FM transmitters are devices that you can plug into the headphone jack of your phone or music player or connect to them via Bluetooth. They pick up music from your portable device and transmit it via short-range FM signals. Hence, if you tune your radio to the same frequency, your music will start playing through the car’s stereo.
FM transmitters are great alternatives to head units, especially if you’re on a budget. They’re not just for playing music either; you can use them as hands-free Bluetooth devices for answering important phone calls while you’re driving.
This year, I’ve had a surprising number of friends ask me what the best FM transmitter is this year. This led to yet another round of thorough product testing, where I managed to get my hands on around 12 expert-recommended FM transmitters.
From these I managed to shortlist my picks to top five, each of which I’ve reviewed below.
Buying the Right FM Transmitter
Before we get to the reviews, I want to talk a bit about how you can go about picking the ideal FM transmitter for your car. While the price is a very important factor, you should also consider what features it offers and its technical specifications. The latter two will help you determine how compatible the FM transmitter is with your own setup.
The Version Of Bluetooth
Bluetooth functionality is a must-have in any modern FM transmitter. Having the ability to connect wirelessly means you don’t have to spend time plugging in the transmitter to your phone or Mp3player every time you want to listen to music. Instead, you could just have transmitter mounted on your dash or console at all times.
When you’re buying an FM transmitter, it’s preferable to get one with the latest version of Bluetooth which is 5.0. Compared to previous iterations, Bluetooth 5.0 has several new features:
Previously, only a few select wireless devices could communicate using Bluetooth’s low-energy standard, which, as the name implies, draws less power from the devices and thereby helps to conserve battery life. With 5.0, all wireless audio devices are compatible with Bluetooth Low Energy and that includes FM transmitters.
Dual Audio is a feature that allows you to play music on two devices at the same time. For instance, you could stream audio to both a wireless headphone and an FM transmitter at once via Bluetooth. The catch is that your phone should have Dual Audio enables. Currently, it’s a feature that’s unique to Samsung phones.
Bluetooth 4.2 supports data transfer at a maximum speed of 1Mbps, which was already quite decent for streaming music. However, Bluetooth 5.0 now allows double the max speed at 2Mbps which is great if you’re a music snob like me and only listens to audio files in FLAC and other data-heavy formats.
While the previous version of Bluetooth allowed a range of max range of 200 feet between connected devices, 5.0 bumps this up to 800. While this upgrade isn’t all that necessary for playing music inside the car, it’s certainly nice to have. For instance, you can keep the music playing for your kids through the FM transmitter while you step up out with your phone at a gas station.
The Number Of Channels
In order for an FM transmitter to be useful, it should have a number of empty frequencies to which you can dial your car stereo. If the transmitter uses shared frequencies, you’ll be hearing a lot of ‘crackling’ and ‘popping’ due to interference.
Auto Scan And Storing Presets
Some FM transmitters have auto-scan features that look for empty radio frequencies without you having to do anything. This can be a godsend when you’re driving and can’t fiddle around with the frequency dial on the stereo.
Auto-scan can be particularly useful when you drive a long distance to another city and find out that the channel you’re using is also shared by a local radio station. In that case, you can simply engage the function and it’ll search for new empty frequencies that you can use.
It’s also a hassle when you have to manually jump back and forth between different frequencies when you’re trying to avoid interference. A lot of FM transmitters nowadays give you the ability to have your favourite channels on recall. This way you don’t even have to keep engaging the auto-scan feature.
I’m not just talking about aesthetics here (although that can be important to some people) but also whether the FM transmitter is designed in such a way that it can be mounted without any issues inside your car. Not all cars are going to be accommodating of devices like these which means you have to particularly pay attention to the design of the FM transmitter.
For instance, let’s say you drive stick. Most likely, you’re going to be plugging the transmitter into a cigarette lighter. If the cigarette lighter is right next to your gear stick, then there’s a chance that you’ll hit the transmitter while shifting. In cases like this, a gooseneck design would be most appropriate where the largest part of the transmitter is aimed away from the gear stick.
