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ION Bluetooth Cassette Adapter Is a Great Way to Retrofit a Retro Car

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author photo by James Riswick July 2016

There's only so far you can drive out of town before your favorite FM channel fades away in favor of a steady stream of country music and static. While you can easily correct this problem in a modern car by connecting it to your smartphone's endless supply of stored and streamed entertainment, it's much trickier in an older car. Yet, if it has a tape deck, the ION Bluetooth Cassette Adapter might be the easiest way to retrofit a retro car for 21st century entertainment.

You Gotta Adapt

Available from multiple online stores for about $25, this cassette adapter hybrid of 1980s and 2000s technology allows you to wirelessly stream music, podcasts, etc., from a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone through an older car's speakers. The pairing process is refreshingly simple, requiring you to simply flick a little switch on the tape and search for "Cassette BT" on your smartphone. Then simply pop the cassette adapter in your stereo and press play. It's actually a simpler process than some cars' built-in systems.

We sampled the ION Bluetooth Cassette Adapter in a 1998 BMW Z3, where the sound quality was essentially the same as the old-school tape adapter it replaced -- best suited for podcasts and other talk media but OK for music. Importantly, though, there was no longer an unsightly wire snaking across the center console and getting in the way of shifting.

Unfortunately, the BMW tape deck design required the adapter to be put in backwards, removing its other trick: Bluetooth phone connectivity. With another car, you can pull out a little microphone that dangles outside the tape deck and picks up your voice just as a built-in system would. It's obviously not aesthetically ideal, but it's better than using headphones or placing your phone in between the driver visor and the headliner.

Charge It

The cassette adapter's battery lasted the length of a 5-hour trip and recharges from a micro-USB input. You can either plug it into any USB port or adapter, including a cigarette lighter adapter that can be purchased at just about any gas station or drug store. You cannot recharge it while using it, so if there's an extra-long trip on the horizon in your old car, buying two ION adapters might not be a bad idea (or just hang onto that old wired adapter).

So, although the ION Bluetooth Cassette Adapter is obviously no match for a modern car's systems, it may nevertheless be a better solution than the alternatives: completely replacing your sound system (expensive, not an option for collectible cars), driving around with headphones on (dangerous, probably illegal) or sample the solutions of yesteryear (likely a book of CDs, maybe some old tapes, hopefully not 8-track).

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
ION Bluetooth Cassette Adapter Is a Great Way to Retrofit a Retro Car - Autotrader