Despite their limited use and noisy sound quality, FM transmitters still fly off the shelves as a quick and cheap fix for beaming music from your MP3 player to an FM receiver in your home or car stereo. Unfortunately, the best and most powerful FM transmitters are neither cheap, nor especially convenient, making them a tough sell for cash-strapped consumers or use around the home. The Griffin iTrip Universal ($39) doesn't offer much in the way of transmission power, but its universal compatibility, rechargeable battery, and compact size make it one of the most convenient FM transmitters on the market.
The iTrip Universal's 2.5-inch-long design is no bigger than a Matchbox car. An included 5.5-inch audio cable offers just enough length to stretch from the bottom of the iTrip to your MP3 player or computer, without risk of getting tangled. Unlike FM transmitters made specifically for the iPod, the standard audio input of the iTrip Universal can be used with any type of audio source with a headphone or line output. The use of a standard connection on the iTrip Universal also means you can replace the included cable with any length of cable you like, so long as it ends in a 3.5mm plug.
A teensy half-inch backlit LCD spans the center of the iTrip Universal, clearly indicating the battery life, audio mode (stereo/mono), and transmission frequency. Below the LCD you'll find soft buttons for adjusting the transmission frequency and a preset button that can cycle through three station presets. We're not sure what Griffin was smoking when it decided to make the iTrip Universal's buttons pitch black with small, black labels, but the end result is a device that is difficult to adjust in a dark car.
Because the performance of FM transmitters varies wildly depending on your location, it's hard to know how much wireless range to expect. Griffin rates the iTrip Universal at 10 to 30 feet of transmission range, and around 8 hours of rechargeable battery life. If you plan on broadcasting your computer's audio around the house, you have the ability to keep the iTrip Universal continuously powered over your computer's USB port.