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 Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.Read more.
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.
- Best OverallVicTsing Bluetooth FM TransmitterSummarySummaryThe best Bluetooth FM transmitter to choose if you want an easy-to-use device with the capability to do more.ProsProsComes with a large 1.44-inch display, equally large buttons, and USB/micro SD ports and slots for other media. Can charge other devices as well.ConsConsFactory defects are somewhat common, including reports of bubbles under the display that can't be rubbed out or removed.
- Best ValueLDesign FM TransmitterSummarySummaryA barebones wireless Bluetooth FM radio adapter focused on delivering high-quality audio over anything else.ProsProsGood sound quality for the price. Bluetooth connectivity is easy to set up with most mobile devices.ConsConsThe display is difficult to see when plugged into the 12-volt outlet. Volume is on the weak side.
- Honorable MentionNulaxy Bluetooth Car FM TransmitterSummarySummaryA good option for an all-around Bluetooth FM transmitter that offers a few extra features than most models.ProsProsGood build quality with a plastic exterior. Sound quality is good. Voice activation features work with some personal assistants like Siri and Alexa for hands-free calls and operation.ConsConsThe adjustable neck between the display and the plug is stiff and difficult to position. Doesn't come with any set channels for empty frequencies.
Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, and practical experience with each product we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
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 2019
Best Overall: VicTsing Bluetooth FM Transmitter
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.
Best Value: LDesign FM Transmitter
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.
Honorable Mention: Nulaxy Bluetooth Car FM Transmitter
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.
- 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 LDesign FM Transmitter, isn't too shabby either when it comes to good sound.