With traffic jams and roadside hold-ups commonplace these days, life inside a car has been made much more bearable with the advent of the short-range FM transmitter. This is a device that allows you to hook up your iPod to an available channel and play back your music collection through the car radio/stereo. It’s been a real revelation for travellers offering the ability to listen to your own customised music collection rather than tracks defined by CD album, tape or, heaven forbid, local radio.
It was illegal to use an FM transmitter in a car until Ofcom changed all that in December 2006, so now you’re free to broadcast the contents of your iPod wherever you go on four wheels. The secret for getting this process to work properly is to program the radio frequency that you’re going to use. This means you can also avoid doubling up with another frequency that may be used by a radio station, ensuring a crisp and uninterrupted broadcasting signal.
At least that’s the intention of the gadgets featured in our group test, although using them in large cities with all manner of radio stations clamouring for the airwaves can result in patchy sound quality even from the best of models. Then there are factors such as where your car aerial is located and also where you have your iPod and the unit itself mounted. There’s no shortage when it comes to products though. The cigarette lighter has never been put to such good use and it smells a lot better than smoking in the car.
As with anything aimed at the iPod market, some of these products look very sexy and carry on the stylish design theme pioneered by Apple. However, the most important part of our group test is finding gadgets that offer quality of sound, with ease of use a close second. Driving a car and fine-tuning playback settings is definitely not to be encouraged. Finding somewhere to stop and do it can be just as inconvenient. So, thankfully, the great thing about all of the products featured here is that once they’ve been configured, using them on a run in the car is perhaps even easier than retuning your radio.
We surveyed five models. There’s the groovy sounding iLuv FM Transmitter with Car Adapter, the functional Belkin TuneBase FM, the brash Harmon Kardon Drive + Play 2, the low-key Griffin AutoPilot, the quirky-looking Macally FMCup, and the Kensington RDS FM Transmitter/Car Charger for iPod.
They all represent variations on the same theme, allowing you to attach an iPod, charge it and listen to your music archive at the same time. You should also take into consideration the speakers fitted to your car as these feature quite highly in the sound quality equation. If at all possible, see if you can try before you buy.