We spent over 80 hours researching and 16 hours testing the best Bluetooth car kits on the market. Over the course of 120 miles and over 80 phone calls, our pick for the best Bluetooth car kit overall is the Jabra Freeway. With three built-in speakers and high-end noise-canceling microphones, it provides the best call quality. And with a good FM transmitter, you can stream your music through your stereo.
Best Bluetooth Car Kits
With Bluetooth car kits, people are looking for something that allows them to stream music or provides excellent hands-free calling. The Jabra Freeway provides both and does it better than any other Bluetooth adapter we’ve reviewed.
The Jabra Freeway is a visor-style Bluetooth car kit; it clips to your sun visor. It puts both the microphone and the speakers in the ideal position for phone calls. Since you’re not using your car stereo for calls, it really cuts down on echoes and feedback, which are common when a microphone picks up your caller’s voice on the loudspeakers. This was evident in our call quality tests, as the Freeway was far ahead of the other Bluetooth car kits. We took the Jabra Freeway on a drive to test the call quality on both ends of the conversation. Not only is it important that you hear the caller’s voice clearly, but the caller also needs to be able to hear you. We tested the kit while in the park, driving through the city, and driving on the highway – each of these environments has a different level of ambient noise because of speed and road conditions. In each environment, the Freeway received the highest quality marks on both ends of the call. The three speakers use 7-watts of power and are surprisingly loud. The quality is not far off from the best Bluetooth speakers on the market. You can easily stream your favorite music through the device, but if you want to make use of your car speakers, you can use the FM transmitter. This isn’t ideal, as FM transmitters have very poor signal-to-noise ratio’s, but it works as well as any of the Bluetooth FM transmitters we reviewed. The Freeway is not without fault. It’s the biggest visor-style Bluetooth car kit on the market. It’s so big that it was impossible to clip to my visor without covering part of the mirror. Another downside is the battery. While it has a long battery life, it does require charging at some point, which is something other styles of Bluetooth car adapters don’t deal with.
- Best call quality
- Three 7-watt speakers
- Excellent noise-cancelling microphone
- Covers most of your sun visor
- Requires charging
- Not ideal for streaming music
The SoundBot SB360 is your best option if you want Bluetooth car kits for streaming music from apps like Pandora or Spotify. It plugs directly into your car’s AUX input, delivering an audio signal that is far superior than a Bluetooth FM transmitter. And at a cost that’s under $20, the SB360 achieves its purpose at a low price, which is why it’s our pick for the best value option for a Bluetooth car kit.
Unlike visor-style Bluetooth car kits, the Soundbot SB360 isn’t designed for hands-free calling. It’s made to stream music. Since the caller’s voice is played through your car speakers, the caller’s voice is capable of being much louder than visor-style kits. And while it’s easy to assume that this makes the calls better, it doesn’t. The caller’s voice is picked up by the microphone, causing an echoing effect. This was the biggest complaint in our call quality tests. Still, the call quality was at a functional level (it was fine for brief conversations) and was better than the other AUX-in Bluetooth car kits we tested. The SB360 uses a magnetic mounting plate that adheres to your dash so it’s easy to clip and unclip the SB360 from your dash. Unfortunately, the adhesive pad of the magnetic plate quickly wore off after just a few hours of driving. Again, if you’re just streaming music, this isn’t much of an issue, as it doesn’t matter where the device is as long as the AUX cord reaches the input.
- Ideal for streaming music
- Very affordable
- USB port allows you to charge your phone
- Poor call quality
- Noise-canceling microphone isn’t effective
- Failed to stick to our dash for a very long
FM Transmitters aren’t great for streaming audio or making hands-free calling, so don’t get your hopes up. The only reason to get a Bluetooth FM transmitter is if your car stereo lacks an AUX input, which is common among older stereos. FM radio frequencies have a notoriously poor signal-to-noise ratio, which means the signal has a lot of noise in it. That said, we tested the two most popular FM transmitters and found the Nulaxy KM18 has the best transmission quality.
You can make hands-free calls with the KM18, but the quality is only good enough for short conversations. The combination of static and feedback is enough to make any conversation over a minute or two unbearable. However, it did beat out the other FM transmitter that we tested for both call quality and streaming quality. The KM18 plugs into your car charger and features an adjustable arm. It comes with a USB port, which allows you to charge your smartphone and other devices at the same time. It also features a 1.44-inch display that makes it easy to navigate the radio stations and other features. As one of the most affordable Bluetooth car kits on the market, the Nulaxy KM18 is a good option for people who don’t have an AUX input on their car stereo. Audio played through an FM transmitter just doesn’t sound as good when played with an AUX connection. That said, you can still use this Bluetooth kit with an AUX cord if your car stereo has an AUX port.
