LAST UPDATED: May 27, 2019
Best Bluetooth FM Transmitters: Bring Some Flexible Sound into Your Old Car
The best Bluetooth FM transmitters to bring digital streaming music to older vehicles
The Review Team
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PUBLISHED ON May 27, 2019
Wireless technology like Bluetooth has all but eliminated the need for cords when it comes to listening to music in the car. Almost all modern vehicles now come with stereo systems that can hook up to almost any smart device to play or stream music. For older vehicles, however, this story is a little different. Since many used vehicles were around before Bluetooth was a thing, they may lack any way to connect to a smart device, wireless or otherwise. This is where an FM transmitter is a useful purchase. If you find yourself wanting to listen to your favorite streaming playlists in your 1994 Mazda Miata, a Bluetooth FM transmitter will let you do just that and possibly more. Take a look at our handy guide below to see what you need to know about today's top transmitter choices.
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Why Buy a Bluetooth FM Transmitter
- Listen to music wirelessly. The good old radio hasn't quite lost out to online streaming services just yet, but if you want to access your favorite playlists, a universal FM transmitter is a must in older vehicles that lack in-car Bluetooth connectivity and advanced car stereos. Circumnavigating the lack of built-in Bluetooth, a transmitter allows you to pipe music through an FM frequency using a smart device or MP3 player. This way, you can stream music right out of your car's radio with one handy device.
- Enjoy hands-free calling. Many FM transmitters do more than just pipe music through the radio. In fact, anything that has an audio source is up for grabs. This includes a phone's calling capability, so you can enjoy phone calls with hands-free calling straight through the car's speakers. Some FM transmitters have built-in microphones, while others just rely on the phone itself.
- Get a basic USB car charger. A select few transmitters have built-in USB charging ports so you can get juice right from the car through the 12-volt cigarette lighter outlet. In addition to streaming music and calling with hands-free capability, you can also keep your devices charged during long road trips.
Types of Bluetooth FM Transmitters
The most basic model of an FM radio transmitter is nothing more than a 12-volt plug with a built-in Bluetooth chip. This setup allows it to connect to a smart device and pipe music out through an FM frequency. Some basic models also have a simple LCD screen so you can control the FM frequency selection and verify connectivity with the smart device.
More advanced FM transmitters combine a lot of functionality in one design. In addition to streaming music, these are the transmitters that make it easy to enjoy hands-free calling, music display data, and on-the-go device charging. These transmitters also tend to be easier to use, coming with larger displays and controls to change settings on the fly. Some come as standalone products, while others are a part of a larger car kit.
Top Brands of Bluetooth FM Transmitters
Founded in 2012, VicTsing Technology is a global brand that manufactures and supplies consumer electronics. The company focuses on providing high-quality electronics at budget-friendly prices to cater to the changing consumer demands at lower price ranges. You can find a number of good Bluetooth FM transmitters in the company's lineup, such as the 1.8-Inch Color Display FM Transmitter and the Basic In-Car Radio Transmitter.
Bluetooth FM Transmitter Pricing
- $5 and under: The budget range of FM transmitters is filled with basic options that do one job alone: transmit music to the radio. These tend to be user-friendly in design but can lack intuitive control interfaces (or an interface altogether).
- $5-$15: The midrange of FM transmitters is home to a mix of simple single-use options and multifunctionality designs. In some cases, the FM transmitters still lack additional features like USB ports but do offer higher-end displays and controls for easy use while driving.
- $15 and above: Higher-end FM transmitters package a lot of functionality into one design. Physical features like USB charging are plentiful in addition to built-in capabilities like noise-canceling filters and more.
Arguably, this is the very thing that makes an FM transmitter wireless. Bluetooth connectivity allows the device to connect to a smartphone without any cords. Be aware, however, there are a few FM transmitters that lack the Bluetooth addition, instead of relying on just a simple audio cable to connect the transmitter to the device.
If you want to charge devices on-the-go through a 12-volt outlet, built-in USB ports are a must. Large transmitters typically have one or two ports included in the body. Keep in mind that the type of USB ports included is important. Modern USB 3.0 and above ports are better for quick-charging the latest smart devices you may have.
Modern audio systems do more than just play music; they also display helpful information about the music. For example, you can find the title, writer, and/or singer of the song from the display alone. Some FM transmitters can show this info on a built-in LCD or LED display. Others can also pipe this information onto the stereo display if it has the capability of reading/conveying this information. This capability will depend on the device itself since some Android phones and iPhones vary in compatibility.
