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Can I Use a Memory Stick or MP3 Player with my Car Stereo?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Many new car stereos are made with either a line-in jack or a universal serial bus (USB) port on the face of the deck to use with an MP3 player, a memory stick, or both devices. Decks with a line-in jack can interface with an music player by running a 5mm stereo cable from the headphones jack of the device to the line-in jack on the deck. Those with a USB port may be able to accept a memory stick plugged into it directly, although a USB cable may be needed in other cases.

Of the two types of decks, the model that features a line-in jack is usually less expensive. In this scenario, the MP3 player is tethered to the deck by the stereo cable, and must be turned on and used normally. Navigation, song selection, and partial volume control are done directly with the music device. The stereo simply acts as an amplifier and speaker system, with equalization filters and other audio controls affecting the sound.

The advantages to using a music player this way include the ability to take along a large library of music without having to burn a selection to CD to listen to in the car. Using the device in the vehicle also allows for hours of non-repeat listening of your favorite tunes for road trips or commutes. Assuming the MP3 player supports playlists, you can also listen to a different selection of music every day.

Disadvantages include the hassle of the player being tethered by a cable, and the difficulty in navigating a small device while driving. The latter point makes it safer to either create playlists ahead of time, use the “random play” feature, or simply allow the player to cycle through the music library normally. Another disadvantage is that the device must use its battery to play music through the vehicle’s stereo.

A car stereo with a USB port can also accept an MP3 player or memory stick, and these decks can typically read file folders and perform navigation. While the previously mentioned advantages apply, there are a few more pluses. Devices fitted with a USB-end do not require a tethering cable, nor do memory sticks. A memory stick doesn’t use batteries, either, and they are inexpensive enough that an extra one can be purchased to leave in the car with an entire mobile music library.

The main disadvantage to consider is the added expense of a USB-enabled stereo. Navigating a memory stick or music player using the stereo controls can also be awkward. Again, it might be easier to create folders ahead of time with pre-selected music, or let the deck cycle through the library using dash controls to skip undesired tunes.

If purchasing a car stereo with line-in or USB capability, be sure the interface is on the front of the deck and not at the rear. Car stereos made to interface with the Apple iPod™ typically feature a rear port that requires a proprietary adapter, though models vary.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon973816 — On Oct 14, 2014

By manufactured design, most car radio USB port facilities will only play MP3 or WMA formats effectively. So if you try to play any other kind of file format you get a zero response. Hope this helps! --jogwen

By anon966480 — On Aug 20, 2014

I have just changed cars and plugged in my mp3 player into the usb which I used in my old car. It spent ages downloading the music. It shows all the albums and graphics etc but won't actually play any songs. It just sits at 0:00 for a bit then moves onto the next song and the same thing happens. Can anyone help me figure out how to make it play? Thank you.

By anon951058 — On May 13, 2014

So how many songs can a car stereo recognize ( mp3 ) on a flash drive? 1gb? 2gb?

By anon345214 — On Aug 16, 2013

Solving your issues with the Kingston. Delete the encryption off of the drive under hidden files and folders, then delete the hidden software. Also, reformatting it with no encryption works.

By anon308129 — On Dec 09, 2012

I found the kingston data traveler se9 16gb didn't work with my sony dsx-s100. When I tried the same device on the rack of decks at best Buy, it worked in all the other brands, but on none of the Sonys.

The display read "No Music".

By anon254287 — On Mar 12, 2012

Is it possible that music recorded from a CD to a flash stick is better than what plays on the CD. After ripping and syncing many old and new CDs, it sounds like the music through the flash drive is clearer and cleaner than on the CD, especially the old albums. Is this just my imagination?

I did notice on a previously home made CD, that the ripping process was a lot longer than normal, but it recorded all the songs flawlessly. The flash drive never skips or misses a beat like sometimes happens on a CD.

By lektronik — On Nov 20, 2011

I have just changed over from standard CD and bought a Sony DSX-S100 which has a "tune tray." I can connect any device like an ipod or memory stick to the internal usb and close the front. I can then select what I want to hear from the front controls. I experimented with folders and lists to see what would happen.

The player would not see folders, so that is a "no". I then added a short list of single tracks and that worked fine, but I had to roll through the list to find what I wanted. A driving distraction perhaps, especially if the list runs to hundreds of tracks.

When writing CDs to play in the car, I used Magix audio cleaning lab and I could insert my tracks and re-arrange them and so on, then export them to CD. I can also export them as MP3 files to a folder and then drag them to my memory stick. This is good because I have a copy on my pc and can replace it in seconds if I lose or damage my memory stick.

By grouping songs this way I can have a bank of songs that will play by one simple selection on the front control. It works about the same as inserting a cd of greatest hits and then changing for another cd when that is finished. Of course your "groups" can be arranged on the memory stick to play one after the other. Favorite groups (most played) can be named to begin AA (name) - AB (name) and so on and they will always be at the "front" of the memory list when you start the player. Does this help anyone? --Doug

By anon132941 — On Dec 08, 2010

"My car also has an USB port and does not want to read my Kingston Datatravel Mem Stick!"

Some of the Datatraveler USB sticks have hardware based encryption on the stick by design. My guess is you have one of these and your audio system will not work with this encryption. Suggestion: try another memory stick.

By anon131695 — On Dec 03, 2010

Is there no adapter to plug into the aux and make it a usb? I had the usb in my old car and not with the new one, but the stereo is good, and don't want to replace it, but I miss just having all my music on a memory stick and being able to use the stereo controls!

By anon101399 — On Aug 03, 2010

I want to store radio programs on a memory stick and then play them - but at home, not in my car. Has anybody invented an audio stick player yet, please? I want a nice, simple unit (with a loudspeaker) to go on the mantlepiece. All I see in Currys etc are CD players - obsolete technology.

By anon77080 — On Apr 13, 2010

My car also has an USB port and does not want to read my Kingston Datatravel Mem Stick!

By anon25753 — On Feb 03, 2009

Hi, thanks for the info. My new car has a USB port and plays MP3s very well. I decided to buy a 16GB stick and get all my albums on. However, the system in my car will only find the 1st 70 albums. All albums are all in folders by artist yet when the stick is read in the car the initial folder is effectively ignored and each separate album is listed. I have tried a folder within a folder but to no avail. Ideally, I would like to just view the artist then drill down to the album. Does anyone have any ideas please

Thanks a million, Duncrieviedude

By anon4878 — On Nov 05, 2007

Is it only for earphone or general audio system like players?

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