Saturday, February 11, 2006

Belkin TuneCast FM Transmitter

When I picked up a new car (well, new to me, it was used) last year, it didn't have a CD player and having just spent all the money to get the car, I wasn't about to go and spend even more to put in a CD player. So I figured to myself – hey, I've got the Dell DJ, I should be able to use one of those FM transmitters to send the music from the DJ directly to my car stereo.

That's when I ran across the Belkin Tunecast Mobile FM Transmitter. It's premise is pretty simple – it takes the output from any music player with a standard headphone jack and broadcasts it over the FM frequency. Mind you, the power of the Belkin Tunecast limits the extent of this FM broadcast – so don't think you'll be starting up your own radio station.

Basic Experiences

The Belkin Tunecast runs on two AAA batteries and the battery life is decent. I used it on and off for about 4 months and didn't have to replace the battery (and won't have to, as you'll discover further down). Once you've got batteries in the Tunecast, you plug it into the MP3 player and use the switch on the side of the Tunecast to choose the frequency that you want to broadcast on. FYI – Epinions lists this product as an FM transmitter for the iPod, but it will work with any MP3 player that has a standard headphone jack.

The Tunecast allows you to broadcast on four different frequencies, 88.1, 88.3, 88.5 or 88.7Mhz. In the best circumstances you want to use the frequency that doesn't have a station that comes in where you are, otherwise the Tunecast has to compete with the broadcast signals and that can degrade the quality of the broadcast. Luckily for me, none of those frequencies had a station that came in around me.

Even without any broadcast stations, I still had troubles with the Tunecast. Some frequencies worked better than others – but it would often change as I was driving or if I had the Tunecast in a slightly different position.

Belkin advertises a 10-foot to 30-foot broadcast range, with the best reception within the 10 foot radius. For me, even the 10-foot radius was generous, especially in the car, where I found I could literally have the Tunecast beneath the antenna and it wouldn't work all that well. The entire time I used the Tunecast, it almost always had static and if things in my car shifted, I could lose the station entirely. I'm guessing that the Tunecast's signal is such that the metal in the car interferes with it, making it harder to get a really good signal to your car stereo.

In the house next to my home stereo the reception was better, but was still highly dependent on where the Tunecast was and how far from the stereo it was. It literally had to rest on the stereo to get reception that was fairly good.


After several months of bad reception (and the occasional day here and there in my old car making me wish I had a CD player in the other one), I was ready to go out and buy myself a new CD player for the car. It was just too much of a pain to be continually fighting with the Tunecast and trying to have it get the best reception possible. I spent half my time driving moving it around trying to keep the signal as strong as possible on the Tunecast. I really just couldn't stand using it anymore.

So instead of getting the whole new CD player and since the car had a cassette player, I got a cassette adapter for the MP3 player. Yeah – it's not quite as cool as having your own FM transmitter and there are some extra wires hanging around – but the quality of the sound on the stereo is 100% better than anything I got from the Tunecast and once I set it, I can forget about it.

Final Thoughts

The Belkin Tunecast FM Transmitter is a cool idea – it just failed in its execution for me. There were times it worked in the car, but these were few and far between. It did better inside, but not enough to make it worth using.

Until Belkin can building a transmitter that can do away with the static and interference that the Tunecast suffers from – I'd suggest staying away from the device and just getting yourself a cassette adapter if your car has a cassette player. If you must go with an FM transmitter like the Belkin Tunecast, be prepared to have to constantly play with it to get the best signal and even then, expect to hear plenty of static and other interference when you're using it.

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