- Audio Distortion: Since music is transferred to FM frequencies, it is difficult sometimes to get a quality audio signal. Depending on the device and receiver, audio distortion can be common. Higher-end FM transmitters with noise-cancellation capabilities are a go-to solution to combat this issue.
- Frequency Selection: In order to find the right channel to transmit to, an FM transmitter needs the right frequency. Most basic models require you to surf through the frequencies manually to find one that isn't taken up by a local radio source. Higher-end transmitters can also scan for a frequency automatically.
Best Bluetooth FM Transmitters Reviews & Recommendations 2020
Coming with a large 1.44-inch display, the VicTsing FM Transmitter shines when it comes to its user interface. As a result, it's one of the best options for a Bluetooth FM transmitter if you want something that is easy to use and switch safely while driving along. The fact that it does more than just play music is a bonus.
In addition to the straightforward wireless Bluetooth connectivity to stream music to the vehicle's speakers, the transmitter also accepts other media formats, including micro SD and USB memory. The dual USB ports can transfer files and charge other devices plugged into the transmitter. With the large display and buttons, it's easy to switch between the transmitter's different functions and settings on the go.
Like many inexpensive consumer electronics, the build quality is a bit hit or miss with different devices. The design is pretty resistant to normal wear and tear in a vehicle's interior, but factory defects have been reported every now and then. Specifically, bubbles under the display seem to be the most common issue that comes from the factory.
The Zeeporte FM transmitter connects to your car’s 12-volt charger, and gets ready to pair with your phone via Bluetooth seconds after installation. It’s designed to support a wide range of frequencies to produce the best audio quality with minimal distortions. The gadget comes loaded with two USB ports; one is mainly for charging and the other is best used to play audio files—there are symbol markings that will guide you.
On top of that, the device has a built-in microphone for making hands-free calls, and a single integrated button that you can use to answer, dismiss, redial, or end calls. CVC technology ensures that the ambient noise is suppressed enough for you to make crystal clear calls. The unit is compatible with any Bluetooth-enabled device including iPads, iPhones, and Android smartphones.
Being the cheapest on our list, it’s no surprise that it has a few drawbacks. One is that, depending on your vehicle’s interior design or accessories on the dashboard, the round design might not fit comfortably. Also, the sound may get distorted when you hit bumps.
The LDesign FM Transmitter offers a basic feature set that is focused on high-quality sound more than anything else. As a result, the design of the transmitter is more basic and straightforward in its user interface: a small design and a couple of buttons are all you get.
Despite the simple design, the transmitter does a good job of delivering a stable transmission of sound. Built-in anti-interference features keep distortion down to a minimum. Connecting a mobile device to the transmitter is also straightforward. Finally, the transmitter supports hands-free calling.
While the sound quality is good, the volume is a slightly different story. The volume level is on the weaker side, even when the on-board volume and device's volume are on max. The display screen is also difficult to see when plugged into the 12-volt outlet.
In addition to being a good wireless FM transmitter, the Nulaxy Transmitter has a few extra features hidden away in its simple, compact design. The transmitter pairs well with most smart and mobile devices capable of Bluetooth connectivity. More than that, it's also compatible with many digital assistants like Siri and Alexa to play hands-free music automatically.
The overall build quality is on the high end for a transmitter at this price range. While plastic, the exterior has a rigid feel that doesn't have too much give when you are moving it around. The sound delivery is also good and lacks any noticeable distortion unless it's near a major source of interference.
The transmitter suffers inconvenience in a couple of ways. First, the adjustable neck is on the stiff side and requires some force to get it into a good position to see while driving. Second, the lack of set channels also makes it difficult to find an empty frequency if you travel between different cities or regions on a consistent basis.
IMDEN offers a Bluetooth FM transmitter that sports a variety of features including two USB ports. You can insert a USB flash drive in one port and allow yourself to be immersed in hi-fi music with minimal distortion. The second port is a fast charger and is compatible with Type-C devices.
Making hands-free calls with this device is made easier with the help of the built-in microphone with CVC noise suppression technology for crystal clear phone calls. With just one click of the large multi-function button on the side, you can answer, redial, dismiss, or end phone calls. What’s more, the unit is equipped with multiple safety features including over-voltage protection, intelligent temperature control, short circuit protection, and over current protection.
