With so many car options today, it can be difficult to guarantee you are getting exactly what you need, especially when it comes to the car stereo. As you look down the list of features offered, you might be asking yourself, what is an MP3 decoder?
In this guide, I determine what the MP3 decoder is and how it is beneficial. I also look at the most convenient ways to play MP3 files from your car stereo, whether you are hoping for a wireless or wired connection.
What is an MP3 Decoder?
An MP3 decoder will decode files into compatible files for your car stereo. MP3 files come from a computer. The data plays great from a computer, but isn’t always compatible with your car stereo. For this reason, there must be an MP3 decoder that reads the files, so you can hear the music you crave.
Some of the modern CD players included in cars will play a data CD because of the built-in decoding support. However, most drivers use MP3 files on smartphones and other devices. How can these be connected to the car stereo system? I examine the options and tell you when to choose each one.
Ways to Play MP3s on Car Stereo
If your music is on an Apple device, CarPlay will be your best friend. It’s compatible with iPods, iPads and iPhones. You can access your entire library while driving, giving you access to your favorite music or podcasts.
On today’s cars, CarPlay tends to come as standard technology. However, even if you have an older vehicle, you can still upgrade the head unit to include CarPlay. With this hands-free technology, you can also make calls and connect with loved ones while on the road.
2. Android Auto
Android Auto works similarly to Apple CarPlay, except that it is meant for Android devices instead. You can find wireless and wired compatibility to fit any need. With the app running on your compatible device, you can listen to music, make calls and more right from the head unit in your car.
However, not all Android devices are compatible. You will have an even smaller list of compatible devices if you choose to integrate with wireless Android Auto technology.
The USB connection has a much wider compatibility range because it works with most MP3 players and phones. It also offers a superior connection that isn’t always possible when going wireless. If your car stereo doesn’t have a USB port, it’s simple to upgrade to a new head unit with one included.
In some cases, you can use a USB flash drive filled with music and play it through the car stereo. To do this, it would need to be equipped with a compatible USB input port.
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If you have a newer head unit, you can likely pair your device through Bluetooth. This highly-compatible option makes it easy to enjoy all the content on your device. Depending on the interface, you may have a little trouble getting connected initially, but it should be smooth-sailing once everything is set up.
The Bluetooth connection won’t provide the same level of clarity that the USB port does. However, it’s going to be far better than using the Aux inputs.
5. Aux Input
It might be considered old-school to plug your devices into the Aux port, but it’s still reliable. Using the auxiliary input is never going to provide the best sound, but it’s easy to connect to.
If you have an older head unit, there might not be any USB outputs, but there will still be Aux inputs. These connections are considered universal, and they work just like a headphone jack. To operate your device, you will need to manually select and play the songs on the MP3 player.
6. FM Transmitter
The FM modulator allows you to listen to MP3s from any car stereo. It’s also easy to use. Simply plug the FM transmitter in and set the appropriate stations. You can also find Bluetooth-compatible devices if you prefer to connect wirelessly.
However, the FM transmitter isn’t a reliable way of listening to music. If you are driving in an urban area where there are a lot of FM radio stations, you might have trouble with the sound quality. You can work around this by choosing an FM station without much reception. If the sound is garbled on the stereo, it’s probably going to make for a good station to connect to. You will want to avoid any stations with clear broadcasting happening.
If you use a Bluetooth-enable FM transmitter, you pair your MP3 or compatible device with the wireless connection. This pairs your stereo system to your media player without the use of any wires. The only time that the FM modulator is considered a superior option is when there is no auxiliary input or other means of connection.