Sound Systems

How to Play CDs in Newer Cars with No CD Player 

These days, with the exception of a few GM SUV and Lexus models, few car dealerships offer in-dash CD players as options. While they were a huge technological step forward in their day, modern technology has rendered them virtually obsolete with superior and more convenient sound quality and access, so they have grown increasingly rare over the last decade. 

Car manufacturers today tend to look at CD players as devices that take up too much space and that are too heavy to deserve places in their newer, sleeker car models. The players take up room on a dashboard that can be used for other more technically-advanced options, such as touchscreen technology screens that take up a significant amount of space, leaving room for little else on the dash. 

Autoweek writes that the notable decline in car CD players occurred over the last five years when car manufacturers decided to drop them from the options menu seriously. New music technology had taken a stronghold by that time, with digitized options that were easier to operate, less cumbersome, and had the cutting-edge sound quality that CDs just didn’t possess. This seemed to follow the path of the swiftly disappearing cassette players that vanished in the middle of the 2000s. 

The time it took for CD players to exit also had a lot to do with the demographics of the people who were purchasing cars when the new technology began to take over. For instance, consumers who bought luxury cars still equipped with CD players in the mid-2000s were among those who had held on to their sizable CD collections up to that point. The younger generation had already begun using their iPods and other MP3 players, which overlapped with the installation of CD players at that time. The incentive to install CD players began to dwindle, so now, finding them as options for new cars is a rarity. 

According to Autoweek, it is only a matter of time until CD players vanish from the planet altogether, leaving countless CDs stuck in glove compartments and slipped into sun visors, helpless orphans with no way to demonstrate their chords and vocal contributions of the good ‘ol days.

How to Play CDs in Newer Cars with No CD Player 

In the majority of cases, one can replace a new audio system with an older stereo that has a built-in CD player. This is an expensive endeavor, however, because doing this will require major modifications to the car’s interior, but the end result is a lot slicker and will look better than any of the other alternatives available for playing CDs in a car without a built-in CD player. The sound quality, however, will probably fall short of that which is already in the car’s existing system, simply because of all of the technological milestones that have been passed since CD players were in favor. 

The music will still play, however, and it will look much better and function easier than if one added an external portable CD player that would have connectors and so forth hanging from the dashboard. The good news is that for die-hard CD fans there are still ways to play CDs in newer cars that do not have CD players installed. Logically, the portable CD player would come to mind first. Even so, this solution is not without problems.

Even though many manufacturers stopped producing CD players years ago, they can still be found, albeit at a premium price, despite their diminished quality. Even the earliest models are available here and there. Sellers can demand top dollar for them based on their merits as relics.

Another problem lies in the fact that many of the portable CD players that are available today are not among players manufactured by top-notch purveyors of music players.  

Even if one does locate and purchase a suitable CD player, the aforementioned problem of finding space for it in the car still exists. Since it does not fit into the dashboard, one has to settle for balancing a portable one on top of the dash or on the console. If the passenger seat is empty, it can fit there, but unless it is somehow secured, it can slide around and become dislodged simply when the car turns a corner. 

Another problem that portable CD players evoke is their power source. Owners of built-in CD players don’t have to bother with worrying about how to power them. This is not the case with portable models. Batteries are usually a quick solution, but the lives of the small batteries used by most portable CD players are limited, so one can almost account for frequent battery changes, which can be required at inopportune times. There is also the matter of additional accessories and connectors that go hand-in-hand with owning a portable CD player, the least of which is a set of external speakers. 

Connecting a portable CD player to a car’s existing audio system

Most newer cars still have USB ports for various things, such as charging a phone or to provide power to any other device that is USB compatible. This type of connection can simultaneously transmit both power and data, but not all of them are wired alike. Some of them transmit only data while others transmit only power. Cars that come with built-in USB ports will usually be wired to transmit both power and data and can be good for powering portable CD players that are USB compatible. 

It is fairly simple to add a USB charging port to a car, especially for a person who understands basic electronics and knows how to solder. Some people even replace their cigarette lighters with them. The twelve volt car socket in a pull-out lighter drawer was designed to heat a cigarette lighter. If you’re not a smoker, or simply want to replace it with a USB port. This can be fairly simple and straightforward, once you have located one that is a perfect fit for your particular car. 

The first step is to remove the lighter fuse so that the circuit won’t short out while the work is being done. Any dash trim components that block full access to the lighter should also be removed, followed by any electrical connections that lead to the lighter.  

Once the wires are off, the nut that holds the socket can be removed with fingers, or, if it’s too tight, a socket or wrench can be used. Next, take the sheath off of the lighter. This will enable the lighter to be pulled through the front of the dashboard. This is when the new USB port can be inserted through the dash to replace the lighter. The USB should then be connected to the power and the ground wire. It is important not to reverse the connection in this case to prevent its shorting out. 

The only things left to do at this point are to secure the USB with a nut on the back, replace the fuse and test the USB port. If it works, replace all of the trim pieces that were removed, and that’s it. If the installation sounds too difficult an undertaking, it costs around $200 to hire a professional installer.

An even simpler way to do it is to just use an FM radio transmitter that comes with a USB already built in. The stereo operator’s manual should be consulted to determine whether the USB drive should be formatted using the NTFS or FAT32 file systems. Nothing further is needed.

Connecting a portable CD player to a car’s existing audio system via an AUX Cable

There are ways to hook up a portable player to a car’s audio system, which is something one should consider before the initial purchase. AUX inputs are no longer the hot-selling electronic gems they once were, but there is no way around the fact that they do a great job of connecting things that need connecting. 

