Tuesday, November 22, 2011

MP3 FM Transmitter

I mentioned a few days ago that I was ordering a $34.95 gadget as an alternative to spending big money on either the Jaguar CD changer, or not so big money on a new head unit (but an uncertain amount of work to install it with the steering wheel controls).  It arrived today, and it does work, and pretty well.

I had a 32 GB USB drive lying around, but no large SDHC cards; it might be worth trying to find one in the GB range just because it is less obtrusive than the flash drive.  The only real obstacle was that the instructions say to tune to an unused FM station.  The Jaguar does not have a way to do that!  You hit the scan button and it finds the next available FM station with signal.  There is conventional tuning knob (something that I have not noticed before).  After a bit of thought, I tuned the transmitter to 93.9, which appeared to be unused, and hit scan on the stereo--and boom!  There it was.

Tricks: make sure you turn the volume on the transmitter up to its highest possible setting.  You will still have to turn up the stereo volume for this station about 25% higher than other FM stations.  The reason to do this is otherwise there is a high pitched hiss that increases along with the music.  Increasing volume on the transmitter seems to mostly correct the problem by improving the signal to noise ratio problem. 

I have only listened to it with the car stationary, and it is apparent that the sound quality is definitely not CD level, and maybe not even quite FM station quality, although it is close.  Perhaps with the car in motion, the difference will be less noticeable.  I do wish that there was a way to connect by wire to the stereo, but the box Jaguar sells for that purpose is $270 plus installation.  At that point, it makes more sense to replace the head unit.

UPDATE: I had started out setting it transmit on 93.9, because that was not in use--but it was right next to 94.1, which is in use in this area.  I then changed the frequency to 93.5, which is a bit more removed from 93.1 and 94.1, both of which are in use--and the sound quality definitely improved a bit.  I can honestly say that it is not much inferior to CD quality, and certainly as good as most FM stations.

I did have some odd behavior about moving into folders, but I see from this review that the top folder in supposed to be MP3 or mp3--which I did not do.  I have just adjusted it.  I'll see if this solves the odd behavior problem tomorrow on the way into work.  Right now, I would have to brave the cat, who is locked up in the laundry room between me and the garage--and he thinks he's a little mountain lion.

UPDATE 2: My enthusiasm is cooling.  They warn you that WMA files with DRM won't play--but it appears that they do something worse: they prevent any files on the drive from playing.  Worse, I am not even getting particularly reliable results even with the WMA/DRM file removed.

UPDATE 3: Satechi's tech support did not directly say that DRM files render the rest of the volume unreadable, but they certainly imply it.  None of the rest of the files on this USB disk have DRM--and yet it does not seem to play reliably.  The latest email indicates that all purchased MP3s will have DRM--which makes this unit pretty much useless, unless you are ripping from CDs.  I suppose that I could burn the music that I have bought to audio CD, then rip it from audio back to digital.  I suspect that would work.

UPDATE 4: I did a bit more digging this afternoon, and found what one of the comments below tells me: relatively few audio sellers are now shipping with DRM.  It appears that the single WMA file that I purchased which had DRM was the cause of my problems.  All the other MP3s that I have work just fine, once that DRM protected WMA file was removed.  (Many of my other music files are also WMA, and work just fine.) 

The solution was to burn this DRM WMA file to an audio CD-RW, then use AVS Audio Editor (which I paid the license fee to unlock last year) to read the CDA file from the audio CD and convert it into an MP3.  This gets rid of the DRM, without any loss of audio quality.  This would be a bit of nuisance if I had hundreds of DRM-crippled songs to convert, but I only had the one, so it was not too bad.

I have put about eight full albums on a 2 GB USB drive that I had lying around, and  I have only used 540 MB so far.  If I had a 2 GB SDHC card that I was not using in a camera, that would be even a better choice, because it is smaller, and less obtrusive sitting in the console.

I called the Jaguar dealer today to find out if the Audio Connection Module might be a substantially cheaper and more useful addition than the $1000 they want to install the CD changer.  (Yes, Alpine used a proprietary, only for Jaguar fiber optic connector for the CD changer, so it isn't something that you can buy something aftermarket instead.)  The Jaguar Audio Connection Module (ACM) takes about an hour to install, and lets you plug in USB drives or connect an iPod to your existing Jaguar stereo, and it does seem like a better solution in every respect.  Your iPod or USB drive are treated exactly like the CD changer, including control from the steering wheel controls...and it costs $800 installed.  Wow.  Why am I thinking of the joke about the kangaroo who goes into a bar, orders a beer, and gets charged $10 for it.  The bartender says, "We don't get many kangaroos in here."  "And at these prices, you won't get many more."  Jaguars are clearly for the 3%.

