FM Transmitters

The Basics

What are they?

FM transmitters turn your music device into a mini radio station. They plug into your device's charging port or headphone socket and then transmit the music being played across a chosen FM radio frequency. This leaves you free to simply tune in via your car radio.

They are a wireless solution, which will work with pretty much any car, but they can suffer from problems with interference and poor sound quality. More recent models tend to be better and some can charge your device and act as a hands free kit for mobile phones.

What do they look like?

There are numerous variants of FM transmitters. Many designs have 3.5mm connections that plug into any music player's headphone socket. These are normally powered via batteries but there are also options which get power from your car 12V socket. You can also get models with connectors for specific devices. For example Belkin's Tunecast models have a lightning connector which will also charge the latest apple devices.

How do I connect to it?

Compatibility

Will it work with my iPod, iPhone, iPad, smartphone, mp3 player or tablet?

Many FM transmitters connect via standard headphone sockets so are widely compatible with nearly all media devices. Obviously FM transmitters with Apple lightning connectors or dock connectors are only compatible with appropriate Apple devices!

Will it work with my car?

To use this method your car needs an FM radio fitted (which pretty much every car does.) It is therefore a good solution for older vehicles.

Functionality

Which of my devices' features can I use?

FM transmitters can only transfer audio from your media device to your car. This means you will be able to play music, audiobooks or podcasts. You can also normally transfer the audio from phone calls and other applications such as Google Maps™ or Spotify.

Will I be able to see information from my device on my car display?

It depends. Most FM transmitters will not be able to transfer song titles to your car's display when playing music. There are some specialist transmitters however that can transfer song titles via the radio data system (RDS).

Will I be able to select the music being played using my car's controls?

No. With FM transmitters you will need to select the music being played on the device itself. This may be preferable if a passenger is selecting songs to play. Alternatively you can always set up playlists before you set off. You will however still be able to alter the volume using your car controls.

If you want control via your car you will need to use a different connection method like a USB input, Bluetooth, Media inputs or Car Mobile Operating Systems.

What if I want to make phone calls?

The most common way to make phone calls in modern cars is hands-free through Bluetooth.

If you don't have Bluetooth fitted to your car you can get it integrated into an FM transmitter via devices like Belkin's In Car Audio Connect. This device has an FM transmitter to connect to your car radio then connects to your phone wirelessly via Bluetooth (so your phone can stay in your pocket) It comes with a control button, allowing you to listen (and control your music) or make hands-free calls.

What about navigation?

Many modern smartphones have built in navigation (or navigation apps from third parties such as TomTom). If your phone is connected to you stereo via an FM transmitter then the audio from these apps when in use will be played through your car speakers. You can use a mount so you can see the map in your line of vision.

Will it charge my mp3 player / smartphone?

It depends. Some FM transmitters get power from your car's 12V socket and can also charge your device. Others are battery powered and therefore won't charge.

What about sound quality?

Sound quality can vary a lot between different FM transmitters, however many users find that the audio quality is not as good as hard wired options. FM transmitters can also suffer from interference from other radio signals.

Summary

FM transmitters were popular several years ago and are still a viable option for older cars without a hard wired connections or Bluetooth. Sound quality can be patchy with some models so read the reviews before you buy.

Pros

  • Compatible with any car with an FM radio - perfect for older models without Bluetooth or AUX inputs.
  • Many FM transmitters are universally compatible with any device with a (3.5mm) headphone socket.
  • Control is via your media player, making it easy for passengers to select songs.
  • Can transfer audio from other applications such as Google Maps or Spotify.
  • Some sophisticated models can allow you to accept calls and charge your device.

Cons

  • FM transmitters can suffer from interference affecting sound quality.
  • Will not integrate with car controls.
  • Most transmitters will not transfer information to car display.
  • FM transmitters typically cost between £5 and £60 depending on features.

Products that may be of interest

JSG Accessories® FM Transmitter (3.5mm)

This battery powered FM transmitter lets you easily select your desired FM radio frequency to broadcast on.

TeckNet® 12V FM Transmitter (3.5mm)

This FM transmitter from TechNet draws its power from your car's 12V socket and lets you easily select your desired FM radio frequency to broadcast on.

Belkin Tunecast FM Transmitter (Lightning)

Belkin offer a range of FM transmitters. This one has a lightning connector to charge and transfer audio from the latest iPhones.

Belkin In Car Audio Connect FM Transmitter - Bluetooth

Belkin's Car Audio Connect (FM Transmitter) lets you listen and control your music plus make hands free phone calls all via your FM radio.

Kenu Airframe Portable Car
Mount

This mount is a great way to keep your smartphone in sight at eye level - allowing you to see what music is playing or follow navigation directions - all hands free.