High quality cassette convertor for a car stereo to play iPhone music?
January 7, 2015 2:21 PM   Subscribe

I just bought a 2000 VW Golf, which has a cassette player. Can anyone recommend a convertor to play music from my iPhone? The best review I've seen is for the Sony, but there is still a lot of criticism. Please recommend the best option, whether it is the Sony, or another. Thank you.
posted by miss tea to Technology (19 answers total)
I used that Sony for years in a 2000 VW and it was fine. The audio quality from any cassette converter isn't going to be awesome, but it did the job acceptably.
posted by primethyme at 2:23 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cassette converters are all pretty much the same. The quality isn't going to be fantastic, but it isn't going to suck, either.
Word of warning...I have a 2001 Golf, and I've never been able to get the cassette working, either with actual cassettes or with converters. Hopefully, ymmv.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:29 PM on January 7, 2015

I've actually felt I've gotten pretty good results from cassette converters. I think the electronics are pretty simple, so the main differences between different ones I've used, and points of failure, revolve around the system of gears that trick the tape deck into thinking there's a tape in there and it hasn't reached the end. So failure modes involve loud grinding noises (quiet grinding noises are basically unavoidable), or the the tape deck thinking it's at the end of the tape and reversing.

I believe the one I'm currently using was made by Monster (which brand I normally would avoid but not to the extent where I would suffer the radio when that's all that's at hand). I've been using it for 10+ years with good success, but who knows if their currently products are similar.
posted by aubilenon at 2:35 PM on January 7, 2015

This is not answering the question, but have you considered just getting a new car stereo? Ones that will happily accept a line-in from your iPhone can be purchased for less than $100.

I'm suggesting this only because I always thought of non-stock stereos as somehow special and expensive and something only people who put giant sub-woofers in their trunks did, but when I was looking for a solution to a similar problem to the one you're having, I found that they're really not expensive and getting them installed doesn't cost much, either.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:40 PM on January 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

I gave my mom an old Sony cassette adapter from my old Discman car conversion kit and it works well - don't expect flawless sound out of it but it's a better option than the radio conversion kits that require you to tune to a specific station.

Like someone else mentioned, I spent a few hundred dollars on an aftermarket head unit specifically so I could plug my iPhone into it using just the lightning cable for both audio and power. Definitely money well spent!
posted by covercash at 2:48 PM on January 7, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you jacquilynne--for whatever reason I hadn't thought of that. I will investigate.
posted by miss tea at 2:56 PM on January 7, 2015

The Sony one is fine, the Monster (I know) is ok too. I'm on my second Sony after buying one off eBay years ago, the first one started to get wonky because the cable got strained too many times from my phone moving around and general abuse, but I don't fault it for that.

The new Sony one I bought off Amazon seems a little on the quiet side, but I might try a tape deck cleaner to fix that.
posted by JauntyFedora at 2:59 PM on January 7, 2015

I have about 5 of these and they all seem about the same. I think they are great for iPhones actually. They are cheap and easy to use. I wouldn't bother with a stereo upgrade - it's a 15 year old car, and those converters sound just as good as anything when you're driving around.
posted by miles1972 at 3:06 PM on January 7, 2015

VW factory stereos can often accept an adapter to convert the CD changer input to an aux-in, that you then can plug into whatever device you like. This will be a much cleaner install than either a cassette adapter or an aftermarket stereo.

Here are several by Blitzsafe, find your particular stereo and needs. You'll need a set of VW/Audi specific radio removal keys, a few basic tools, and an afternoon.
posted by a halcyon day at 3:08 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you go the new receiver route, bear in mind that Golfs of your vintage have some specific fit issues.

While it's a single-DIN mount, many single-DIN units will still require that you unbolt/cut-out a metal mount plate at the back of the open slot in your dash. In addition, many receivers will require you to use a special VW-specific adapter to get the wiring connections correct.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:11 PM on January 7, 2015

As another option, they make cigarette lighter powered short range FM transmitters for in car music. You plug it into the audio out on your device and pick a station not in use locally on your FM tuner.

