One of the biggest challenges when it comes to having an older car is the lack of audio connectivity. One popular solution is to use an FM radio transmitter that connects to your phone via Bluetooth – but are Bluetooth FM transmitters any good? In this article we take a closer look.
Lack of decent audio connectivity might sound like a bit of a ‘first world problem’, but anyone who has tried to connect up their phone or MP3 player to an old car that lacks lots of the features we now take for granted on modern cars (Bluetooth, AUX, Carplay etc) will know how much of a challenge this can be.
In recent articles we’ve looked at a number of different solutions for enhancing the audio connectivity on your older car. I suggest you start with our comprehensive guide to audio playback options on older cars … this goes into a great deal of depth on the pros and cons of different options and will help you determine what is right for your needs.
However, in today’s article I’m looking at a specific type of product – the Bluetooth FM transmitter.
In particular, I want to answer the question of whether Bluetooth FM transmitters are worth using.
You see this is one of those “chalk and cheese” categories of product.
People seem to either love FM transmitters, or hate them.
With that in mind, let’s dive in and look at whether or not Bluetooth FM transmitters are any good.
In conjunction with this article, you might also want to read our in-depth guide on the best Bluetooth FM transmitters. In this guide we go into detail on five of the most popular FM transmitter products, in order to see which is the best.
Table of Contents
Are Bluetooth FM Transmitters Good?
If you’ve got an older car and you want to try and enhance the audio playback/connectivity options, then a Bluetooth FM transmitter is a tempting option.
The premise is simple:
You connect your phone to the transmitter (via Bluetooth) and then the transmitter broadcasts the audio signal to your phone to an empty radio frequency in a very small radius, which you then tune into using your car’s FM radio.
How simple is that?
But are these transmitters any good?
In my opinion, yes they are – as long as you are aware of the limitations and potential issues you might face.
Things to watch out for:
- If you live in a busy area, you might struggle to find empty radio frequencies. This means you might wind up with interference or an inability to connect.
- If you frequently travel longer distances, you might wind up driving into an area where your previous frequency is used, requiring an adjustment to the transmitter.
- Bluetooth connectivity doesn’t always work well – especially on cheaper transmitters (to be fair this just seems to be a problem with Bluetooth in general)
- You aren’t going to get audiophile-approved sound quality. Basically, however good your FM radio normally sounds is the best you can expect from this approach.
The good news is that Bluetooth FM transmitters aren’t particularly expensive (even for ones with all the bells and whistles) so you don’t have much to lose.
When you consider that you are then able to add a significant amount of additional functionality to your car for a small price, it’s hard to say that FM transmitters are all bad news.
Look For Alternative Options First – They Might Be Superior
However, before choosing to use a Bluetooth FM transmitter, it’s worth seeing if there are any other options that might be relevant for your situation.
For example, if your car has a cassette (tape) player, then you are probably better off using a cassette adapter – check our guide here to the best cassette adapters for car stereos. With a cassette adapter you’ll enjoy better reliability and sound quality (at least if you pick a good unit).
It’s also worth checking if your car has an AUX input. Some cars from the mid 2000s onwards do have this, but occasionally hidden away in the glovebox or center console. If you’ve got the ability to use AUX, then you’ll be far better served choosing this option. If you want Bluetooth connectivity, then you can always buy a Bluetooth AUX adapter.
Finally, if you want the best audio possible on an older car, it’s worth considering upgrading your stereo as well. You can pick up decent aftermarket stereos for most cars for a reasonable cost these days (I paid about $350 to have a good one fitted to my Volkswagen Touareg, including a nice reverse camera). This allows for full Bluetooth functionality and was well worth the investment.
However, if none of these options is suitable, then a Bluetooth FM transmitter is your next best choice.
Conclusion – Are Bluetooth FM Transmitters Any Good?
To sum up, the humble Bluetooth FM transmitter should be at the bottom of your list in terms of audio playback options for your older car if you have an alternative, such as:
- A cassette deck to allow the use of a cassette adapter (remember to read our guide to the best cassette adapters for more information on what to pick)
- An AUX input
- The ability to swap out your stereo to something more modern
However, if you don’t have any of those options, then a Bluetooth FM transmitter will do what it needs to do. In this respect, Bluetooth FM transmitters are good. For a small amount of money you can enhance the audio connectivity of your car (including adding the ability to take and make calls). You don’t need to modify your car, and you can pick up a suitable device from the Internet or local stores easily.
As long as you go in to the process with an understanding that you probably won’t get “crystal clear” audio or flawless connectivity from your Bluetooth FM transmitter, then you should be fine.
In my experience, the people who really hate on FM transmitters either purchased a dud unit (i.e. they went for the cheapest thing going – make sure you read our guide to the best Bluetooth FM transmitters to find out what is the right option for your needs) or they had unrealistic expectations about what they were getting, partly due to aggressive advertising on the part of some manufacturers.
To recap, are Bluetooth FM transmitters worthwhile?
If you accept that a Bluetooth FM transmitter is effectively a “compromise choice”, then chances are you’ll be happy. After all, you will be gaining the ability to play back audio from your phone or other Bluetooth-enabled device, and do so for a low price. As long as you don’t expect the world’s best audio quality, or totally faultless connection, then an FM transmitter is a worthy buy if you don’t have any other way of connecting up your older car for audio playback.
If you are considering buying one, then make sure you check out our guide to the best FM transmitters here. We also have a number of other in-depth product guides, including the best paint thickness gauges for inspecting/testing car paint, and the best car inspection cameras for making it easier to inspect hard-to-reach and see places on your car.
Feel free to leave a comment or question below as well – it would be great to hear from you!