Review: DLO TransDock micro All-in-One Car Transmitter/Charger for All iPods
Pros: A combined car charger and FM transmitter solution for Dock Connecting iPods (and the iPod shuffle), preserving the digital tuning and easy controls of its iPod shuffle-specific predecessor TransPod for iPod shuffle, and adding a USB cable. Strong FM transmitter performance, with good sound balance. Offers audio output and input ports.
Cons: Very noticeable audio interference from iPod overlaps beginnings of tracks whenever hard drive is accessed, detracting from performance. FM transmitter bulb remains large and limited in usefulness to specific vehicles, particularly if you connect an iPod shuffle to its top; even without the shuffle, can interfere with gear shifting in some cars.
Last July, we reviewed DLO’s TransPod for iPod shuffle (iLounge rating: B-), a diminutive version of DLO’s three-in-one car docking, charging, and FM transmitting accessory TransPod for full-sized iPods. It wasn’t our favorite such device, posing mounting challenges in three of our four test vehicles, and exhibiting only acceptable FM transmission quality. In the six months that have passed since then, TransPods have been renamed TransDocks, and now the TransPod for iPod shuffle has been re-released with a packed-in USB cable (and higher price) as TransDock micro ($70).
No longer is this device sold as an iPod shuffle-specific accessory; instead, you’re supposed to plug the USB cable into its top - the part molded for the shuffle - and then connect the cable’s Dock Connector plug to the bottom of your iPod. You can still tune its blue-backlit FM transmitter with its left and right side buttons, connect a line-out audio cable (not included) to its bottom, or connect another audio device into its bottom to use it with the FM transmitter. DLO is positioning the “new” device as a competitor to Griffin’s iTrip Auto (iLounge rating: B+), Kensington’s Digital FM Transmitter/Auto Charger (iLounge rating: A-), and Monster’s iCarPlay Wireless Plus.
Since it’s largely the same device as before, we’re not going to exhaustively rehash the details of our past review, but we will note the following: first, used with the included USB cable rather than an iPod shuffle, TransDock micro is modestly easier to mount in tight spaces, though still a poor choice overall if your cigarette lighter port is immediately adjacent to the gear shifter, or recessed in a nook in your car. Its identical predecessor actually cut into and damaged the side of our car’s gear shifter. We found two of its named competitors decidedly easier to install and use in our cars, with Kensington’s design the best, followed by Griffin’s; Monster’s is highly car-compatible, but its red LCD-screened FM transmitter is the least fun of the bunch to initially tune.
That said, assuming you can get TransDock micro to fit your car’s lighter adapter, its side buttons and good screen will be better than Monster’s, and it does offer more audio in and out features than each of its named alternatives. There’s no doubt that there are some advantages to its hacked-together solution, but it’s still not as impressive or smooth as a fully redesigned DLO charging and transmitting product could have been.
The other major point is that TransDock micro’s FM transmitter offers mixed results. On one hand, TransDock micro’s dynamic range is very good - sound is nicely treble- and bass-balanced - and it was strong and clear enough to do quite well in static levels on the channels we tested, in fact nearly as well as iTrip Auto at its best, and certainly better than Monster’s solution. TransDock micro can be tuned to 87.9FM, and did well there, and it also overpowered each of our other test stations (103.3FM and 88.3FM) - good results all around. But the major problem was electrical interference. TransPod micro picks up all sorts of inside-the-iPod noises - beeps, hard drive spinning, and some Click Wheel sounds - and overlays them on top of your songs, much like the audio defect we noted in fourth-generation iPods. This annoyance detracts from the unit’s otherwise solid audio performance, even when you’re using the device’s clean line-out. It’s the only one of these competing options with this issue.
Though it looks like only a retrofit of an outdated product, TransDock micro does have some advantages over the existing crop of cabled car FM transmitters and chargers, but they’re offset by the unit’s annoying audio interference and still less than ideal mounting decisions. For these reasons, TransDock micro retains the same limited recommendation of its predecessor. As other companies have been actively improving the compatibility of these sorts of designs, we continue to hope that DLO will do the same in the months to come.