Review: Belkin TuneBase-FM for iPod mini

Review: Belkin TuneBase-FM for iPod mini

If you cannot afford the ultimate iPod accessory (a new car with iPod integration) but want your digital music played through your car speakers, there are a few ways to accomplish this. Provided you have a tape player there are a couple of devices that you could use. The devices have a fake tape that you put in the tape player and play with a wire connected to a connection that either plugs into the headphone jacks or the bottom of your iPod. Also, and more popular, several manufacturers have created mini radio stations or FM transcievers that plug into your iPod and transmit over an FM frequency to your radio like a radio station would. The FCC is quite strict on these devices though so you can only transmit a decently weak signal.

The Geeks got a hold of a Belkin TuneBase-FM for an iPod mini and put the device though some testing. Read on to see what we thought of the TuneBase-FM.

The Belkin TunBase-FM looks quite wierd when you pull it from it’s box thanks to the flexible steel-neck. At the top of this “neck” is an LCD “head” sporting four programmable channels. The head is set on a custom-designed swivel-cradle so not only can you bend the neck part of the gizmo, but you can swivel the head or cradle left and right as well to provide a better angle to press buttons or see the LCD screen.

Using a weak FM transmitter (FCC certification and compliance of Federal law requires a lower power output for these types of FM transmitters), the TuneBase-FM transmits using one of four programmable preset stations that your radio can pick up all while powering and charging your iPod mini!

Since there are no wires involved, the iPod mini is powered and the iPod mini can be positioned to be read and used easily, the Belkin TuneBase-FM seems to be a great solution for transmitting digitial music through your car speakers.

To plug the gizmo into your car, you simply need a cigarette lighter plug that is vertical due to the way the neck moves. You need to put one of the included rubber circular gaskets around Belkin’s plug so the TuneBase-FM does not move around. This gasket actually makes plugging the device into the cigarette lighter plug hard… that’s a good thing.

Once plugged in, you need to find which FM frequencies between 88.1MHz-107.9MHz to use. Using your radio, slowly run through the various frequencies starting at 88.1MHz until you find four acceptable presets that hopefully have nothing being transmitted within a channel or two either way. The more space between radio stations and your programmed preset the better as a radio station will win out over the weak output of the Belkin transmitter (again, FCC regulations). In some radio markets, this will be either impossible or really hard. For example, in Atlanta, every other channel is taken up by some radio station. In this case, choose the lowest channels that do not have a station on and hope your car stero/antenna setup is not very good! I’ve found the better the car stereo and antenna, the worse the reception of the TuneBase-FM.

Once you find the stations to use, simply use the up and down arrows to tune the Belkin to that frequency and turn the radio to that station and test. If you do not hear static or other interference, you’ve found a preset! Press and hold one of the four programmable preset buttons and you are set.

Now to the results of the testing. In a Rodeo, the item worked quite well at first with no static or other interference. I was quite happy with the results. Then I tried a better car with a better radio/antenna setup. Using an Infiniti I could not locate a single channel that worked nearly as good as the Rodeo. I believe the better stereo and antenna’s simply pick up the various radio stations in the area which interfered with the Belkin.

Next, after using the device for a couple weeks in the Rodeo (since the Infiniti did not work well), the TuneBase-FM started behaving badly with my iPod mini! There is nothing more frustrating than grooving to “Melodia Del Rio” and having the song pause for no reason other than the “custom-designed swivel-cradle” moving slightly due to a bump or a press of a button! Unfortunately, this has been an increasing problem as time goes on and must have happened ten times during my last drive.

Unfortunately, the device simply does not work as well as an $80 device should and we wouldn’t recommend Belkin’s TuneBase-FM.

What’s Groovy and What’s Sucky

What’s Groovy:

The features of the Belkin TuneBase-FM are quite groovy. I love the flexible neck which allows me
to place the iPod mini in a position suitable for actually using while driving. Also having four
programmable presets for the FM transciever is great for interference and the fact that my Mini
iPod is powered and charged while the car is on should allow for a continuous stream of music for
many miles.

What’s Sucky:

The TuneBase-FM seems to have given up on me after a couple of weeks. Also, the nicer the car and
the nicer the stero/antenna, the worse reception you will get with the TuneBase-FM especially if you
are in a crowded radio station area (for example in Atlanta, you can pick up a different station every
other channel).

Features Performance Quality Value
4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 2 Stars
As far as features go, the Belkin TuneBase-FM scores high. I personally loved the flexible neck
and it’s ability to place the iPod mini in a position where I could easily reach it and read the
screen. The FM transceiver is a great wireless way to hook your iPod mini into your car stereo
and the fact that you can preset four channels in case there is interference on one is nice. Finally,
the fact that this version also charges the Mini while the car is turned on was another big plus.
At first I was amazed at the performance as I found four good channels for my Rodeo as there was no
static and the music came across quite nicely on my car speakers. When I tested in an Infiniti I
did not have such a great experience. All four presets I had programmed into the TuneBase-FM gave
static. My findings were the better the car antenna, the worse the reception through the TuneBase-FM!
Also, after a couple of weeks I’ve had some issues that I bring up in the Quality section.
Unfortunately Belkin earns a very low mark for quality due to the test unit starting to fail
when the head at the top of the flexible neck is moved at all including bumps due to road conditions.
For some reason, this would pause the iPod mini which can be quite frustrating especially with the
frequency that it has started to occur only after a couple of weeks.
The Belkin TuneBase-FM is not cheap, especially for the TuneBase that powers and charges the Mini
iPod when the car is on… it’s almost half the cost of the iPod mini! The TuneBase is feature-packed
though.
Overall
2 Stars
Overall I’d recommend really purchasing a car with
iPod integration
for perfect playback through your car speakers. Of course, purchasing a car for
your digital music habit is just not right unless you are really in the market for a new car!
Therefore, you must turn to various gizmos such as Belkin’s TuneBase-FM to play your digital music
through your speakers. Unfortunately with the quality issues in this rather expensive gizmo, we
would recommend a different solution.