Friday, 02 December 2005, 14:46:16 EST

I just bought two books for the two courses I am taking next semester. Both used. On of them listed as being in "acceptable" condition. What did I pay? Oh, only $138.45. Isn't that awesome? One of the is 384 pages. What a bargain! If it weren't for Campus-i I would have spent three times that much in the campus book store (fuckers). Oh well, such is the rising cost of education. At least next semester I will finally be a junior and that much closer to graduation.

With that out of the way, let's talk about another gadget. My previous post was a lead-in for this one. Well, not the books part; I just ordered those and wanted to go ahead and complain. It was a lead-in for a review of Kinsington's Digital FM Transmitter for the iPod. I bought one of these about three weeks ago because I wanted to be able to listen to my iPod in my truck. I was going to hold off on getting one for a while but I decided that I was too sick of the radio and bought one earlier than I should have. I knew that this is the one I wanted because I read a couple reviews about it that gave it a thumbs up over any other available FM transmitter. One of these reviews said "good enough for car listening." I'm not sure what "good enough" is to that guy but I'm not sure I agree with him.

Before I get to that, though, I would like to cover some of the details about the transmitter. The name seems to imply that the device will broadcast music from an iPod with a digital signal. This is merely marketing. The "digital" aspect of the device is the digital display and tuner. Kensington makes another FM tuner that has three buttons and can only broadcast to three different channels. The "digital" transmitter can tune to a wide spectrum of FM frequencies; it can also store up to three favorite frequencies for quick access. I would not recommend going for the cheaper "non-digital" version of this product. Particularly if you live in an area with a cluttered FM band (e.g. the metro Atlanta area). The transmitter is not very strong and you will have to find a frequency that is not being used by radio station. In fact, you will want to find a frequency that is fairly isolated. If you are able to tune a step away from a station and still sort of pick it up then you will get really crappy quality from this transmitter, if any at all. There is probably a lot of mathematics about it that I don't know, but it seems there are specific frequencies that are really good for broadcasting a signal. Of course, almost all of the frequencies are being used by the radio stations. There seems to be a nationwide frequency, 87.9, that is reserved for things such as this transmitter but the transmitter won't tune to that frequency without using a trick. You can hold the second and third preset buttons and tune to any frequency in the 87 band but you can't set them to one of the preset buttons and the transmitter will conveniently forget about being tuned to one of those frequencies when you turn your vehicle off. The lowest station my radio will tune to is 87.9, and the transmitter is super clear over that frequency, but I can't use it — awesome. I did manage to find a frequency that works fairly well though. I can tune to 89.1 and get a decent, mostly static free, transmission. One thing that helped was figuring out that the cord from the transmitter to the iPod acts as an antenna. So you have to play with the physical positioning of your iPod, as well as the station you are broadcasting to, in order to get a good signal.

Thus bringing me to the "good enough" comment. The signal coming from the transmitter has the quality of an audio cassette without the hiss. Sounds are a bit muted and if you are not listening to a high bitrate audio file it is almost impossible to hear over road noise. I suppose if you don't have giant, loud, tires like the ones on my truck it isn't much of a problem. I haven't ever used the transmitter in another car, though. Now that I think about it, it probably wouldn't be too bad in a quiet car. Still, the sound is not CD quality like you can get from a high power radio station. It gets the job done but I would prefer something better. I guess until I can afford a new radio with auxiliary inputs this will have to do.

The nice thing about the transmitter is I no longer have to listen to the radio and it doesn't drain the battery on my iPod while using it (it acts as a charger too). FM radio is so programmed now that there is no point in listening to it and in general just makes me sick. Sure, I could listen to CDs but they get old after a while. With the iPod playing over my stereo I can listen to music or podcasts that I am actually interested in. I can listen to NPR's five minute news summaries and then rock out to some Prodigy or GNR. So, while the device has plenty of shortcomings, it works pretty well if you need a quick, relatively cheap, solution to bad radio while driving. If your stereo has auxiliary inputs, though, I highly recommend using those over the transmitter. Even if you have to get a stand along car charger for you iPod (Belkin makes some).


I gotta say that the Griffen iTrip is a phenominal alternative to this. It plays 87.9 by default, but can tune to any station. It also allows you to modify the signal to get it to sound like it should by balancing the highs, mids and lows. It does use the iPods battery to run, but my battery lasts 4.5 hours without it and 4.25 hours with it. That is not too bad.

I have a nano now and am thinking about the nano and am thinking of replacing the iTrip with the XtremeMac AirPlay 2. It is the same thickness and width of the nano and has a power pass through.

Posted by John on Sunday, 04 December 2005, 10:34:40 EST.