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Despite the proliferation of affordable iPod-friendly car stereos, iPod FM transmitters are still a popular accessory. Nearly every iPod accessory manufacturer has its own take on the product--Belkin has its Tunebase; Griffin has the iTrip; Monster has the iCarPlay; XtremeMac has the AirPlay; Kensington has Liquid FM; and Harman Kardon has the dazzling Drive + Play 2. Digital Life Outfitters (DLO) also makes an exceptional iPod FM transmitter; unfortunately, it's not the TuneStik.
iPod FM transmitters typically come in three flavors: products that take their power from your car's cigarette lighter; products that power from replaceable batteries, and products such as the DLO TuneStik ($60) that draw power from you iPod's battery. The last of these designs are generally the least effective, lacking both the extra power and larger antenna of their kin.
Fortunately, you need to find only one dependably clear FM radio station for a product like this to be worthwhile. During our field testing of the DLO TuneStik around the San Francisco Bay Area, we were able to find just two useful FM frequencies for broadcasting, neither of which were completely free from static interference. Your results, of course, will vary depending on your location.
Despite the inherent drawbacks of the TuneStik's design, it does have a few tricks up its sleeve. For starters, the DLO TuneStik includes a remote control that can be securely strapped to your car's steering wheel. The TuneStik's remote offers control over music playback, volume, FM tuning, and your iPod's backlight activation. Be warned, however, that the TuneStik's broadcast frequency must be set using the included remote control. Fortunately, it's quite useful in general and should be difficult to lose once mounted on your steering wheel.
The second unique feature found on the DLO TuneStik is a pass-through iPod dock connection found on the bottom of the transmitter. This pass-through dock can be used for charging the iPod during playback, although an in-car charger must be purchased separately. It's worth noting that during testing, the TuneStik's FM transmission quality increased when connected to our in-car USB charger. The quality increase may have less to do with power, however, and more to do with the USB cable acting as an extended antenna. We achieved the same boost in sound quality by letting the iPod USB cable hang free, detached from a power source. Regardless, for $60, you should have a product that works great without requiring any tricks to improve quality.