Review of the Best Bluetooth Adapters for Your Car
Bluetooth Adapters for Car Audio Systems
You just bought a car and want to connect your smartphone—iPhone, Android, or smartphone of your choice—with the audio system of your car. You want to listen to your music, podcasts or an app like Pandora.
There are two ways to connect your smartphone with your car audio:
- You can use the Aux-In connection. But that would mean that every time you get into your car, you have to grab your smartphone out of your pocket, find the Aux cable, and connect it. Then your smartphone lays around somewhere in the car with a dangling cable. Not nice!
- A smarter way is using Bluetooth, which does not require you fiddling with your smartphone and a cable. Much better!
That's why I am going more into details for this wireless solution.
For transmitting music over Bluetooth, your radio and your smartphone need to support a specific protocol called A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile).
Often this is where the problems start. While most smartphones nowadays support this protocol, your audio system in the car does not necessarily support it. Some cars do not support Bluetooth at all, or only as an expensive option; others support Bluetooth with a different protocol for conducting phone calls (HFP, "Hands-Free Profile"), which is nice but does not help us with our goal of listening to audio from our smartphone.
What a Bluetooth Adapter for Cars Does for You
Here comes the adapter into the game. These adapters get their power from a battery or from your cigarette lighter and connect with the Aux-In of your car. The adapter contains a Bluetooth chip with the necessary A2DP protocol to connect wirelessly with your smartphone. Every time you want to listen to any audio from your smartphone, you just select the Aux input on your audio system and vòila, you hear the sound from your phone. The ways of using such an adaptor are limitless. Have you ever wanted the voice commands from your navigation app on your smartphone, where they are clearer and louder? With a Bluetooth adapter, you can put that audio onto the loudspeakers of your car.
The devices on the market nowadays all offer different sets of features. But what kind of features are there?
- 3.5-mm input / Aux-In
Obviously, the device needs to offer this feature. There are models on the market that connect in different ways—audio cassette, radio frequency—but both have the big disadvantage of very poor audio quality.
- Built-In Charger
While some devices run on battery, most of them have a built-in charger that connects with the cigarette lighter of your car.
These devices can send commands to your smartphone, such as starting playback, pause, skip to the next title, and so on. Some models have one button which controls the different commands. You can activate them through a series of clicks—single-click, double-click—you get the idea. Other models have dedicated buttons for the different commands.
In addition to the A2DP protocol, there is an improved version called "aptX" that aims to provide higher audio quality through Bluetooth than A2DP.
- Hands-Free Protocol
If your car does not support Bluetooth at all, you may be interested in having the protocol for making phone calls with this adapter. It should come with the necessary microphone.
Four Bluetooth Adapters Compared
There are dozens of models on the market and every day more show up. At the time of this review, I was in the looking for a Bluetooth adapter for my new car.
My short list came to these four models:
- Belkin Bluetooth Car Hands-Free Kit
- EDUP EP-B3502 Wireless Car Bluetooth Music Receiver Stereo Output A2DP For Phone
- JVC KSBTA100 Add-On Bluetooth Adapter
- Kinivo BTC450 Bluetooth Hands-Free Car Kit for Cars
In the following side-by-side table I compare the features of these models.
Bluetooth Adapter Features Compared
Feature / Model
3.5 mm input / Aux-In
NO (not necessary)
YES + USB
>1550 Ø 4,0 Stars
>280 Ø 3,0 Stars
>95 Ø 4,5 Stars
>3200 Ø 4,5 Stars
Belkin Bluetooth Car Hands-Free Kit
The Belkin has a very clean and nice look. If your car's inside light color is blue, you will like the blue ring that is emitting light when the smartphone is connected. It comes with an extra USB port to charge any additional device (for example, your smartphone when it is running low). It depends on your car whether the charging process stops when you switch off the car. If it doesn't stop charging, then it could drain your car battery over time.
There are reports of incompatibility, which shows up in the form of hissing noises. Some people could fix that problem with a "Ground Loop Isolator."
