP3s directly stored on the SD card, not audio from apps on the phone.

I would like the audio connection to be USB instead of using Bluetooth or a headphone cable because I want the phone to be charging while it's in my car and I don't want to deal with Bluetooth pairing and remembering to turn Bluetooth off and on to conserve the battery.
posted by zixyer to Technology (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
In what car will this be installed? Year/Make/model will help. Are you hooking up any aftermarket speakers, amps, or need built in navigation functions? Budget?
posted by Giggilituffin at 7:59 PM on January 26, 2013

At this point I'm just wondering if the option even exists, so I'm not going to limit it to my particular car or budget.
posted by zixyer at 8:01 PM on January 26, 2013

Android compatibility with head units does exist, with the biggest factor being support for the model of your phone. Your best bet is to contact a reliable retailer like Crutchfield, or the manufacturer for that kind of detail. This thread on DIYMA shows that Kenwood has the x996 single-DIN unit available for ~$300 via Crutchfield.

Pioneer's AppRadio2, model SPH-DA100 offers Android compatibility in touch-screeen, double-DIN form at $350-$600, but CNET's review does not print a pretty picture, as this unit requires a connectivity kit which is pricey, and USB doesn't allow MP3 playback (for now).

At $200, Sony's MEX-GS600BT single-DIN unit only seems to offer Bluetooth compatibility for Android. However, their MirrorLink tech may be worth looking into, as implemented into the DVD-touchscreen unit model, the XAV-64BT for ~$400. Again, the Android compatibility is a work in progress with this system, so it's definitely worth contacting Crutchfield or Sony for up-to-date information.

No, I don't work for or in the car audio industry or electronics retail.
posted by Giggilituffin at 8:35 PM on January 26, 2013

Yeah, that's what I was afraid of. All these units are just USB mass storage or Bluetooth only for Android.

According to Google's release notes for Android 4.1, it should definitely support USB audio.
USB Audio

USB audio output support allows hardware vendors to build hardware such as audio docks that interface with Android devices. This functionality is also exposed with the Android Open Accessory Development Kit (ADK) to give all developers the chance to create their own hardware.
Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) came out July 2012, so I guess there just hasn't been enough time for this feature to percolate into actual hardware. I guess I'm stuck waiting until someone releases a head unit that supports it.
posted by zixyer at 9:05 PM on January 26, 2013

I know you're objecting to Bluetooth. But I own the same phone on the same carrier, and trust me... don't be afraid of Bluetooth. I keep BT on all the time and don't notice any appreciable difference in battery life. There's nothing to remember about pairing - once you set it up, it happens automatically. You can still keep it plugged into a charger. And for short drives, you don't even need to take the phone out of your pocket, it will just start Pandora and give you music.

I've used it with a JVC KD-X50BT in my daily driver, which has Pandora integration. Admittedly not perfect, sometimes it fails to auto-start Pandora or just takes a minute or two to start it, but it's mostly fine. I've also used it in a car with Ford Sync, which didn't have Pandora integration (I couldn't install the app in the car since it was a rental) but it worked great anyway.

One thing to caution you about though - streaming Pandora over mobile data and using GPS navigation at the same time draws a lot of power. Even while on a charger, your batter may drain very slightly if you're keeping the screen on.
posted by CrayDrygu at 9:05 PM on January 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

Have you seen the Nexus 7 in-dash install? It's a neat approach that solves the issue of waiting for external Android compatibility.
posted by Giggilituffin at 9:25 PM on January 26, 2013

My $100-ish Sony head unit supports Pandora as it's own input setting, distinct from straight USB.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:12 PM on January 26, 2013

(The second unit listed says the audio support is for "compatible smartphones," which I assume includes android.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:14 PM on January 26, 2013

The cheap easy way around this is to buy a USB car charger & use an audio cable. That way your phone charges while you play music.
posted by rdr at 11:32 PM on January 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Post #39 on this page provides a photo tutorial on how to do direct USB audio in a car.
posted by Orb2069 at 7:23 AM on January 27, 2013

Thanks Orb2069. I hadn't thought of using a USB DAC. I actually have an extra one from an old Plantronics headset, but I seem to have lost my USB OTG cable, so I can't test it right now.

Once I get ahold of an OTG cable I'll report back, but right now it seems that a good temporary solution is:

Phone -> Powered USB OTG cable +-> Car charger
                               `-> USB DAC -> 3.5mm cable to car stereo

posted by zixyer at 9:05 AM on January 27, 2013

Couldn't you just get a dock that has audio-out capability. That way you can charge and use the regular audio in in any old stereo and you don't have to fiddle with any cables.
posted by Authorized User at 9:39 AM on January 27, 2013

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