Quick Take: Your Tesla Audio System

Your Tesla provides you with a wide variety of options for listening to music on your drive.  Since some of the options maybe new to you, its worthwhile understanding the nuances of your options.

The audio options break down into three catagories:

  • Terrestrial Radio:  The traditional AM/FM or DAB (Europe)
  • Streaming: internet sources (Slacker, Spotify, TuneIn, etc), a Bluetooth connected phone, and satellite radio like XM Sirius
  • Physical: music files played off a USB drive plugged into one of the USB slots in the center console

You are probably familiar with AM/FM at this point, so I won’t dwell on that.

The great thing about streaming is that you get an immense amount of choice.  For example, with Slacker, you can listen to just about song ever published.  The downside of streaming is there is a wide variety of audio quality.  The original audio source files can vary in quality, the streaming service then applies compression to reduce bandwidth needs which reduces sound quality and then quality may further be reduced if the available bandwidth to your car is limited (streaming services will further compress the audio to your car on the assumption that that is better than the audio dropping out completely). This might sound dire, but, in reality, most of the time music will sound fine.  However, streaming is a poor choice for critical listening if you are trying to get the feel for the capabilities of the audio system in your new car.

Streaming audio from a phone over Bluetooth can yield better results if you have quality files on your device.  Bluetooth also uses a compression so audio will not sound as good as over headphones, but it will typically be an improvement over streaming from the internet.  You can use your phone to stream services that Tesla does not support–for instance, in the US, you can listen to Spotify or Apple Music over your phone.  In those cases, you can expect audio quality somewhere between that of files played off your device and internet streaming.

Your best audio quality is going to come from files played directly off a USB drive.  First, this eliminates the need for any compression and second, physical storage is cheap so there is no cost penalty for higher quality (larger) file sizes–with less than $20 and a little bit of your time you can drive around with a few thousand of your favorite songs at your fingertips. If you really want to explore the capabilities of your system, this is the way to go.

Getting Audio Files

There are three ways to obtain audio files to load onto a USB drive:

  1. Download purchased music files from Apple iTunes, Google Play, etc.
  2. Rip your audio CDs
  3. Use a site like HDtracks that sells uncompressed tracks–maybe worthwhile for especially favorite music. HDtracks offers a free sampler if you want to check it out.

Tesla supports three audio file formats: FLAC, AAC and MP3. FLAC is uncompressed and provides the best quality in return for larger file sizes. AAC and MP3 are compressed formats–try a setting of 128kbps + VBR to best balance audio quality and file size.

Useful Notes

  • A USB 2.0 stick is fine, there is no benefit in using a USB 3.0 drive.  A low profile drive will stay out of your way–something like this
  • The drive needs to be formatted as FAT32–both Macs and PCs can do this
  • There seems to be a limit around 8,000 songs before owners begin encountering anomalies
  • A Tesla owner created a useful utility called Tesla Tunes for Mac users to help convert files and manage playlists

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