What is an FM Transmitter?
With the rise of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices, physical media for movies, music, books and more are slowly vanishing. While having a world of entertainment at your fingertips is convenient, you can’t exactly put an MP3 or digital movie in your car stereo or home theater system.
FM transmitters offer a simple way to get your audio and other media from your portable devices to a variety of speakers. If you’re looking to buy a transmitter, our guide will make sure you know exactly what you need.
FM Transmitter Basics
Depending on the transmitter, how you connect to your source and other details might differ. However, all models operate on similar principals. Before you decide on a transmitter, understanding how they work will help you determine what features you might need.
Using an FM Transmitter
On a basic level, an FM transmitter is simply a wireless connection between your audio source and anything capable of receiving an FM signal. You provide power to the transmitter and connect your phone, tablet or mp3 player using a cable or Bluetooth, set the proper channel on the transmitter and receiver and enjoy.
FM Transmitters - What You Need to Know
When it comes to choosing the best FM transmitter, there are three major features to consider:
Choosing Your Power Source
Where and how you plan to use your FM transmitter will determine what type of power is best for you. Models powered from your source or those that use replaceable batteries offer the most flexibility. AC powered models are also available for use around the home or office.
If you’re looking for a transmitter for use in your vehicle, many models can plug into the power outlets on your car to avoid the hassles of monitoring charges or draining additional power from your phone or MP3 player.
To transmit audio to your FM receiver, the transmitter must connect to your source device. If you are using a phone or tablet, such as an iPhone, there might be transmitters available that plug into the charge port of the device. However, you would need to buy separate transmitters for different devices.
Universal designs allow you to plug a 3.5mm connector into the headphone jack on your device for easy connection with a variety of devices. Purchase adaptors for the 3.5mm cord can provide additional options as well at a low price.
If you intend to use your FM transmitter with a smartphone or tablet, Bluetooth FM transmitters offer a convenient, wire-free way of streaming your music. Once synced with your device, you can set it up to connect whenever you are within range for hassle-free enjoyment of your audio. Many models also allow speakerphone and media control functionality for added convenience.
For the best audio quality, you need to find an FM frequency that is not used in your area. If you live in a city or other urban area, finding an empty frequency might be difficult. To help with this, many transmitters include the ability to change frequencies in small intervals. Choosing an adapter that allows you to pick from a wide range of frequencies ensures consistent operation, even in heavily populated areas.
You now know enough to determine the difference between most models and find a basic FM transmitter. However, there are a few advanced features and topics available that might help you further in eliminating options and find the perfect one for your needs.
Due to the sensitivity of small electronics, there are a number of ways that your FM transmitter might pick up interference. This would be noticeable in your audio as static, humming or even distortion. Major sources of interference include electricity and interference from other radio stations or transmitters.
Electrical interference is especially common with cheaper vehicle-powered FM transmitters. To help reduce interference, try to dedicate a power outlet to your transmitter instead of using a splitter. For minimal interference, a battery powered transmitter is ideal.
If you’re having problems with interference in the home or office, try plugging your transmitter directly into a wall outlet instead of a surge protector or power strip.
Having issues with radio interference? Try another frequency that is clear. Sometimes, even with a clear frequency, neighboring frequencies might bleed into your audio. When possible, choose a transmitting frequency that is clear to both sides as well for optimal audio quality.
Keep in mind that many transmitters offer ranges in excess of 50 feet. If you are experience intermittent interference while driving, it could be from another FM transmitter in a nearby vehicle or building.
FM Transmitters Made Easy with Autoscan
As populations increase and cities expand, open FM frequencies are dwindling. If you’re planning to use your FM transmitter in a major city, you could find yourself spending a lot of time finding a frequency and adjusting settings to get a clear signal. To help with this, some FM transmitters include an autoscan feature. With the press of a button, you can scan the airwaves and find an open frequency. Then all you need to do is set your radio to the frequency and rock out.
For additional control over your listening experience, consider a transmitter with adjustable volume controls. In most cases, you will find the best audio quality near the 75-percent volume mark. If the volume is too high on your device, audio might distort or sound scratchy. Having an adjustable volume control also allows you to adjust your transmitter depending on your sound source adding flexibility.
Internal Storage and Other Input Features
With the popularity of FM transmitters, manufacturers are looking for new features to increase value and attract buyers. Don’t buy a transmitter for extra features without considering what you would use. Not only do these features increase the cost, but they might make it harder to use as well.
One popular addition is an SD card reader. This allows you to transfer your music or audiobooks to an SD card and insert it into the transmitter. No more worries about battery life, cables or trying to use a touchscreen while driving. Most also feature playback controls for easy pausing and track changes.
Another common feature is power passthrough. This allows you plug another car adapter into the FM transmitter to power multiple things with a single outlet. While this might sound like a great feature, be sure to check reviews. Many times this introduces interference into the audio signal.
What Type of FM Transmitter is Best for Me?
So you’re officially an expert on all things FM transmitter related. You’re ready to go out and buy one and enjoy your audio without the hassle of wires or burning discs. But you’re still not quite sure what you might need? Here’s a few suggestions based on typical usage.
Commuter: You wake up each morning and hit the road. You need an easy way to enjoy your music in your car for multiple hours a day. If you’re playing music using your phone, a Bluetooth enabled adapter or FM transmitter for your phone model will offer convenient connecting when the morning coffee hasn’t quite kicked in yet. Better still, many models will allow to you take phone calls and control your phone without the need to touch it or look away from the road.
Office Worker: You have a little stereo in your cubicle or office but don’t enjoy the commercials or music selection on broadcast radio. Headphones are inconvenient for extended use or not allowed at your job. You can still enjoy your own music selection with an AC-powered FM adapter. Purchasing one with battery power or a car adapter will also allow you to use it on the drive to work.
Student: Let’s face it--dorm rooms are less than palatial. You need to make the most of your space and be able to pack up at the end of the semester without renting a moving van. If you’re using your phone or MP3 player, searching for an FM transmitter that plugs directly into your player allows you the freedom to stream your music without taking up precious desk space or getting lost under the bed. Anywhere that there is a stereo, you can pull out your phone and DJ like a pro. Just be sure to keep extra batteries around so you can party into the night.
FM transmitters offer convenience when auxiliary inputs or docks aren’t available. With a few wires and a power source, you can stream music or audio from any source with a headphone jack or Bluetooth connection. We’ve given you everything that you need to go out and pick up a transmitter with confidence, but if you have further questions or if we missed something we’d love to hear from you!