iRock Beamit 440FM wireless music adapter
While we at CNET aren't the world's biggest fans of FM transmitters, we also know that sometimes you don't have a choice. Many owners of the iPod and other portable audio devices drive cars without cassette decks, so they can't use the affordable and effective cassette adapter (although some well-designed vehicles such as BMWs have an iPod dock built into the dash itself). And most stereos that ship with automobiles today lack stereo RCA inputs, the preferred method of attaching a portable for the cleanest-sounding audio. So we're back to FM transmission, and while there are many models available, we're particularly impressed with iRock's $30 Beamit 440FM for in-car use.
Unlike most FM-transmitter devices, which run on batteries, the 440FM has an integrated 12V DC adapter that plugs directly into a cigarette-lighter socket. Once plugged in, the transmitter's interface is easily accessible, more so because it's fixed on a hinge that can be adjusted to your viewing perspective. Underneath the power button lies a small, backlit LCD that displays any of 12 FM frequencies. The 440FM's digital stereo tuner can transmit at the lowest and highest FM bands, from 88.1MHz to 88.9MHz and from 106.7MHz to 107.9MHz. While these frequencies are generally the least used, some other (albeit more expensive) FM transmitters can tune into dozens of channels. Below the LCD are two rubberized and relatively large channel-tuning buttons. It's a good thing that the device is easy to use and read, as we did our fair share of changing frequencies while hurtling down California's Interstate 5 at a solid 90mph.
A thin, coiled cable stretches from the bottom of the unit and can plug into any device with an audio-out headphone jack, including the iPod, a CD player, or even a portable synthesizer. The stretchy cable ensures that backseat DJs can still have their say. Our tests results varied depending on our proximity to urban areas where there are dozens of active FM stations (the device has a range of from 10 feet to 30 feet). Away from the city, we hardly needed to change the tuner from its default 88.1MHz setting and received clear, if not sonically pristine, audio signals. While the occasional static fuzz didn't irk us, we did notice the sound quality from our iPod rated somewhere between AM and FM quality, and certainly not close to that of a CD. In the big city, we experienced much more static, although the 440FM's signal can overpower weaker stations. We did notice that the entire 440FM would pop out of its socket once in a while after hitting a bumpy patch of road. This wouldn't be a horrible thing if not for the loud static buzz that erupts from the speakers when the 440FM's signal cuts out.
The device also has a power output that, when used with an optional cable, can power many hard drive devices.