How to hook up your portable music player to a car CD-player

Hooking an iPod (or other portable MP3-player) into a car stereo is simple. You have three basic options – use an RCA cable, go wireless with an FM transmitter, or connect via cassette tape. If you go with an FM transmitter, follow the instructions that come with it. This sometimes involves installing software on your PC, downloading the radio stations to your iPod, finding a station with no feedback at all, and matching the station on your stereo to the station on the iPod.

hooking up portable music player

Buy a cassette adapter

They generally run about $15 dollars, and it’s an easy way to listen to your iPod in your car. You simply plug a standard plug into the earphone jack of your iPod, and a cord runs from that to a cassette which you place into the cassette player. Tune your car stereo to cassette, and you’re ready to go (any cassette adapter at those stores should work with the iPod, so don’t get suckered into buying the most expensive name brand). It is worth noting that the cassette tape is an analog medium, and therefore suffers some loss in audio quality. Sometimes these adapters will not work as the deck will sense that nothing is moving as far as the tape wheels, and will eject the adapter.

Buy a wireless transmitter

These devices usually attach to your iPod, and require you to tune your radio to a designated FM frequency. While this is certainly the quickest and easiest fix, wireless transmitting has its drawbacks. First, you will notice a slight decrease in your overall battery life. Second, FM radio transmissions do not usually exceed 96 Kbps, which means that any high-quality audio files (128 Kbps MP3 or higher, AAC, FLAC, MP4, etc…) are down-converted before being transmitted to the radio. This loss in quality is irrelevant to the untrained ear, but intermediate and advanced listeners may notice a drastic difference, especially on high-end stereos.

Also, there is always some interference or static when transmitting and there are times you can’t find an open frequency, especially if there’s a powerful radio transmitter nearby. Sometimes it’s difficult to position the transmitter so that you get a clean signal.

Remove the stereo from your dash

If it’s a newer vehicle, you may need a special tool which usually just looks like 2 U’s. The pointed ends are inserted into small holes on either side if the stereo. Pull the handles away from each other (pull the left one to the left, and the right one to the right). Pull and the stereo will slide right out. If you have an older car, you will have to find out how to remove the dash and/or stereo. Sometimes it is just a couple of screws, and the rest is held on with clips. On others, you have to figure it out with trial and error (but remember, the more errors you make, the worse your car will probably look in the end). Ask some friends who may have the same car as you, or look it up online so it’s done right.

Be sure that your stereo has some type of input in the back

If your stereo has a CD changer input in the rear with RCA inputs, you aren’t out of luck – but you may be out another $50 because you need an adapter that changes the CD changer input into simple left and right RCA inputs. If you already have RCA inputs, there will be 2 of them (left and right audio). Usually, one is red, one is white, and they may or may not be covered by small rubber caps (depending on how old it is). If there are caps, you can remove them.


If its RCA then the RCA to 1/8th inch jack should be fine, get an extension for the 1/8th inch if you need it but don’t go splicing wires. Don’t drill any holes; instead, find a way to run the cable under the dash.

Check that everything works, which usually requires switching to an “input” mode or “auxiliary” mode on your stereo. If it works, you’re all set. Replace your stereo and dash.

One thought on “How to hook up your portable music player to a car CD-player”

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