Review: Macally FMCup Full Channel FM Transmitter and Charger for iPod
Pros: An easy-to-use three-in-one FM transmitter, charger, and cupholder mount compatible with Dock Connecting iPods. Resizes nicely to fit varying sizes of cupholders. Compatible with Apple’s Universal Dock standard, includes inserts, charger cable and audio cable. FM sound quality is acceptable. Reasonable price.
Cons: Doesn’t tune 87.9FM. Audio output - from FM transmitter and audio-out port - isn’t up to level of top products we’ve tested. Cabling and mount will vary in location and clutter factor depending on your vehicle.
Though there are now many three-in-one car accessories - combinations of iPod chargers, mounts, and audio output devices - most use one of two predictable designs. DLO’s TransPod and Griffin’s RoadTrip use plastic pipes to mount your iPod, while Belkin’s TuneBases and TEN Technology’s flexibleDocks use metal goosenecks. Some months ago, Macally released the first pictures of its unique FMCup ($60), the first three-in-one device made to mount your iPod in a car’s cupholder.
FMCup consists of four key electronic components. As its name suggests, there’s a FM transmitter inside, which is tuned with a blue-backlit LCD screen and buttons mounted on the top of the accessory. There’s also a Universal Dock well, plus ports for an included audio minijack cable and cabled car charger. You connect the car charger cable to FMCup and your car, insert one of the three included iPod/iPod mini holders or a Universal Dock Adapter into the well, stick FMCup into an empty cup holder, and dock your iPod inside. You have the choice of using the integrated FM transmitter or the audio cable to pipe iPod music into your car’s stereo.
As a cupholder mount, FMCup does well. Macally has used four spring-loaded, rubber-padded sizers that enable the device to stay stable in everything from typical to oversized cup holders, and we were impressed by the way they worked and looked. By using the Universal Dock standard, the company makes it easy for any iPod to fit properly inside, too. We had no problem charging the iPods we tested, and really liked Macally’s inclusion of an adapter pop-out locking system, which made the inserts easier to remove than most of the Universal Dock accessories we’ve tested.
Sound quality is overall better than average, but not great; our standard disclaimer on FM transmitters still applies. True, FMCup’s integrated FM transmitter is roughly on par with the best such devices that were being released a year or so ago, with pretty strong transmitting power to overwhelm stations, but it does lack the dynamic range and other sound quality improvements pioneered by Kensington’s especially impressive Digital FM Transmitter/Auto Charger (iLounge rating: A-). The static level is moderate on clear stations - 88.3 and 103.3 were our tests, since the accessory only tunes from 88.1 to 107.9, not the generally clear 87.9FM - and sound balance is fine, if bass-heavy. There’s a little bass clipping, but it’s not too bad. Griffin’s old iTrip (LCD) does a better job overall; newer devices exhibit significantly more dynamic, powerful sound with crisper highs. Macally’s bonus here is a simple, multi-station preset feature; presets are toggled through with a single button labeled “QS” next to the LCD screen.
We weren’t especially impressed by FMCup’s audio output port, which like some (but not all) of the audio devices we’ve tested appears to be calibrated for direct line-in connections and not cassette adapters. As a consequence, we found the audio noisy and distorted when connected with a cassette adapter, making FMCup more recommendable to people who need its FM functionality.
The only other thing that bears some note on FMCup’s design is the manner in which its components connect to different cars. We’re fans of the gooseneck designs we’ve tested because they provide relatively elegant, nearly head-level mounting options for iPods, free or almost free of dangling cables. FMCup is basically guaranteed to have either one or two cables hanging around in your car, and depending on your vehicle and preferred cupholder, you may find that the iPod’s screen isn’t easy to view, that cables are running under your steering wheel, or so on. Other cars will better match its design, so we’d advise you to consider its location in your car before considering it a viable option.
As with many other Macally products, FMCup’s major selling point is its aggressive price. For $60, you get an FM transmitter-equipped, iPod charging cupholder mount that looks pretty good and works pretty well; though its aesthetic appeal and practicality will depend on the type of car it’s being used in, it will work as promised in virtually any car. While we wouldn’t put it in the same league as our top, highly recommended three-in-one accessories, it’s a solid value for the dollar and will likely satisfy budget-conscious users.