October 6, 2009

Free iPod Input for Your Volvo Radio

Overview

Fix: Plug any audio source into your old Volvo stereo for free.

Problem

There is no auxiliary audio input for Volvo factory stereos, so no way to listen to iPods or other MP3 players without buying a CD changer or using the low quality “cassette with cables” thing, those tape adapters with hanging wires for car stereos that lack an auxiliary audio input. I hate hanging wires, and you lose a generation of audio quality using them.

Since the CD button on most Volvo car stereos will only activate when tricked into believing they have a CD changer available, I dug around for a free solution to this problem, and eventually found it is relatively easy. Follow the steps below to connect an audio (headphone style) input jack directly to almost any Volvo stereo without any additional kit or spending any money. The solution is to solder an audio cable to the connector card between the tape pre-amp and the head unit’s main amp. This is much easier than it sounds, and once you have the cable soldered in, you will get a clean signal on the line anytime an empty (or “dummy”) audio tape is inserted.

Requirements

  • Any Volvo “double height” car stereo with a tape deck… mine is factory from a 1996 850
  • Familiarity with simple soldering
  • Understanding that you are doing this at your own risk

Procedure

  • Remove the radio head unit as described elsewhere (push slot releases on front of unit, pull out, unplug cabling on back)
  • Unscrew the four screws on the top of the head unit and remove the top cover
  • The tape unit will be visible – it is connected to the lower unit via a thin card with slip-on slip-off connectors. Remove the four screws holding the tape unit chassis to the lower deck, and lift out the tape unit.
  • Where the tape unit connected towards the back of the head unit is a little circuit card which connects the tape unit to the amplifier/controller. It is seated into the lower unit via a slip-on slip-off connector. Reach under the edge of this little connector card, which sticks straight up, and ease it out of its seat and out of the unit. This card is just a connector, and has no electronics on it. The card is labeled on one side, and labeled pins 3 – 5 should be, reading from the bottom of the card, GROUND, L, R.
  • Cut the cable from an old pair of shagged out headphones, or any other scrap device with a 1/8 audio jack. Cut the cable as long as possible from the jack. Strip the wires, and solder the sleeve wire to the GROUND connector on the little card, the center audio jack wire to “R” on the card, and the tip connector to “L” on the card. I use a little bit of double sided tape to run the wires neatly along the card. Now check for continuity between the headphone (audio) connector jack and the pins on the card.
  • When all is clear, reseat the card in the base of the head unit running the wires out of the top opening of the holder.
  • Carefully reseat the tape unit, pressing firmly, and replace the four screws that hold it in.
  • Run the cable from the unit through one of the open spaces in the case – I routed mine in the rear right corner where there is a small gap. Replace the top cover of the head unit allowing a LITTLE slack cable to remain in the unit to keep the wires from becoming stressed.
  • Replace the radio running the new audio cable to wherever your audio source will be (I connected it to a GPS/MP3 player in the glove box by drilling a small hole in the glove box and running the line in there).
  • Take an old home recorded style cassette tape (type does not matter as long as it has a screw housing). Unscrew the tape housing, and carefully remove all of the tape, cutting it from the two little hubs. Throw the actual tape away, and reassemble the cassette housing with the screws – this creates a “dummy” tape that will give no signal to the tape head when used.
  • Insert the dummy tape, plug in the audio cable to any audio source, and you get high quality sound from any source (inserting the dummy cassette is necessary to get the radio to amplify the tape audio channel we have jumpered into). Be sure to adjust the audio on your input device to roughly match the volume of the regular radio to avoid distortion. Do not use a regular audio tape, as it will add noise and may cause distortion of the signal – only use an empty (dummy) cassette.
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Tags auxiliary audio input, ipod, ipod input, Radio
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