Let’s face it, the humble cassette tape is ancient technology.
I’m pretty sure that along with the animals that went two-by-two on Noah’s Ark, there was an original Sony Walkman as well.
But in all seriousness, while the cassette tape is very much tech of the past, it does have some relevance for the motoring community.
Many older cars (particularly those from the 80s, 90s and early 2000s) have tape decks in the stereo system.
In fact, you might have a car that only has a tape deck, depending on the age and type of your car.
One of the biggest problems with older cars is that your options when it comes to infotainment/audio playback are severely limited.
In a recent article we went in-depth on a number of ways you can add more modern audio playback functionality to your older car (read the guide here).
In this article we are breaking out a particular category of product – the humble cassette adapter/tape adapter, in order to identify the best cassette adapters for your car.
So if you’ve got a tape deck/cassette player in your car and are looking for a way to add more modern audio playback, then this is the guide for you.
Why Use A Cassette Adapter?
In our view there are a few key reasons why you might want to use a cassette adapter for music playback:
- You have a tape deck in your car and it’s your only option to add additional functionality without modifying your car. If your car has a tape deck and an AUX port, for example, then you’d be crazy not to use the AUX option. But many cars from the 80s and 90s came only with cassette tape players, so this may be your only option. Another option that most cars will have is using an FM radio transmitter (read our guide to the best Bluetooth FM transmitters for more information on some of the top options) but the truth is that tape/cassette adapters are generally more reliable and sound better, as you don’t have to worry about finding an empty radio station.
- You don’t want to change your car stereo. As we covered in our guide to adding better connectivity to older cars, the best option is generally to install a new stereo head unit. Just about any car out there can have a new stereo installed, and there are lots of reasonably-priced options. However, a cassette adapter is a lot cheaper still, so if budget (or availability) prevents you upgrading your stereo, then this is another strong reason.
- You want to preserve originality. Another reason to use a cassette adapter for your car is that you want to preserve the originality of your vehicle. Let’s say you have an older car that you are trying to keep in mint, original condition; changing out the stereo head unit could potentially ruin the originality of that car. However, using a tape adapter will allow you to get more modern functionality without sacrificing the originality of your car.
Our Experience With Cassette/Tape Adapters
I’ve had a fair bit of experience with car cassette adapters in my time.
My first foray into this space was back in about 2009, when I bought a cheap Mazda Sentia (a weird and wonderful JDM luxury car from the early 1990s). The stereo installed in that car had a cd player, FM radio and tape deck.
This was around the time when iPods and MP3 players were getting really affordable, and I had just got my first iPod and was in desperate need of a way to blast my tunes in the car.
At the time I didn’t have the money to replace the stereo head unit, but I chanced across a cheap tape adapter in a local electronics store.
The rest, as they say, is history – I’ve been a fan of cassette adapters for older cars ever since, as they are simple and effective.
I’ve used cassette adapters on a number of cars I’ve owned, so feel well qualified to give my advice on the best options.
Types Of Cassette Adapters For Cars
There are two main types of cassette adapters that you can buy:
- Wired – This is the “old school” option. Basically you insert an adapter (which just looks like a regular tape) into the tape deck of your car. It will have an AUX/3.5mm audio cable attached to it, which you then insert into your phone or music device.
- Bluetooth – With this option, you insert the adapter into the tape deck and then connect your phone or music device via Bluetooth. There is no physical connection between your phone/audio device and the adapter itself.
With both options you get audio output by putting your car’s stereo on to tape playback mode.
You then load up Spotify or iTunes or whatever you want to use to playback music, and go from there.
It really is that easy! Cassette adapters have to be one of the easiest and most economical ways to add more audio functionality to your older car.
Which Should You Pick – Wired Or Bluetooth?
If you value sound quality and reliability above all else, then go for a wired cassette adapter.
Yes it’s less convenient, but in our experience the wired adapters are much more reliable (as Bluetooth devices can be buggy, especially cheaper ones).
They are also less expensive – you can pick up a wired adapter for peanuts – we will cover some of the budget options shortly.
One other benefit of using a wired option is that you don’t have to worry about charging. Many Bluetooth adapters require the device to be charged before use, as your cassette deck can’t provide charge to the device.
If you value the “wireless life” then you’ll want a Bluetooth cassette adapter for your car. While you’ll need to pay more and probably have to deal with reduced sound quality and potential connection issues, with a Bluetooth adapter you do get the benefit of being able to keep your phone anywhere in the car.
