Getting your music in your car. The easy way.

I come from a different world. A world where, if you wanted to get your own music in your car, you had to buy a CD and put it in your car CD player.

Heck, who am I kidding? I come from a world even earlier than that. From cassette decks and high-speed dubbing, but I quickly moved into that rather “unofficial” path of buying MP3’s from car-boot sales and computer fairs. Anyone remember that? You’d walk into a computer fair and there’d be a guy with folders open on a table. You choose the album you wanted and then it’d magically appear from a bag under the table. Some were standard copies, others were MP3, and back in the day my car stereo didn’t play MP3, so I’d have to convert them back to audio CD’s so that my car CD player would play them. Totally illegal of course, and it was quickly stamped on by the various officials until everyone realised that you could do it on the internet even easier.

A faff? Yes it was. Lots of blank CD-R’s, a CD/DVD burners and a glove-box stashed full of CD’s with random words scribbled on them in permanent marker. “Todd Terry Mix #2”, “Alex P Mix”, “Ministry of Sound Album” and so on.

I did buy “proper” CD’s too of course, and my garage is still full of them if I’m honest. They’ve travelled thousands of miles in the cars I’ve owned, sliding around foot-wells and glove-boxes.

Now though, times have changed. Multi CD-changers and face-off car stereo kit seems like a thing of the past. Now we’re into DAB stereo kit, 3.5mm and Bluetooth audio inputs.

What, though, if your car isn’t quite as new as all that? What if you’ve got a CD player and a standard FM radio? Well, there’s a few options..


Get a new stereo / head unit

Pricey, yes. You’ll probably also have to consider the fact that your dashboard needs to be adjusted and perhaps that the new unit may not “talk” to the volume controls on the steering wheel (if you have them). You’ll be heading to a car audio centre and parting with quite a bit of cash, so perhaps consider one of these other options.


FM Transmitter

Pretty simple idea this, and cheap too. eBay has a lot of options. Just stick it in your car power port (ye olde cigarette lighter), tell it to broadcast on a free FM frequency, pair it with your phone and then tune your FM radio to that channel. Boom – you’re done. Now you can stream your Spotify playlist, your streaming internet radio station, your Mixcloud tunes or your personal MP3 collection simply by hopping in the car and waiting for it to auto-pair.

Prices start at around £6.


3.5mm Bluetooth Receiver

If your car stereo has a 3.5mm audio port you could, if you want, put a cable from your phone into your car. It’ll work, but it does mean that you’ll need a phone with a 3.5mm audio port and there’s going to be an unsightly cable dangling across your car. So, instead, try one of these. It’s basically a 3.5mm plug which accepts a Bluetooth connection. You then just pair it with your phone and, you’ve got streamed-audio direct into your car stereo without much faffage. Cost is about £6 again.


A Bluetooth speaker

The only minor issue with the above two solutions is, if you’re happy with the Bluetooth calling solution in your car, then the FM transmitter or Bluetooth receiver will intervene, and you may not be able to use the Bluetooth calling buttons on your steering wheel or whatever. Instead, audio will come out of your car speakers and your microphone might be different too.

OK, so there might be another minor problem..

Yeah, someone got paint on it…. definitely not me, honest…

If your existing car stereo setup is a bit naff, and the speakers are rubbish, nothing will change that unless you go back to the first suggestion and swap out your head-unit and all the speakers. For this reason, my wife has recently started using the infamous (and highly rated by us) Tribit X-Boom / StormBox Speaker. It fits perfectly into the Mini and produces far better sound than the existing car speakers. It charges off the car and pairs up when the phone gets near.


What about data usage though?!

Streaming audio while you’re moving is great. I love doing it. You can stream radio stations and music that you can’t normally get – such as Spotify tracks, DAB stations or stations that are out of your area. I’ve written about this before and a good rule of thumb is to work on 1MB of data consumption per minute when listening to streaming radio.

When I listen to CentreForce Radio, which I can’t get on DAB because it’s out my area, I listen for about an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening on my commute. That’s 120MB (60MB each way) out of my data package, 5 times a week. That’s 600MB per week, or 2.4GB per month (based on 4 weeks).

Keep an eye on your data usage, ensure you’ve got a data package that’ll cover it.

To bring your data usage down, you can always download Spotify tracks locally or (through various means on the internet) download Mixcloud or Soundcloud tracks too.