Best Bluetooth Car Kits 2019 - Reviews of the Best Bluetooth Car Adapters
After 80 hours researching Bluetooth car adapters, including 16 hours of testing, the Anker SoundSync Drive emerged as the best Bluetooth car kit overall. This AUX-in Bluetooth adapter is one of the most affordable Bluetooth car kits available, and the audio performance beat out the other kits in side-by-side comparisons with the clearest and strongest audio signal. With the SoundSync Drive, you have all the advantages of Bluetooth smartphone integration with your car stereo without paying a premium for it.
Anker SoundSync Drive
In audio performance tests, the Anker SoundSync Drive provided the loudest and the clearest signal. When you consider the diminutive size and cost, it's clear why this is the best Bluetooth car kit.
As the smallest and most affordable Bluetooth car kit, the TaoTronics TT-BR05 is our pick for best value. It's the easiest and most affordable way to bridge the technology gap without sacrificing audio performance.
For stereos without AUX inputs, the Nulaxy KM18 is the best option. While the quality of the FM transmission isn't good, the signal quality was better than other FM transmitters.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Pricing||Audio Performance||Functionality||Signal Clarity||Signal Strength||Call Quality||Technology||Ease of Pairing||Controls||Unobstrusive|
|Anker SoundSync Drive||View Deal||5/5||4.7||5||5||A||A+||C+||Aux-in||A||C||B+|
|TaoTronics TT-BR05||View Deal||3.5/5||5||4.2||5||B||C+||C||AUX-in||C+||B||A|
|SoundBot SB360||View Deal||4.5/5||4.7||4.4||4.9||B||B||B||AUX-in||C-||A-||B+|
|Kinivo BTC450||View Deal||4.5/5||3.7||4.8||4.8||A||B||B-||AUX-in||C+||C+||B+|
|Nulaxy KM18||View Deal||4.5/5||4.8||3.7||4.4||D+||A||D+||FM Trans||B||A||D+|
|Mpow Bluetooth FM Transmitter||View Deal||4/5||4.4||3.4||3.9||D-||A||D||FM Trans||D+||C||B-|
|GOgroove FlexSMART X5||View Deal||3/5||2.3||3.2||3.9||D-||B||D-||FM Trans||D+||A-||D+|
|Jabra Tour||View Deal||2.5/5||1.2||3.4||4||C||D+||A||Visor Style||A||A-||C|
|Jabra Freeway||View Deal||2/5||0||3.3||3.9||C-||D+||A+||Visor Style||A||A||D+|
Best Bluetooth Car Kit Overall
Bluetooth car kits bridge the gap between old and new technology by connecting your phone to your car stereo, and no device does this better than the Anker SoundSync Drive.
This AUX-in Bluetooth car kit plugs directly into your car stereo, delivering the clearest and strongest signal in my tests. The hands-free call quality may not compete with classic visor-style Bluetooth car kits, but this has become less important over the years, as numerous studies show it isn't safe.
This Bluetooth car kit received the highest grades for signal clarity and signal strength – the two most important factors of audio quality. In these tests, I streamed a playlist of 10 specifically selected songs while measuring the volume and clarity. By comparison, the signal strength was almost 2 dB greater than other AUX-in Bluetooth car kits and was 1 dB greater than the FM transmitters. However, the FM transmitter's signal clarity was so poor, the signal strength had more to do with the stereo's amplifier than it did with the strength of the FM signal.
Another great feature of the SoundSync Drive is the unobtrusive design. You can install this to your dash without it getting in the way. With a similar circular design to other AUX-in Bluetooth car kits, it can be easily hidden away. The controls could be better labeled, but they're simple enough to use without taking your eyes off the road.
The TaoTronics TT-BR05 is among the most popular and highly rated Bluetooth car kits on Amazon, and the low price is very tempting.
It is the cheapest option for bridging the technology gap between your phone and your stereo. That said, despite the weak audio signal, the audio clarity is better than most. This makes the value of the low price even more enticing.
In the audio performance test, the TT-BR05 received a B for signal clarity and a C+ for signal strength. The signal clarity is the more important grade, because you can compensate for signal strength by turning the volume up on your stereo, but you can't compensate for clarity. The signal strength was significantly lower than other AUX-in kits and FM transmitters, but this is also the only kit powered by a rechargeable battery – so it makes sense for the signal to be weaker than a kit using direct power. The weaker signal doesn't mean you can't reach dangerously high volumes. It just means the stereo needs to have the volume knob turned up higher to reach the same deafening volumes other kits start out with. Still, it's far superior, at least when streaming music, to the visor-style kits with built-in speakers.