It is up to you whether you like the One-Button design. If you have problems remembering different patterns of clicks to perform a specific command, you may want to look for another device. The implemented Hands-Free phone feature is a nice add-on. Opinions vary on whether the sound quality of a phone call is good, good enough, or just bad.
The EDUP adapter is the smallest of the four. As it does not have any buttons, you may hide it completely out of sight (depending on where the Aux-In in your car is). A problem is the fact that it doesn't come with a charger. That's something you have to buy separately. Unfortunately, owners report that there are hissing noises when you charge the battery and listen to audio at the same time; you end up doing one or the other. But that means when your battery runs out, you have to charge before you can continue listening to your favourite tune. That's a rather large disadvantage in my view.
JVC KSBTA100 Add-On Bluetooth Adapter
The JVC is a different beast. It doesn't connect in the usual way as the other adapters. It is not Plug-and-Play. The JVC needs to be connected directly to the wiring harness of your car, which is an extra step; you may need to go to a garage to get it installed. But once you are at that point, there are advantages: you'll never need to worry about draining your car battery, or the adapter's battery running out of energy in the middle of something.
Kinivo BTC450 Bluetooth Hands-Free Car Kit for Cars
The Kinivo shares a lot of the traits of the Belkin adapter. It even looks very similar. But here are four differences:
- The light that indicates the connection is very unobtrusive.
- It has dedicated buttons for "Forward" and "Rewind."
- It auto-connects with your smartphone as soon as it is in reach.
- It supports the aptX protocol.
My Choice: Kinivo BTC450
The EDUP was clearly out of the competition for me, because of the disadvantages I described before.
As much as I liked the JVC, I didn't want to go to a garage and pay to get it installed. Besides, it would end up being a fixed installation in my car; I couldn't take it with me on vacation to use it in a rental car for example. So my decision was between the Belkin and the Kinivo. I liked the design of the Belkin a little better but didn't want to see that big blue light all the time. And I wasn't looking forward to manually re-connecting the Belkin with my smartphone.
The Kinivo, on the other hand, gives me the luxury to re-connect automatically every single time without a flaw. It has extra buttons which is nice, and the feeling of better sound quality due to its aptX support. I say feeling because I do not really know the difference. But I am very satisfied with the quality. There are no noises whatsoever. And the charger is powerful enough to charge my iPhone 5, which can be a problem because not all chargers provide enough amperage for that model.
Which Adapter Should You Go for?
Check the features in the table above and reduce your list this way, then follow your personal taste. If you encounter any problems, for example, the hissing problem, you can still return the adapter and go for your second choice. Many customers who had problems with the Belkin switched successfully to the Kinivo or vice versa.
Pick up your Kinivo BTC450 here or even look for the new Kinivo BTC455 (see section below).
One Year of Personal Experience With the Kinivo
I have had the Kinivo now for a little bit over a year.
I personally love gadgets that are so good at what they do, that you are not aware anymore they are there. The Kinivo falls into this category! Every single time I enter my car the Kinivo and my phone are already connected. Every single time!
I can't stress enough how convenient it is to listen to the instructions for the navigation app on my phone via the car's built-in loudspeakers. Even at higher speed, there is no problem understanding them. The same goes for music and podcasts.
After making a lot of calls with the Kinivo, I can say nothing but good things about it. My conversational partners and I understand each other loud and clear. And believe me, the Kinivo knob (where the mic is built-in) is definitely not installed in the best possible place in my car.
If you look for a function-rich and reliable Bluetooth adapter for your car, go for the Kinivo BTC450.
An Upgraded Kinivo
After nearly two years of owning and loving the Kinivo BTC450, I am now looking to get one for my wife's car. To my (positive) surprise, Kinivo has released an upgraded version: the Kinivo BTC 455!
This model offers all the features of the BTC450 and adds one: multi-point connectivity. If you are in the market for a Bluetooth audio adapter for your car, have a look at the new Kinivo BTC455.
Let Me Know
What kind of experience do you have with an adapter of this kind?
Is there an even better model on the market?
Let me know in the comments.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2013 TheAndy