When I splurged and bought an iPod, I also bought bought an FM transmitter to play my music. I couldn’t get one without the other. The only time I really listen to music is during car trips, and it was my fatigue over burning more and more mix CDs that moved me to move my collection onto my iPod. However, my car stereo doesn’t have a cassette player, nor does it have a line-in jack to receive signals from my iPod’s earphone jack.
Which leaves the FM transmitter: a tiny device that attaches to the iPod and broadcasts its music via a frequency that can be picked up by my car radio’s antenna. It’s a significant expense, adding up to $100 to the cost of an iPod in making it useful.
For some reason, however, the market for FM transmitters is not well defined. There are a handful of models out there, and the reviews are middling. So, as I was staring at the FM transmitters aisle at the Eaton Centre’s Apple Store, I was a bit at a loss. Until a store assistant from Apple came up to me and recommended the Monster iCarPlay 200 Wireless FM Transmitter.
The Monster FM transmitters plug into your cigarette lighter and then through the bottom connector pin of your iPod, charging your iPod while transmitting your iPod Tunes on a pre-selected frequency. The Apple saleswoman suggested my particular version as a step-up. Whereas the cheaper version of the transmitter requires a manual selection of a transmission frequency, this version was designed to sweep the FM band at the touch of a button, and select a band that was most free of interference.
It was far superior to the down-price model of the Monster brand. Nobody had returned one to her. So, being a trusting sort of fellow, I took her advice and bought it. It has been a mixed ride ever since.
First the good bit: the Monster iCarPlay 200 Wireless FM Transmitter works. I was impressed by how well it works. You plug it into your cigarette lighter, plug the other end into the bottom of your iPod and, once you start your car, it immediately accesses your iPod and beings playing tunes over its chosen frequency. The broadcast is quite strong, though not perfect. You occasionally hear static, and many people might find this unacceptable, until you tune into your other favourite radio stations and discover that they too are afflicted by static and you don’t notice. The broadcast washes over most other interference. Indeed, at one point I didn’t know that, upon arriving at another city, I was playing over a local radio station until after I returned to my parked car and started the ignition.
But my first transmitter developed problems within a week of my purchase. A number of features were inaccessible — I could not, for instance, tell whether the buttons I was pushing were advancing the transmission frequency. And then the device fell into a continuous reboot cycle (suggesting a loose connection), rendering it useless. Fortunately, Monster provided excellent customer service to this Canadian, replacing the device with no questions asked. Within a week, I was back to playing tunes on my car radio again.
Unfortunately, the second transmitter had similar problems with the first. The buttons were unresponsive, and the display would only show the frequency the transmitter was currently transmitting on. The frequency would be advanced when I pushed the buttons to do so, but the display wouldn’t update. And I couldn’t access the other promised features, such as presets. Fortunately the autoscan worked, and the operation was more reliable, so I was willing to stick it out.
But things got better. Last week, after Apple released an update to the iPod firmware, the transmitter started working as advertised. The display changed, and was responsive to my button pushing. So I’m a lot happier now than I was a couple of weeks ago. The Monster FM transmitter charges up my iPod as I listen to it, and broadcasts well and is easy enough to manipulate. I am worried that the device seems a little fragile, and one wonders just what the heck was going on until that iPod firmware was released. So, all in all, a decent product, but one that was overpriced at what I paid for it.
But the Monster FM transmitter does have one feature I greatly appreciate, which came available after the iPod firmware was downloaded. And that was the ability to change its transmitter from the North American standard to either Japanese or European standard. These regions have a different approach to the FM band. Traditionally North American stations are limited to frequencies between 88.1 and 107.9 FM, although many car radios are able to pick up frequencies as low as 87.5. The North American settings of the Monster transmitter only broadcasts between 88.1 and 107.9, but the Japanese version broadcasts between 76.0 to 90.0 FM. So, I after setting the device to act as if it was in Japan, I set the transmission to 87.5 and was able to listen to my tunes without interruption from local radio stations. Few other FM transmitters out there seem to offer that.
With this in mind, I would say buy the Monster iCarPlay 200 Wireless FM Transmitter on sale. The Apple saleswoman was a little too enthusiastic for her own good. The device is overpriced, and you might find a better transmitter out there for half the price. If you can, try before you buy.