Car audio via Bluetooth dongle, plus separate Bluetooth buttons?
November 17, 2017 11:03 PM   Subscribe

My car stereo doesn't have native Bluetooth connectivity. I want to use my phone as a music player to send audio via Bluetooth to a dongle that plugs into the stereo's 3.5mm audio jack, and have a separate Bluetooth media remote (steering wheel buttons). Is such a thing possible? My phone has Bluetooth 5.0, so it theoretically supports connecting to multiple devices simultaneously.

I already connect to a Bluetooth dongle plugged into the 3.5mm aux jack in my center console which works just fine, but I don't want to handle the phone while driving if I want to advance past a track I don't want to hear.

I've seen some devices that receive audio from the player via Bluetooth and have control buttons or a touchscreen, but they transmit the audio to the stereo via FM. Would the audio quality be about the same as the Bluetooth dongle? I understand that depends on the quality of the specific gear, but in general?

Most of the FM ones appear to be built onto a 12v "cigarette lighter" accessory plug, and I'm not sure that configuration would fit in my car, or that the location would be advantageous so I'm not inclined toward that solution.

I could just jack the phone in directly to the 3.5mm plug and connect a controller via Bluetooth, but I'd prefer a completely wireless solution.

I've also thought about getting a phone mount and using the phone in car mode as both controller and player, but my car's dash layout is not really conducive to placing the phone somewhere convenient.

I've also thought about using the phone's voice control, but I just can't get comfortable with my phone listening all the time. Whether that feeling is mere superstition is not the point of this question.

I don't really care about using the phone for calls while it's in use as a car music player fwiw.
posted by under_petticoat_rule to Technology (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If your car has steering wheel controls already, then you'll probably be able to find a kit like this that plugs into the CD changer port on the back of the stereo and integrates nicely with what's already there.

This is obviously a slightly more involved solution than sticking a remote on the steering wheel, but probably not too tricky, and worth it in the long run.
posted by ambrosen at 2:19 AM on November 18, 2017

The plug that goes into the back of the head unit varies between manufacturers and years (and a little between model ranges), but you should be able to find something, assuming you've got the stock head unit. You'd expect anything made in the past 20 years to be able to control it.
posted by ambrosen at 2:25 AM on November 18, 2017

Definitely possible. There are a lot of little dongles that are Bluetooth audio receivers with a little headphone jack sticking out. The only ones I've used run off internal batteries but there may be some that plug in. Similarly, you can get very cheap little steering-wheel Bluetooth controls (usually mounted with velcro or rubber-band-looking things). Those run off a coin cell but last a really long time because they're so rarely transmitting.
posted by introp at 8:04 AM on November 18, 2017

I haven't found a wireless bluetooth controller, but I have been using this bluetooth adapter for 2 years SoundBot SB360. It uses the aux input and gets power from any usb charger (my car only has one cigarette lighter, so I also wanted something that wouldn't limit how many devices I could have). The cords are long enough that I have the controller mounted behind the steering wheel on the left-hand side (and the cords are neatly tucked away). I mostly just use the play/pause buttons, but the forward/backward ones have worked as expected when I needed them.
posted by Is It Over Yet? at 9:46 AM on November 18, 2017

I used to use a Himbox HB01 for this. It worked well, what with being only three buttons that all did what they were supposed to. There are a ton of options on Amazon. The Wirecutter has some advice on which ones are best for which uses.
posted by wierdo at 1:45 PM on November 18, 2017

I use a goGroove FlexSmart X2, which has physical buttons on it to control the music on my iPhone. It has a 7" gooseneck that makes the controls float next to my shifter.

It receives the bluetooth signal from my phone, generates an FM signal to the radio in my 14 year old car. The X2 mini, x3 both have 3.5mm out plugs, if you would rather have that.

In general, I find it works very well, plus you can do speakerphone with its microphone and your car radio's speakers.
posted by nothing.especially.clever at 7:17 AM on November 19, 2017

Here's how I do it:
Belkin Hands Free Kit for Bluetooth to stereo
iSimple Remote for steering wheel controls

Bonus: The Belkin also has a USB power port, so I've got a Qi charger/mount plugged into it. This makes my setup 100% wireless, and my phone still charges.

Bonus x2: If you've got an Android, you can use Tasker to automate a little bit more. When my phone has power and it detects the Belkin bluetooth, it auto connects and asks me if I want to start Spotify or my podcast app.

My one problem is that the remote control does not hold power for very long, and I always forget to charge it. So maybe don't get the one I got. :)
posted by natabat at 10:19 AM on November 20, 2017

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