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Music on the Road or My Adventure with an FM Transmitter

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 8:07 PM on July 12, 2011

FM Transmitter for the CarThis past weekend I drove up to the Lancaster,PA area to visit my family it is about an 8 hour drive, so having good entertainment was important. We always rent a car when we go and this year my husband picked a Toyota Corolla. The first thing I did when he got it home was to check the audio system to see where I could plug-in my iPhone. I checked the normal places car companies try to hide the input, the glove compartment, the storage bin between the driver and the passenger. I finally found what I thought might be an input underneath the audio system. It was back so far that you couldn’t see it unless you lay on your side across the front seat and then not very well. We quickly determined that this was not an input for the iPhone (or any other phone), but strictly for an MP3 player. After further searching I finally came to the conclusion that I could not connect my iPhone directly to the audio system and I needed to figure out another solution. Then I remembered I had a no name FM transmitter I had picked up somewhere, and I thought that would work. Early in the morning around 3:00 AM we started off, for the first 3 hours my husband who was driving was in charge of the radio since at 3:00 AM I really didn’t care. Around 6 AM I woke up and was ready to take control of the in-car entertainment. So I plugged the FM transmitter into the iPhone and began to trying to get the music from the iPhone to come over the car stereo. After several minutes of fiddling with it and the radio I finally got it to come in.  Then 10 minutes later I would lose the signal and have to start  all over again. When the signal did come in I had to hold the transmitter exactly right or the signal would disappear. The fact that we were traveling through West Virginia and the mountainous part of Maryland didn’t help either. After several failed attempts I finally gave up and was reduced to listening to the car radio.

There are a couple of lessons I learned from the trip. I know the next time I rent a car it will not be a Toyota Corolla. I still can’t believe that four years after the iPhone came out cars are still being made with out a way to connect the iPhone or any smart phone to the audio system. I wasn’t asking for full integration. I would have been happy with a simple audio jack. The second lesson I learned is that FM transmitters are not much use in mountainous terrain when you are traveling. I do wonder though if a better transmitter would have made a difference. If anyone has had any luck using a FM transmitter, what make and model did you use and were you in hilly terrain.

5 Comments

  1. From Andrew at 12:26 am on July 13, 2011

    KL, when you say that there was a connection for an MP3 player, what do you mean? I assumed to start with that you meant that there was a 3.5mm audio socket but then in the last para you say there wasn’t an audio socket. Can you clarify?

  2. From Mike Wills at 7:57 am on July 13, 2011

    I use a FM transmitter daily. I had an older non-digital transmitter that was horrible. I lost reception based on the temp in the car.

    I then bought one with a digital tuner. I LOVE it! For me, it works at 88.5 perfectly in my area and in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. I get some minor static, but it doesn’t interfere with most podcasts I listen to.

    The difference here is the price. You get what you pay for. A direct plug-in is still best.

  3. From chuck at 9:04 am on July 13, 2011

    Considering that the FM signal was only travelling a few inches inside the car, I’m not sure what the significance of the hilly terrain is. However, the bottom line is that those FM broadcast band devices don’t work. And, they really don’t work at any level. The bandwidth is far restricted compared to all but the lowest-quality MP3 recordings. Additionally, the technology involved in getting a clear signal from the transmitter to the receiver in the RF hostile environment of an automobile can’t be done for the price of the consumer devices.

  4. From KL Tech Muse at 9:39 am on July 13, 2011

    From what I read in the manual the connection was a usb connection that could handle a iPod but not iPhone, there was no audio-socket as far as I could tell. I’ll be honest I couldn’t see it and was going by the manual and what my husband was telling me

  5. From Arthur at 10:04 am on July 15, 2011

    The main problem with these little FM transmitters is the length of the 1/8″ (3.5mm) male cable used to plug into devices. Usually, these audio cables are 6″ or 15cm in length.

    The FM transmitter uses this cable as an antenna for transmitting. To get better reception, you must make this cable longer–considerably longer. You can purchase audio patch cables with a male 1/8″ (3.5mm) connector on one end, and a similar female connector on the other end. I have seen ones that are 6′ long, coiled like a telephone cord. I’ve seen others that are approximately 10′ (~ 3m) long. We use one this long to connect our FM transmitter to our Squeezebox, so we can hear podcasts on every FM radio in the house. Works like a charm.

    The problem you’ll have, when travelling long distances is that you’ll have to re-tune the FM transmitter periodically to find a new frequency that isn’t used in the area you’re travelling through.