Another reason to go for the wireless/Bluetooth option is of your phone or music device doesn’t have an AUX output and you don’t want to deal with a charging port to AUX adapter.
Best Wired Cassette Adapters
Best Budget Option – DigitNow iCarPlay
If you are after a basic, simple wired cassette adapter that allows you to plug your phone or other audio device in via AUX cable, then the DigitNow iCarPlay (don’t think Apple’s in-house legal team would be too happy with that name) is a great option.
It’s inexpensive – often available for pocket change money – and has a decent reputation for reliability and sound quality according to users.
One thing we like about this product in particular is just how dirt cheap it is, especially when on sale. If you need to blast some tunes through your older stereo and you don’t want to spend more than a value fast food meal, then this is your ticket to in-car audio Nirvana. You even get a gold-plated connector on the AUX, so you can feel very smug about your purchase.
Despite its bargain-basement price tag, this adapter is also one of the better sounding ones according to user reviews.
There are occasional complaints about durability, but considering the price this particular product is well worth a roll of the dice!
Click here to learn more about this product and to buy from Amazon.com
Best Premium Option – Arsvita Wired Adapter
If you’d like to step up to a more premium cassette adapter, then the Arsvita Wired Adapter could be just what the doctor ordered.
Users praise the solid build quality and sound on this item, as well as the durable connector cable (on cheaper adapters, this can be one of the most common failure points – it’s happened to me on some of the no-brand adapters I’ve used in the past).
There are even higher end options than the Arsvita, but the truth is that you probably aren’t getting much in terms of extra value. This product is at a “sweet spot” terms of bang for buck.
Click here to learn more and to buy from Amazon.com
Honorable Mention – Aliexpress Generics
If you want the cheapest cassette adapter possible (and you like buying from Aliexpress and don’t the potential for slow shipping and amusingly bad Chinese to English translation) then we recommend taking a look at some of the “no brand” products available on Aliexpress.
A particular favorite is this classy item, which is available for a couple of bucks:
The truth is that if budget is very much top of the list in terms of your priorities, then there’s nothing wrong with purchasing a cassette adapter from Aliexpress (in fact many of the more premium products you see on Amazon and other websites are just re-branded Alibaba/Aliexpress items … Google “white labelling” to learn more about this).
Outside of Aliexpress generic products, you can also find lots of “no brand” cassette adapters in electronics stores, auto stores etc.
Just about any of these products will do the trick, although it is worth investing a bit more in a superior quality adapter as they tend to be more durable and reliable, and may have superior sound quality.
Best Bluetooth Cassette Adapters
In this section we look at some of the top bluetooth tape adapter options.
Best Budget Option – Arsvita Bluetooth Receiver
Arsvita featured above with their popular wired cassette adapter, and also get a showing here with their Bluetooth version.
This unit has stereo output (some cheap adapters only do mono) and also sports Bluetooth 5. Because of this, you can control the track you are listening to, and answer or stop calls using the controller on the device itself.
Yes, that’s right, you can even take calls using this Bluetooth adapter – although reviews on the call quality are fairly mixed, so you’re probably better to use this as an emergency use feature only and focus instead on the ability to play back audio files.
With this adapter you’ll need to charge it before use, using the bundled USB cable. It takes an hour or so to charge. Once charged you will need to insert the adapter and then pair the device, which can be a bit of a faff according to some users (once again this is a strong reason why you should consider using a wired cassette adapter if possible – cheap Bluetooth devices are not famed for their reliable pairing and connection capability).
Sound quality for audio file playback is decent, although unlikely to please an audiophile. For most users it will be fine, and also bear in mind that the quality of your car’s stereo.
If you’re after a decent Bluetooth cassette adapter, then this is a good shot for a fair price.
Best Premium Option – Aluratek Universal Bluetooth Adapter
If you don’t mind paying a little extra, then Aluratek’s Bluetooth adapter is a more premium option.
Once again, you’ll need to charge this device (which gives you up to 8 hours on a full charge). A nice touch is that the adapter will turn itself off after being disconnected from any Bluetooth-enabled device for more than five minutes, so the internal battery doesn’t get drained when you aren’t actually streaming music/audio.
Sound quality is noted as being superior to the Arsvita adapter, so if you value crisp audio, then this is a good option to look at. However, unlike the Arsvita option there are no in-built controls for changing songs, answering calls etc – this is a simpler device in many respects, with the upshot being superior audio quality.
