Cassette Adapter

One step back, two steps forward in clarity

Imagine the idea of using an extraordinarily outdated audio format in order to play today's most popular media device. That's the interesting paradox in using a cassette adapter in order to play an iPod in your car, and surprisingly the method works very well. By most accounts, employing a cassette adapter leads to the clearest, most crisp MP3 playback, leaving us jonesing for some 80s rock (Tears for Fears, perhaps).

Cassette AdapterOld tech, better sound.

The design is quite simple. A cassette (sorry, no recorded music) slips into the deck. A connected cord remains loose, and that's what links directly to the MP3 player or iPod. It's probably the easiest way to connect your head unit with a portable music device, and it avoids some of the pitfalls found when using an FM transmitter.

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In addition, many people praise the cassette adapter option as the clearest way to listen to iPod tunes without going for a full installation. This method is also much cheaper, with most products ranging in price from $5 to $20. That isn't much more than the headphone-to-headphone option available to those with stereos capable of auxiliary out.

Of course, you have to own a car with a cassette deck to take advantage of this. Thus, ironically it's the "middle child" in automobile styles that loses out. Own a newer, higher end version of your vehicle? Then you can probably go for the cheap and clear auxiliary out cable. Own an older ride? Cassette adapter is an easy choice. For those in between, the $50 FM transmitters from Belkin, Griffin, and XtremeMac are your only choices beyond the $100+ full installation.

Unlike the FM transmitter and its design, the style of each cassette adapter isn't much different. They're generally of the same look and quality, with little variation in price. Here are some of the models you might be interested in:

  • Belkin Mobile Cassette Adapter
  • Sony CPA-9C Car Cassette Adapter
  • Griffin Technology SmartDeck Cassette Adapter

So, what are the official pros and cons to going cassette?

SmartDeckSmartDeck allows remote
control of your car’s stereo.


Some, like the Griffin SmartDeck, allow you to control your iPod via the vehicle's car stereo controls. In addition, they can sometimes adjust themselves to the right volume in order to avoid unnecessary (and obviously unwanted) sound distortion.


When it comes to the Griffin's ability to switch between songs via stereo controls instead of using the iPod itself, ultimately the skip is much slower than simply using the device. In addition, we've heard many complaints that Belkin's Mobile Cassette Adapter suffers from static and dropouts, dropping it down into the FM transmitter's reliability realm.

If you've got an older vehicle that still has a cassette adapter, feel impoverished no longer. It might just be the best way to get iPod support for your vehicle (even if the method is far from perfect).

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