However, one flaw with this unit is that the volume is highly dependent on the volume of the connected device. This means that you have to turn your phone’s volume all the way up to get decent audio quality. Also, you might have to deal with a loud static at maximum volume.
This Bluetooth FM transmitter comes with two USB ports, one being a smart charger, and is compatible with a wide range of devices. What sets this smart device apart from the rest is its large 1.7-inch LCD backlight display with intuitive controls. The large display is enough to display the song name, your car’s battery level, or the incoming phone number. The best part is that the display unit is supported with a 270-degree gooseneck, which you can adjust for a more comfortable viewing angle.
As for the intuitive controls, it has a multifunction button for controlling the volume, two buttons on the left for adjusting the frequency, and two more buttons on the right for skipping to the next or previous track.
The main issue is that it may take a toll on your car’s battery. The display will indicate the battery voltage but it may not be 100 percent accurate. To be on the safe side, press the next song key for about five seconds to turn off the unit when it’s not in use.
The Roav FM Transmitter uses Bluetooth 4.2 technology to offer a stable connection for streaming music over FM frequency and making hands-free calls. It comes with two USB ports—you can play music from the second USB port or charge two devices at the same time.
A unique feature of this model is the Car Finder, which records your car’s location once the Bluetooth connection is lost. You need to download the Roav Charger app so that you can get a pin of your vehicle’s location. The Roav Charger app also monitors your car’s battery.
However, you should know beforehand that it may end your phone calls unexpectedly, or take over your phone call if you are within range. Also, the GPS may be inaccurate by about a few miles, and the audio can get static when playing music at high volumes.
The VicTsing V5 is an upgraded FM transmitter with a built-in Bluetooth 5.0 chip. Since it uses an advanced Bluetooth version, it provides a more stable connection and allows for faster pairing with compatible devices. It also supports voice-assist features, and can connect to Siri or Google Assistant to help you get directions, make calls, or send texts while driving. A built-in CVC microphone will help you make a crystal clear phone call.
Once plugged in, you will notice that the front panel lights up in a blue LED light, which will remain on constantly throughout the pairing. In addition to that, it has two USB ports: one for charging, and the other connects to a USB flash drive to help you play your MP3 files.
Unfortunately, the volume control buttons are small and located on the side, which can be hard to control while it’s plugged into the cigarette lighter. Also, this may not be the best option if you like listening to loud music for a long time since it can get static.
The FlexSMART incorporates a number of features in one compact device to give buyers almost everything they are looking for in an FM transmitter. It uses Bluetooth 2.1 technology, and can pair with two devices simultaneously so that you can take calls while streaming music from the other source.
It has a wide LED display and intuitive controls for increasing the volume, answering, or declining calls. Since it has an innovative gooseneck design, it will be easy to access the controls while you are driving no matter the layout of your dashboard. Lastly, the unit can connect to non-Bluetooth devices via the 3.5 aux port or the USB port provided.
The main issue with the FlexSMART is that it only has a single USB port when most FM transmitters come with at least two. Also, it takes fairly long to power on and pair with Bluetooth devices within its range.
- Setting up an FM transmitter should be an easy process. Simply plug in the device to power it in the car. From there, connect the smart device via Bluetooth.
- The most challenging step of the setup process is finding a clear FM frequency. If you have some presets selected in your car's stereo, choose one and then move around to adjacent frequencies. Sometimes, empty frequencies separate commonly used ones.
- Make sure you choose the same FM frequency between the radio and the FM transmitter. Both need to be in sync. The numbers should match between the two.
Q. How do FM transmitters work?
A. An FM transmitter acts like a basic radio transmitter, similar to high-powered versions radio stations use. It sends a signal to a specific frequency. On the other end, it connects wirelessly to a smart device so data is transferred without the need for a cord.
Q. What kinds of devices can connect to an FM transmitter?
A. Anything with an audio source and Bluetooth connectivity should work. Beyond smart devices, modern music players are typically compatible. Higher-end transmitters can also use expandable memory like SD cards so you can play music from the device itself.
Q. Will an FM transmitter drain the car's battery?
A. This depends on the car itself. If the vehicle has an auto shut-off feature whenever the car is off, the battery should be just fine. If it lacks this feature, you may find the battery to be drained if the FM transmitter and stereo are left on overnight or while you are out.
For an experience that is almost flawless in sound quality and usability, check out the VicTsing Bluetooth FM Transmitter.
Our budget pick, the ZEEPORTE Bluetooth FM Transmitter, isn't too shabby either when it comes to good sound.