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Car MP3 Player Tips

After owning my new car for almost a month, excitement finally overcame laziness and I decided to create some MP3 CDs so I could enjoy my (small) music collection in my car.

I learned a few things along the way, so heed these tips.

Step one was to curse myself for originally ripping my music collection in Windows Media format instead of MP3. My car has an MP3 player, not a WMA player. I had chosen the "wrong" format originally because Windows Media offered a lossless quality level, and I didn't care about storage space because it was all going on my hard disk.

I started by re-ripping all my Metallica (9 discs) at the highest quality supported by Windows Media Player (320Kbps). I burned the resulting files onto a pair of CD-RWs with Windows Explorer and took them to my car for a test listen.

Bad results. When I loaded the first CD, the car wasn't able to read it at all. After about 30 seconds of trying, it gave up. I switched to the second CD and that one mysteriously worked. I started listening to a few tracks and noticed a lot of pops and digital artifacts. The quality was very poor; there would typically be a noticeable error every 30 seconds or so.

I put the first CD back in, and to my surprise this time it was able to read the disc. But not the whole disc. The first CD held 5 albums, but the car only saw 3 albums. When I listened to a few tracks, I heard problems similar to the other disc.

I tested the discs on a PC, and they were fine. (No surprise, the drive that wrote them should be able to read them.) This told me that my issue was more serious than just a bad recording session, because the correct data actually is on the discs — but the car couldn't read it.

Four potential problems came to mind.

(1) Perhaps the car's MP3 player didn't support the MP3 bitrate I used. I'd have to re-rip the original CDs at a lower quality level. I wasn't excited about this. (2) Perhaps the car's MP3 player was very media-sensitive. Many ordinary CD players have trouble with CD-RW discs but work much better with CD-R discs. I was even less excited about this, because I don't own any CD-R media and would have to buy some. (3) Perhaps media sensitivity was being exacerbated by using a disc that previously had data on it. Both discs had been previously full of data. (4) I wrote the discs with Windows Explorer, but I don't fully trust it.

That's a lot of things to try, so I did what was easy. I attacked #4, using Roxio Easy CD Creator instead of Windows Explorer. I used the "DataCD" project type instead of "DirectCD" because the latter would have me use Explorer to copy the files, and that's the last thing I wanted to do at this point. Along the way I realized that I could also attack problem #3, because Roxio can do a complete disc erasure (disc → erase → full erase) in addition to the quick erase offered by Explorer. It also gives more control over the recording method, so I selected "disc at once" out of paranoia that my car's MP3 player might be confused by seeing several recording sessions.

It worked! I haven't encountered any problems after a few minutes of listening. My car's MP3 player is happy with the 320Kbps bitrate and it's also happy with CD-RW media. I don't know whether #3 or #4 was the real problem for me, but now that I have a workaround I'm not very interested in the root cause. I know how to create MP3 CDs that will work in my car, so I'm happy.

And now that I've blogged it, I don't have to worry about forgetting the magic formula for success. That's one of the nice things about blogs — even if nobody else reads your drivel, you can post things that are useful references for yourself.

Tiny Island