How I Modernized My Old Car’s Audio System With This $18 Bluetooth Receiver

Bluetooth Receiver Topshot

Buying a car from the great driver’s car era of the mid-to-late 2000s has some pros and cons. On the plus side, they are fairly reliable and often make great daily drivers. On the minus side, you don’t get all the modern conveniences of brand new cars. Built-in navigation systems are hopelessly outdated, cooled seats often aren’t on the menu, and Bluetooth usually only works for phone calls. That last point is especially important as most phones these days don’t have dedicated headphone jacks. However, before you go ripping your dashboard apart to install some module, a cheap Bluetooth receiver like this one can get audio streaming to your car’s stereo so long as you have a 3.5 mm auxiliary port.

Will a Bluetooth connection ever offer the fidelity of a wired connection? Absolutely not. However, let’s say that you have a modern phone that doesn’t have a dedicated 3.5 mm auxiliary port. If you need to charge and use a dashboard mount for navigation, Bluetooth is likely your best option. Despite this, there is a small problem when it comes to fitting most Bluetooth receivers to cars like my BMW 325i.

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Thankfully, it’s not some insane proprietary electronic issue on the car side. Rather, it’s a matter of space. There just isn’t a ton of room between the in-console 12-volt socket and the lid of the center console, so most receivers don’t fit. I found this out the hard way when my last Bluetooth receiver found itself constantly pinched by the console lid, eventually culminating in a spectacular explosion of cheap Amazon-sourced plastic.

However, this little Bluetooth receiver fits the bill perfectly. Instead of being a massive integrated USB dongle, it’s a plastic box with a USB cable and a 3.5 mm cable coming out of it, perfect for cars with tight clearance. Best of all, the plastic receiver casing is quite small, so it doesn’t take up much room at all in the console. Just plug. the 3.5 mm audio cable into your car’s auxiliary port, plug the USB cable into any USB power source/cigarette lighter adapter, connect your phone, and you’re set. [Editor’s Note: If you own old cars like I do, you can just plug the audio cable into a cassette adapter. -DT]

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Are there annoyances? Sure. It’s not great for phone calls and the startup can be a bit uncouth, but that’s about it. Connection is seamless and sound quality on this Bluetooth receiver really isn’t bad due to its construction. By hardwiring the 3.5 mm cable to the receiver instead of having a 3.5 mm jack on a receiver dongle to accept a patch cable, the makers of this receiver have essentially eliminated one point of possible connection issues. However, it’s worth noting that a receiver will never sound as good as just running a cable. Most popular Bluetooth codecs like AptX and AAC carry a degree of harmonic distortion, but this little receiver is up to scratch with the receivers in most OEM audio systems.

Perhaps best of all, there’s no pairing button on this receiver to be bumped by items in the armrest. At a cost of $18.49, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than retrofitting a MagSafe or other wireless charger, and is a great way of getting Bluetooth audio into your older car. While I still prefer plugging in a 3.5 mm auxiliary cable, it’s nice to be able to charge my phone on long trips without worrying about cable management or the weight of a phone holder with wireless charging.

(This post contains a few Amazon affiliate partner links. If you buy something by clicking on a link The Autopian may make a commission)

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53 Responses

  1. Fortunately my Polo’s factory stereo could be removed leaving a standard double-DIN opening, so I’ve been able to keep the Sony unit (which has Bluetooth) from my old car, together with a handy storage cubby to fill the rest of the opening.
    One day I’m going to get a car that’s new enough not to have a replaceable stereo, and I will be sad.

  2. The ultimate solution here, which I have in my NA, is the iSimple Tranzit Blu HF FM modulator. It costs more like $100 and you’re going to be splicing some wires and digging around in your dash, but what you get is a channel on your radio that just pipes in audio from whatever device it’s paired to.

    Now, I know what you’re thinking, but this is more than just a fancy, hideaway version of those crappy FM transmitters that plug into a 12V socket and work mostly OK for a few months until they crap out. This is an FM modulator, and it sits in between your car’s antenna and the radio. When you tune to the magic channel, the antenna is removed from the equation and the modulator mainlines an FM signal straight down the wire into your head unit. This ensures that the audio quality is as close to perfect as the FM standard allows for, and that no stray signals are going to fuck with your music. It also doesn’t shit the bed after less than a year, and if you do it right it’s hidden inside the dash, so you can keep a stock look if that’s something that matters to you.

