How to Put Music on USB Drive for Car

listen to music in a car from a usb flash drive

The car head units come with a variety of input methods to play songs from, such as Aux, Radio, and CD player etc.

Among these options, CD players used to be quite popular as they give you high-quality sound in a simple plug and play manner.

But they are getting out of fashion and being replaced by new options these days, such as USB drives.

The biggest advantage USB drives have over other mediums is the high storage amount in a very small footprint. You can store hundreds of your favourite tracks and there’ll be some space still left in a typical 16GB drive.

Listening to music in your car through a USB drive is pretty straightforward. All you need to do is plug that USB drive into the USB port in your head unit. After this, your head unit will detect the drive and then you’ll be able to play those tracks.

But as easy as it seems, there are a few issues you have to resolve first.

Music File Extensions

Like other files on a computer, digital audio files come in different formats. Most of us are only familiar with the MP3 format but there are several other options with each of them having different characteristics and pros/cons.

These formats fall into one of these three categories:

  • Uncompressed audio formats: These formats don’t have any compression applied. WAV and AIFF are such formats for Windows and macOS respectively
  • Lossless compressed formats: These formats come with compression but that doesn’t result in any loss of information or degradation in sound quality. FLAC, AAC, and WMA fall in this category.
  • Lossy compressed formats: Lastly, we have lossy compressed formats. These formats come with compression which attempts to remove as much ‘irrelevant’ information from a file as possible – to reduce the size. But it also results in audio quality loss. Popular formats like MP3, AAC, and OGG fall into this category.

If you’ve stored your files in a format not supported by the head unit, it’ll not be able to recognize and play them. The best thing here to do is simply reading your car stereo’s manual and see which format(s) it supports. You can also check out the manufacturer’s website in this regard.

USB Drive File System

Another thing that can prevent you from listening through USB is the file system format of that USB drive.

For those who don’t know, these file systems control the way files are stored in a storage device, such as the USB.

Like was the case with file formats, a head unit will not be able to read your USB drive if it doesn’t understand its file system. This issue is more prevalent in older, factory car stereos that only support FAT/FAT32.

So if your USB is formatted in exFAT but the car stereo is only compatible with FAT or FAT32, then your only option is to reformat the drive in FAT32 and then paste all those songs back again before plugging it again into the head unit.

In case you’re not comfortable with tech stuff, here’s a nice little tutorial for you.

File Structure

Like in computers, there are certain rules you have to follow when naming your audio files. In general, you should keep a file name to less than 255 characters and avoid special characters like these: /, \, *, :, ?, “, <, >.

Folder Categories

Different head units have different limits (255, 999, or 5000, etc.) regarding the number of tracks they can detect in a folder. So it’s advisable to not put all of your files in a single root folder.

Ideally, you should categorize your files based on the different music genres you listen to. And then you can create sub-folders and sub-sub-folders based on different artists and their albums.

It’s important to not go more than 3 levels beyond the main folder as it may create some file detection issues.

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