That elusive tune…

Today is one of those days where the sheer brass-monkeyness of the weather forces you to find all those drawstrings, zips and poppers that you never knew your coat had. Outside is only minus 8C but we’ve got an easterly wind of about 25mph and so the wind-chill is making it more like -35C, right on the border of the 10 minute frostbite zone. Brrrr! (EDIT – see comments. I read the chart wrong, it was only -18C, still, cold enough)

The elusive tune I refer to is the one you might hear when your iPod and car hi-fi are in complete harmony. As far as I can tell, that is only something you’re likely to hear if you ordered the pukka, factory fitted, iPod connector gadget thingy when you bought your brand new car. I could have done that but it would have meant waiting an extra 3-4 months for the car, which was just not worth it especially when the dealer said they can do just as good a job themselves. I was dreaming of an easy plug-in that would play the iPod through the hi-fi as well as it played CDs and also allow menu navigation via the hi-fi screen. Didn’t get it. What the dealer installed is workable but nevertheless it is an amateur effort. The signal out of the iPod headphone jack is weak as it doesn’t need to be strong to power earplugs. This means you have to pump up the volume on the hi-fi and this then makes any interference from the engine’s electrics easy to pick up. I wouldn’t say it is at all bad, but it’s not as good as I wanted. What is needed is better shielding of the whole iPod circuit and some kind of pre-amp for the signal.

In an attempt to improve my mobile lot, I purchased this “Belkin Tunecast 3” FM transmitter when in the UK recently:

91218144

This also plugs into the headphone jack of the iPod, or any other player, and then transmits an FM signal on whatever frequency you select – e.g. on the picture, 102.7. It is battery powered (2 x AAA) but comes with a 12v DC cable as well. I must say that results so far have been surprisingly good. The internet suggests otherwise with almost every review being of the “2/10 don’t buy this!” variety, perhaps I’ve just been lucky? Good job I didn’t read the reviews beforehand or I would never have bought it.

The secrets to success are:

  1. Live in the countryside, or in a town with not too much FM traffic. This way you can find a relatively empty part of the waveband to tune the thing into.
  2. Place the device close to the radio (or aerial) . Mine is on the dash right next to the radio. It comes with a neat holder you can stick to the dashboard and then clip the actual device in and out.
  3. Turn the player’s volume down to about 75% max to avoid distortion at that end.
  4. (still in testing) Use the DC power cable instead of the batteries. Some reports said there was no difference, but I’m sure the DC gives a stronger output signal.

I’ve now tried this in the (bloody awful) Opel Vectra we rented in the UK and also in my (glorious) Passat here at home. It worked well on both occasions. Compared to the amateur dealer’s version it performs better, requiring lower volumes and therefore with less, or no, disturbance from the engine. It is however, difficult to find a frequency that remains noiseless all the way through the city so there is some crackle involved and it is still not as good as playing a CD.

Nevertheless, if I wanted to ditch the iPod and carry the originals in the car with me I’d need to find room for around 250 CDs, a few films, photo albums…..not really a good idea.

No question, this is the in-car music of the future, but we’re not quite there yet. In a few years we’ll be reading this post and laughing at how we used to bugger around getting the iPod to work in the car!

By way of celebration I’ve treated myself to a selection from the NME’s “Top 10 best British albums of all time” list (struck through the ones I already had):

1. The Stone Roses ‘The Stone Roses’
2. The Smiths ‘The Queen Is Dead’
3. Oasis ‘Definitely Maybe’
4. Sex Pistols ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’
5. Arctic Monkeys ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’
6. Blur ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’
7. Pulp ‘Different Class’
8. The Clash ‘London Calling’
9. The Beatles ‘Revolver’
10. The Libertines ‘Up The Bracket’

I added to that a few others I wanted such as; Jos Stone “Soul Sessions”, Radiohead “In Rainbows”, Amy Winehouse “Back to Black”, The Eagles “Long Road out of Eden” and am now ready for some very long drives!

May you all enjoy your in-car music, whatever it is and however it is played.

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6 thoughts on “That elusive tune…

  1. Sorry – pedant mode again I’m afraid – minus 8 deg C is 17.6 deg F :(
    http://www.wbuf.noaa.gov/tempfc.htm

    So, as per Wiki chart, with 25mph winds we get 8 deg F which is -13.3 deg C. Not quite in the 10 min frostbite area yet – although you’re right in that it still bloody feels it :)

  2. You’re quite right to correct me, Ad!

    BUT

    The second part of your calc is wrong. According to the Wiki chart it should be between +3 and -4F. According to this easy calculator it was precisely -0.6F or -18.1C. I wondered why my fingers weren’t falling off! :)

  3. Well done for spotting the deliberate error.

    Actually my eyes must have been doing the hokey kokey and jumped to the wrong column in the Wiki chart – blame the builder for interrupting me and the wife for rushing me to walk the dogs – kuh! ;)

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