Review: AirPlay˛ FM Transmitter

Finally an FM transmitter that works well (February 21st, 2006)

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Product Manufacturer: XtremeMac

Price: $59.95 US

The Good

  • Compact. Store up to three radio station frequencies. Comes in black and white. Great sound. Works with all dockable iPods. Even the price is within reason considering how well it works.

The Bad

  • Made for the Nano, so connects off to the side for other iPods. Dock connector a little loose.

Every time an FM transmitter hits the market, the question on our collective minds is, will it work in my car? As it happens, few work in my little Neon R/T, while another reviewer's Volvo handles most of them with only minor problems. The car combined with most cities crowded FM radio markets can spell trouble even for the best FM transmitters.

Well, imagine my surprise when I hooked up one of the smallest FM transmitters on the market and it worked flawlessly. XtremeMac's AirPlay2 is a complete redesign from the original Airplay. The first model did work in my car, but it came complete with a high-pitched whine that made the iPod experience just plain painful to my ears.

Small Enough for Every Docking iPod

The AirPlay2 is a small, thin rectangle that is the same width as the iPod Nano. It comes in white or black too. The Dock Connector is off-center to accommodate the style of the Nano. You can still use the AirPlay2 with any dockable iPod, it just sits a little off to the side. I actually tested it with an iPod photo 60GB.

After finagling around with the dial, I finally located an empty FM station between 88.1 and107.9. I expected that hollow sound I had experienced with most other FM transmitters, but hoped I'd have both channels work without any ancillary whine or noise. What I heard was radio-quality, clear sound, and no noise. What a joy! I was able to hear my iPod over my car radio with the AirPlay2 even when, to my surprise, a radio station broadcast came through as I drove from MA to NH. I wouldn't even have known there was an active station if I hadn't shut off the iPod before turning off the radio.

There are numerous convenient features and user-configurable settings on the AirPlay2. First, it has a pass-through Dock Connector, so you can use a 30-pin car charger of your choosing or not. Second, you can store up to three radio station frequencies, so that switching stations is a simple button push. Third, if you do experience interference, you can switch from stereo to mono mode to help reduce extraneous noise. The white numbers on the blue LCD display, although large compared to other FM transmitters, are still hard to read while you're driving. I suggest you pull over if you need to fiddle with the transmitter while driving.

Not Perfect, but Close

The AirPlay2 also comes with a dashboard mount meant for use only with the iPod Nano. Without a mount for my heavier iPod, I used my passenger seat indents, but found that the AirPlay2 disconnected itself when I went over large bumps in the road. At this time of year, with new frost heaves on many northeast highways, unexpected bumps are common and reconnecting the transmitter is just dangerous while driving. This is probably only a problem with the heavier iPods. Interestingly enough, the Speck iPod MobileCharge, I paired with the AirPlay, had a much more secure hold on the pass-through Dock Connector, and it has a complementary blue power light.

The sound quality was adversely affected the closer the iPod was to the radio, so I couldn't put it in my dashboard tray. When the iPod was about a foot from the radio, the sound was crystal clear, but any closer and some noise from the active radio station seeped through. I just secured my iPod on the seat, cranked up the volume, and enjoyed my harmonious music, for the first time for a full hour without incident.

The bottom line is, if you want to try an FM transmitter, and you don't want to return product after product to your local Apple store, try the AirPlay2 first. If it works in my car, it should work great in yours.

Rating Note: Normally, I only give 5-star ratings to products that have no problems whatsoever. I was so impressed with the sound quality of XtremeMac's AirPlay2 that I decided it was worth 5 stars, especially considering my test was done with an iPod for which the device isn't really made.

by ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor


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