One thing to note is that many reviewers complain of internal gear noise from the winding mechanism, which can be off-putting and also seem to cause some ejection issues.
Many users of this product recommend opening up the case and removing the small internal gears (while also lubricating the larger main gears). This means the adapter loses the auto-reverse function, although that can prevent ejection issues which is positive.
Basically, if you’re happy to do a little DIY (in the event that you find the gear noise unacceptable) and just want a Bluetooth tape adapter that gives you the best possible sound quality for music playback, then the Aluratek adapter is your best bet.
Where To Buy A Cassette Adapter For Your Car?
The good news is that this is a fairly “universal” category of product, so you have lots of buying options. Unless you live in outer Mongolia, it should be easy enough to find a good product that suits your needs for a reasonable price.
As far as where to buy:
- Amazon – there are a number of great tape adapter products on Amazon (including some of those mentioned above – just click the links to check them out).
- Aliexpress – as mentioned you can get some fantastic deals on tape adapters of dubious provenance from Aliexpress.
- Electronics stores, big box retailers etc – if you don’t want to wait, then your local electronics store or big box retailer (and possibly even auto parts shop) will stock cassette adapter products. You sometimes even see these adapters old in gas/petrol stations, so if you’re out on a road trip and in desperate need of tunes, then you might have some luck there.
- eBay or online auction sites – once again there is lots of good buying here. Considering the price of a new adapter, it’s hard to recommend buying second hand – but most auction sites will have a number of new listings. For example here’s what I found on TradeMe (NZ’s version of eBay). You can see a massive divergence in terms of pricing, with the cheapest unit costing about $1.50 through to $60 for a Bluetooth adapter with handsfree calling functionality.
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about tape/cassette adapters for cars. More FAQs will be answered over time, so check back in the future!
Do Cassette Adapters Sound Good?
The answer here is “it depends”.
There are multiple factors you need to consider:
How good is the cassette player/stereo in your car? The quality and capability of your car speakers, for example, will have a massive impact on whether the tunes blasting through your cassette adapter sound good. The old Mazda Sentia I mentioned earlier had a fairly decent set of speakers in it, and so the sound quality was really not bad at all (true audiophiles would beg to differ, but then again they are never satisfied in my experience). On the other hand, in my old Toyota Cynos which was a basic economy car, the sound through the tape adapter was fairly rubbish, but the sound from the radio was awful too.
Which adapter are you using? There is definitely a difference between the dirt cheap adapters, and the more premium options. If you value sound quality, then pay a few dollars more to get a premium product.
As long as you go in with reasonable expectations and don’t expect studio quality sound, you’ll be fine.
Do Bluetooth Cassette Adapters Work?
Bluetooth cassette adapters work fine – just don’t expect 100% reliability (a bit like any Bluetooth product, to be honest).
If you don’t mind the occasional frustration with connection drop-outs, then you will probably be happy with a Bluetooth adapter.
However, we still recommend going wired if you don’t mind the fact that you have to plug in – although one advantage of the Bluetooth adapters is that they can sometimes have louder output volume than the wired options.
Are Cassette Adapters Reliable?
Once again, the answer to this question is “it depends” (and it very much depends on your expectations).
Because a cassette adapter has moving parts, reliability is generally worse than you might expect from something like a Bluetooth FM transmitter which has no moving parts.
The good news is that because tape adapters are cheap, it isn’t the end of the world if yours breaks.
The cassette tape – as a technology – has long been consigned to the dustbin of history.
However, there are many older cars on the road that still have tape playback functionality.
If your car is one of these, then you’re in for a treat – as cassette functionality allows you to easily add the ability to play back audio from a phone or MP3 player through the use of a cassette adapter for your car.
For a comparatively small price, you can add a whole lot of additional audio functionality to your car – without needing to spend up large on a new head unit (or modify your car if you are concerned with preserving originality).
In this guide we looked at some of the best cassette adapters for your car, covering budget and premium options of the wired and wireless variety.
Considering that even the most expensive of adapters is still rather affordable – at least compared to the cost of swapping out a new stereo head unit, for example – you are probably best to invest in one of the premium options, as cheaper units can have a tendency to fail after a relatively short period of time.
Because there are moving parts within the cassette itself, there is definitely a higher risk of breakage and wear than if you’re using something like a normal AUX connection to your car stereo (this is why buying a better quality adapter from the outset is a wise investment if your budget allows).
If you have any questions/comments/concerns or need our advice, then leave a comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org