In addition to the overall design, you may want to pay attention to the size of the display screen. Smaller screens will typically only display the frequency of the channel you’re tuned into while bigger ones may also show the strength of the signal, operating voltage and even caller ID.
Most FM transmitters will be plugged into 12V cigarette lighters in your car. However, if you’re already using the lighter to power another device, you may need to get a cigarette lighter adapter which you’ll give you an additional socket.
Best FM Transmitters For Cars
Now that you know what to consider when looking for an FM transmitter, let’s take a look at what I think are the best transmitters you can buy this year.
- [UPGRADED LANDSCAPE SCREEN]: KM29 with 1.8” TFT color display screen...
- [Multi-Functional]: Supports incoming call announcement, fast-forward...
- [Crystal Clear Music from 4 Sources]: Supports Aux/ Bluetooth/ USB/ TF...
- [Extra Features]: Plug-in or press any button to power on. Smart QC...
- [Safety Functions]: Safety first. The KM29 is equipped with a...
My experience with Nulaxy began a couple of years ago when I bought the KM-18, which was something of a flagship model for the brand. I ended up absolutely loving the unit, with its Bluetooth compatibility, advanced noise reduction technology, included voltmeter and overall solid build quality. When I got my hands on the newer KM-29, I was happy to see that it contained even more features and some significant improvements over its predecessor:
I.8 Inch Screen
The KM-29 features a TFT colour display that’s almost a half-inch more than what you get with the KM-18. While the latter did display useful information like the voltage readings and caller ID, having a larger screen does improve readability, especially when you’re driving.
The KM29 sports three USB ports:
- QC3.0 quick charge – as you can tell from the name, this port charges faster than the rest (about
- 20% quicker than the second port by my estimate), which is handy when you’re on the road.
- 5V/2.4 A – this is also a designated charging port but is slower than the first.
- 5V/1A – while you technically can charge using this port, I wouldn’t recommend it as it’s extremely slow when compared to the other two. This third port was actually made for reading files on a USB stick, i.e. loading up audio files.
In addition to USB ports, the KM-29 also comes with a microSD slot an AUX input jack. This means you’re not completely reliant on Bluetooth and have alternate ways to play your music.
As you may recall, gooseneck designs point the bulk of the device away from the gear stick. This allows you to connect the KM-29 to the cigarette lighter without any issue, even if it’s quite close to the gear.
A Ton Of Other Features
Other noteworthy features include:
- Advanced Noise Cancellation Technology
- Integrated Voltmeter that lets you keep an eye on your car’s battery status
- 5 EQ presets which is handy if you don’t have a separate equalizer
- Caller ID
- Fast Forward/Fast Rewind
- Larger screen
- Comes with a variety of useful features
- Gooseneck design that stays out of the way
- Uses Bluetooth 3.0 Technology
- Stable Transmission: Solid Bluetooth and FM connections stream music...
- Clear Sound: Just find an unoccupied station and the boosted FM signal...
- Rapid Charging: Dual USB ports with Anker’s advanced technology...
- Better Hands-Free Calling: Bluetooth 4.2 provides a stable connection...
- Incompatible with 2007 VW Jetta, 2011 Nissan Rogue, 2002 Nissan Altima...
The first thing you’ll notice about the SmartCharge F0 is just how compact it is. It’ll fit in any 12V cigarette lighter but the bulk is so small that it’s unlikely to get in your way. In fact, I can’t recall ever knocking against it by accident while driving.
Dual USB Port and High-Speed Charging
Unlike the Nulaxy KM29, you only get two USB ports with the SmartCharge F0, which is understandable considering its size. What I did like was the ports are present on the head itself, instead of having a separate dongle fixed to the side. This meant it took up less space and looked sleeker in my opinion.
Both ports were quite fast at charging my phone and I found that plugging in two phones at once, didn’t really affect how long charging took.
Bluetooth Version 4.2
While still not the latest version, it still provided more range and speed than what the Nulaxy KM-29 was capable of. I could step out of the car for and walk out a short distance while still having the music playing.
