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Connecting on the Road

Listening to your portable music player in your car could be as simple as wearing headphones while you drive—which, of course, is not highly recommended. It may, in fact, be against the law because you won't be able to hear any oncoming traffic or emergency vehicles. So I don't really recommend this method, as simple as it is.

No, what you need is a way to pipe your digital music from your portable player to your car's audio system. There are a few different ways to do this.

Connecting with an FM Transmitter

First, you can go the FM transmitting route—the same method I discussed for connecting to your home audio system. The theory is identical: Connect an FM transmitter to your portable player, dial in your FM radio to the correct frequency, and then broadcast your digital music from one device to another via the FM band.

As with using this method in the home, it may or may not work well for you. In some big cities, you may have trouble finding an open frequency on the FM band over which to transmit. (This is complicated by transmitters that broadcast only over a handful of frequencies; other transmitters let you dial in virtually any FM frequency, which provides more options.)

In addition, if you travel over long distances, you'll probably have to select different frequencies as you move from town to town. That's because although a given frequency might be empty in one city, there may be an FM station operating on that frequency in the next one. On long trips, get used to changing frequencies with some frequency.

That said, this is the connection method favored by the majority of music player owners. It's relatively easy (picking a frequency aside), and it delivers acceptable in-car audio quality.

These are the most popular in-car FM transmitters:

  • Belkin TuneCast II ($39.99), which connects via cable to any portable music player. It works as well in the car as it does in the house.
  • Griffin iTrip and iTrip Mini ($35 and $39.99, respectively), designed specifically to fit onto the top of Apple's music players. These are probably the most popular FM transmitters for Apple users.
  • Griffin RoadTrip ($79.99), which combines a versatile FM transmitter with an Apple-specific charging dock. Connect it to your lighter adapter to recharge your iPod or iPod Mini while you drive.
  • Monster iCarPlay Wireless ($69.96), like the RoadTrip, a combination FM transmitter and recharger (but with a cable instead of a dock), specifically for the iPod and iPod Mini.

Connecting with a Cassette Adapter

If your car stereo has a built-in cassette player, there's a better way to connect your portable music player. Instead of beaming your music via FM transmission (with all the potential issues involved), simply feed your digital music into your cassette player via a cassette adapter. Not only are these devices more reliable (no broadcasting involved—it's almost like a direct cable connection), but they're also lower priced.

These devices look like cassette tapes with a long cable attached. Plug the cable into your portable music player, insert the cassette adapter into your cassette deck, and then press Play on your music player. Your digital music is now fed into your cassette deck and played through your car audio system.

The most popular of these cassette adapters include these:

Connecting Directly to Your In-Dash Receiver

A third in-car connection option is available to some car owners. If you're lucky—really lucky because this is as-yet a fairly rare option—your car audio system includes an input jack for external devices. On some systems, this jack is right on the front panel; on other systems, it's hidden away in the glove compartment or somewhere similar. If your system has such a connection, all you have to do is connect a cable from your portable music player to your system's input jack, and you're ready to roll.

BMW recently generated a lot of press when the company announced that many of its new models were "iPod-ready" in this fashion. In BMW's case, the connecting jack is in the glove box; once your iPod is connected, it can be controlled through the buttons on the car's audio system. Pretty neat!

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