Belkin TuneCast Mobile FM Transmitter for iPod

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, send e-mail
Published by: Belkin Corporation, go to the web site
Requires: Any of the following - Apple iPod, Sony MiniDisc player or any portable music device with a standard 1/8" miniplug headphone jack
MSRP: $39.99

I like my iPod. I mean I really like it. The device is well-designed, easy to operate, has enormous storage capacity and best of all, provides excellent, high fidelity stereo output to headphones and other plug-in and add-on peripherals. There is nothing wrong with the iPod. The only issue I have with the iPod concept (and the literal premise on which the design for similar devices has been based) is the fact that you can't jack an iPod directly into your car stereo. No mini-plugs, 1/4" plugs or any others for that matter are available in car stereos. So if you want to listen to your iPod in the car, you've got to use a tape deck adapter which injects the iPod audio signal into the heads of the car's cassette player (too much extra wire floating around the car along with the cassette adapter), or a pair of unobtrusive headphones (which is illegal almost everywhere so it's not an option), or simply wait until you get home (a lousy solution for a mobile audio device). It's a dilemma.

Technology solutions abound however, so it came as no surprise to find the Belkin TuneCast, a compact little FM transmitter which has a short cable that plugs into the iPod's headphone jack. Set the slider on top of the TuneCast to a frequency of your choice - one of four FM frequencies: 88.1, 88.3, 88.5, 88.7 - turn on the TuneCast, then turn on your iPod. Select some music, press play and away you go. Anything playing will be transmitted by the TuneCast and received by a correctly tuned FM radio.

We discovered one little trick for improved reception: Switch on the TuneCast, then start your portable music device, then switch on the radio. It appears as though most FM tuners (in car or home systems) will lock onto a nearby signal and give it priority over other signals on the same frequency. Whatever the actual reason, follow the sequence and you should get decent results.

We discovered another little trick for improved fidelity: Do not raise the iPod volume above 50%. If you do, it's possible for loud or complex music passages with lots of treble to overload the input of the TuneCast resulting in distortion.

The third little trick performed by the TuneCast is not so much a trick as it is a hidden feature. This little darling works with darn near any portable music player. As long as the music device has a headphone jack, you can plug in the TuneCast and play music through any nearby FM radio. Very nice. We tried the TuneCast with a Sony MD player a Rio MP3 player and the iPod - the TuneCast worked well.

Cons: Limited transmission range (an FCC and CRTC issue in the U.S. and Canada). Does not work at all in some cars due to some windows tinted with metallized film. Only four frequency selections. Sensitive input - too much device volume will distort the output. The frequency switch is a bit fiddly and it's hard to tell whether you've selected 88.3 or 88.5. Urban environments with strong radio signals in TuneCast's frequency range will make it difficult to use the device.

Pros: Battery life was good - surprisingly so. After about 20 hours of testing, the two AAA batteries (Energizer Max) were still going strong. Fidelity was good; only the slightest degradation from the recorded source was noticed on a Bose setup in a 2000 Cadillac STS. On standard FM car radios, quality is limited by average electronics and average speakers - no fault of the TuneCast.

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