At a Glance
FM transmitter and auto charger for dockable iPods.
If you’ve got a car stereo with a direct audio connection or a cassette deck, you’ve got an easy — and relatively high quality — way to listen to your iPod in your car. (That is, via a direct cable connection or using a cassette adapter.) If not, you’re stuck using an FM transmitter. These transmitters, which transmit your iPod’s audio over a radio frequency that can be received by any FM tuner, have thus become popular accessories. Unfortunately, although some work relatively well, many are por performers, offering static-filled audio and difficult-to-use interfaces. Kensington’s generically named Digital FM Transmitter/Auto Charger for iPod is a rare gem in this category. Compatible with all dockable iPods, the FM Transmitter/Auto Charger does what its name suggests: It both transmits your iPod’s audio and charges it via your car’s accessory (“cigarette lighter”) jack. But it does so much better than most competing products.
The unit’s transmitter is built into the body of the car adapter and provides a blue-backlit LCD display that allows you to choose the FM frequency over which you wish to broadcast — from 88.1 to 107.9 — via simple up and down buttons. You also get three programmable station presets, which are very handy if, like me, you have to switch between two or three stations over the course of your commute due to a crowded FM band.
The Kensington transmitter is easy to use, but it also sounds great as far as FM transmitters go. Part of this is due to the fact that it uses the line-level audio signal from your iPod’s dock connector port rather that the headphone jack. The other part, according to Kensington, is the unit’s patented Aerielle wireless technology, which claims to provide better noise reduction and stereo separation. Whatever the reason, in my testing the Kensington transmitter offered better sound quality than every transmitter we’ve tested except Sonnet’s PodFreq, and it was a toss-up between those two. I also liked the fact that the transmitter automatically turns off if it does not receive an audio signal for 60 seconds.
On the power side, the Kensington unit properly charged our dock-connector iPods. The charger also includes a safety fuse to protect your iPod from power surges.
The only real drawbacks to the Kensington Digital FM Transmitter/Auto Charger are that it will work only in your car (unlike our other favorite transmitters, the PodFreq and XtremeMac’s AirPlay, which are portable), and it doesn’t provide a stand, like some of the other car transmitters/chargers. But with a street price of around $60, you could buy Griffin Technology’s excellent $10 iSqueez and still come out ahead compared to the various transmitter/charger/stand packages — and get better performance to boot. Highly recommended.–Dan Frakes