Add a high-fidelity music input source to your car

I'm rebuilding my computer, so I don't have access to anything I have been planning to blog.  So instead, I thought I'd write about something that is commonly considered difficult -- but is actually quite within the reach of most of us.  Adding a high-fidelity music input source to your car.

If you have an MP3 player (or portable satellite receiver,) the first thing most people try is adding broadcasting the signal to their car stereo via an FM transmitter.  Transmitters designed for personal use are terrible, even under ideal conditions.  When I tried this, I managed to improve reception somewhat by placing the transmitter at the end of a long headphone extension cable.  This lets you place the transmitter as close to the car’s antenna as possible, and also acts as an antenna to increase the signal strength of the FM transmitter.  Doc Searls talks a little bit more about that here.

However, even ideal FM radio is still just FM radio.  Passable sound quality, but not that great, as it is approximately equal to that of a 56 kbps MP3.  The solution?  Add an RCA input to your car stereo.

You can usually get an adapter for about $30, and the “RCA to Mini” cord for about $15.  They plug into the place where the CD changer usually plugs into.  If you have a CD changer already, some will work as a pass-through.  If you are very lucky, your stereo already has the inputs and you just need to get the RCA to Mini cable.
If you have a stock radio in your car, searches like

            “<car name> RCA adapter”
            “<car name> auxiliary input adapter”

should help find the part to do what you need.  If that doesn’t turn up anything (or you have an aftermarket radio,) search for the input adapter that matches its model number.

Installation is usually pretty simple.  Radios are designed to come out pretty easily, so you can usually do it yourself.  It’s easily within the capabilities of somebody that can change a hard-drive in their computer, or build some IKEA furniture.  Just remember not to force anything that doesn’t want to go 🙂  Depending on your model of car, you can usually find plenty of places on the internet that will show how to gain access to the back panel.  The term car junkies use for the radio is “head unit,” so something like

            “replace head unit <car name>”

should give you an overview.  You’re not replacing it, but the instructions will show you how to get access to the back of the radio.  However, if your dash has a lot of pretty custom molding (or you just don’t want to be bothered,) a place like Best Buy should be able to install the part for about $30 in labour.  If you live in the Seattle area, I’ve had a lot of stereo work done at the Best Buy in Bellevue, and I trust their work.

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