How to turn up the good and turn down the suck with Nexus 4 audio?
October 16, 2013 11:13 AM   Subscribe

I used to have an iPhone. You could listen to music with it. You could plug it into my basic USB car stereo and it would play music. I now have a Google Nexus 4. It will play for about 30 minutes, and then stop. If I'm lucky, it might deign to play a few songs in the car. I must be doing something wrong, right?

For headphone listening, I'm using the standard (? "Play Music") app. I've added about a gigabyte of MP3s, arranged neatly by artist and album in the phone's /Music folder. It will play for about half an hour, then stop; I have to hit play again. It won't play long albums through.

(I'm using Sennheiser HD-419s. They're a little quiet, but for some reason the Nexus 4 won't emit any sound through my Fiio preamp.)

The car has a basic USB unit; a Kenwood KDC-MP345U (no Bluetooth). It does one of two things:
  1. Flash "READING" forever on the screen.
  2. Flash "READING" for a minute or so, then start playing the first folder. I can navigate clumsily with the Band key on the head unit. It will often stop after a few tracks with "NA FILE", then refuse to start going again until everything's power-cycled and re-attached.
As I'm not working right now, I'd like to fix this with as little financial outlay as possible. Also, I'm in Canada, so there are no streaming services here. Am I using the wrong music app? Is plain USB audio just flat-out bloody awful? Is Android audio not its strong point?
posted by scruss to Technology (12 answers total)
I use Play Music all the time and can reassure you that this isn't a universal problem with the app or with Android audio generally. Although Android's audio architecture is kinda crappy by comparison to iOS, this is mostly noticeable for stuff like synthesizer apps and mixing notification sounds with other audio. Playing back music should work just fine, and I regularly leave it running for hours on end.

My first guess on the headphones/preamp is that your phone has a flaky connection sensor in the headphone jack. That is to say, the little switch built into the jack that detects when you plug in and remove the headphone cable might not be working properly, so that it sees the headphones "disconnect" for a brief moment and the phone obediently pauses the music, as you'd normally want it to when removing the headphones. The simplest way to test this would be to set the phone on the table with the headphones laying right next to it, and let it run for a while without touching or jostling it at all. If it seems to play indefinitely you can then start wiggling or turning the headphone connector to see if you can make it pause. If you can, your phone has a faulty headphone jack and you should hopefully be able to get it fixed under warranty.

As for the USB issue, I can't really help except to say that in my experience car stereo USB interfaces are almost always too crappy to bother with, and you're better off with analog aux in (which your unit supports.)
posted by contraption at 11:50 AM on October 16, 2013

Best answer: Google Listen may be the "unexpected stop" culprit. If it's installed on your Nexus, try uninstalling it and go from there. If it isn't installed, check the notification settings in your apps, as "audio focus" appears to be the root issue.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:51 AM on October 16, 2013

I had to move from playing via USB with my iPhone to playing via aux line in when I got my Android phone. My stereo (a Sony) just does not play nicely with Android. Perhaps this is your problem too? Do you have a line in jack on your stereo? A stereo cable is inexpensive and this will be your cheapest, easiest fix. I bought and really like this cable for the car because it's high quality, is the perfect length, and fits in my phone without having to take my Otterbox case off.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:53 AM on October 16, 2013

It may very well be an issue with your setup, but I can absolutely vouch for Play Music being an awful, buggy piece of shit. I don't have Google Listen on my Galaxy Nexus and I know for a fact that the headphone jack works just fine, but I still experience errors like the ones you describe on a regular basis. It's a disaster.
posted by invitapriore at 12:05 PM on October 16, 2013

Best answer: Try downloading a third party app for music - something like PlayerPro might solve your problems if the issue is with the Play Music app.
posted by MFZ at 1:01 PM on October 16, 2013

Can't help on the general android software issues, but i can say that my parents car i occasionally borrow has an extremely similar kenwood head unit. It works just as shittily as you describe with... anything connected via USB.

I've taken to only playing long mixtapes, bbc essential mixes, etc because it's so obstinate when it comes to "playing nice" and syncing up to play more than a song or two in a row with any smartphone. I don't think i've ever gone more than two tracks without futzing with it or plugging/unplugging. Or when it works, it will often jump to a completely random track somewhere in the phones library at a whim(even if you were streaming something, but also if you were playing a local file).

If it were my car, i'd just get a damn 1/8in cable.

And for what it's worth, i've never seen a "usb car stereo sync" thing that worked well*, except for a couple bluetooth implementations(like MS sync)... but then you're blasting crappy transcoded bluetooth audio out of actual speakers and not just headphones or a little jambox or something. Ew. Makes everything sound like a bad 90s internet radio stream.

*With anything but a classic ipod/old 30pin jack ipod nano. I actually keep a 4gb nano around just for using with a couple things like this. All of this usb stuff seems to have been designed with older ipods in mind, then had some of the phone stuff hastily tacked on with little to no actual testing or QA. Good times.
posted by emptythought at 2:42 PM on October 16, 2013

I had a similar problem on my old Android 2.3 phone. I resolved it by using Winamp.
posted by oceanjesse at 3:38 PM on October 16, 2013

I have almost exactly the same Kenwood car stereo, and it seems to not cope very well with any audio device that isn't an iPod/iPhone. It does, however, handle USB flash drives just fine. I copy music from my iTunes library folder onto the USB sticks keeping the artist>album>song folder format, and the Kenwood's Artist/Album search functions work much like they would when an iPhone was connected to it.

There is a Kenwood Music Control Android app that allows better integration with Kenwood head units, but unfortunately it seems only to work on phones that have removable SD cards.
posted by zombiedance at 7:20 PM on October 16, 2013

Response by poster: Winamp seems much better, thanks. If it stops like Play Music did, I'll get a log analysis tool and dig more deeply. I've tried the aux port on the stereo, and it's tinny and barely audible even with all of the volume controls cranked.

Kenwood Music Control doesn't do anything with the 345U; I think it's only for the newer Android-aware head units. I might have to resort to a USB stick for the car, or try to find that ancient iPod that's lurking somewhere in the house.

Good to know that it's not just me, but I'm really disappointed that no effort has gone into making Android on the Nexus music-friendly.
posted by scruss at 8:49 AM on October 17, 2013

Response by poster: Yup, it was alarm notifications. Play Music doesn't restart playing after an alarm, but Winamp does.
posted by scruss at 7:04 AM on October 19, 2013

I have either that exact same unit or a very similar one. When playing from a USB source it only works well with iPods, iPhones, and USB drives that are FAT32 formatted, have all of the audio files in the root directory, and have no other files.
posted by clorox at 11:15 PM on October 25, 2013

Response by poster: It sort-of occasionally works now. Deeply disappointed that Winamp needs an m3u file to play a directory of files in order, but what can you do?
posted by scruss at 12:17 PM on November 15, 2013

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