Under the best of circumstances, iLounge’s editors have never loved FM transmitters; like our readers, we’ve merely tolerated them in situations where we’ve had no other way — say, with wires or cassette adapters — to connect our iPods to certain car stereos. FM transmitters have enabled us to wirelessly broadcast music to more-or-less empty FM radio stations, though they’ve generally done so with at least a faint hiss of static, and often times with other issues as well.
In recent weeks, following reports that the Federal Communications Commission has been cracking down on overly powerful (read: especially clear) FM transmitters, two new options have arrived from established manufacturers. Griffin has released iTrip Pocket ($50), which matches the curves and coloration of silver second-generation iPod nanos, and Kensington has released the QuickSeek FM Transmitter for iPod ($90), which cosmetically comes closest to a 30GB fifth-generation iPod. Neither of these transmitters is groundbreaking enough to merit a full, extended review; they’re equal parts interesting for their simple functionality, and disappointing for their underaggressive pricing.
Both iTrip Pocket and QuickSeek begin with the same premise: they attach to the bottom of any Dock Connector-equipped iPod 4G, 5G, mini, or nano, and use the iPod’s screen to display a digital FM tuner that’s controlled with buttons on the transmitter’s front face. Griffin’s five-button design is more intuitive, with arrows for tuning and three buttons to memorize and call up chosen pre-set stations you’ve identified as empty enough for broadcasting. iTrip Pocket also includes a clear hard plastic Dock Connector cover that makes the unit safer to toss into a bag or pocket when not in use.
Aside from the QuickSeek function, described in the separate QuickSeek review, the only other major differences between these transmitters are their approaches to charging and user options. QuickSeek includes a simple car charger with a USB cable; it has a replaceable fuse on one side and can be plugged in or disconnected from the bottom of the transmitter as you prefer. It has no user-selectable options menu. iTrip Pocket lacks any charging pass-through capability, and has only a single option, toggling between more dynamic stereo or clearer monaural broadcasting modes. Both tune from 88.1FM to 107.9FM in .2 increments, while iTrip Pocket can also tune the frequently clear 87.9FM; unlike numerous predecessors, neither can be switched into European or Japanese tuning modes.
All of that leaves only two issues – sound quality and pricing. Regrettably, though both are better than most of the transmitters released three years ago, with crisper highs and superior dynamic range, neither of these transmitters was a superstar relative to more recent best-of-breed alternatives we’ve tested. QuickSeek is a bit behind top transmitters we’ve tested from Belkin and XtremeMac in static level, with an above-whisper level of white noise audible in tracks we tested—it is highly comparable in sound quality and static level to the prior Kensington transmitters we’ve reviewed. This was the case even on the local station it identified as clearest (107.3FM). iTrip Pocket did a little better than QuickSeek, but was still not as clear as XtremeMac’s AirPlay Boost (iLounge ratings: A-/B+) from comparable distances on comparable stations. Unlike earlier iTrips, its performance can’t be improved by connection of other cables, since it lacks a pass-through port.
Pricing was where both products were most notably disappointing. It’s hard to ignore the fact that Belkin gives you a detachable car charger with TuneFM for the same price as Griffin’s selling iTrip Pocket, and that if you’re spending $50, you can get an equally good looking, and even better sounding transmitter in XtremeMac’s AirPlay Boost. AirPlay Boost doesn’t come with a charger, but it does have a Dock Connector port on the bottom that can be used with most standard iPod chargers, a feature missing from iTrip Pocket. In all regards save size, nano owners will do better with Griffin’s earlier iTrip for iPod nano, which offers extra features and includes a carrying bag for the same $50 price.
All-in-all, Griffin’s iTrip Pocket looks nice and sounds pretty good, but it isn’t a fantastic deal or a tremendous performer. QuickSeek isn’t as sharp visually or as reasonably priced, and its titular feature may not perform properly on your iPod, but it does a fine job of standard tuning and has a couple of functional benefits over some of the transmitters we’ve tested. Consider both to be second-tier choices unless you can find them at a substantial discount.
Company and Price
Company: Griffin Technology
Model: iTrip Pocket
Compatible: iPod 4G*, 5G*, mini*, nano