Being able to listen to my favourite tunes without any white noise creeping in was one of my favourite things about the SmartCharge F0. The transmitter actually boosts the FM signal so you have all the details in the music come through and the anti-static technology appears to take care of any interference.
Display and Controls
The SmartCharge F0 does not come with an LCD or TFT display. Instead, it has a matte black metal surface where the channel frequency is displayed in bright red characters. Below the reading you have three buttons: fast forward, call and fast backward.
While I could appreciate the minimalist design, I’d definitely have preferred to see more information listed on there like the title of the song playing.
- Compact and stays out of your way
- High-speed charging dual USB ports
- Sleek, minimalist design
- Anti-static technology
- Doesn’t really come with any advanced features
- No proper display screen
- 【2 PORTS USB CAR CHARGER and QC3. 0 CHARGER】Support Charge 2...
By now, you’re well aware of the benefits that Bluetooth 5.0 brings to the table. By far my favourite thing about it is the Low Energy standard. I could have music playing through my phone for hours without my battery being completely drained.
In addition to being compatible with all Bluetooth-enable devices, the VicTsing FM transmitter is actually compatible with power sources ranging from 12V to 24V. This means that regardless of whether you’ve got a sedan or a pickup truck, you’ll be able to plug this transmitter in without any issue.
2 USB Ports
The VicTsing FM transmitter sports two USB charging ports. One is Quick Charge 3.0 port which managed to charge my phone to 80% in just under 40 minutes. That’s pretty impressive in my opinion. The other port is 5V/1A port is better suited for reading music files than it is for charging.
One feature I absolutely loved about the VicTsing FM transmitter is that it supports Siri and Google Assistant. This means that I could have my hands completely free for driving while I simply utter voice commands to change the music or answer an incoming phone call.
Display and Controls
The VicTsing is very similar to the SmartCharge F0 in this aspect. Instead of an LCD display, you simply get the FM channel frequency displayed in blue LED numbers. The two USB ports are present on the surface instead of in a separate toggle, which helps conserve space. The three controls: fast forward, call and rewind are present on the side of the head.
- Bluetooth 5.0 compatibility
- Compatible with a wide range of vehicles
- Fast-charging USB port
- Siri/Google Assistant voice commands
- Compact design
- Lacks a proper display
- Large 1.8" color lcd screen: developed with brighter 1.8''color lcd...
- 3 ports usb car charger & qc3.0 charger: xupport two usb ports to...
- Four hi-fi music play modes: high sound quality and anti-static...
- High-quality hand-free calling: high-performance microphone with noise...
- Extra features: the fm transmitter supports incoming call...
I’ve always been a fan of large, detailed displays even if they do take up more space. The 1.8-inch color screen on the ZEEPORTE contains all the information you need including the incoming call number, the voltage level of your car battery, the FM frequency…etc. I found the LCD display to be quite easy on my eyes even at night and it’s fitted to a 360-degree rotatable metal hose, so I could have it turned towards my direction for easier viewing.
3 USB Ports
Like the Nulaxy KM-29, the ZEEPORTE FM Transmitter comes with 3 USB ports. One is a Quick Charging port that brought up my nearly dead phone to 80% in about 35 minutes. The other is a 5V/2A that charges slower than the QC port but the rate is still quite decent. The third one is the slowest of all three since it’s a dedicated USB file-reading port.
I particularly like gooseneck designs on the FM transmitter because they tend to stay out of my way while driving. Plus, being able to quickly rotate the screen on the go is a huge plus because it allows me to keep my eyes on the road.
Four Music Play Modes
The ZEEPORTE offers four different ways to play your music: Bluetooth, TF card, U Disk, and AUX input. This means that you don’t have to be entirely reliant on your phone when it comes to playing music.
- Incoming Call Announcement
- 5 EQ modes so that you can shape the tone to your liking
- Fast-forward and Fast-backward controls
- Channel Scan function so you don’t have to fiddle around with the frequency yourself
- Gooseneck design
- Large LCD display
- QC 3.0 charging port
- Other useful features like channel scan and 5 EQ modes
- Uses Bluetooth 3.0
- 2 PORTS USB CAR CHARGER & 3.0 CHARGER: Support charging two devices...
