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How To Play Your Sansa's MP3s Through Your Car Stereo

Originally posted on Techlore.com

by Ron Repking

There are three basic ways to hook up a portable MP3 player to your car stereo:

  • FM transmitter, or
  • A direct line into your car stereo.
  • through a cassette tape adapter,

All have their advantages and disadvantages and all are relatively inexpensive and easy to set up.

FM Transmitter

An FM transmitter takes the music output of your device, and broadcasts it over FM. The car stereo can then pick up the music from your device – as if it was a regular FM broadcast. They typically plug into your car’s cigarette lighter to draw power, and recharge your Sansa player.

It is now possible to buy an FM transmitter that plugs directly into the proprietary Sansa connector at the bottom of the devices of Sansa’s c and e series.

One example is Griffin Technology’s iTrip (for about $70).

Another alternative is the so-called “universal” transmitters that plug straight into any MP3 player’s headphone port. These transmitters can be used to broadcast music from virtually all brands of player. This means that if your friends are riding along, you would be able to plug into their MP3 players, even if some of them aren’t Sansas.

Once you have your transmitter plugged into your player, look for an on/off button. If it has one, power it on.

Examine the device and figure out the FM station that the output will be broadcast to. Tune it to a radio frequency that is not in use in your area. Typically, the lowest numbers on the dial are your best bet - 87.1 through 87.9.

The biggest drawback of this device is that it is sometimes hard to find an FM station that is fairly open that can be used by the transmitter. This is especially the case in urban areas. If the station is not clear, it can lead to a lot of static and interruptions in your music. If you live in an urban area, be sure to purchase an FM transmitter that allows you to transmit your signal to any place on the FM dial.

Some transmitters now find an open channel automatically and display the channel they are using, so you can tune in your FM radio to that frequency.

Direct Line into the Stereo

Some car stereos now have a line-in jack right on their face plate. (One car stereo I just saw had its jack tucked right next to a USB port, so that it gave you multiple ways to play MP3s).

If your stereo has a jack like that, the hook-up is simple: you run a line from your Sansa’s headphone port right into the stereo’s inline jack.

Unfortunately, dealer-shipped car radios don't usually have such an input jack. But give your stereo a close look to see if it has such an "Aux" input or something similar. If you are not sure, you can also ask your dealer or consult your car owner's manual.

Some cars now come with a built-in dock for iPods – which could be pretty aggravating since that won’t work for a Sansa!

Cassette Tape Adapter

If you have a cassette player in their car, you can use a cassette adapter (example Griffin Tech). It is available for around $10 at most local electronics stores, provides an easy and straightforward method to hook an external device into a car stereo. Simply place the cassette tape in your car's tape player and the other end into the Sansa’s headphone port.

Make sure that the tape is playing forward and not in auto reverse. Turn on the player and play a song and it should output through your car speakers. One of the drawbacks of this approach is some reduction in sound quality of the music. But most people say it is hardly noticeable.

Don’t Forget to Protect Your Player

Obviously you don’t want your player sloshing around your car. So you will want some way of mounting your device to the dashboard.

Lots of people swear by the “sticky pads” – that keep the device in place using a gooey pad. Their advantage is that you can grab the device and go, it isn’t locked in. The downside is that it isn’t locked in. I’ve heard of devices jarring loose in sudden stops.

The other option is an anchored mount installed on your dash. A number of universal car mounts work with the Sansa devices, using different methods of attachment. (Example Gomadic universal car mount.) They usually cost about $25.

Help on the Way?

Technology is moving quickly, and it is inevitable that the auto industry will keep up.

I expect that, before too long, most car stereos will connect easily with MP3 players in various ways and even have their own ways of storing MP3s in memory. Until then, the methods above should keep you cruising in style.

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