Review: Griffin iTrip
Originally released a few years ago for the older iPods, the Griffin iTrip was a revolutionary product. Combining the iPod’s good looks with a relatively easy-to-use interface on an FM transmitter, it was an instant hit. We had the opportunity to try out the newer version of the iTrip, intended to be used with the newest iPods (4th Generation), as well as the models they replaced (3rd Generation), but can also be used with the iPod Mini.
For those not familiar with the iTrip, it is an FM transmitter, allowing audio from the iPod to be broadcast to a radio (essentially creating a miniature radio station with an FCC-limited 30 feet range). At about the same size as a pack of gum, but thicker, the iTrip is small, and is installed by merely snapping it on the top of the iPod. Rather than using its own batteries, it taps into the iPod’s battery using the connector for the remote control and the headphone jack. The iTrip turns itself on when audio is playing, and turns itself off after 60 seconds of silence.
iTrip + iPod
iTrip (Top View)
iTrip + Marantz 2015
Change the Frequency
For many people, the pre-programmed frequency (87.9 FM) will be more than ideal. For those whose radio markets are more cluttered (like mine, near the Chicago area), another frequency will have to be used. Included with the iTrip is a CD, with a series of MP3 files for the iPod, and a station finder. The station finder will allow you to find a free frequency in your market, ending the search for static. During the setup process, the MP3 files must be loaded onto the iPod as a playlist. Each file has a corresponding name with an FM frequency (95.3, 97.9, etc.). What makes the iTrip cool is that the iPod controls it. By playing the MP3 files through the iPod, the iTrip will change the frequency to whatever is played. This works by sending a series of beeps and tones to the iTrip in the MP3 file (they sound similar to dialup internet), and the iTrip interprets them as what frequency to broadcast on. It is important to follow the directions, as playing the files completely, or with the select button will result in not setting the frequency properly.
Griffin provides a wonderful setup reference both online and with the iTrip.
Quiet Numbskulls, I’m Broadcasting!
Once a frequency is selected, a radio must be tuned to the appropriate frequency. My initial test was with the radios around the house. I found the frequency 93.5, which was not used in Chicago, nor the nearby South Bend market. The audio quality with the iTrip was pretty good. Although not as good as a direct line-level connection, the iTrip was still acceptable for casual use. I tried it with a Sony boom-box, a Sony clock-radio, an Aiwa mini-system, and an old Marantz receiver.
After proving the the iTrip works well, I tried it in the car. Unfortunately, and contrary to the iTrip Station Finder software, there aren’t nearly as many free frequencies in my area as I’d hoped (other markets and strong stations cause “free” stations to have audio), but I eventually managed to find a free station and used the iTrip with my iPod on an older model Ford Taurus with a Pioneer radio.
For a real test, I took the iTrip and iPod with me to Milwaukee on a trip (Cubs vs. Brewers game). Before I left, I referenced the frequencies listed as free on the station finder for Chicago and Milwaukee. I found it nearly impossible for the iTrip to work in or near Chicago. Others have had this same problem in cities like New York and L.A., because the iTrip cannot compete with million watt radio stations.
Once I got to the Wisconsin state line, the iTrip worked well. Since the Honda Accord I was in has one of those “in-glass” antennas in the back window, the iPod/iTrip worked best in the back seat. The audio quality was pretty good, and although the range was not as good as a tape adapter, the annoying hiss was not present.
On the way home, after a stop at Target to get an iTunes gift card (so I could have more to listen to on my iPod), I used the iTrip a little more, but also wanted to listen to the radio. Once out of the Chicago radio market somewhat the iTrip was usable again.
Roadtrippin’ to Indy
We tried the iTrip along the US 31 route from South Bend, IN to Indianapolis. We were able to have it work a few times, but finding a station was still a bit tough. It worked fine with our stationary radios in the office.
So, is the iTrip right for you? It depends. If your radio market is more on the empty side, or you like to drive in the desert or mountains, the iTrip is an excellent iPod accessory. If you want to use it with a stereo or a clock radio, the iTrip is also a useful tool if you don’t want to or can’t mess with cables.
Overall, the iTrip worked well when there were free frequencies, and didn’t put a huge dent in the iPod’s battery life. Compared to other transmitters, it is more convenient, and better integrated with the iPod.
The One-Sentence Verdict™
The iTrip is a good iPod accessory, but make sure it will work exactly for you before you get it.
Pros: Well-integrated with the iPod and a slick design
Cons: Nearly impossible to use in a larger radio market, annoying that you have to switch stations often