Just about all handhelds and most smartphones make great audio players. With high-capacity SD and Compact Flash cards as cheap as they are, it’s easy to carry many hours of music around with you everywhere you go.
Listening to your favorite album or podcast on a set headphones is fine most of the time, but it’s not a good idea when you’re driving. Also, other people in the car might want to listen, too.
In the old days, people solved this problem with adapters that plugged into a tape player, but most car stereos these days use CDs instead. That’s where Roadmaster’s VRFM8 FM Modulator comes in.
This wireless adapter plugs into the built-in cigarette lighter and broadcasts a signal to your car’s radio. This lets you play whatever you want over the car’s speakers. It’s like having a tiny, short-range radio station in your pocket.
The VRFM8 lets you choose between two sources for the audio files you want to play. One option is to store them on your mobile device and connect to the adapter through a cord. The other option is to use a USB keydrive.
Using a Mobile Device as the Source
As I always have a handheld or smartphone of one kind or another with me, I prefer to store my audio files there and then connect this device to the VRFM8 . This gives me maximum flexibility, as I can listen to them wherever I am.
Also, as this setup makes use of the audio player on the mobile device, anything I can play on my Palm, Pocket PC, etc. can be broadcast over the car’s speakers, no matter what format it’s in.
Another reason I prefer this option is the controls on a typical audio player are more robust than ones on the VRFM8. I can, for example, skip around in a long podcast or queue up a select group of songs.
If you’re going to use a smartphone, odds are you’ll need a converter to let the 3.5 mm plug on the VRFM8 go into the 2.5 mm slot on your device.
Using a USB Drive as the Source
The VRFM8 has a built-in audio player capable of handling MP3s and WMAs stored on a USB drive.
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As I mentioned earlier, the controls are rather rudimentary. You have a play/pause button, plus ones to let you skip forward and backward a track. You can also adjust the volume, though you can also do this with your car’s radio.
I came up with a sort of hybrid solution for using this audio player. As I said, I prefer to keep my audio files on an SD card, but — thanks to a handy SD/USB adapter I brought — I can take the card out of my handheld or smartphone, put it in the adapter, and plug that into the VRFM8. This means that on long trips I don’t have to worry about draining the battery on my handheld or smartphone.
How Well Does It Work?
FM Modulators like this one have been on the market for years and I’ve heard a few horror stories. The one a friend of mine bought for his iPod a while back, for example, suffered from horrible interference from local radio stations.
Obviously the technology has improved, as I’m pleased with the sound quality on the VRFM8. The only problem I’ve seen is that it takes a couple seconds for songs played from the USB drive to fade in. Naturally, this doesn’t effect music coming from an external mobile device.
You should keep in mind, though, that I’m not any kind of audiophile. I mostly use this FM modulator to listen to podcasts, where top-quality sound is of little importance. I suspect that if you demand perfect audio reproduction when listening to music then this gizmo might not be for you.
Whatever you listen to, you don’t need to worry about interference from a local radio station because this adapter gives you fifteen different frequencies to choose from. I live in a fairly crowded radio market and I had no problems with the very first frequency I tried. There’s a small display on the VRFM8 to show you what channel you’re tuned to.
Pricing and Availability
The VRFM8 sells for $34.99, and is just one of a series offered by Roadmaster. The least expensive of these is only $19.99, and it’s for those who aren’t interested in playing music from a USB keydrive.
The top of the line model, the VRFM9, adds additional features, like an SD card slot and a screen to display song titles. It sells for $59.99.
Any of the VRFM series can be ordered from Roadmaster’s web site.