Review: FMCup FM Transmitter & Charger for iPod - Macenstein

Review: FMCup FM Transmitter & Charger for iPod

Posted by Lab Rat

Just last week it was announced that Ford, GM, and Mazda will begin featuring built-in iPod integration in their 2007 model cars, meaning an impressive 70% of 2007 model US cars will be able to interface directly with your iPod.

But what if you already own a car, and don’t feel like spending $30,000 for a new one just to be able to play your iPod while driving? Well, for many, the answer lies in one of two solutions; a tape cassette adapter, or a wireless FM transmitter.

For me (and many car buyers of the last 2 years or so) the decision was made for me by my auto maker (in my case, Ford). Apparently cassettes are about as cool as record players, and Ford decided I would want only a CD player in my truck. This seems to be the case with many cars, as my wife’s 2005 Buick Rendezvous also came sans cassette player.

I was a little worried about going the route of the FM transmitter as I had an old Griffin iTrip (the non-digital kind) I had used in my last car on occasion, and had been rather displeased with it. The iTrip had many drawbacks. First, it cut my iPod’s battery life in half. But second (and more importantly) changing frequencies on the thing was a major hassle. For those unfamiliar with FM transmitters, the basic premise is they take the audio from a source (such as an iPod) and broadcast it on a short-distance FM signal that your car radio can pick up. The clarity of the sound is directly dependant on the amount of interference you receive from “real� radio stations. This usually works great if you live in North Dakota where there are about 4 radio stations, but in a metropolitan area, like just outside of New York City, finding a clear signal to broadcast over can be rather tough. Even during a 15 minute commute down Route 78 I can find a radio show of SOME type on almost every frequency, and sometimes, even TWO.

So, my two major requirements in looking for an FM transmitter for my iPod were that it 1) be easy to scan for open frequencies, and 2) not drain my iPod’s battery (and if possible, even CHARGE it). With that in mind I decided to check out Macally’s FMCup.

The FMCup (as the name would lead you to believe) is of the cup-holder variety of iPod cradles. The FMCup ships with adapters that allow for a tight, non-rattling fit for all iPod models (except the shuffle, the bastard child of the iPod line). Additionally, it has a set of expandable, spring-loaded appendages that ensure a snug fit in just about any cup holder.

The FMCup, I am happy to say, meets both my requirements for an FM transmitter. First, it has a bult-in dock for charging the iPod. Simply connect the FMCup to your cigarette adapter, and you are good to go. Second, the FMCup makes changing broadcast frequencies a breeze. The digital display tells you the frequency you are broadcasting on (you can choose any station between 88.1 and 107.9MHz), and tuning up or down when signal quality suffers works just like tuning a standard digital radio. Unfortunately, in my area I am relegated to pretty much only 88.1 FM, as interference from other stations often bleeds through on other channels. However on a recent trip to Virginia, I noticed I had a much wider selection of stations to choose from, and often could drive for over two hours or more before encountering a station using my frequency. The FMCup remembers the last channel you had selected when return to your car, which is nice, and Macally also thought to include a “Quick Switch� button which cycles between the 4 most commonly empty stations (88.1, 84.1, 100.1, and 106.1MHz). By programming these stations into my truck’s radio in the same order, I was able to switch frequencies without having to take my eyes off the road.

A feature that sets the FMCup apart from some other FM transmitters I have seen is the addition of an audio-in jack. This means that other MP3 players, portable DVD players, and yes, even the shuffle can be used with the FMCup to play their audio through your car’s sound system.

Sound quality is good, but not on the level of the integrated solutions. The sound is about as good as a clear FM signal. This is the case with all FM transmitters I have tested, however, so it is not a knock against the FMCup.


One issue I DO have with the FMCup however (and it is one I also had with the iTrip) is that it seems to be quite susceptible to cell phone static. Both my Sony Ericsson and my wife’s Motorola caused the FMCup to get that staticky buzzing sound that cell phones occasionally create in electronics. The odd thing is, I have a Sirius satellite radio in my truck which also uses a FM transmitter to broadcast to my radio, and I have never had the cell phone issue with it, so there must be a method of FM transmission that works better than that used in these iPod transmitters.

The only other potential problem I could see is the possibility that your cup holder may not be located optimally for the FMCup to work right. I had no problem in a Ford F-150, a Buick Rendezvous, or a Nissan Quest, however I DID have a problem in a Saturn 4-door sedan. The Saturn’s cup holders were located so close to the dash controls that the iPod couldn’t really fit well, and I had to sort of twist it to the point where I could not read the iPod’s display or see what frequency the FMCup was broadcasting on. So a word of warning, make sure you have an accessible cup holder. Additionally, if your cup holder is located too far from your cigarette adapter, you will have a long white power chord running across your front seat.


Available in both black and white, the FMCup by Macally sells for $59.99, and delivers a very good quality listening experience, similar to other FM transmitters. As with all FM transmitters, the quality of the audio can vary depending on how much “bleed through� from other stations you may receive in your area. If you live outside a heavily populated city (as do I), odds are it will take a bit of experimenting to find the right frequency for you. The FMCup’s cup holder design and audio-in jack make it a more versatile solution than some other transmitters on the market, and the “Quick Switch� button makes it easy to change frequencies without having to take your eyes off the road.

FMCup FM Transmitter & Charger for iPod by Macally

Price: $59.99

Good sound, cup holder design fits almost any cup holder, much easier to switch between frequencies than other transmitters, additional audio-in jack for use with a wide range of devices, charges the iPod while playing

Cons: Must have an open cup holder handy, can be affected by cell phone interference

One Response to “Review: FMCup FM Transmitter & Charger for iPod”
  1. Dianna says:

    I agree. I live outside of Seattle and had a terrible time with several I-Trip products. My boyfriend as the Macally cup and it works perfectly. My only complaint is that they’re hard to find! I’m trying to get one for my sister and myself and can’t find them in any stores. I’m going to have to get it online, probably Amazon.

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