I am in the market for a new car. That means I’m in the market for a new car stereo. I decided that the iPod is a far better way to listen to my music in stead of keeping CD’s in the car or listening to the 10.000 crappy FM stations in the Netherlands. Since Dension does not make a cable for my new car, I decided to go for an FM transmitter. Buying the cheap Belkin TuneCast II FM transmitter, I got even less then what I payed for.
It looks promising from the package, but it was really a big waste of money. When operated using the included AAA batteries, I get no reception at all. Only when using the 12V car adapter the power output slightly increased and I was able to get the car radio to pick up the TuneCast signal, but only with very much static noise.
I took it out of the car to make sure the problem was not my car radio. At home, I put the TuneCast on top of the home stereo (only 4 cm away from the antenna). It was still very hard to get a signal at all, and I have never got it working without any static noise.
According to the manual, the iPod should be set to a moderate volume, and once connected the TuneCast will automatically switch on. In my case, I had to turn the volume of the iPod all the way to 100% before the TuneCast switched on.
Once I spent 20 minutes of fiddling and finding a free frequency (the Netherlands is crowded with radio signals), I noticed that the output volume of the TuneCast is also very low. In the car, I need to crank up the volume to 100% on my car radio to get a normal listening level. This means that if I switch stations by accident, I can possibly blow up my speakers.
My conclusion is: the TuneCast II does not do what it promises. It’s output power is way too low, even on 12V car power, it needs high volume input and produces low volume output with a lot of static noise, even when being VERY close to the reciever antenna.
DO NOT BUY THE BELKIN TUNECAST II
After typing this post I decided to try to get more signal out of the Tunecast. It did not work, but I did find out which terminals to use when trying to get signal from the tunecast. Maybe you can wire it straight into your radio or something. I’m not planning on doing that, but here are some pictures of the mods I tried to do. It might get you started.
Opening the TuneCast II is really simple, there is 1 screw underneath the “QC” sticker in the battery compartment. Take it out. Pry the two halves of the tunecast loose they are interlocked with small plastic pins, nothing you can break easily.
Once opened, you can remove another screw to take out the printed circuit board. On the front side of the circuit boart you’ll notice the wires going to the earphone plug. The antenna of the Tunecast is incorprated in the (rather short) earphone cable. In my case this was the blue wire (also marked with “ANT”).
If you flip over the PCB, you can see a few testing points. Two of these can be used to attach a small dipole antenna. TP9 is ground, and TP8 is the antenna output. I tried making a small dipole, but transmision power was not increased enough to get a clear signal to my radio (still 4cm away from the radio). I think the output power can be routed into an FM amplifier so the whole neighbourhood can listen to your station, but for me that’s not an option since I was looking for a simple and small device to listen to my iPod in the car.
Another interesting tip: I noticed that the “backlight” is really not a backlight, but 2 green leds mounted somewhere near the LCD. If you’d like to get slightly more light onto the LCD, you can try to paint the inside of the casing using white matt paint (like shown).
Ok that’s it, I’m throwing mine in the garbage can and will start looking for something else. I hope you enjoyed this €25,- blog post.