Jan Leow's Press Blog

MP3 FM transmitter for car

Lately I seem to be acquiring several hardware equipment from upgrading my LCD display, a not so free Creative Zen Neeon MP3 player, a laptop, and an MP3 FM transmitter.

Now the last item was an interesting purchase. It cost about $20 (RM60) and it works by plugging a flash drive into its slot and plugging the whole contraption into the car cigarette lighter where it gets its power.

By tuning the car radio accordingly to the MP3 FM transmitter broadcast frequency and voila! You got yourself an inexpensive MP3 player right in your car without having to change the car stereo that can play MP3 music.

I’ve been testing out this equipment for the past week and well, there is some good and bad about this MP3 FM transmitter. I guess nothing is ever perfect.

I first came across this item last year but didn’t give it much thought until my cousin came over with one in his car. I thought, “Hey, that’s cool, an MP3 player right in your car without having to buy a new car stereo that can read MP3.”

So a quick check at my nearest Digital Mall, I found there were many makes and model with various price tags. There were some that could even read off your SD/MMC card, but I felt that wasn’t quite necessary as I reserve those cards for my digital camera. I settled for a cheaper model that looks good and simple with about 14 preset FM broadcast station. The more broadcast station an FM transmitter has the better because there will be more chance to avoid a frequency that some local radio station may be broadcasting thus interfering with the device broadcast.

I took one of my less used 512MB flash drive and started dumping in MP3 songs. I found that I needed to balance between quality and size of MP3 file, and decided to settle on 160 bit sampling rate. I could dump in about 80 songs which was not too bad. According to the salesman, I can use any size flash drive including a hard disk enclosure that uses USB for connection. Later I bought a 4GB Toshiba flash drive thinking I could dump in 640 songs so that I don’t have to bother too much about swapping MP3 files too much but after testing it found out that the MP3 FM transmitter has a problem with reading files beyond 150.

Although it still plays songs beyond the 150 files, after switching off the ignition and restarting the car, the number count reverts back to song number 1. Now that’s not good if you have more than 150 songs in your flash drive and you want the player to continue playing songs beyond that number. It is no point to press the fast forward button all the way to song number 200 or 300 etc every time you start the car. I didn’t have this problem with my smaller capacity flash drive; it just continued where it left off though it didn’t start in the middle of the song like a CD player, at least it just played the last song you were listening to before you cut off the ignition earlier.

In the end I reverted back to my 512MB flash drive and in my humble opinion, concluded that the 1GB flash drive would be the optimum size for this MP3 FM transmitter storing a max of about 160 songs (but should not go beyond 150 songs since the MP3 FM transmitter starts to go crazy). This problem may or may be the same for other MP3 FM transmitter but without being able to fully test the item before purchasing, you have no choice but to try your luck.

And what about the sound quality? It is not as good as the CD player. The sound is not as sharp and clear, but tolerable. The bass and treble is somewhat muted. I had to bump up the bass and treble to enhance the sound to acceptable quality levels. If you are an audiophile, the sound quality would be totally unacceptable. In addition, the playback is just mono. You heard that right, it is not in stereo. I didn’t realize that until the salesman told me later when I was buying the Toshiba 4GB flash disk. This prompted me to have quick search and I only found one transmitter device that is of stereo quality. Most of the devices never mention stereo. [Later I listened to the sound quality carefully in my car, the salesman was mistaken, it is stereo, not mono, it just that the stereo effect is not as prominent as the car stereo.]

Another function that it lacks is the shuffle. It only reads through your MP3 files sequentially. Fortunately it just plays the last song that it stopped playing after you have switched off your car. You could of course fast forward to the next song, but you could not fast forward within the song as it doesn’t has a fast forward scanning feature.

If you need the feature of song shuffle and playing lots of song you could of course use a cable jack which came supplied with the equipment to jack it in to your iPod or Creative MP3 player which has all the playing features. But you need to push the MP3 player volume to max in order for the FM transmitter to send out a sound loud enough for the car stereo radio to playback. That would really kill your MP3 battery life.

Still it beats having to carry several CDs and solved my CD changing problem while driving. But the number of songs is not quite enough (80 songs is still not enough for me!) when I went outstation because the song started to repeat itself during the journey. I would have like it to be able to handle a 4GB flash disk, but unfortunately you can’t expect too much out of this simple little device. Hopefully somebody in future can come up with a better version that has better sound quality and have many playing features like shuffle etc. But of course we will have to pay for it!

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