This is the most unobtrusive Bluetooth car kit I've seen. It's small and doesn't draw attention to itself with flashy lights and displays. It's almost completely cordless, only requiring a cord for charging the battery, and doesn't rely on an adhesive backing to stick to the dash. Since the AUX input sticks out from the TT-BR05 directly, the input holds the device firmly in place.
Best FM Transmitter
In a head-to-head comparison, the audio performance of an FM transmitter doesn't compare to AUX-in Bluetooth car kits, but if your car doesn't have an AUX port, then the Nulaxy KM18 is your best option.
The audio performance isn’t great, but it's significantly better than other FM transmitters.
In the signal clarity test, the KM18 received a D+ grade. It's not good. But the other FM transmitters received D- grades, making the Nulaxy the best option. The noise in the signal is mostly present between songs; and if you turn it up enough, you can trick yourself into ignoring the noise. So don't get your hopes up with a Bluetooth FM transmitter. The audio quality won't blow you away. These exist because they are compatible with all stereos, not because the technology provides a better audio experience.
The KM18 doesn't have any cords to worry about, but the design isn't ideal if you want an unassuming Bluetooth car kit. Rather than clipping to an AC vent or sticking to your dash, the adjustable arm under the device plugs into your car charger. This setup includes a convenient USB port for charging your phone, but the adjustable arm isn't big enough to provide much adjustment. For some cars, like mine, this puts the controls right next to the gear shift. It gets in the way.
Given the choice between an AUX-in or FM Transmitter, the AUX-in Bluetooth car kit is the better choice. And of these kits, the SoundBot SB360 is one of the best AUX-in kits on the market for both sound quality and price. In my tests, it performed among the best Bluetooth car kits for audio signal and clarity. In many ways, it's almost identical to the Anker SoundSync Drive, the best Bluetooth car kit overall. It's even better at hands-free calling. The audio signal isn't the strongest, but the clarity of the signal is excellent. The difference between its audio quality and a Bluetooth FM transmitter is night and day. The only consideration is whether your stereo has an auxiliary input.
A concern worth consideration is the pairing process. In my tests, it took over five minutes for the player to even recognize the transmitter and an additional three minutes to successfully pair. I didn't have as many issues with most of the other car kits I tested.
Best for Hands-Free Calling
Hands-free calling while driving is not safer than hands-full driving. You can read the extensive studies later in this article showing why. But if your primary purpose in buying a Bluetooth car kit is for hands-free calling, then the Jabra Freeway is your best option. Unlike other Bluetooth car kits, which attach to the dash and integrate with your car stereo, the Freeway clips to your visor and has small built-in speakers. The position of the speakers and microphone makes hands-free calling much clearer than using your entire stereo system. As a result, there isn’t feedback on either side of the conversation, and the three speakers are powerful enough to hear clearly.
You can stream music through the speakers, but it's not loud enough to provide a good audio experience while you're driving. It does have an FM transmitter function, allowing you to send the audio signal to your stereo. This is not a common feature in visor-style Bluetooth car kits, and FM transmitters don't sound great, but it's better than nothing. The transmitter performed better than the other FM transmitters I tested, but the price is too high for buy solely for its FM transmitter feature.
Why Trust Us
Top Ten Reviews has reviewed Bluetooth car kits since 2010, and I've been reviewing these products and other Bluetooth devices since 2013. I've reviewed Bluetooth speakers, Bluetooth headsets, Bluetooth earbuds and Bluetooth mice. In other words, I'm an expert in the advantages and limitations of Bluetooth technology.
I'm also an expert with car technology and am an audiophile. I've reviewed car stereos, car speakers, car amplifiers, car subwoofers, radar detectors, in-dash navigation, dash cameras and more. I have a deep passion for great audio and am rarely seen without headphones on. And I love road trips. But I'm also passionate about safe driving. While I love drive-improving tech, I'm keenly aware of distracting features – and I always favor products and features that help you be a safer, more aware driver.
How Much Do Bluetooth Car Kits Cost?
There are three kinds of Bluetooth car kits: AUX-in, FM transmitters and visor-style kits. AUX-in kits are usually the cheapest and cost between $10 and $30 with the best AUX-in kits priced at $20. However, make sure your stereo has an auxiliary input before you purchase one, otherwise, it's useless. The cheapest FM transmitters cost as low as $12 and as high as $50. That said, the cheapest transmitters aren't worth it. The FM transmission quality is just not strong enough for stereos to receive a clear signal. The visor-style kits are the most expensive, costing between $50 and $120.
