Mini Cooper iPhone iPod audio tips and tricks

It seems that there is a lot of documentation out there about the high-falutin' "Connected" version of the Mini Cooper audio system, but not so much for the "stock" one -- specifically, how to get it to play nice with a modern iPhone or iPod. I've spoked to several other Mini owners and all have reported some degree of frustration with this rig. I seem to have reached a sort of equilibrium with mine, so I thought I'd post the notes in case it's helpful to others.

Starting with the basics:

I'm talking about the audio system where the controls and dash display look like this:


Down in the little accessory track, just behind the shifter, you will find a USB port and an 1/8" audio input jack:


Now, you might assume, as I initially did, that you can just take your iPhone charging cable and plug it right into that USB port and off you go. Not so much! That will charge the phone, but you won't get any audio playback, and the Mini stereo won't be able to control the music either. So you have to get the appropriate adapter cable for your device -- in my case, an iPhone 5, with Lightning connector, so my Y-cable looks like this:

(They make a 30-pin version for older iPhones and iPods too. That will NOT WORK with a *really* old FireWire-based iPod, the voltage is different.)

"What about Bluetooth," you ask? My phone paired just fine, and I can make and receive calls hands-free, and it even pauses/mutes the music when I get a phonecall. BUT, I can't play music from the iTunes library via Bluetooth, annoyingly. On the other hand, the quality of a direct connection is superior anyway. (Sour grapes!)

Anyway, you can buy these Y-cables online, but I splurged for the genuine BMW one right from the dealership, to go with my 2013 Countryman. Even so, I've found that getting it to work properly requires an array of frequent and seemingly-mystical steps. 

First off, ALWAYS unlock iPhone (enter the PIN or your fingerprint depending on model) BEFORE you connect the cable, and do that BEFORE you insert the key/turn on the car. Otherwise you get to watch the iPhone have a little seizure while it tries to spool up the music app, because I guess the car doesn't have "permission" to talk to the phone until the phone is unlocked (or something), and then you're stuck in...

Scenario 1: iPhone is plugged in and charging, but dash display mode selector does not show "iPod" option.  


Turn off car and remove key. 

Disconnect iPhone adapter cable. 

Reset iPhone by holding down home + power button for many seconds. (Note that this is NOT the same as powering the iPhone down and back up with just the power button; this is a soft reset.)

Reconnect cable.

Reinsert car key. 

Wait 10 seconds and press mode selector button and "iPod" should appear. Select it and music should begin playing.

Scenario 2: iPhone is plugged in and charging, dash displays "iPod" and it is selected, but music won't play from dash controls OR from iPhone (it's perma-paused, and when you tap play, it instantly goes back to paused.) OR,

Scenarios 3/4: iPhone is plugged in and charging, dash displays "iPod" and it is selected, music actually plays! But, pressing skip button takes like 3 seconds to react, and it sometimes skips tracks on its own. OR, it's playing music and it responds to button presses, but nothing is displayed on the dash at all, then "iPod" disappears and it reverts back to radio.


Disconnect and immediately reconnect adapter cable. 

Wait 10 seconds and press mode selector button and "iPod" should appear. Select it and music should begin playing.

Scenario 5: iPhone is plugged in and charging, dash displays "iPod" and it is selected. iPhone shows that music is playing, and volume is up, but no audio comes out, EVEN if you select "AUX" input. 


Same as Scenario 1, full power-down/disconnect/reset. 

In my experience, once you've solved the glitch, it's very well-behaved for the rest of the day. I.e. I might have to do the reset or the quick disconnect/reconnect trick once in the morning, but then I can run errands, go to work, go to lunch, etc. and each time I reenter the car and reconnect the phone, it works fine -- it picks up playing from whichever song I was on last, remembers which shuffle mode I was in, everything. The next day, I might have to fiddle with it a little bit again first thing in the morning. I find that I encounter Scenario 1 about once a month, Scenario 5 about once every three months, and the other scenarios ~weekly. The glitchiness seems to have been about the same since iOS 7, and I'm on the current iOS version as of this writing (August 2016.) Of course, I have no idea what will happen when I get a new phone...

Other minor inconveniences:

1. Music is too quiet, even with volume maxxed on iPhone and stereo? 


Press the button under "LEV”: 

4-lev button

And adjust with the righthand knob: 


What do the rest of the buttons do?

LIST lets you choose by playlist; GEN lets you choose by genre; ART lets you choose by artist; ALB lets you choose by album; TRACK lets you choose by song, unsorted. Far right button takes you one menu up.  

Other details about my setup:

I use a cheap dock that I got from Amazon, which sits on a sticky Grippy pad also from Amazon, and which connects to the BMW adapter cable, which in turn connects to a USB male to female extension cable + a 1/8" audio male to male with coupler (duh), which in turn are snaked together down behind the steering wheel and through a little channel next to the speedometer and through the cupholders and into the input jacks. 

The reason being that when I use the iPhone for GPS navigation, I want it in my main line of sight -- hands-free and not looking down. It also means I can connect and disconnect the iPhone with one hand (the Grippy is quite sticky) and I didn't have to use adhesives or do any other damage to the car. 


Here's a closeup of the dock. Note that it has a 1/8" post that goes into the headphone port, and the back of the dock has a corresponding 1/8" female line-out jack, neither of which are used here (the audio travels through the Lightning connector and the y-cable splits it off afterward.) 

7-dock by itself

So, the headphone connector is unnecessary, but I like that the metal post takes some of the strain off the lightning connector when I drive over three-foot-deep ruts in rural NH. 

I really like this system -- I think it's worth all the foibles in the end, to be able to skip tracks from the steering wheel controls and see (part of) the song name right on the dashboard and everything. I don't know whether to blame the car or the phone, but whatever -- it fundamentally DOES work. That said, if there's a firmware update or something that I could do to the car that would make it less finicky, please let me know!

 MB August 2016