    I put one in the Miata a couple of years ago and it’s been worth every penny. One of the best mods I’ve done so far.

        1. The Roav is a transmitter, not a modulator. I have them in my Subaru and my partner’s Prius. They’re the best FM transmitters available, but they still rely on broadcasting a weak signal to your antenna, which has to compete with whatever else is on the airwaves, they still only offer so-so sound quality, and they still start injecting weird feedback into the background of your music about three months in.

          An FM modulator is different. It’s a wired device that completely replaces the signal that would normally come from your car’s antenna. It cuts the antenna out of the circuit entirely, and just pipes an FM signal straight down the wire. That means no interference, no feedback, and no degradation in sound quality. It’s still bounded by the limits of what the analog FM standard can do, but within those limits it guarantees absolutely perfect reception.

    1. Ugh an FM modulator is on my wishlist. Thanks for convincing me to bump it up on that list.

      I put one of those crappy 12V FM transmitters into my Miata about 2 years ago and it’s actually still kicking! I think it helps that I balled out for the $25 one instead of the knockoff $18 one 😉

      Between the FM transmitter, upgraded door speakers, and an air screen behind me, carving canyons while playing tunes is pretty heavenly.

      1. Soooooo worth it. Do it. What airscreen do you have, by the way? I have the headrest speakers so I don’t really have trouble hearing my music, but I’d love to have less turbulence in the cockpit at highway speeds. I haven’t really liked any of the options I’ve seen so far, though:

        1. I bought the cheapo Raceland wind screen. Out of the box, it’s not a good product because it’s too narrow for the car and there’s nothing stopping it from just flopping forward from the wind pressure and rubbing against the back of the seat while you drive. I 3d printed some thick shims that curve around and also act as blockers to form a hard stop at a vertical position, which prevents that flopping forward phenomenon. I occasionally have to re-tighten the two bolts holding the wind screen to the car (else it flops backward when accelerating), but otherwise for $50 and a couple hours of CAD/3D print work it is, like your modulator, a major quality of life improvement.

        1. This discussion just prompted me to buy some adapters that combine AUX/USB into a Lightning plug – solves all of the issues, including Thomas’ lack of space and I won’t have to rely on Bluetooth.

          I am from Sweden, and the two things I am most embarrassed about are Ace of Base and Bluetooth. Awful.

      1. Well, it saves having a wire going from your phone into your console, and it saves having to get an adapter for your phone that you have to plug in. When I start the car I get about 1/2 a second of whatever’s on the local Spanish-language station, and then there’s a “bleep!” and my phone is connected. It’s basically seamless.

    2. Thank you for mentioning that, because I had no idea such a thing existed and it’s exactly what I need for my W115, since the antenna doesn’t really work and as a result any portable FM transmitter becomes an exercise in frustration. For example, my current one is clearly received only with the transmitter placed in the upper right hand corner of the between-seats console, and as a result the audio drops in clarity every time the car’s movement slides the dongle out of place — this drives me absolutely up the wall.

      It’s obnoxious, and not in the least because this also means I can’t use my phone in a window mount as a GPS at the same time, and long commutes to random work locations where I’ll be following Google Maps are exactly when I most want some driving music.

    3. “I put one in the Miata a couple of years ago and it’s been worth every penny. One of the best mods I’ve done so far.”

      If you can fit a double DIN you can put in a proper 7″ touchscreen system for not much more. That gives you sat nav, WiFi, Bluetooth, 32GB+ SD memory, MP3 player, back up /dash cams, satellite radio, torque and a whole lot more, plus 4x45WPC that will sound far better than the stock radio even with stock speakers. If you want you can units with a volume knob and buttons.

      I did that in my Mazda5 and never looked back.

      1. That’s objectively a good solution, but for me, the charm of the NA (especially in the year 2022) is just how analog everything looks and feels. So a modern head unit would undoubtedly do a great job, but I just wouldn’t enjoy looking at it or interacting with it in context of how I enjoy the rest of the car. A Bluetooth transmitter or modulator manages to add modern convenience without breaking the fourth wall in the same way.

