Tag Archives: CD

Paradise by the Dashboard Light

Car entertainment systems have been around since at least 1930, when a brand new company called Motorola designed one of the first successful AM radio systems for an automobile. 87 years later, even base-model cars are on the dealer’s lot with streaming stations right in the console, USB ports for connecting music players and Bluetooth chips for wirelessly linking smartphones.

Tech companies are also getting their software directly into the dashboard to integrate smartphones and cloud services. Platforms include Google’s Android Auto, Apple’s CarPlay and Microsoft Connected Vehicle.  And Amazon’s Alexa assistant will be showing up soon in some Ford and Volkswagen models.

As they did with 8-track and cassette tape decks, though, carmakers are slowly phasing out compact disc players as installed features in favor of digital audio files and streaming connections. But if you have CDs you want to play — say, educational lectures you don’t feel like ripping to MP3 — and your car dealer has no aftermarket solutions to suggest, it is possible to hack together a system for $50 or less.

Most dashboard entertainment systems still have an auxiliary audio port available; check your car’s manual for the location on the dashboard if you don’t see the port. In most cases, you can use this port and a 3.5-millimeter auxiliary audio cable to connect the headphone jack on an inexpensive battery-powered portable CD player. Set the audio input on the dashboard to AUX and push the play button on the CD player.

Check your car’s manual (yes, it has one) to find out about the types of audio devices you can connect to your dashboard entertainment system. If you do not have an old portable CD player on hand, you can still find options at stores like Amazon, Best Buy and Target. Prices generally start around $20, but get a shock-resistant player because American infrastructure has seen better days.

An auxiliary audio cable costs $5 and up. If you don’t want to keep feeding the player batteries, an electrical adapter for the car’s 12-volt power port takes care of the juice.

Most new cars support Bluetooth wireless connections, so if you hate cables, swap in a Bluetooth adapter with its own 3.5-millimeter plug that connects to the CD player. Once you pair the adapter to the car’s Bluetooth system, you can stream the audio from the CD player to the sound system. Taotronics and Mpow are among the companies that make Bluetooth adapters for less than $35 and there are plenty more online.

No matter what you’re using to boom your tunes in the cabin, though, drive safely.

The Galapagos Syndrome

There were two news items this week that really resonated with me. At first glance the similarities weren’t obvious but as I kept going over the findings in each story the connection became clearer.

First off, streaming audio continues to grow in 2014 with almost 80 billion streams reported. Not a surprise. Neither is the fact that CDs continue their apparent inexorable slide into oblivion, registering a 14% plunge when compared to equally dismal sales figures from 2013.

But here’s the eyeopening point. According to Rolling Stone magazine and other news sources, interest in vinyl continues to be a noteworthy music industry trend.

The 12-inch record had its best sales year in decades, moving 9.2 million units; a 52 percent increase over 2013.

Vinyl sales now account for six percent of all physical music sales.

The other fascinating business bulletin was out of Japan. Market researcher MM Research Institute noted that flip-phone shipments rose 5.7 percent to almost 11 million in 2014 while smartphone shipments fell 5.3 percent to just shy of 28 million, down for a second year in a row.

The argument can be made that both flip-phones in Japan and vinyl records in the United States are experiencing a phenomenon known as the Galápagos Syndrome.

This term refers to an isolated development branch of a globally available product and alludes to the phenomena Charles Darwin encountered in the Galápagos Islands which helped in the development of his Evolutionary Theory.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, Japanese cell phone technology was years ahead of what electronics companies were producing in other countries. Smartphones like the iPhone have taken a huge chunk out of the Japanese market but the flip-phone is still extremely popular.

Vinyl, while technologically inferior to the CD, offers a more tactile and satisfying experience for the listener. The combination of the warmer analog sound, larger album art, and traditional liner notes and sleeves makes vinyl a much more attractive option for the music lover.

After being derided by their manufacturers and generally ignored by consumers, the 12-inch record and flip-phones continued their evolution with incremental improvements.

Record companies use heavier virgin vinyl at pressing and better quality paper for sleeves and gatefolds. Enhanced recording techniques make audio quality vastly superior to what was being produced at the height of vinyl’s popularity.

