How To Play Music Through USB In A Car Using Very Simple Steps

We are in a digital world; people no longer use vinyl and CDs to store music. Most of the music is nowadays stored digitally.  Most of the storage devices are nowadays hard drives like flash drives, phone drives, SD cards, Tablet drives and so on.

So how are these digital files going to be played using a car stereo without affecting the quality? Keep reading as we are going to address in details how to play music through USB in a car. You can as well watch this video on how to play music with USB in a car for more information.


What Is A USB?

USB stands for Universal Serial Bus. It refers to connectors, cables and communication protocols for transmitting data, power and communication between devices and computers.

One of the uses of this standard connection design is linking between devices and media players.  They are available as cables with connecting ends or sometimes as drives commonly called USB flash drives.

What You need For Your Car To Play Music Through USB.

Not all car stereo will play music via USB. There are many things you will need to look into for you to be successful in using your USB music player for a car.

#1- A USB port

One of the first features that will give you the go-ahead to USB is a USB port. This is the port that will connect your stereo to the device you intend to source your music from, be it a flash drive, hard disk drive or your phone.

What about if you are missing a USB port? What will you do? You should not worry if you realize that your head unit misses a USB port. There are several solutions you can rely on to use a USB in playing your music if your head unit is missing a port. Here are some of the solutions:

  • Upgrade

Some of the old head units miss USB ports. If you own one of them, then you will need to upgrade to newer and current head units. What about if you are really an old school fanatic and you don’t want to let it go?  Here is a good option for you;

  • Use an FM transmitter

While it may seem that a USB is just like any other auxiliary input device, there are actually more going behind the scenes than most people think. What makes a normal auxiliary input and USB two opposite ends of a coin are that; common auxiliary inputs need an analog signal from devices like CD players, Mp3 players and satellite radio.

On the other end, USB acts as a channel that enables digital devices to offload their audio information to head units in high speed and with great energy and quality. This brings us to trying to get a way of making these two opposite ends meet. This is possible using an FM transmitter. The transmitter will act as an interface between the analog head unit and the digital device.

The transmitter should have a USB port. With that at hand, it becomes more of plug- and play exercise for you. Tune your vehicle stereo to an empty FM channel, and it will automatically find the FM signal from the transmitter. There you have it! Crank up the volume and enjoy your music.

Nothing, however, comes without struggles; this method is likely to hit rock bottom when you drive along an area with so many FM signals. The quality will also not be good because of interference, that is why you may still need to explore the next method;

  • Use a USB interface kit/ MP3 decoder board

With the challenges of an FM transmitter, this method will prove to be quite fruitful. It comprises of using an Mp3 decoder board or a USB interface kit that has a USB port acting as an interface between the digital device and the old head unit.

The decoder or the kit must have a built-in Digital-analog Converter and an auxiliary output. The sole function of this interface is to enable you to hook up your car head unit to a digital device via USB.

While it may seem as easy as it sounds, upgrading your head unit to one that natively has a USB port will seem to be productive in the end.  This is when compared to using the two methods to swindle around the fact of avoiding an upgrade.

Steps on How to play music through USB in a car

#2- File browser

Does your stereo have a file browser? How are you going to select your music with ease? If your head unit or the stereo has a USB port already in place, then you are ready to go. However, you will need a functionality that will allow you do quick navigation visually.

A digital head unit should have a display unit where it shows you the directory where your music is being sourced from. It should also be able to give alerts on whether the USB flash drive or Cable is correctly inserted.

Still on this functionality, some head units will scan the entire files on the drive or the phone while others will look for specific locations. If your head unit scans files on specific directories, then you might need to find which directory it is in from the manual. Some will require you to set them to your favorite directory, which in this case will be the best head units for USB use.

  • Support flash/ hard disk drives

As much as playing from flash drives is just a matter of plug and play, for you to successfully enjoy the USB functionality, the head unit should support drives like HDD and flash drives. Several compatibility issues may arise when using HDDs or flash drives. This will be addressed in the next requirement.

  • Support digital file formats

This is almost a priority; file format refers to how the music you intend to play through the USB is encoded. Common digital music formats include; Mp3, OGG, Windows’ WAV, FLAC, ALAC, Apple’s ACC among others. If your music is encoded in formats that the stereo is not likely to recognize then using USB functionality will fail.

The easiest way to know the file formats that your stereo supports is to draw out its manual. This will enable you to know whether it is possible to play music on your iPhone, windows or android phone via USB. It will also open your eyes to which file formats to load into your flash drive.

  • Support the correct drive file system

Sometimes not all drives will play in all head units. This is because they were all made to support different drive system files.  You shouldn’t, however, confuse this with file formats. There are two drive file systems which are FAT32 and NTFS. Some head units will support both FAT32 and NTFS while others will not.

It is, therefore, crucial for you to become certain of which drive file systems your USB flash drive music player supports before you go on with formatting your flash drive. Check the manufacturer’s manual for this information, or you can visit the website.

This marks the last requirement you will need for you to play music through USB. So, with all the requirements met, how then can you play music through USB in your car?

Steps on How to play music through USB in a car

What You need For Your Car To Play Music Through USB

With every requirement met, using a car USB music player is as easy as a pie. You are going to find out how true this is in the following steps;

  • Look for a USB port

 As stated earlier, make sure that your head unit has a USB port.

  • Connect your music source

Connect your flash drive or your windows, apple or android phone using a USB cable. A notification (USB icon) should appear on your player’s display unit.

  • Connect your USB

Browse down your notification bar for the USB connection option. Then select “USB Connected” option and then enter “Mount” entry.

  • Mount your SD card

This will apply if you are using your phone as the source of music. You will need to select the SD card mounting option and then wait for the phone to respond.

  • Choose USB audio source

On your car’s stereo interface, select USB as the audio source. The stereo will now automatically scan for files on your phone’s SD card.

  • Select your favorite music

With the files scanned, some stereos will begin playing automatically from the first file on its list while others will wait for you to choose a file for it to play. It doesn’t matter. However, the best part is to hear your favorite music pump up on the other side from your USB as you cruise in your car.

Final Words

This article must have taught you how to play music through USB in a car. In this modern age, USB compatible head units have replaced most of the old CD players. The best advice for music lovers like you who seek to enjoy music while driving their cars is making an upgrade to better cutting-edge music players.  

They might be expensive, but at the end, you will be a leading music player on the road. We hope that this post has been of assistance in helping you solve issues related to your car USB player. Enjoy your music from any USB device in your car as you drive around.

Adrienne Owens

Here at Car Speaker Land we have only one goal: to bring you the best speakers around. Well, actually we have two goals: we also want to make sure that you’re able to get things going without having to pay the steep fees which are often charged for even the most basic procedures in auto shops.

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