If you're interested in trying that route, actually, MeMail me - I have one I was going to get rid of.
posted by bookdragoness at 3:45 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I used cassette converters for several years, and, as others have said, they are all pretty much the same, BUT... get a high quality one and keep your receipt. I had one that made a lot of noise from the spinning of the reel. It squeaked like crazy and I had to replace it with a different brand.
posted by The Deej at 4:38 PM on January 7, 2015

I recently replaced my crappy cassette adapter with this bluetooth cassette adapter. The quality is markedly better.
posted by thejoshu at 5:16 PM on January 7, 2015

I have a similar VW, so I've been looking into the options available. There's a lot of bluetooth adaptors that use a low-powered radio to broadcast music from your phone, such as this thing, recommended by the Wirecutter. But for only a little bit more, it's possible to get a stereo with an aux-in, or Bluetooth, or some kind of fancy-schmancy phone link business over USB.

In the end, I stopped looking at car stereos and just found a bunch of tapes to listen to. You can get new ones off the internet (it helps if you like weird music) or you can scrounge them up from friends and second-hand shops. They're usually dirt cheap, and when you get tired of them you can buy whatever bluetooth/aux-in/replacement you had your eye on earlier.
posted by The River Ivel at 6:14 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've used a lot of cassette adapters (I have a VW GTI with a cassette) and have never noticed any quality difference between any of them. I think over the years I've used a Sony, a couple of Radio Shack house brand ones, and maybe a Marantz? They were all fine. Most of them die because the cables get flexed too much and then one channel or the other starts cutting out. But they are very simple devices. I wouldn't spend too much money on a super-duper one, I'd just get two of some less expensive one and put the backup one in your glove compartment for when the first one inevitably fails in the middle of a long road trip.

The quality out of even the worst cassette adapter is better than the best FM tuner I ever used, just FYI.

Make sure you have Dolby NR turned off when using the cassette adapter, by the way. It's the little button with the Dolby logo on the stereo. It will sound like crap if enabled, because the signal coming from your iPod / phone won't have Dolby applied.

The CD changer adapters are a much more elegant long-term solution, but I don't know that they are going to sound any different.

I've thought about going the aftermarket stereo route in my GTI (similar to yours, a "Mk IV"), and on a previous VW ('98 Beetle) I actually did remove the stereo and put in an aftermarket unit from Crutchfield with an aux-in and the ability to play MP3 CDs and stuff, but the Mk IV GTI uses a double-DIN stereo and they tend to be fairly pricey and/or look stupid, or you end up with a single-DIN stereo and an odd blank plate in your dash. None have really ever appealed to me.

(Also, the VW stock stereo has a really sweet automatic radio-setting feature: press the FM button until it says "AS" instead of "FM1" or "FM2", then press the mysterious "AS" button in the bottom right corner; it will take a few seconds but automagically fill the AS1-5 presets with the top 5 most powerful stations wherever you are... I have never seen that feature on any other car stereo and it's awesome for road trips. Do not press and hold it, though, if you do it will wipe out your regular FM1-5 presets. Very few people know how to correctly use this feature, including dealers, and it's awesome.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:15 PM on January 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've been using a Sony convertor like the one you linked for about fifteen years in my Honda Civic. The sound quality isn't amazing, but it's certainly better than listening to music on my laptop, which I do all the time as well.
posted by Georgina at 8:46 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Radioshack sells them and they're just fine. As mentioned above, eventually the gears will give out and you'll need to replace them, but they're pretty cheap and I can't be bothered upgrading the stereo on my 20-year-old car.
posted by monospace at 9:00 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've used several with my iPhone, and they're all pretty much the same. The one I've been using for a couple of years is from Five Below, and I've had no problems with it. In fact, the $5 one from there seems to have worked better than the $15+ one from Best Buy.
posted by jenny76 at 10:49 AM on January 8, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you all! I had received an Amazon card for Christmas and so I ordered the Sony convertor. I'll report back.

And Kadin, that sounds cool. I will check it out. Thanks!
posted by miss tea at 12:27 PM on January 16, 2015

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