Nothing is more frustrating than a glove box full of scratched up CDs you’ve listened to a dozen times and an iPod full of fresh tunes… that you can’t get through to the car stereo. Fortunately, there are plenty of gadgets to get them blasting.
If your car has a cassette player, a simple cassette adapter like this Belkin model makes one of these easiest ways to pipe tunes into the stereo. It may not be CD quality, but the ease of popping in a the adapter, attaching your MP3 player and pressing play can’t be beat. If you have a newer car with only a CD player, or for that matter, one so old it predates cassettes, an FM transmitter makes a great second choice. It will take the output from your player and rebroadcast it as a mini FM station on the frequency of your choice, so you can tune the car radio to it and listen. Monster’s $60 RadioPlay 300 makes a great choice for generic MP3 players since it uses the standard 3.5mm stereo jack, but iPod owners should invest in an iPod-specific adapter, like the $100 iCarPlay Wireless 1000, because it will offer controls and charging. Unfortunately, even the best transmitters sometimes struggle in cities, where packed airwaves make it difficult to find a vacant frequency to broadcast on without interference.
Not looking to retrofit your existing stereo, and ready to invest in a 21st century head unit? Many new car stereos now offer USB ports to pop in a thumb drive full of tunes, auxiliary audio jacks to connect MP3 players with a simple stereo cable, and even built-in hard drives. Our guide to car and auto technology outlines a few of the best choices in each category, including dedicated carputers.
If you own a modern cell phone, you own an MP3 player. Though media-playing capabilities vary by model, almost all phones made within the past few years will play basic MP3 files. You can either load your collection onto the phone’s internal memory by connecting it via a USB cable, or add songs through an additional memory slot by inserting a microSD card. Lately, plummeting memory prices have made the second option far more viable: You can pick up a 16GB microSD card for around $45, turning a compatible cell phone into legit player with a single affordable purchase.
Smartphones with data connections make even more capable music players. Rather than relying on your personal MP3 collection, you can take advantage of many of the same popular streaming services that you might use on a desktop computer. Pandora, Slacker and Last.fm all offer iPhone apps, and many offer their services on other platforms (like BlackBerrys) as well. That translates to unlimited free music at your fingertips as long as you have ample cell reception.
A common dilemma: You have about 392 solid days worth of audio files on your computer at home, but as soon as you trudge to work, enter your humorless cubicle and sit down at your workstation, you’re stuck in a music-less vacuum. This one’s an easy fix.
First, consider all the free options out there, including services we’ve already mentioned like Pandora, Slacker and Last.fm. Add thousands of free streaming Internet radio stations into the mix, accessible via sites like Live365, Shoutcast and Yahoo! Music, and you’re looking at a lot of content already out there just waiting to be seized.
If you’re really pining for your collection, though, consider downloading software that will turn your home computer into a streaming audio server, serving up tunes to anywhere with an Internet connection. Logitech’s SqueezeCenter (formerly known as SlimServer) will do the task in conjunction with Logitech’s Squeezebox gadgets, or with an ordinary PC using the Web-based SqueezeCenter interface. The result: your entire library of music at home is now accessible from work, a hotel room, or anywhere, for that matter. Of course, you’ll need to leave the home PC running all the time for it to grab the files.
For those who would rather not commit to running a home computer 24/7, or clog up two different Internet connections at once with the burden of streaming it, a portable hard drive makes a lot of sense, as simple as it may seem. Savvy consumers can easily score 1TB external drive now for under $100, which should be big enough to fit all but the most grotesque overgrown music collections.