Friday, October 12, 2018

Anker SoundSync Drive Bluetooth Car Receiver

I’ve been using an Anker SoundSync Drive to play audio from my iPhone on my car’s speakers without needing a headphone jack (on the phone).

It’s pretty typical of Bluetooth devices in that it basically works but never feels fully reliable. After you turn on the engine, the SoundSync gets power, and you have to press a button to connect it to your phone. Press the button too quickly and nothing happens. You have to hold it down a bit in order for it to work. The required time is not consisent. Some days, you need to hold it longer than others. Some days, it doesn’t work no matter how long you press it or how many times you try, and you have to reboot the phone.

Once Bluetooth has connected, though, it works very well. I’ve never found Siri to be reliable at pausing or resuming audio, so it’s nice to have a physical button to do this. There are also buttons for switching to the next or previous track.

Initially there was a lot of static/buzzing/whistling interference noise, which was especially noticeable during quiet periods. Apparently this happens because the SoundSync and phone are plugged into the same power source. This went away when I added an Mpow Ground Loop Noise Isolator.

Compared with using a combination Lightning charge/audio dongle, the SoundSync requires an extra USB port in the car and an extra cable to manage. It also takes an extra step each time you get in the car, because you have to plug in the phone and turn on the SoundSync, rather than just plug the phone into both audio and power simultaneously.

On the other hand, for a short trip where the phone doesn’t need power and you don’t need to put it in a mount for navigation, the SoundSync lets you keep the phone in your pocket. (But good luck using Siri that way.)

Overall, I find the SoundSync more reliable than third-party Lightning dongles—Apple doesn’t make one, alas. Nothing is as reliable as using a headphone jack on the phone, though that isn’t particularly convenient. Nothing is as convenient as AirPods, though those have other limitations.

The tiny TUNAI Firefly also looks interesting, though I don’t think it would fit properly in my car.

Previously: Lightning vs. USB-C for Headphones, Removing the iPhone’s Headphone Jack.

Update (2018-10-12): See also: Isaac Halvorson.

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Look up the "Griffin iTrip Aux"

Single dock/lightning connection to your phone. Power from cigarette lighter. AUX-out to your car stereo from the body of the device.

I use an older one with a 30-PIN connector, plus an OEM Apple 30-Pin > Lightning adapter. Works perfectly.

They also have a newer model that's Lightning. I just purchased one to test. Listed on ebay as being sold by BestBuy for $25: "Griffin - Vehicle Charger - Black"

@pk To me, it looks like the iTrip Aux only connects to the phone via Bluetooth. And since it plugs into the cigarette lighter directly, you can’t plug the phone into that for power (nor the phone for the person in the passenger seat).

That's the bluetooth one. The "Griffin iTrip Aux" is the older model I guess; no bluetooth. Just a single charge/sync cable and an aux out. Get the really old 30-Pin + an adapter, or the newer Lightning model.

Look up exactly on ebay: "Griffin - Vehicle Charger - Black"

@pk On eBay I see this one, which appears to be the iTrip Aux With Controls And Lightning Connector, which Griffin is showing as out of stock (discontinued)?

One thing I like about the SoundSync, vs. the Griffin, is that the button can be placed near the steering wheel, rather than being stuck where the cigarette lighter is.

Correct. That one charges your phone AND outputs phone audio to the unit. The unit's aux-out outputs the audio to your stereo.

I believe that's everything you want?

I use the 30-Pin version of that + an adapter, and it's great. I just bought the Lightning version from your ebay link, as that's a pretty good price (and they are discontinued...?)

The controls are pretty nice on it as well, for pausing or skipping back in a podcast with read physical controls that are always in the same place in your car.

@pk It’s basically what I want assuming it’s reliable. None of the other Lightning solutions that I tried or read about were over the long term. I can’t find Amazon reviews for this one, so I have no reason to believe it’s better. Like I said, the location of the buttons and requiring a cigarette lighter (instead of USB) are not ideal.

