A $21 streaming solution for older car stereos

Written by Chris Powell

Last year, I bought a new vehicle. Sure, it was built in 2004, but it was new to me. The vehicle has been great in all areas except for one particular area. My car stereo. A six-disc CD changer, cassette, and FM/AM radio was sufficient twelve years ago, but not in 2016. We live in the future! All of us can wirelessly stream a staggering amount of music from our mobile device. Newer vehicles have stock technology installed to enable this, but what about older models?

In efforts to make my mobile phone my automotive jukebox, I called a popular technology brick-and-mortar superstore. Gave the salesperson the year, make, and model of my vehicle, and told them I wanted an economical in-dash car stereo with bluetooth connectivity. There was an adequate car stereo in stock to meet my needs for about $130. Anticipating labor costs to increase my costs to $200, I told them I’d like to have it installed in my vehicle, and when can I make an appointment to bring my ride in. The salesperson told me that my vehicle’s model has some additional components that would need to be installed. Other components needed? See for yourself:

invoice

If you’re like me, your eyes immediately went to the bottom for the total cost. Thanks to my vehicle’s internal features (volume controls on the steering wheel, and Bose speakers), I was looking at over $750 to get a $130 car stereo upgraded in my car. Instead of confirming an appointment, I asked if they could email me this quote so I could save it for future reference. Needless to say, I didn’t pursue the car audio upgrade.

Feeling somewhat dejected, I shared this experience with some tech colleagues of mine. One of them sent me a weblink. It was to a bluetooth cassette adapter available online. It was priced at $25 last year, but is now down to $21. I immediately bought it. Took about two days to arrive in my mailbox, and has been the perfect solution for my older car audio situation.

The initial setup was fairly straightforward. I started up my car, popped the bluetooth cassette adapter into my car stereo, drilled down to the bluetooth settings of my mobile phone, and selected “Cassette BT” to pair the two devices. Within three seconds, I heard a “bloop” coming through my speakers confirming the connection. I then opened the music app on my phone and played a random song. It came through loud and clear, robust and full, through my stock equipment. A big smiled wrapped around my face when my $750 albatross shapeshifted into a $21 bluetooth butterfly with two-day shipping.

After a year of consistent use, I’ve only found two hiccups with the bluetooth cassette adapter solution.

First, the bluetooth connection between mobile phone and car stereo impacts making and receiving calls. In essence, the cassette adapter acts as a speakerphone, which makes your voice sound distant to the other party. There is a built-in microphone inside a flip-up latch on the cassette’s exterior. The microphone is an unsightly little piece of plastic sticking outside your car stereo’s cassette player. I’ve learned to circumvent this by simply powering off the car stereo when I’m receiving or making a phone call while driving. It takes about five seconds for the bluetooth connection to quit, which is plenty of time before my call gets sent to voicemail.

Second, the bluetooth cassette adapter is not automatically charged inside the car stereo. Its internal battery life will end after about 8-10 days of use and will need to be recharged with the accompanying microUSB cable. To limit those “argh” moments when the music unexpectedly stops playing, I charge the cassette adapter overnight on Fridays. The next morning, I’m ready to pop it in and resume my audio enjoyment.

If it wasn’t for my colleague, I’d be facing a tough situation with my car audio wants. I believe it’s important that we all not lose heart when our current situation isn’t working. We must look for solutions, with what we currently are using, to make life better.

 

 

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