I am pretty darn happy with how this gadget works, now that I have unraveled the details.  It is not CD quality, but it is very close to FM radio quality--close enough that I find it quite listenable while I am driving.  I might whine and complain a bit if this were music to which I was listening in my living room, but I don't do that much, anyway.  There is a little bit of static between songs, but for $40?  It also works very nicely in my wife's TrailBlazer, if we have occasion to go on another long trip.

It is not as convenient to use as a Jaguar CD changer or the Jaguar ACM, but it isn't bad.  There is a little remote control that you can operate by touch.  If you are content to just let it move forward from song to song, or use it in shuffle mode (which I have not yet bothered to figure out how to start), it works just fine.  Would I prefer an MP3 player controlled by the steering wheel controls?  Sure.  But not if it is going to cost me more than $400 for the steering wheel control box plus a new head unit plus the labor to install it, and certainly not if it is going to cost me $800.


  1. (My knowledge is dated, but I can't imagine that this market has died out.)

    There is an active aftermarket of companies that make bridge devices that enable using OEM factory head units with non-OEM (Sorny/Panaphonic and the like) CD changers.

    I used one on a VW that had the capacity to control an OEM cd changer. The adapter, a small device with some brains inside, translated the OEM control signals so that the buttons on my stock stero could drive an aftermarket CD changer. The control implementation wasn't complete, but it was functional and predictable.

  2. Turns out that they are called Factory Radio Adapters.


    No idea if they make one for your car(s).

  3. That's for the suggestion. They don't make one for the Jaguar X-type.

  4. If the head-unit is replaceable in any sort of sensible way, I suggest you just do that. My experience with such things is that it solves lots of problems, by itself.

    (Yes, you're likely to lose steering-wheel controls. But considering that they already won't work very well with an FM broadcaster, you're at parity on that.)

    (Also, WMA is a problem in and of itself, in principle - especially if there's DRM on it.

    I'd re-acquire the content in MP3 or AAC; since I presume you legitimately own it now, there's no moral (and barely - if any - legal) issue in you just downloading an MP3 version afresh.

    WMA causes nothing but problems.)

  5. There is a way to keep steering wheel controls with a new head unit, but this is fast becoming a major exercise in spending money and time, especially because there seems to be very little aftermarket interest in the X-type. You would think that I bought something expensive and exotic, as opposed to just oddball.

    I only have one song that is WMA, and I will probably burn that to an audio CD and then rip it from there; the rest are MP3, but it appears from the behavior of this unit and what the tech support guy says that even MP3s that I purchased (through WalMart's online store) have some sort of DRM on them.

  6. I use an FM transmitter on my Siruis receiver. Sirius has a handy FM Channel Finder on their website that can help you find the best frequency in your area.

    WV: premestr - The period before a semester

  7. The latest email indicates that all purchased MP3s will have DRM--which makes this unit pretty much useless, unless you are ripping from CDs.

    They're either incompetent or lying. You can purchase MP3s from Amazon without DRM and have been since 2008. Some of the details are available here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_MP3. Amazon started the DRM-free trend, and for that I thank them. I tend to do only Amazon purchases for that reason -- I hate having to buy the same thing twice if for some reason I want to switch to yet-another player. And with the original file in MP3 format it's playable by all players without hassle.

    In general, I've had good luck using LAME to convert WMA files to MP3s. I tend to do it under Linux, and you can see the instructions here: http://www.linuxquestions.org/linux/answers/Applications_GUI_Multimedia/Convert_WMA_to_MP3. There are Windows apps that use LAME to do the conversion, too, but I've not really used them much. Try LAME, I think you'll like it. I know some audiophiles claim it's not perfect, but honestly, for something in the car and for someone with older ears I doubt the difference will be detectable.

    As for DRM, there are rippers that will break all audio DRM out there, and there's always the "analog hole" method of playing the tune to the speakers while capturing it on the mic using a patch cord. And you don't always have to burn to a real CD, you can use a virtual disk, too. For direct digital methods, I'll leave it to your own Google-fu to find methods and just say that it's FairUse of your own files if you want to convert them. I did direct digital conversion myself long ago.

  8. It's seems with any kind of MP3 fm transmitter, its a sub standard solution to a straight in line jack.

    I spent a boatload on one with hopes it would work in my old Mazda, I don't think it hit CD quality.