Creative Zen on Car Stereo
February 24, 2006 2:34 PM   Subscribe

What's the best widget to buy to hook my Creative mp3 player up to my car's stereo?

I have a Creative Nomad Jukebox Zen Xtra 30gig player, and want to just listen to that through my car speakers rather than screwing with a stack of CDs. My car, if it matters, is a '99 Mazda Miata Convertible, and has a cassette player, a CD player, and an AM/FM radio. Should I go with a cassette adapter or a radio transmitter? Is one type noticeably better than the other, in terms of audio quality? And whichever one is better, what particular radio or cassette adapter should I get, and from where?

posted by kafziel to Technology (16 answers total)
For what it's worth, the cassette adapter I got for my iPod was so weak and staticky as to be completely unusable.
posted by Jeanne at 2:38 PM on February 24, 2006

I've had reasonable success with a cassette adapter and my iPod although the playback fidelity isnt always the best., but that may be due to the fact that its a crappy car stereo.
posted by hwestiii at 2:39 PM on February 24, 2006

I have an iTrip for my iPod and it's okay. The main thing is you have to find an FM channel which is quite clear so there's no interference...which is a bit hard in a big city. It would be better if the transmitter had a bit of a stronger signal.
And it's excruciating when I drive on streets that have streetcar wires overhead.
posted by chococat at 2:44 PM on February 24, 2006

I have a ~4 year old Sony branded casette adapter that I bought for $20, along with a power adapter, for a portable compact disc player used to use. I was happy with the way it worked with my CD player (much better than a FM transmitter I tried).

It works well with my ipod too. Sometimes the fake tape loop in it slips and I have to pop it and get it warmed up and moving again, but otherwise, it's cheap, and it works great. I get the best results with the volume on the iPod turned up about 80% of the way.

The downside is that there is long cable that can get tangled with things, and I can't use it in newer cars that lack casette players.
posted by Good Brain at 2:49 PM on February 24, 2006

I have used a Sony cassette adapter for my mp3 player and it has worked like a charm for going on 4 years. I would highly recommend a tape adapter over a radio transmitter.

If you have some cash, I might recommend replacing your car stereo with one that has an 1/8" Line-In jack on the front face. Aiwa has models with this feature. I'm sure other makers do as well.
posted by bwilms at 2:55 PM on February 24, 2006

Scosche FM transmitter, plugs in to your headphone jack and your car's cigarette lighter.

NOTE WELL: Sosche makes at least two types. One plugs into an Ipod's dock. YOU DO NOT WANT THE DOCK CONNECTOR, EVEN IF YOU OWN AN IPOD. (The IPOD's dock is electrically "noisy", and any FM transmitter that attaches to the dock interface suffers interference.)

You want the one that plugs into the headphone jack.

You can get one for under $20.

Turn the volume UP on the mop3 player and down on your car stereo to get the clearest signal. Of the four frequencies the Scosche transmit to, pick the one with the least interference.

If you do this, you can get a very clear signal.
posted by orthogonality at 3:03 PM on February 24, 2006

i use a sony tape deck adapter with my creative zen player. the cords are a little tangly but the sound is pretty good.

i have never used a radio transmitter with my creative, but every time i've been in a car where someone was using a radio transmitter with an ipod, it was unsatisfactory, unless we were well outside any urban center.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:16 PM on February 24, 2006

Since I seem to be the voice of dissent, I'll add that the cassette adapter that worked so badly was a Monster.
posted by Jeanne at 3:41 PM on February 24, 2006

A possible alternative to an FM transmitter is an FM modulator, which actually physically plugs into your antenna jack on the back of your car stereo.

Downside? Generally more expensive and less portable than transmitters. You can't just bring it inside and run it on your house stereo that way.

Upside? Much better signal and sound quality. If you live in a city that has a lot of radio stations, you'll be really hard pressed to find a frequency that a transmitter will work worth a damn on.

Newer cars come with stereos that have auxillary jacks in the back that allow you run a wire, but your car's probably too old. The wife and I have two 2000 model year cars, and neither one has the jack.

Tape adapters, if you get a good Sony, will work fine, but the sound quality's not as good.
posted by middleclasstool at 3:41 PM on February 24, 2006

Also, if your stereo head unit has an input for an external CD changer, you can get an adapter that will let you plug in to that. It's by far the best way to go, if possible.
posted by xil at 4:18 PM on February 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think these things are hit-or-miss. I've used both the FM transmitter and the fake-cassette in the past. They will often work satisfactorily, but sometimes you will find that for example a particular tape deck just won't work very well with a particular fake-cassette adapter. It can be a bit of a crap shoot as to whether it will work well or not. And even at its best, both of these solutions will not yield a high fidelity transfer of sound. It will be mostly tolerable, but don't count on it winning any awards for clarity. These are really meant for cases when you don't have the money for a new head unit or you cannot replace the head unit. If you can afford the $100 - $200 for a new head unit with a line in, you will get much better sound with a lot fewer headaches.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:50 PM on February 24, 2006

I used to use an iTrip on my Golf, and had quite good success on 87.9. I live on the peninsula in the Bay Area though...if I went down to San Jose, I was screwed. My wife uses a cassette adapter in her 97 Miata. I want to say it's a Belkin. She's had no problems with it, but I think the stereo is shite in that car anyway, so it's hard to tell. Overall the reliability and constancy of sound in the cassette adapter is magnitudes better than the FM transmitter, which I have occasionally wanted to hurl out the window.

Luckily, my new car has an AUX jack in the center console.

As a final point, can you get an aftermarket direct-to-stereo connection, so you can mount the player in the glove box?
posted by Kafkaesque at 5:43 PM on February 24, 2006

Skallas and Rhomboid nailed it--FM transmitters and tape adapters are both very hit and miss, so whatever you buy, make sure you can take it back. I have tried several of each in my 99 Toyota and finally found a decent, but not great, FM transmitter (specific to my iAudio device). If sound quality is important to you, it might be worthwhile swapping out your stereo for one with an aux-in.
posted by LarryC at 6:04 PM on February 24, 2006

I found the FM transmitters to be worthless in the city but I love the the stereo in my new car. It's a pretty cheap stereo I believe, under $150 I believe, but it has a mini jack and a USB port which is insanely convenient and my speakers are good so it works really well with my ipod or with a memory stick. I'd check forums for the skinny on the best systems if you want something better.
posted by fshgrl at 11:21 PM on February 24, 2006

I second/third/etc. good reviews for the Belkin tape adapter.

Though the wheel mechanisms in mine did grow increasingly noisy over time, which eventually forced me to open up the thing and remove some of the innards to reduce that cheap-tape-spinning noise.
posted by CMichaelCook at 9:40 AM on February 25, 2006

fshgrl, you have a brand for us? I knew there were stereos with front-side aux jacks now, but not USB.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:11 PM on February 26, 2006

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