If shopping for a portable player for a car that features an auxiliary jack, the best choice to make is a CD player that has one as well. The NextronHott CD 204. and Deluxe Products portable CD players are three examples of portable players that come with AUX inputs and cables. There are others on the market as well. 

To connect an AUX-equipped portable player to an existing car audio system, simply insert a CD into the player, connect the AUX cable from the player into the car’s AUX port, change the car’s input to AuX, and hit “play” on the CD player. It’s fast, easy and it works well. 

Grab your laptop

Virtually any laptop computer with a CD drive can be used as a substitute for a built-in CD player. The main consideration with using this method is its compatibility with the car’s audio system, which is something that should be checked out before using it The connection should work similarly to that of any portable CD player with an AUX input and cable, but not all cars come equipped with them. The main problem with using a laptop, of course, is that it takes up a good amount of space and, like any other portable CD player, it can be cumbersome and is apt to slide around if the car is being driven. If the driver can find a way to secure it this system will work reasonably well. 

FM Radio Transmitter

Many of the portable type CD players have FM radio transmitters that can be connected to a car audio system. This is a good system to use because it is relatively simple to employ and it is cordless. There are rarely any issues with compatibility because most car radios already have an FM tuner. 

One disadvantage is that the tuner station may have to be changed from time to time. This is especially true when the car travels long distances. Sometimes the car might enter an area that will use the frequency chosen for the CD player to broadcast a different radio station, but if the same type of search is done, one should be able to find another relatively quickly. 

 Using this method, the CD player broadcasts the FM signal that is then picked up by the audio system in the car. This is a simple to use system that requires the use of an area FM station that isn’t being used.  

To find an unused FM station, a search should be conducted to find a station that has nothing but static. Once the station is located, the portable player should be tuned to this station. Even though the car’s audio system will show the numbers associated with the station, the actual source for the music will be the portable player.

As with any connection that isn’t wired, use of an FM transmitter can result in a lower quality broadcast. Depending on the equipment used, the difference in quality can be slight or pronounced.

If none of these methods is acceptable, there is always a last resort, which is to save one’s audio files by digitizing their CDs. 

Digitization of CDs 

Digitization of one’s CD collection is not for anyone who enjoys the physical qualities of the CDs themselves, but if one simply wants to listen to the music regardless of the form that they take, this might be the best choice. This is a popular solution to how to play CDs in a car that doesn’t have a CD player, because it does not require any type of adapters, cables, space-consuming equipment or additional electronics that can drive the price upward. With the right equipment, one can easily digitize them at home, or, if time is a factor, they can be sent to companies that are dedicated to doing exactly this. 

One can download any number of apps that allow the transport of a CD disc to an MP3 or another digital format. The process is quite simple, and it eliminates the physical space problem imposed by the CDs themselves, while enabling one to store their music on their phone, SD card, flash drive or on an MP3 player. 

Technically, this can’t be thought of as a means to play CDs, but it is a way of playing the music that is on the CDs, and if one has his or her own mixes, they will be played in the order recorded, so the experience can very well emulate that of playing one’s mixes on a CD, and if all else fails, it might be something to consider, especially for the person who is tired of the inconvenience of carting his or her CD collection along on every road trip. 

There are a few considerations to make when converting music from CDs into other formats, however. First, you should never convert or “rip” a CD with the intention of selling it, unless you have permission from the owner of the music to do so. This is illegal, and copyright law infringement is nothing to sneeze at. 

Another thing to think about is the fact that MP3s aren’t the only formats available to use to convert CDs. If you plan time and have trouble converting your music, you might want to consider transferring it to a lossless audio format, which is one that compresses the sound without any quality loss. These formats can include, but are not limited to,  ALAC, which stands for “Apple Lossless Audio Codec”. This format is used for the Apple Music catalog in its entirety, and is used in resolutions that range from 16-bit/44.1 kHz, used normally in the manufacture of CDs, all the way up to 24-bit/192 kHz.  

FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is another possibility for conversion. This is a format similar to MP3, but during the encoding process, none of the audio data is discarded. The files are much larger than MP3s, but the quality is considerably higher. FLAC files tend to sound great, because they also support a wide and variable range of sampling rates and bit depths that fit into most audiophiles’ desires for high resolution recording requirements. The only drawback is the large filled sizes, because these can impact one’s wireless data usage and storage capacity.  

FLAC is supported by Android tablets and smartphones that run on platforms starting with Android 3.1 and later. Most of today’s Android smartphones fit into this category, unless someone has a very old phone. Apple Smartphones after iOS 11 also support FLAC, but before that OS, Apple devices only supported Apple’s own ALAC format. All iPhones, beginning with 5S or later, should be able to use FLAC without having to convert them to ALAC or without the necessity of a third party application. 

The device used for playback probably won’t be an issue. However, those who choose to connect wirelessly through Bluetooth will lose some quality, because Bluetooth technology uses its own codec, none of which are lossless. This includes Sony’s LDAC, which is a certificated codec of high-resolution wireless audio. LDAC allows the transmission of audio data, including Hi-Res with the maximum bitrate of 990kbps.  

Steven Carr

Steven is a certified IT professional and gaming enthusiast. He has been working in the tech industry for over 10 years, and specializes in all things Tech-related. When he's not geeking out over the latest hardware or software release, he can be found testing out the latest video game.

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