Belkin TuneCast II

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, Hardware Editor, July 2005
Available at : StylusCentral
Requires: Apple iPod or any other portable music device with a headphone jack
MSRP: US$49.99 (available at StylusCentral for $44.99)

The wealth of portable music players on the market hasn't in any way goaded the car stereo manufacturers to do one simple thing: provide stereo line-in or AUX jacks on the front panel of their radio/CD players so that simple folk like you and I can hit the road and plug in our iPods, IRivers, Muvos, Walkmans (Walkmen?) and sundry other devices. Belkin, in its infinite wisdom, seems to have figured out that most music listeners are apt to be more content with as few cables, wires and paraphernalia as possible in order to listen to their music while driving. First therefore, came the Belkin Tunecast. The latest incarnation of the device is the Tunecast II.

How do you get the music on your portable music player into the car stereo system right now? If you've got a cassette player, there's always the old, reliable cassette adapter which plugs into the headphone jack of the player. It works, fidelity is limited by the head in the dummy cassette body, and of course there is that omnipresent wire dangling off the passenger seat, getting tangled up with the donuts, papers, console gearshift and so on. Then there are the surprisingly large number of car lighter jack adapters which not only power your portable player but also incorporate a small FM radio transmitter which injects the audio stream from your player into an available, tunable channel on the car radio. They're nice contraptions which also take up the lighter jack, making it impossible to charge the cell phone while you're listening to music. The Belkin Tunecast II addresses the best of both worlds by being self-contained (battery powered—wireless therefore) and by not requiring a cassette deck because the Tunecast II is primarily a low powered FM radio transmitter designed to inject a signal into your car FM radio tuner.


The Tunecast II is a 3"w x 2"h x .5"d, oval device with a short, attached cable for connection to a music player. The front panel features a monochrome LCD display flanked by a Memory Set button on the left and a pair of combo buttons on the right for FM frequency tuning and manual on/off control. The back panel has an access plate for the pair of 'AAA' batteries. The unit is also supplied with a Belkin Mobile Power Cord which can connect to a 3G iPod.

Setting up the Tunecast II is simple. Plug it into your music player. Turn on both devices. Find an FM station that is unused locally. Use the tuning buttons to set the same frequency on the Tunecast II. Play your music. Additional setup includes choosing four local frequencies to save to the available memory slots. I used the Tunecast II for a little over four weeks in the car and at the cottage (it works quite well in the living room at the cottage, as it does at home, simply transmitting to the stereo). I found that when driving through busy urban areas, the best reception has to be tweaked quite regularly. In suburban areas and anywhere outside the city, reception is clear and the little Tunecast II transmitter easily takes over the tuned frequency to provide a clear, strong signal. The input circuit in the Tunecast II, likes its predecessor, is sensitive to high levels so I found that it was best to keep the output volume of my iPod below 40%. While that setting limits the maximum volume level of the car stereo, it's still very loud, and more important, distortion-free. The Tunecast II is a sturdy little traveler too. It doesn't feel delicate or flimsy and I tossed it around for weeks in the car, my briefcase and camera bag.

Cons: Don't know if this can be rightly classified as a con, but it sure would be nice if the Tunecast II had a little more 'oomph' in the transmitter. Rear fender and rear roof mounted antennas are difficult for the Tunecast to hit. Vehicles (read: 75% of the vehicles manufactured over the past 10 years) with antennas embedded in the front windshield or the front area of the roof work well however. Only available for sale in North America due to broadcast regulations elsewhere and due to export restrictions on these sorts of devices, which means you can't take it with on a driving trip in the south of France. Audio frequency range of 50Hz-150KHz is acceptable but not quite good enough to get all the best out of your best MP3 recordings. FM reception is tough in dense urban areas (not enough free radio bandwidth, too much frequency crowding, etc.) so you might be better off using the Tunecast II on car trips rather than commuting and errands.

Pros: Much improved over the original Tunecast, the most important new feature being the continuous tuning rather than the limited four frequency selection of the old model. The auto on/off function is handy, especially when you're driving because you don't have to fiddle with the thing while hurtling down highway. The Tunecast II switches on automatically the moment an audio input signal is detected. Good battery life—in actual use, Imanaged to squeeze about nine hours of continuous use out of a pair of Panasonic AAA NiMH rechargeables, which matches up quite well with the 8-10 hours I get out of my 1G iPod. Terrific on long car trips, providing clear wireless signals with decent and listenable fidelity. If you need a wireless solution, check it out.





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