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Play CDs, tapes and iPODs on your car’s radio with the Belkin Tunecast

January 1, 2005

in All Articles,Audio,Cars and auto

I was so excited to buy a new (okay, okay, “pre-owned”) car, I forgot to notice something important: There was no cassette deck. Not usually a tragedy, but I love to listen to books on tape. And I do a lot of driving. So, in this case, it’s a tragedy. What’s a commuter to do?

Sure, the car came with a CD player, but at this point my local libraries have better audio book selections on tape versus CD. Or turn the table slightly: What if my car only had a tape player, and I wanted to listen to CDs? Or turn the table sideways: How can I listen to my iPOD or MP3 player in the car? I don’t want to buy a new sound system, and I don’t want to modify the car’s electrical and audio wiring to add a tape player.

Radio saves the day. Yes, radio. With devices like the Belkin Tunecast II FM Transmitter, I pay $30 and my problem is solved.

The Tunecast II is a specialized device the size of a small, flattened egg. It has a standard size (3mm or 1/8-inch) audio cable you’ll plug in to the earphone or speaker jack of your CD player, tape player, iPOD or other device. Shove the cable in any audio player, and the Tunecast will broadcast an audio signal as a short-range radio transmission on a radio channel you define.

So, back to my original problem: The car with a CD player but no tape player. I dug through my home’s junk drawer until I found my old Walkman cassette player, covered in dust, unused since 1991. I pop in fresh batteries and get an excellent book on tape: “Going Postal” by Terry Pratchett.

First, I needed to find an “empty” channel on my radio, so the Tunecast had few competing signals as possible. At my house, I scanned through the radio bands until I found 90.1 FM, an “empty” station, where I hear only static. Then I told the Tunecast to broadcast at 90.1, and I set my radio to listen to 90.1. I pressed play, sat back, and listened happily. Problem solved.

The Tunecast has a short range, but it only needs to reach my car’s antenna. Testing showed the transmitter can broadcast well from anywhere inside my car.

There are a few drawbacks. Don’t expect battery life to be impressive. Instead, you’re better off using the supplied cigarette lighter power cord. If you live in an area with lots of radio stations, you may have trouble finding an “empty” station on which to broadcast. If the Tunecast has to “fight” a radio station, the radio station and your device’s audio will both overlap each other and sound distorted. Finally, realize sound quality is going to be lower than you’re used to. Great for books on tape, fine for some music, but it’s nowhere near CD-quality performance.

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