The old 30-PIN version, at least, is very reliable. Only issue is that sometimes the plug wiggles out and your need to press it back into the cigarette lighter. And idk how well/fast it charges, but it does charge.

We'll see about the Lightning version, will test when I get it. I want to remove the white lightning converter from my setup and just have the thin black cord.

I may be missing something, but what's wrong with plugging in your phone with a single lightning cable? Assuming your car as a USB port, you can both charge and play audio over a single cable. Granted, you have to take it out of your pocket, but it always works.

@pk I look forward to hearing how you like it.

@Fred My post is in the context of a car that doesn’t have built-in support for USB audio/power/CarPlay.

I think this aligns with your use case - I've been using the iClever Himbox for several years ( after reading a WireCutter recommendation and have really liked it. It automatically connects to my phone pretty quickly when I turn the car on and responsiveness of buttons is nearly instant (certainly much faster than the non-CarPlay bluetooth built into the factory stereo of our newer car). If I need to charge I can plug in lightning, but for shorter trips around town when I just need music I don't bother.

@charlie That sounds really good. Thanks.

I have a car without bluetooth and did a lot of research trying to find the best receiver but kept running into bad reviews about units failing, having poor call quality, or ground loop issues. I decided to get the Pioneer MVH-X390BT from Crutchfield instead for around $100 with all the needed installation gear included.

I installed it myself in a couple of hours on a weekend despite not being much of a handyman and it even comes with an external mic. Now my iPhone auto connects every time I get in the car. No ground loop issues, no problems with Siri or calls.

My phone stays in my pocket most trips and when I need GPS I pair it with a Kenu Airframe+. It's pricey compared to the competition but grips the phone well and doesn't fall off or cause damage on the dash like the suction cup units. I opted for this combo instead of getting a Carplay compatible head unit since my air vents are better positioned so it's easier for me to see and it's cheaper too.

> It’s pretty typical of Bluetooth devices in that it basically works but never feels fully reliable

Is this an Apple thing? I've noticed that my Mac stopped working with my bluetooth headset randomly about a month ago, but I haven't had any bluetooth issues with my Android phones for probably about five years now. I have a super cheap 15$ no-name bluetooth dongle in my car, and that has worked 100% reliably for years now. I turn on the car, the phone connects immediately, and audio seamlessly switches from phone speakers to the car stereo. No interaction required, it just works.

Lukas: Yes, Bluetooth audio reliability on Apple devices has never been good. Even on my brand new iPhone XS I have to toggle Bluetooth several times a week to work around some problem or other. The Mac is worse, to the point I just don't even try to use Bluetooth audio any more; I use USB dongles with wireless headphones. It is probably better if you use Apple's own W1-based headphones, but AirPods don't fit my ears and Beats headphones don't have an audio profile I like.

Android had many Bluetooth issues early on but after the 2nd (or 3rd?) rewrite of their Bluetooth stack has been quite reliable.

I've been using a $6 no-name similar device for at least six months, daily, without any trouble. It connects to my iPhone without fault soon after the engine starts. The sound quality and level are lowish but acceptable. I barely ever unplug the thing. Every other Bluetooth device I've used unpairs and disconnects and takes fiddling. This one is astonishingly predictable.

My solution is to use Apple's Lightning to 30-pin Dock connector then use an cable that goes from the 30-pin connector to split into USB-A and Stereo Minijack. I've been using this solution nearly every day literally since Lightning was introduced and it works really well. You get high quality stereo audio and charging with only 1 cable to plug in to the phone.

Extra tips for this setup:
1) Get the Apple adapter. Lots of third party Lightning to 30-Pin adapters skip on the DAC (or don't even have one).
2) Get the adapter with a tail MD824AM/A (they're a bit pricy, but worth it) and clamp it into a ProCip dock + mount. The one that fits the Belkin Rockstar has the same cable dimensions as the Lightning to 30-pin adapter: so it holds the cable firmly in the mount and you can just jam your phone down on top & pull it out with one hand when you're exiting the car.
3) You can usually tuck cables behind your dash and trim if you're willing to pull them apart a little bit. Makes things look really professional & neat.

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