  3. Don’t know about other phone mfgs, but they sell cables for iphone whatever that connector is called to 3.5 aux + USB. As for fitting this stuff, my GR86 doesn’t have a spot for the phone, either, but it does have a blank plate under the HVAC controls and I was able to build a felt-lined pocket with a cable inside so the phone can be inserted like a cassette and powered with direct connection to the infotainment (it just fits above the BCM or whatever it is behind there). Several people have commented on it and wondered why other OEMs don’t do the same thing. I have to tell them I made it and I don’t know why they don’t have something similar (OK, mine is specifically sized for my small phone with case and customers would have any array of possible available phones, but a larger pocket could be filled out with simple inserts, which is another accessory they could overcharge for).

  4. I use the Amazon Echo Auto in my 2 older cars. One has RCA inputs (not even a headphone jack). The MGB has bluetooth in it’s aftermarket radio, but I still added the Echo Auto so I can just tell Alexa what to play via voice. Mostly it’s SiriusXM that I call to cancel every year and then renew for $60 for another 12 months. Impressively, it works in my MG with the top down at 45-50 miles per hour about 95% of the time. If you look for them on Prime Day or other sales, I’ve picked them up for $15-20. You can use the Echo Auto for phone calls too (the old version has 8 microphones in it). There’s a new, much smaller version now, not that they were very big before.

    1. I guess the old version is discounted before the new comes out. I just looked, and it’s $14.99 right now. It’s a good quality device at that price, as long as you are OK with Alexa listening in on your commute.

  5. Boy we’ve come a long way since my college days when I had the Sony Discman sitting on the front bench of the Chevy with that FM transmitter sticking out of it, trying to have music driving 7 hours across 3 states. Ah the good ol days 🙂

    1. Oh yeah… my trusty Discman with a tape adapter connected to my sweet BOSS removable head unit, bought at a flea market, in my ’88 Ranger (which didn’t come with a radio standard).

      Those were the days indeed!

  6. I just use a Bluetooth that plugs into the 12 volt DC charger and broadcasts over FM. It seems to me to be simpler than the solution proposed here. It is all in my old sports cars so the subtle nuances of audio fidelity are not really noticeable. I have had a cheap Amazon unit for several years, still works fine.

    1. Me too. I’ve had my Anker version for 3 years, and it works perfectly. Sounds as good as FM to me, no RF noise, pretty reliable, and it even works well taking calls. Sounds like some others have not had as good luck with this type of device, but I have no real complaints.

    2. Really depends on where you live. There isn’t enough space on the dial for them to be effective where I live. When I used to work in Northern Ontario they worked OK but driving home it would get harder and harder to find an open channel to use.

      1. I think it might depend on the receiver you have too. The old Pioneer supertuner I have works great. There is really nowhere on the “dial” where there is not some weak station to overcome, but it does just fine. The old Blaupunkt is a little scratchy, but I have no idea if the is from the Bluetooth, station interference, or just an old receiver.

  7. “Will a Bluetooth connection ever offer the fidelity of a wired connection? Absolutely not. However, let’s say that you have a modern phone that doesn’t have a dedicated 3.5 mm auxiliary port”

    Option #2, save your obsolete smartphone that DOES have a 3.5mm port and an SD slot and use it as a dedicated music player.

  8. I went with a TUNAI Firefly LDAC in my 2010 128i so I could play back music from my Pioneer XDP-30r. However, at some point, I’m going to do the COMBOX upgrade and add an SSD to the iDrive stereo/nav system as I don’t like to fiddle with the Pioneer DAP while I’m driving, and having to pull over when the album is done sucks.

  9. In my 97 Mustang, I use a Bluetooth cassette adapter and have been very impressed. It connects automatically to my phone as soon as it’s turned on, the battery last forever, and unlike my experiences with Aux cords in other cars, there’s no interference. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B083BX9FPT/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    I’ve also been looking into USB C to 3.5mm/charging adapters. This would also work in Thomas’ car, just with extra wires. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B094Z6149B/ref=ox_sc_saved_image_1?smid=A2V5UCM7705I48&psc=1

  10. May I please introduce everyone to Tinysine Bluetooth boards. https://www.tinyosshop.com/index.php?route=product/category&path=158_168

    Should you have a 3.5mm jack it’s plug n play, then run off the fuse box through a 12v DC to 5v DC isolated ground buck converter (isolated grounds are very important as it eliminates loop feedback).

    I opted for the aptX + microphone input, added a $5 lapel mike mounted on the steering column.

