CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Belkin TuneCast Auto with ClearScan review: Belkin TuneCast Auto with ClearScan

The TuneCast Auto is easy to use and produces clear sound. Just watch you don't run anyone over while scanning for decent frequencies.

Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman is a freelance word writing machine masquerading as a person, a disguise he's managed for over fifteen years now, including a three year stint at ZDNet/CNET Australia. He likes cats, retro gaming and terrible puns.
Alex Kidman
4 min read

When Belkin released the Tunecast 3 early last year, we figured they'd pretty much sewn up the FM radio space; the Tunecast 3 was a small, easy to use radio transmitter for iPods (and other MP3 players) that came with its own snap-on car holder and was exceptionally easy to use. So when the TuneCast Auto turned up, we were curious to see what Belkin could do to make an already good thing better.


Belkin TuneCast Auto with ClearScan

The Good

Charges itself and iPod simultaneously. Clearscan lets you dodge radio interference. Practically idiot-proof.

The Bad

No facility for portable use. iPod only. No holding cradle.

The Bottom Line

Belkin's latest take on iPod radio transmission offers automatic charging and channel scanning, but we're still left pining for features that previous models offered.

One thing that has changed from the Tunecast 3 is the physical dimensions. The Tunecast 3 is small enough to pop into a pocket, but the Auto is rather large. In essence, it's a length of cable that just happens to have a car cigarette charger at one end, iPod dock at the other and controls in the middle. As such, it's not as easy to stow away, which presents a problem in itself, as the temptation to simply leave it plugged in is rather high. That's a bad idea in the current climate, however, as it represents a very easy theft target. There's plenty of evidence to suggest that opportunistic car thieves are on the lookout for cars with items plugged into the cigarette adaptor, as it proves that the owners have high tech gear in their cars on a regular basis.

The other thing that the Tunecast 3 had that the Auto omits is a holding cradle; you're essentially expected to trail the cable into a comfortable position where it won't interfere with the drive. It never looks particularly aesthetically pleasing to have cables trailing around your gearstick, not to mention the safety concerns this could raise.

Like Belkin's previous Tunecast models, the Auto is, in essence, a short-range FM transmitter that allows you to send audio from your iPod through to your car stereo. Like previous models, it'll let you store two pre-set channel IDs, which is useful if you've got a spare save slot on your car radio dial. Where the Auto changes things is in the addition of an FM scanning utility, which Belkin calls "ClearScan". This checks the FM band and searches out a frequency with little to no interference. Using ClearScan is pretty simple; you hit the big "C" button on the Auto's face, and it goes to work trying to find a frequency for you that's clear enough for musical playback.

Previous Tunecast models have also offered the ability to transmit in either stereo or mono, with the claim that Mono transmission may come through more clearly in congested FM spots. The Auto keeps that preference, but it's labelled as the "Pro" setting, with two levels of volume improvement along with a mono option.

One thing that the Tunecast 3 could do that the Auto can't was work with older, pre-third generation iPods and other MP3 players. The Tunecast 3 did this by having a standard 3.5mm audio jack protruding, but there's no such facility on the Tunecast Auto. The only two interface points are the car charger adaptor, and a standard iPod dock. On the plus side, because it's all one integrated cable, it'll charge your iPod as it plays back, and won't run out of batteries -- well, as long as your car battery lasts, anyway.

Being mindful of the fact that our review of the Tunecast 3 was criticised for not pointing out audio flaws that many users experienced, we drove around widely in the very FM-congested Sydney region and the Central Coast of New South Wales to give the Tunecast Auto a really solid workout. For the most part, we were highly impressed with the Tunecast Auto's FM playback, which was essentially crisp when there was no FM interference, and even managed to power through a few areas that we'd noted were blackspots for the Tunecast 3. We ran all our tests against a fully charged Tunecast 3 just to be sure, and hit no problems there, so we're left wondering if we're either lucky with Tunecasts, or have better in-car radio reception in our test vehicle. As with all personal broadcast equipment, your experience may vary.

The Clearscan facility is nice and easy to use, but in more heavily FM congested areas it's not exactly quick, and the fact that you can't easily mount the Auto controller makes it impossible -- or at least stupidly dangerous -- to attempt to re-tune while you're driving, which is of course when you're most likely to encounter interference. We'd rather hit FM interference than other people, but your views may vary. In any case, en-route fiddling with the Tunecast Auto is best left to passengers.

At $99.95, the Tunecast Auto sits in a premium pricing position relative to other in-car FM tuners. It worked well for us in testing, and the ability to forget about batteries and keep your iPod charged for when you step out of the car makes it a good buy.