- ANSWER CALLS HANDS-FREE:High-performance microphone with Noise...
- IMMERSE IN HiFi MUSIC: Insert a USB flash driver which contains MP3...
- WIDE COMPATIBILITY: Bluetooth Car FM Transmitter can be paired as a...
- MULTI-SAFETY PROTECTION: Comes with built-in over-current protection,...
Sleek, Simple Design
If you’re alright with not having a large display, then you’d be able to appreciate the minimalistic look of this transmitter. Just like with the Anker Roav SmartCharge F0 and the VicTsing, the IMDEN Bluetooth FM transmitter features only a frequency reading on its surface. The rest of the space is taken up by the dual USB ports while three controls (fast-forward, call and fast-backwards) are present on the side of the ‘head’.
This FM transmitter is also quite compact, which is great if you haven’t got much wriggle room inside your car. You won’t accidentally knock it off the cigarette lighter while you’re moving your hands around.
2 USB Ports
With this FM Transmitter from IMDEN, you get one Quick Charge 3.0 port and one designated file-reading port. So if you don’t find yourself charging two devices at once, this should be enough.
Smart Car Locator
IMDEN’s proprietary Smart Car Locator essentially serves as a tracker for your car. If you can’t remember where you parked your car, simply open up the app and it’ll pinpoint you to its location. While you probably won’t use it on a daily basis, it’s still a nice feature to have.
The IMDEN FM transmitter comes with a few safety features including over-current and over-voltage protection which prevents an over-surge of electricity into it and any device that is plugged in, intelligent temperature control and even short circuit protection.
- Sleek, compact design
- USB QC 3.0 Port
- Smart Car Locator App
- Handy safety features
- Uses Bluetooth 3.0
Best Overall FM Transmitter
It took time to pick my overall favourite from this top five, mostly because they’re excellent in different ways. For instance, the Anker Roav SmartCharge F0 is a great option if you’re looking for a simple compact device. On the other hand, the ZEEPORTE is great for more feature-obsessed features.
Ultimately, I decided on the VicTsing Bluetooth FM Transmitter. Why? A couple of reasons:
First of all, it’s compatible with Bluetooth 5.0 which is less taxing on my phone’s battery while also giving me greater speed and range. In addition to this, the VicTsing was also compatible with Siri’s voice commands which made my life so much easier and my driving experience safer. I found myself changing music tracks and answering calls without ever taking my eyes off of the road.
FM Transmitters FAQs
How Do I Set Up An FM Transmitter?
Setting up an FM transmitter is quite easy. If you’ve got a Bluetooth compatible FM radio station, simply pair it with your phone or other audio devices. Depending on the make and model, you might also be able to plug the transmitter into the headphone jack on your phone or MP3 device. After that, tune into an empty frequency on your car’s radio. If your FM transmitter has got an auto-scan function, simply engage that and it’ll find an empty channel for you. Finally, play a song from your audio device and adjust the volume to your liking on the car’s radio.
Do FM Transmitters Work In Old Cars?
Yes. Since FM transmitters communicate with stereos via FM signals, they can work with cars both old and new. If your FM transmitter doesn’t seem to power up when plugged into the cigarette lighter of an old car, check whether the latter’s fuse is functioning properly.
How Can I Improve My FM Transmitter?
There are two simple things you can do to improve the quality of music playback through your FM transmitter. First of all, it’s important to tune into a frequency that’s completely free of interference. Secondly, reduce the length of your car’s antennae so that it doesn’t obstruct the transmitter’s signal.
Can I Leave My FM Transmitter Plugged In?
Most FM transmitters run on very little power so it wouldn’t hurt your car engine even if you left the transmitter on for a really long time. However, if you plug a device into one of the USB charging ports, it can cause way more power to be drawn from the battery.
Is There An FM Transmitter App?
FM transmitter apps like Radio Tuner and Radio FM can help you find empty channels easily. For the best FM transmitter apps check out this list here.
The products featured on this page were last updated on 2021-01-12 at 00:05 /. Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API.