AudioBUG ATB-350 Automotive FM Transmitter
by Chris Bray
There is a problem that some of us have experienced, and it will
probably affect more people in the next few years. You buy a fancy new portable
MP3 player, such as an Apple iPod, Creative Nomad, or any number of similar
devices now on the market, and you want to listen to your new tunes in the
Sure, many car stereos now include MP3 support, but that's only if
you burn the MP3s to CD first. For people like myself, who have amassed several
gigabytes worth of music (whether ripped from CD, bought through on-line
services such as iTunes, or from whatever source), it becomes a hassle to then
copy the music back to CD, not to mention the fact that most cases will tend to
scratch the CDs over time. Some stereos, mostly aftermarket ones, have an
"auxilliary" input so you can hook up your device through RCA cables, but what
do you do if yours isn't one of them?
You buy an FM transmitter, such as the AudioBUG series from
Aerielle. These devices
have a jack via which you can connect your mobile music maker (or a laptop,
portable DVD player, or whatever you want, really), and convert the sound into
an FM radio signal. It's basically a tiny, portable radio station that you can
tune your car's stereo to (similar to the way we hooked up our portable CD
players to the car through a tape adapter years ago).
There are quite a few FM transmitters on the market now, and I've
had a chance to play with a few of them. Most are portable, battery powered
ones, including Aerielle's own ATB-250 previously reviewed on
TechnoFILE. These are great if you need real
portability, or if you want to play your sounds on a portable stereo, for
example. However, if you're like me and you only use it in the car, every time
you change the battery (and for the ATB-250 the batteries are over $10 if you
don't buy them from a local battery store), you wonder why you can't just use
the cigarette lighter socket that is more and more sitting idle in cars.
Strangely, there don't seem to be many FM transmitters that plug
into the lighter. I found one for around $40 Canadian, only to discover that,
while it took a 12 volt DC input, it didn't come with the lighter adapter. I
had to buy that for an additional $10 and solder the ends together. Worse, it
was a big, clunky box and the sound quality was awful. I'm talking drop your $5
AM radio in the toilet and listen to it reverberate off the porcelain bowl
Fortunately, the ATB-350 is much better. In fact, I'm extremely
pleased with it, and at $49.99 US, it's a pretty good bargain, too. It's a tiny
little unit, about the size of a cigarette lighter with a match box glued to
the end of it (which in my Honda Prelude is a good thing, as the gear shift is
right next to the lighter socket). The cable is between 2 and 3 feet long, long
enough to reach the front seats in most cars, or the center console, etc. And
unlike most units I've seen where you can choose from 3 or 4 frequency presets,
there's a little LCD screen and up/down buttons that let you tune the
transmitter to any FM radio frequency you want, high or low.
Most excellent flexibility!
Now as for sound quality, it's about the same as the AudioBUG
ATB-250, which is to say it's very good. Part of the problem is it's
constrained by the limits of an FM radio, plus it can suffer from interference,
and MP3s will never sound as good as the original CD. The AudioBUG probably
won't win any Hi-Fi stereo awards, nor will it compare to my NAD power amp at
home. However, let's face it, between road noise and having to waste so much
attention on the road ahead, it's highly unlikely that anyone will notice the
Initially, I had tuned the AudioBUG ATB-350 to 88.5 MHz, since I
had a radio preset left from testing the ATB-250. Strangely, when the unit was
cold it would play nothing but static for a few minutes, until it warmed up a
bit. The 250 didn't do this, even when left in the car overnight and, for a car
unit, many people will probably just leave it plugged in overnight as I did.
After all, it's all about convenience.
At first I thought I had just found a dead spot (sometimes while
driving there will be a spot where the normally excellent signal just drops
off, probably due to interference, and you'll get static for a second or two),
but comparing against the 250 again proved it was the 350 unit. It didn't even
have to be very cold; it did this when it dipped down to about five degrees
above zero (Celsius). However, on a hunch I tried changing to the other end of
the FM dial, transmitting at 107.9 instead of 88.5, and the problem seems to
have gone away. Go figure.
So if you're looking for a way to listen to sound, music or
otherwise, through a car stereo that doesn't have auxiliary inputs or a tape
deck adapter, the AudioBUG ATB-350 by Aerielle is a fantastic product. I wish
they'd sent us enough to have one in each car!
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think