Review: An Introduction to FM Transmitters
Few iPod accessories are as abundant, or as frequently disappointing, as FM transmitters. They typically range in price from $15 to $60, and are available in portable versions and car-only versions.
Why are FM transmitters so popular? They can turn your iPod into a miniature radio tower, broadcasting its music to a nearby FM station. Most transmitters let you choose the station, and have enough power to overwhelm a radio that’s 10 or fewer feet away. Some do a competent job from as far as 30 feet away. This makes FM transmitters useful in any situation - most commonly, in cars - where there’s no way to make a wired connection between an iPod and speakers.
Why are they so disappointing? Governmental agencies such as the U.S. FCC and its international analogues restrict the power of FM transmitters to limit both radio interference and “pirate radio stations.” Even companies that want to create clearer, more powerful versions are limited by law.
Consequently, it is nearly impossible to find an FM transmitter that is truly static-free, and other issues such as sound distortion, size, appropriate positioning, and power consumption affect even the best available options. The static and positioning problems are worst in metropolitan areas with numerous radio stations, and generally have less impact on those in rural and suburban areas. Update: In April, 2007, we published an article, “Bad Days Ahead for FM Transmission,” noting that recent FCC enforcement actions are leading transmitter manufacturers to cripple devices that previously performed above FCC restricted limits, resulting in batches of new transmitters that underperform their predecessors.
iLounge always emphasizes that even the best FM transmitters are unlikely to provide sound as clear as “B”-rated cassette tape adapters, or more sophisticated car integration kits. Unfortunately, until more cars offer auxiliary input ports/iPod integration, or unless you have a tape deck, these transmitters are the most cost-effective way to hear your iPod through your car stereo. You can check out our In-Car FM Transmiiter and Portable FM Transmitter reviews here.