    In my 2001 BMW 325cic, I now enjoy near hi-fi levels of automatic bluetooth connection, wireless audio, and handsfree calling, completely hidden behind the glove box for about $50. The lapel mic works so well, I can have full conversation at 70mph with the top down!

    My ’90 750iL is another beast all together, with a 4-channel (FR, FL, RR, RL) amp output to 10 speakers…. I’ve yet to figure out any similar solution that doesn’t require professional audio equipment. Any help would be appreciated.
    Right now I have some grey-market overpowered 12V Bluetooth-FM transmitter that works most everywhere but in the city. Oh and has awful ground loop noise.

  11. I bought something similar recently to allow me to use an older but still great pair of headphones (Sony MDR-V6) with my iPhone without having to find the silly 3.5mm-to-Lightning dongle, and it can also plug into an aux port in your car. Super handy device.

  12. I once repaired the first commercial Bluetooth devices which was an Ericsson handsfree, I worked at a contract manufacturer in Finland. It was an an earpiece and a bit you plugged in your phone, internally named Harald and Lucas. The Harald comes from Harald Bluetooth obviously, no clue where Lucas comes from. I still might have the schematics somewhere. The first Bluetooth chips had packaging big enough I could reapply solder paste on the BGA by hand when changing them.

  13. I read this, saw the 3.5mm aux input, and thought….why don’t you just buy a Lighting/USB-C (depending on your phone) to 3.5mm adapter?

    It would be better sound quality than Bluetooth and likely a less expensive adaptor to buy.

    Or, if your car has a USB-A slot, just drop all your music onto a thumb drive, and leave the phone for nav using some sort of dash or vent mount. Or not use your phone at all when you drive (this is what I do).

    This seems more complicated than it has to be simply because a driver can’t fathom NOT using Bluetooth or the radio for music.

  14. For quite a while I was a fan of the Anker branded Fm transmitters. It would plow over any local radio stations, but I bought a new one recently and the audio quality fucking tanked. I’m currently using a $12 Monster Audio branded one from Walmart that has mostly decent audio quality. Most audiophiles would pick it apart for not having a “transparent” tone or a “flat” response…but I’m sending it into a mid 80’s-00’s Chrysler radio while listening to horribly recorded mid 00’s hardcore, so does it really matter? If I wanted a hifi experience it wouldn’t be while crusing in a shitbox with the windows down.

  15. Thomas: (posts a well-intentioned and well-reasoned solution for cheap)

    Me: “I don’t like this factory stereo. BRB.” (SOME TIME LATER…) “OK so I couldn’t find a good high speed CANbus to tie into so I just added a pin to the BCM. But then I realized the amp has this bandpass filter in it I don’t like, but I don’t want to cut or replace that harness so I ordered the connectors from Mouser, but you see this cable route here? No bueno, RF noise. That’s why FM’s spotty. So the GPS cable needs rer-oh, yeah, I added GPS receive-only. Anyways, at that point I realized it doesn’t tie into the BCM sufficiently…”

    This is really funny until I admit that aside from the CANbus (because it doesn’t have it,) this is quite literally exactly what I’m doing with the Saab.
    I haven’t figured out where I’m going to physically locate the OBD-II to CANbus translator yet. It needs a smidge more 12V.

    AND IN MY DEFENSE, the Saab 9-3 Viggen does not have a cassette or an aux cable.

    1. “AND IN MY DEFENSE, the Saab 9-3 Viggen does not have a cassette or an aux cable”

      It does however have a MASSIVE stock stereo which I presume leaves you plenty of room for a similarly massive touchscreen SatNav. Why not just do that and put in your own amp(s) using the pre-outs? There should be bezels you can use to make it look good and adapters to get the steering wheel buttons to work.

    1. We used to have a ratty mk3 Cortina with one of those huge Hitachi 3d superwoofer ghetto blasters bungee corded to the dash with wires going out the window and threaded through the bonnet to the battery terminals for power. Aaaaah, the 90s were fun.

  16. I bought the Tunai one. I have 2. They work great in my GX with stock stereo and my Cruiser with aftermarket stereo (but pre-Bluetooth streaming). They are also awesome with self-powered speakers for things like PA and movie night. The nice thing about the Tunai one is that they make an LDAC model for higher fidelity. I didn’t buy that one, but maybe I should. My phone finally supports it.

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