Amazon Echo Auto: The Next Evolution in Bluetooth Car Kits?
The Bluetooth car kit industry is built on filling technology gaps - giving drivers the benefits of Bluetooth in vehicles without Bluetooth. For example, when I first started reviewing this category four years ago, visor-style Bluetooth car kits like the Jabra Freeway and Jabra Tour dominated the market. This was because hands-free calling devices was very popular, especially as some states made it illegal to drive and talk on the phone without one.
However, as music streaming apps grew in popularity, so did the gap between drivers looking for Bluetooth kits aimed at streaming audio through their speakers. As a result, only a few visor-style kits still exist. But as Bluetooth has been a standard feature on even the most affordable car stereos for many years now, even these Bluetooth car kits are starting to be squeezed out as the technology gap closes. But as one gap closes, another usually opens. This is why the Amazon Echo Auto is an interesting new addition to the market.
The Echo Auto features eight microphones and far-field technology, allowing it to hear you through all the noise - air conditioning, road noise, music. While you can stream music and audiobooks, just like with other Bluetooth car kits, because it has Alexa, it also integrates with other smart home devices. You can ask Alexa to adjust your home’s thermostat on your way home from work. This is what makes the Echo Auto so appealing and why it might present the next gap for Bluetooth car kits to fill - smart home device integration.
Announced in September 2018, it hasn’t been available for purchase until now. But even now, it’s only available by invitation. You have to submit a request to Amazon and be accepted to have the opportunity to purchase it, which suggests it’s still in the development phase and the final product is still forthcoming.
How We Tested
In past reviews, I emphasized the hands-free call quality of Bluetooth car kits over the audio streaming performance. I performed comprehensive evaluations of both sides of a call while driving through freeways, city streets and heavy traffic. This approach was largely a legacy of a market once crowded with visor-style Bluetooth car kits made for hands-free calling. And it was a mistake. Hands-free calling is not safe (explained in the next section).
Rather than focusing on call quality, I've turned the focus of my tests to how well these devices bridge the gap between old and new technology. Most people, as evidenced on Amazon, are buying simple Bluetooth adapters with a simple purpose – to stream audio from a phone through a stereo. As such, my tests focused on audio performance.
To test signal clarity, I evaluated the audio performance using a playlist of songs in a wide range of musical styles. It's a playlist of songs I know very well. Some are songs I recorded and mixed myself. This means I know exactly how the mix is supposed to sound and can tune my ear to pick out the subtle distortions, clipping and balance issues. While the difference between A grade and B grade devices is subtle enough, the difference between B and C grades is significant.
If you're trying to bridge the gap between an old stereo and the desire to stream your favorite Pandora stations, then you want a simple, functional Bluetooth adapter that's quick to pair, easy to use and doesn't get in the way. So, I graded the pairing difficulty, controls and obtrusiveness. The best Bluetooth car kits simply do the job without getting in the way or calling attention to themselves.
What Else You Should Know About Bluetooth Car Kits?
There are three types of Bluetooth car kits: AUX-in, FM transmitters and visor-style. I reviewed all three types, in part because they each fulfill a specific purpose.
AUX-in Bluetooth Adapters – Plugs into your stereo's 3.5mm AUX input
The audio signal is sent from your phone via Bluetooth. The device decompresses the wireless signal and converts it to an analog signal the stereo receives and amplifies.
Visor-style Kits – Attaches to your sun visor and has built-in speakers
You can certainly play music through them, but these devices are designed for hands-free calling. Since the call isn't played through the car speakers, you don't get echoing or feedback. This provides a cleaner conversation.
Is Hands-Free Calling Safe?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted drivers accounted for 3,450 fatalities in 2016. This is an average of 9.45 fatalities a day. While it's easy to assume these distractions were texting drivers (because it's the primary example used in driving awareness campaigns), talking on the phone also falls under the NHTSA's definition of distracted driving, regardless of hands-free devices. There's good reason for this.
A study published by Graham Hole, a professor at the University of Sussex, had drivers answer various questions via a phone call while navigating a course. The drivers performed the test both hands-free (using a Bluetooth hands-free device) and hands-full (phone in hand). Similar tests were performed on the show Mythbusters. Both came to the same conclusion – there is no difference between hands-free calling and hands-full driving. Both result in distracted driving. The reason, as Hole explains, is "conversations are more visual than we might expect, leading drivers to ignore parts of the outside world in favor of their inner 'visual world.'" In fact, the activity of the visual cortex in the brain, which processes moving images, decreases by a third when a driver is listening to a caller.