Review: C. Crane FM Transmitter
Pros: Digital quartz tuner and long battery life.
Cons: AM radio quality. Don’t fiddle with it in traffic! Reception range limited for in home use.
Since the advent of affordable, portable MP3 players there have been limited solutions about how to best play tunes in your car. Sure, you could get a cassette deck adapter but if you’re like me your vehicle doesn’t have a cassette deck. Enter the C. Crane Digital FM transmitter.
The C. Crane is like having a tiny digital FM stereo radio station roughly 5” by 5” square. The unassuming black case houses a no-nonsense method to broadcast your iPod through your car stereo, without the need of special adapters or wiring your own FM modulator through the car antenna.
Operation instructions are fairly straightforward:
- Push the red power button on the C. Crane FM Transmitter.
- Attach the stereo-mini plug into the iPod or any portable MP3 player (I use a laptop).
- Set the digital quartz tuner to an unused frequency.
- Adjust the volume on the transmitter’s thumbwheel.
- Start cruising.
Most of the personal FM transmitters on the market gives you only a few preset FM frequencies to choose from or a clumsy frequency thumbwheel that easily drifts off the desired channel and fades. The C. Crane transmitter gives you a bonafide digital quartz tuner to lock in any frequency on the FM dial from 87.7 to 107.9. That’s a big plus. Of course, you still have to find a blank (unused) space on the FM dial for best results.
If you’re on a long interstate car trip, you’ll have to change frequencies a few times (especially when traveling through big cities) to get the best reception (Be careful in traffic!). The transmitter also includes a retractable antenna to improve the signal. One small snag though…the signal doesn’t seem to transmit very far if you’re trying to send music from one room to another.
The C. Crane FM Transmitter claims a maximum reception range up to 70 feet, but that’s greatly decreased if there are walls between the transmitter and receiver. C. Crane Company suggests a direct line of site, without obstructions for the best reception. I got about 20 feet away from my home stereo receiver before the signal faded with static. But for car trips, it works fabulously.
The best feature of all is something you may not believe - battery life. For example, I make many car trips from my home in Memphis to visit family in New Orleans. That’s a good six hours each way. The two AA batteries supply enough juice to make the roundtrip almost twice. The C. Crane also comes with an AC adapter. If you forget to turn off the unit, it powers off automatically. As an added bonus, the iPod doesn’t have to be near the transmitter because the coiled connector cord can stretch to at least six feet in length.
Pump up the volume
The signal is true FM stereo, but the signal separation (right and left channels) and frequency response are a bit narrow. Plus, the volume is lower than even the strongest FM radio stations on your dial - so you’ll have to turn up the sound on your car stereo to hear the transmitter adequately. Just be ready to turn the volume down quickly if you have to change frequencies (especially in busy traffic). If the sound is distorted, rotate the volume thumbwheel on the side of the transmitter to a lower level. A red LED lights when the transmitted signal is too distorted.
The assets of having a portable FM transmitter with a true digital quartz tuner and long battery time far outweigh the AM quality sound you get from the transmitter. The C. Crane FM transmitter is also a little pricey ($80), but it’s well made and performs better than expected. The only major problem is the juggling you have to perform if you have to change frequencies and volume in traffic. Keep your eyes on the road and pull to the shoulder if you have to make major adjustments. Then you and your car will last much longer than the batteries.