Review: Newer Technology RoadTrip! 107.7 FM Transmitter
Pros: Broadcasts iPod audio to 107.7 FM radio frequency in a car.
Cons: Completely useless if 107.5, .7, and/or .9 are in use where you’re driving, as they were where we tested it, limited to in-car use and no ability to tune frequencies as with other FM transmitters. Doesn’t match iPod at all, either.
Newer Technology makes fantastic replacement internal batteries for the iPod, but we aren’t as fond of its FM transmitter, the RoadTrip! ($19.99, exclamation mark theirs). To avoid potential confusion, we’ll note with only some irony that Newer Technology’s RoadTrip! is actually the oldest iPod accessory to go by that name; Griffin Technology makes a more recent device called the RoadTrip (iLounge rating: C+) that also includes an FM transmitter, but lacks the exclamation point.
Newer’s RoadTrip! is considerably less exciting than most of the iPod-compatible FM transmitters we’ve tested. Sold in black, it’s not an aesthetic match for the iPod, and unlike competing products such as Griffin’s iTrip (iLounge rating: A-) and Belkin’s TuneCast II (iLounge rating B+), you actually need to plug it into your car’s power charger in order to use it. In fact, the device’s appearance is that of a generic auto charger with a coiled cable attached to connect to the iPod; the surprise is that it doesn’t charge your iPod, and only connects to its headphone port. For that reason, it’s compatible with virtually any portable audio device, though marketed most heavily as an iPod add-on.
Since it doesn’t run on batteries, the RoadTrip! is thus a FM transmitter powered only by your car’s battery - not necessarily a bad idea in any way, though thereby limited in portability and practicality by comparison with the aforementioned options. Assuming that the RoadTrip! delivered fantastic sounding FM transmission in a car, it could be a viable and cheaper alternative to bulkier all-in-one car kits such as DLO’s TransPod (iLounge rating: B) and Griffin’s RoadTrip.
Unfortunately, in our testing, it didn’t. For some reason, and unlike all of the other iPod FM transmitters we’ve tested, Newer Technology chose to sell the RoadTrip! with the ability to transmit on only one station: 107.7. That’s a major problem here, because 107.9 is a powerful local Christian broadcasting station, and 107.5 is a Spanish-language romantic music channel. Having a broadcast on one adjacent frequency (say nothing of two) virtually guarantees that you’ll hear significant and very audible noise when using an FM transmitter, and whereas Griffin and Belkin just allow you to switch frequencies, you’re totally stuck if the RoadTrip! can’t hit its single target.
So with the RoadTrip! locked at 107.7, we weren’t sure whether it was the words of God or Enrique Iglesias that were so strongly interfering with the words of the Johnny Cash album we used in our testing, but something surely prevented us from getting a clear signal. We drove around with the RoadTrip! in an attempt to see whether the sound would get better on 107.7, and though it did vary a bit from point to point, it was never good. At some points, there was a nearly 1:1 noise to iPod signal ratio, while at others it fell to 1:3, permitting Johnny’s voice to be heard, though scratchily.
Some people will have a different experience, hopefully in both the areas in which they live and the places where they commute, travel, or just drive around. But from our perspective, the absence of any sort of frequency adjustment feature is an absolutely killer omission from the RoadTrip!‘s design, and we note again that we have never before used an iPod-dedicated FM transmitter so limited. Even the older, stripped down ones we’ve seen let you toggle between four stations, and many that we’re testing these days include full-band tuners spanning the entirety of the radio dial: if you live or drive someplace with a bad signal, switch stations. Because it can’t do that, the RoadTrip! is in a limited class by itself, and because it can’t be used properly at all where we’ve tested it, we can’t give it even an average grade.
In recent months, Newer has added a second version of the RoadTrip! that only tunes to 87.7, which again is fine if you live in the right place (such as Northern Illinois, where Newer says they tested the RoadTrip!), but is next to worthless if not. They’ve also announced but apparently not released a third version called the RoadTrip Plus! ($39.99), which promised to add an iPod power charger to the RoadTrip formula. Having not tested either of these products, we won’t render a verdict on them, but the RoadTrip! 107.7 is unmistakeably not the sort of product we could recommend, or even use ourselves, given the limits of its design.
If you’re still thinking of buying the RoadTrip! because of its price, we have two suggestions: first, check to be sure that 107.9 and 107.5 aren’t used for radio broadcasting in your area (and where you hope to commute/travel/drive around), and hopefully 107.3 won’t be, either. But second, in all of our FM transmitter reviews, we emphasize that Sony’s CPA-9C cassette adapter and Monster’s iCarPlay adapter provide cleaner and more stable sound than even the best FM transmitters we’ve seen, and are available at the same $19.99 price point as the RoadTrip! we tested. Especially in this case, we know what option we’d choose. Newer Techology generally makes great products, but for our needs, this isn’t one of them.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge.