Car Stereos with USB ports

Q: I recently bought an in-dash CD deck for my car which has a USB port for plugging in my iPod to play tunes from its library. But whenever I do, it plays the same list of random songs every time. The songs aren’t members of any certain playlist. It’s a seemingly random selection from my library, but it’s always the same ones. I’m unable to override this no matter what I do. Any suggestions on how I can play the playlists I want through the stereo?

– Johnny

A: Unless a car stereo’s USB port feature is accompanied with an explicit mention of iPod compatibility, you can – unfortunately – be sure it will be nearly useless to iPod users. Decks offering generic USB compatibility with music players work by searching the devices’ file structure for compatible tracks. Here’s the catch: even the best of these players, which organize the identified tracks according to the folders they’re stored in, will not be useful with iPods. This is because all iPods store tracks in random locations spread across 20 or so folders. A specially-crafted database created behind the scenes by iTunes instructs the iPod on how to access and organize these tracks.

In short, it’s bad news for you and your CD deck. If your deck supports an auxiliary input, you can simply use an audio cable from your iPod’s headphone jack or a line-out adapter to feed analog audio to your car’s system.

For other readers, know that in-dash decks certainly do exist which have the ability to read the iPod’s database, and therefore correctly navigate its listing of Artists, Albums, Playlists, and more. We’ve covered a high-end example here, but cheaper options exist with full iPod database-browsing capabilities, both as full stereo-replacement decks and as adapters that work with factory stereos in many new cars. Check the list of manufacturers at Apple’s iPod-Car Integration web page.

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