Everything goes better with music – even driving a car. No wonder radios, sound systems and CD changers are among the best-selling car accessories.
However, the music industry and music enthusiasts have long since gone one step further: after all, almost everyone now has an iPod or MP3 player and thus their personal music archive with them at all times. But playing it on the car radio is often still a problem – even though many car manufacturers now equip new audio systems with interfaces for this purpose and there are retrofit solutions for older cars.
"The topic is an absolute trend," confirms Arnulf Thiemel from the ADAC technical center in Landsberg, Bavaria. The technology expert observes a shift by car manufacturers from CD drives and changers to iPod and MP3 player integration, which they are offering for more and more new cars. As a rule, these solutions contain a socket in the glove compartment or in the center console, to which the player is plugged in. The driver can then access his playlists via the car radio. Play them through the car stereo.
Such a solution is available from Volkswagen, for example, with the "Media-In" interface. Audi calls it the "Audi Music Interface," and Fiat has also come up with "Blue& Me" a similar system in the program. "The integration makes sense because it ensures better operability," says Thiemel. So drivers don't have to fiddle with cable adapters. Fiddling with your iPod while driving. "This reduces the risk of distraction," says Thiemel.
The interfaces have been very well received by customers, says VW spokesman Christian Buhlmann. The manufacturer has different adapter designs in the program – depending on which player the drivers want to plug into their car. With some radios, the music tracks can alternatively be read in from SD cards and stored on a hard drive. Or there is the possibility of transferring the pieces by Bluetooth wirelessly for instance from the cell phone to the radio and of playing them over the vehicle music system.
However, the player integration does not always work smoothly, says ADAC expert Thiemel. The reason for this is the wide variety of MP3 players on the market, which can lead to compatibility problems. In addition, the devices are continuously developed further.
"Fast-moving computer electronics meet the long-lasting automotive industry," explains Thiemel. A car is about five to seven years without major changes on the market. In this time many devices of the entertainment electronics were replaced long ago by successors. "You have to try out in each individual case whether the adapter works with your own player," recommends the ADAC expert. His tip: What works in the demonstration car at the car dealer should later also work in the vehicle ordered.
The integration of the player into the music systems of older vehicles is more complicated. According to Arnulf Thiemel, any car radio with a CD changer control "tends to be suitable for reading an MP3 player. All that is needed is an adapter to convert the data for the radio. However, it is questionable whether drivers with older radios will be able to navigate through their player's menu structure with similar ease.
As a rule, operation must take place on the player, says Guido Randerath, editor-in-chief of "Car&" magazine Hifi". Therefore, drivers of older cars should consider whether they are better to remove the old device and retrofit a current radio from the range of accessories that can handle the player integration. "The silver bullet is to buy a new radio that has a control option," says Randerath. This offers more convenience. It may also be cheaper. Drivers would have to reckon with costs of 100 euros upwards for such a radio.
The Player connection takes place also here either by interface or over an insert, into which the entire iPod or MP3-Player is put. Randerath recommends choosing a device from a brand-name manufacturer – they're usually better than the carmaker's factory-fitted radios anyway, he says. However, it's important to make sure which radio is compatible with which player, too. A look at the specifications of the car radio or the compatibility lists provided by many radio brands on their websites is helpful.