Review: Griffin Technology iTrip Auto
At a Glance
Want to listen to the tunes on your iOS device using your car stereo, but don't have a USB port or mini-stereo jack? An easy way to get your tunes to your stereo (though with some compromise to sound quality) is with an FM broadcaster such as Griffin Technology’s iTrip Auto. While pricier than some of its ilk, the iTrip Auto is more versatile and more convenient to use than most. It uses the still-ubiquitous 12V socket for power and will also charge any iOS device attached to it. New to this version of the iTrip Auto is Aha internet radio integration, so you can also enjoy music streamed from this popular online service.
If you're not familiar with the technology, an FM broadcaster sends out a weak FM-radio signal that can be picked up by your car radio, but not much else. Yes, that means you’re enjoying your own, extremely local radio station that plays whatever music you feed to it--in this case, the music from any iOS device with the old-style connector. If you're using an iPad Mini, it won't work. Talk to Apple about that. Griffin Technology says it plans to develop a Lightning-connected iTrip Auto.
While many cheap FM broadcast units broadcast on only one or two rarely-used frequencies, the iTrip Auto can broadcast on any FM frequency, so it's far more likely to be usable in urban environments. The broadcaster sits between the adapter and the connector that fits in your Apple device; it has three button controls that allow you to scan for, or manually select, unused frequencies. The current frequency is displayed on a small LCD. There's also a free app from Griffin that lets you tune, save, and recall the best frequencies for different locales.
I tested the iTrip Auto here in San Francisco, with its myriad radio stations, using my own self-installed, aftermarket Pioneer radio. The Pioneer also has mini-stereo, USB, and Bluetooth inputs. As you might guess, music played when my iPod was connected via USB sounded the best, closely followed by the mini-stereo connection, then the iTrip Auto, then Bluetooth. Subjectively, the broadcast sound decent, but thinner than direct-connect, and it required some EQ'ing to compensate--standard for the technology.
There was also the occasional static, though this was highly dependent upon my location (under electric-bus wires was somewhat noisy), where I set the unit in my car, and the frequency I used. Results will also vary with your car antenna's location and receiver quality. All in all, it wasn't a bad experience. My foot was tapping to favorite tunes in no time, though I'd never use it in place of the USB port or mini-stereo connections when those are available.
I read a lot of bad reviews for this unit on the iTrip Auto's app page--all based on static, not charging, and trouble playing music. These problems are most likely due to user error. First off, you do not need the iTrip Auto app to play music, though it will. You may simply use iOS's own music app. Also, you may need to try several frequencies before finding one that's acceptable. Many radios no longer let you tune frequencies step by step, supplying only a search function. This means you need to set the iTrip Auto first, then tune the radio. This is where the unit's scan function is superconvenient. Lastly, charging can be slow while you're actually using the unit, depending on its draw, as with most car chargers.
The Griffin iTrip Auto is one of the better FM broadcasters on the market, and an easy way to listen to the music on your iOS device when there's no direct connection. Frequent travelers who rent a lot of cars will find it very useful. However, with a vehicle you own, you might be better off retrofitting audio inputs (surprisingly doable in many cases) or upgrading the stereo for best audio quality.