- Best FM transmitter
- Plugs into your car charger
- Adjustable neck with big display
- FM transmitters are not great
- Very poor call quality
- Poor noise cancellation
Why Trust Us?
Australialists has reviewed Bluetooth car kits since 2010, and I’ve been reviewing these products and other Bluetooth devices since 2013. I have reviewed Bluetooth speakers, Bluetooth headsets, Bluetooth earbuds and Bluetooth mice. In other words, I’m an expert in Bluetooth technology. I’ve also reviewed car stereos, car speakers, radar detectors, in-dash navigation, and other in-car technology. I’m keenly aware of how to identify and evaluate features that improve your drive while warning against features that may be distracting. No technology is worth the dangers of distracted driving.
What We Tested?
First, we evaluated how easy each Bluetooth car kit was to use, regardless of style. We looked at how easy the controls were to find and use, and rated how simple it was to pair each product with our smartphone. While every product was easy to pair, some took much longer to connect with our smartphones.
In addition, we tested each Bluetooth kit’s call quality by making calls in three different scenarios – parked and idling, city driving, and freeway driving. Each situation has a different level of ambient noise that can interfere with the call quality. We rated both the driver’s side and the receiver’s side of the call.
We also measured the volume of each visor-style Bluetooth car kit’s built-in speakers. Without the aid of your car’s many large speakers, your caller’s voice is projected entirely through the device’s small ones. Some car kit speakers aren’t loud enough to take calls on noisy roads. The Jabra Freeway has two built-in speakers that produce loud enough volumes to hear over the roar of the freeway, while the sound from some other visor kits get drowned out.
For FM transmitter kits, we measured radio transmission quality. During testing, we found it very difficult to escape the persistent buzz of FM transmission, though this is most common when you choose an empty frequency that is too close to an actual radio station. Finding a frequency with very little buzz can be time-consuming and depends largely on where you are driving, as it can increase as you drive closer to stations.
What Else is Important?
Bluetooth car kits are not one-size-fits-all devices. The best kit may not work with your stereo, or you might have specific priorities such as primarily wanting to stream your favorite music on your smartphone through your car stereo. As such, there are three questions to ask before you buy: Are you getting a Bluetooth car kit for streaming music? Are you getting a Bluetooth car kit to make hands-free calls? How much are you looking to spend?
AUX-in devices and most FM transmitters plug directly into your car charger, so battery life is not a concern. However, visor-style kits are completely wireless and require charging. Most visor-style kits have batteries that last between 10 and 45 hours, and standby time ranges from three weeks to over six months. You should have plenty of talk time on a full charge unless you’re chatting up the hours on a long road trip.
Almost every Bluetooth device comes with multipoint pairing. Advanced multipoint pairing allows you to connect two phones to the device at the same time.
Dedicated Mute Button
Sometimes you need to mute the caller to talk to other passengers, and having a dedicated mute button makes this easy. Surprisingly, it’s not a common feature with most Bluetooth car kits.
Using your phone while you’re behind the wheel is irresponsible – it’s not only dangerous to you, but also to others on the road. With a Bluetooth car kit, you can responsibly take important phone calls and text messages while you drive. To learn more, read our articles on Bluetooth car kits and other electronics.
Bluetooth Car Kit: When to Consider Replacing Your Car Stereo
Bluetooth has been a common feature of car stereos for years. In fact, it’s so common that even the most affordable car stereos typically include Bluetooth. Most even come with noise-canceling microphones that clip to your dash or steering wheel.
Certainly, swapping out your car stereo with a Bluetooth-compatible system is the better option if you can afford it. Here are some other things to consider before you replace your stereo:
Cost of Installation
Sure, you can get a car stereo with Bluetooth for under $30, but can you install it correctly? Removing a stereo can be a difficult and delicate process, depending on your car and your technical aptitude. Installations include making sure the wires to your speakers are connected correctly and that the stereo has sufficient power to match them.
Professional installation is often included in the price when you purchase a stereo from a brick-and-mortar car audio store. But when you purchase one online and need it professionally installed, taking it to a local car audio store can cost much more than the stereo itself.
Multiple Cars Without Bluetooth
A Bluetooth car kit doesn’t require any complicated installation – you either clip it to your visor, dash, or an air vent, making it easy to pluck out and move over to another car. If your family has multiple cars without Bluetooth, a portable Bluetooth car kit is the easiest way for everyone to enjoy hands-free calling and streaming.