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Play tunes, charge gizmos. And remember to use your turn signals.
Getting music from your iPod to your ears is usually easy—use headphones or one of the kajillion iPod speaker docks littering the countryside. But the question of how to get music out of your iPod and into your car stereo can be a bit more vexing. A direct, wired connection sounds the best, but if you don’t have a built-in iPod connector, or a fancy stereo with a line-in jack on the front, your options are limited to expensive aftermarket iPod-friendly stereos or yanking your current stereo out of the dashboard to install a cable yourself.
If that’s too rich for your budget, or just too MacGyver-y for you, there are some cheaper/easier choices: A tape adapter works if your car has a cassette deck, and there’s always the old standby, FM transmitters, which work by broadcasting your iPod’s music over an unused FM frequency—tune your car’s radio to that frequency and let the rocking-out commence. The FM transmitter’s main benefit lies in its near-universality—we haven’t encountered a radio-less car in quite some time. The big gotcha is that it can be hard to find a clear, unused frequency in metro areas, and on long trips you might lose your perfectly clear frequency to a new radio station as you roll into a new city.
The Scosche Digital Tuneshift represents the category well; at $50, it’s high quality enough to keep around, and it adds value by letting you charge most USB-chargeable devices. But it’s still an FM transmitter and not immune to the problems of occasional static and volume dropouts.
The unit’s LCD has handy blue backlighting and displays the radio frequency you’re currently using. Two rubberized buttons, plus and minus, are used to navigate the radio band. The neck installs into your car’s DC power port (formerly known as the cigarette lighter), and the head pivots so you can get a good look at the screen. Scosche includes a cable to connect your iPod (or any audio device, like a Discman or Creative Zen—even a MacBook if you’re feeling saucy) from the headphone jack to the Tuneshift’s 3.5mm audio-in port. The full-sized USB port lets you charge a USB device, like an iPod, digital camera, or cell phone. You just need to supply the proper USB cable.
To play music, first scan through the dial on your car radio and find a frequency that no station is using. Look for one a couple of clicks away from an actual broadcasting station, a frequency where all you hear is static. Then tune the Tuneshift to the same frequency, press Play on your iPod, and you should hear the audio.
In our tests, it worked well, with only occasional static when radio stations close to our frequency began to bleed through. The USB port worked perfectly to charge our iPod (it works even when you’re playing the iPod since you charge through the dock port and play through the headphone port) as well as a digital camera and cell phone that charge with USB cables. We did have to turn the car stereo up pretty loud to get good output from the radio. The documentation recommends saving the best-sounding frequencies as presets on your car’s stereo, and the Tuneshift remembers the last frequency you used, but we’d love the ability to store multiple preset frequencies on the device itself.If you use multiple cars—rentals maybe—or just don’t want the hassle of installing a hard-wired iPod connection, the Digital Tuneshift is a capable FM transmitter that wins bonus points for its gadget-charging capability.