An FM transmitter for iPhone that actually works!

I tried the MediaGate iKit to connect my iPhone to my car's FM radio, preparing to be disappointed. Lo and behold, I got no interference and decent sound quality, even in urban Seattle.

FM transmitters that connect an MP3 player to a car stereo are notoriously unreliable , subject to lots of interference in urban areas and sub-FM-quality sound. My own experience with these devices was so bad, I paid about $200 to get an FM modulator hooked into the internal FM receiver in my car stereo. That means I can hook any MP3 player's headphone output directly into an FM frequency on my car stereo. (I couldn't just buy a new car stereo with a direct input because I drive a 2006 Subaru Outback...more on this issue here.)

The i-Kit worked great with my iPhone 3G--no interference, no fade-outs. MediaGate

So when I received a review unit of MediaGate's i-Kit on Monday, I was skeptical. The poorly translated instruction sheet didn't help matters, but it's straightforward enough that I didn't need it--you plug the i-Kit into the cigarette lighter, plug your iPhone or iPod into the charging connection on the i-Kit, adjust the rubberized grip to make sure your device is secure, and set the i-Kit's FM tuner to an unused frequency. In my case, I used my new iPhone 3G and tuned it to 89.1, the same frequency I use for the FM modulator. (I had to turn the modulator off to avoid interference.)

Amazingly, it was listenable! It sounded a little bit thinner than plugging the iPhone directly into the FM modulator, particularly on the low-end, but I got no bursts of static, no fade outs, no wavering musical signal, no need to turn the volume all the way up...none of the headaches I experienced with other FM tuners. With the iPhone, it can even serve like a hands-free phone, delivering the speaker's voice through the car stereo system. It works with other MP3 players as well, but doesn't charge them up, and you have to use the included audio connector to hook the MP3 player's headphone-out to the i-Kit's input. One weirdness: every few minutes, I heard a single high beep through the speakers. I don't know why, and the included instruction sheet was no help explaining whether I might have set something up wrong.

I'm still glad I have the higher-quality FM modulator--and a direct aux-in to the car stereo would be even better--but for $50, this is a surprisingly good solution.

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About the author

    Matt Rosoff is an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, where he covers Microsoft's consumer products and corporate news. He's written about the technology industry since 1995, and reviewed the first Rio MP3 player for CNET.com in 1998. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network. Disclosure. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattrosoff.

     

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