Like the rest of the universe, we’re pretty much sold on iPods to handle all of our music needs, but there’s an exception to every rule. The exception in this case is for those of us that carry around a USB flash drive on our keychain to meet other needs. Strolling down the Costco aisle the other day, I ran across a slick little device for about $25 that turns any iPod or even a garden-variety USB flash drive into an MP3 music source for your vehicle. Checker Auto has it for $10 more. And Wal-Mart carries them as well. It’s called a VFM7 FM Modulator from a company called Roadmaster. In addition to functioning as your own private FM radio station, it also can play MP3 files (only) from almost any USB flash drive. And it includes a 3.5mm line input jack for attaching virtually any music device including any iPod. Wouldn’t you think the automobile manufacturers could spring for a line input jack on automobiles that now cost as much as a house? Kinda reminds me of the oil companies. They had no problem washing your windshield and checking your oil when gas was 40¢ a gallon. Now that a gallon of gasoline costs over five times that much, you get to do it yourself. Go figure. Just play your music louder. It’ll help you forget!
The VFM7 can broadcast on any of seven FM frequencies which provides the necessary flexibility to avoid interference in all but the largest metropolitan areas. Having tried many FM modulators over the years, I can tell you that this one ranks right up there with the best. The trick to most FM modulators is to plug them in, leave the music off, and try each frequency matching your FM radio to your choice on the modulator until you find one that is quiet, i.e. no noise, no faint radio signal, and no hiss. The round button (see inset) changes frequencies, and the other three buttons are for skip to previous song, play/pause, and skip to next song. Once you’ve found the correct frequency for your area, plug in your audio device or USB flash drive and press play. There are tons of FM modulators you might be saying. And right you are. But most of them aren’t the size of a slightly enlarged car cigarette lighter, and none of them have a USB MP3 player and line in jacks built in to the unit. Usually you’ve got a bunch of dangling cords to contend with in addition to the modulator. And most of the non-battery modulators lack the flexibility to support both USB flash drives and line in using the same unit. If you’re a boating enthusiast, you’ll also find using a $25 flash drive with a $25 FM modulator makes a lot more sense than risking an unintended swim for your mega-hundred dollar iPod.
And speaking of USB flash drives, here’s a great little secret if you don’t already have your fill of flash drives. What we’ve started doing is building different music collections on different flash drives for travelling. Then all you have to do is swap out flash drives when you want to switch from country music to punk rock. The SanDisk Cruzer Micro series of drives has the added flexibility of being able to plug in to the Cruzer Micro Companion MP3 player to provide a portable MP3 player using a single AAA battery and a set of headphones. You get about 7-9 hours of play time out of an alkaline battery. The 256MB flash drive costs about $25 and the 512MB drive is about $40. Larger drives are available as well. The MP3 player device is about $45. Or you can purchase a combination 512MB flash drive with the player. Buy.com was the cheapest source earlier this week, but you might want to run the items through PriceGrabber and check the latest pricing. As a rule of thumb, a 256MB flash drive holds about four hours of music, and we’ve found that bigger isn’t always better. Each time you power off the VFM7, you go back to the first song on your flash drive so smaller, multiple drives tend to make more sense. Another approach on the Windows platform is to use Renamer to shuffle your songs from time to time. Enjoy!
Tiger Vittles. In celebration of Apple’s release today of Mac OS X Tiger, Tiger Vittles presents a round-up of what works and what won’t with Tiger and unveils a new database app to let everyone report on their favorite programs: Tiger-Ready Applications: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.