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Monday June 20, 2005 6:50 am

Monster iCarPlay Wireless FM Transmitter Review


iCarPlay ReviewI recently bought another iPod to replace my Zen Micro and had to find a way to get the music to play through my car stereo. In my previous car I had a line in  installed into the jack, but with my new Volkswagen, there is no easy way to do that without buying an expensive adapter. After doing a fair bit of research I decided to get the Monster iCarPlay iPod wireless transmitter and after a couple of days with it I’m pretty impressed. Check out our full review after the jump!




Once I got the unit I took a moment to look at the packaging then opened it up and took the iCarPlay down to my car to experiment. The user interface is somewhat intuitive (then again it’s hard not to be intuitive on a device this simple) and I never needed to look at the instruction manual. The iCarPlay does have a little tag attached to the cord that has some basic instructions for use and I was able to get it working with only those hints as to its control.


The industrial design on the plug is kind of nice. The red Monster logo lights up when you plug it into a car cigarette lighter adapter. On my car most of the dash board lighting is blue but there are a few red lights as well so it fits in well. Once it’s plugged in the display on the dongle lights up and displays the current station that the iCarPlay is broadcasting on.


As with any FM transmitter you have to find an empty station to broadcast to. In a metropolitan area like my home town of Seattle that can be a bit tricky. After a few moments of experimentation I find an open frequency (101.9 seems the best if you happen to be in King County, WA) with no stations immediately adjacent. The best way to find a good station is to manually tune your radio (with the FM transmitter off) until you find a station that has only static - if you hear even the slightest strain of music from an adjacent station it will negatively impact sound quality.


As per the instructions on the tag I then held down the ‘M’ key on the iCarPlay until the lights started blinking then I used the + and - keys to scroll through stations until 101.9 appeared on the display. Once I had the channel I wanted I pressed and held one of the station preset keys to memorize that frequency. Once I had this set up I plugged in the iPod via the dock connector and immediately heard my music over the car stereo.  Because the iCarPlay uses the line out in the dock connector the volume controls on the iPod are not used to affect the output. The volume is controlled entirely through the car stereo. A nice bonus to using this FM transmitter is that it charges the your iPod while in use.

SOUND QUALITY

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The Monster iCarPlay has impressive sound quality for an FM transmitter. I’ve used a few different FM transmitters in the past and been unimpressed with the audio quality. I think this is mainly because most of them were powered by batteries or the line out signal itself. The iCarPlay is powered by the 12v current of the car so it has a much clearer signal. As with all FM transmitters because the signal is being broadcast over FM there is some audio degradation, but not nearly as much as with other types of transmitters. If you are an audiophile you are going to be disappointed as it will sound like the radio - the clearest radio possible, but the radio nonetheless. The bass is somewhat muddy, and the very high frequencies are tinny and slightly distorted. If you frequently listen to the radio and like the quality you will be more than impressed. I was able to drive around for an hour and enjoy listening to my music at a more than acceptable quality. At some point I’m going to want to get a digital line in for my stereo so I can enjoy the full audio quality of the iPod, but for less than $50 this is a great solution.


EASE OF USE

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The Monster iCarPlay is very easy to use. Once I got the initial station setup out of the way it’s a plug and play operation to get music in my car. All that has to be done is plugging the dock connector into the iPod when you get in the car and you are good to go. Since you can leave your radio tuned to the station that is preset into the iCarPlay you don’t have to bother with any details. Since the iCarPlay uses the volume independent line out you don’t have to worry about accidentally blasting your ears if you forget to turn down the iPod which can be a problem with solutions that use the headphone jack to get the music to your stereo.

FINAL VERDICT

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iCarPlay Review Score I’m quite impressed with the iCarPlay overall. It’s an easy to use solution that offers great sound quality. Aside from audiophile types who wouldn’t be happy with any FM solution I think anyone would be impressed with the sound quality offered by the iCarPlay. It’s a simple and inexpensive solution to getting your MP3‘s and iTunes purchases onto your car stereo for road trips or the daily commute. The only way it could be improved would be to make the signal strength stronger for the FM broadcast to get clearer bass and treble from the sound. I’m not sure if the can do that legally because of FCC regulations. One of my next projects is going to be to crack the transmitter open and see if I can hack on a stronger antenna to improve reception. A great implementation, but FM quality audio keeps it from being a perfect 10.

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