Flip-phones offer similar functionality to what’s found on smartphones and have features like physical keyboards and voice-call quality that in many cases are superior to what you’d get on a rectangular slab.

Both the record companies and electronics manufacturers believe the sales spikes are fads but come on admit it, deep down we all miss flipping our Startacs open like Captain Kirk did with his Starfleet issued communicator…

PTJ 108: Yo Apple, What Time You Got?

It was done quietly and with little fanfare.  After Apple’s traditional September iPhone launch, the fruit-themed toy maker killed off the iPod Classic.

El Kaiser “pours one out” for the venerable personal media player, Apple’s last disk-based iPod, and he and J.D. break down the latest iPhone and Apple Watch news.

The summer movie sensation “Guardians of the Galaxy” focused a huge spotlight on the power of the mixtape. This week J.D. shows you how you can make your own mixtape in today’s stream happy world.

In other news, Samsung releases two new Galaxy Note phablets; Amazon drops the price of the Fire Phone to under a buck, the FCC is collecting more comments about Net Neutrality; the Discovery Network speaks out against potential Comcast and Time Warner Cable merger; Twitter gradually roles out its “Buy” button; Home Depot stores suffer through a huge Target-like security breach; Microsoft debuts a new presentation and internal service app; and Tivo announces a new super high-end and super high-priced DVR; and


Mastering the Modern Mixtape

awesomemixThe top-grossing film of the year so far, Guardians of the Galaxy, brought some much needed fizzy fun to the summer box office — along with a killer soundtrack comprised of feel-good hits from the 1970s. One of the key props in the movie was an ancient Walkman and battered mixtape, and those may have led many a Gen Xer or young Baby Boomer to get all nostalgic for those days when “playlists” were the handwritten track names on the back of the folded card in the cassette-tape case. (They’re so cemented into American pop culture that there’s even a Broadway song about mixtapes in the Tony Award-winning show Avenue Q.)

For some people, the mixtape prop may have posed the question: These days, how do you share a specially curated batch of songs with a loved one, or compile your personal favorite tunes in one time-capsule collection? Cassettes are pretty much extinct; Google Play doesn’t support sending digital media as gifts and you can’t burn songs to CDs there. Apple even removed the Gift This Playlist feature from the current version of iTunes. But there are other ways.

spotifyYes, it’s become a largely streaming world out there, but some popular services like Spotify let users create and share playlists with each other. The 8tracks site has playlist sharing too, as does the appropriately named Mixtape.me site. Other streaming services offer similar tools, so if you already use one, check the feature set to see if sharing playlists is an option. There’s also a site called Tape.ly that does online mix tapes.

If you want a more physical, personal-memento way to share a mix, there’s an Australian-based start-up called Sharetapes that works with services like Spotify, Soundcloud and 8tracks. You can also use Sharetapes with YouTube, a site many people use to make and share playlists of audio and video clips.

With Sharetapes, you create an account and you then buy a pack of blank “Sharetape cards,” five for seven bucks. You make a playlist in a supporting service and click the Record button on the Sharetapes.com site to copy the track information to one of your blank Sharetape cards. Then you give it to someone. The cards have QR codes and also work with NFC-enabled devices, so when your recipient gets the card, he or she can use the QR code or NFC function to zap the info onto a mobile device and hear the tracks on the playlist.


But what if you want to send music mixes to someone who doesn’t use any of the online streaming services? As one might expect, Amazon also lets you send albums or individual songs as gifts.

Even in  iTunes 11, you can still send individual song downloads to another iTunes user as gifts; right-click the menu arrow next to the Price button and select Gift This Song. And, while a bit retro these days, you can still burn CDs from songs you’ve bought and downloaded from the service. Once you make a playlist and have it open in iTunes, you can even print a custom CD cover by going to the File menu and choosing Print.

CDprintAlthough there may be copyright issues involved, people have also shared tracks on a playlist by uploading unrestricted MP3 ripped from CDs to online file storage folders or passed them along on flash drives.

So even though cassettes have become fluttery antiques, there are still many ways to share your musical whims with friends and family. And going digital does have its advantages. As the Brotherhood Workshop points out in “LEGO Guardians of the Galaxy: Star-Lord’s Mixtape,” Peter Quill’s homemade audio cassette probably wouldn’t sound too good after 20 years of constant play.