Review: Griffin RocketFM
Griffin’s iTrip is undoubtedly one of the most popular FM transmitters for the iPod, and apparently that wasn’t enough. The RocketFM is their newest product designed for broadcasting (within 30 feet, that is). Priced at $39.99 and featuring white & clear plastic, chrome, and a blue LED, the RocketFM fits in with most of the other products by Griffin. It also resembles the generic idea of a rocket ship from the 1950s.
RocketFM (without stand)
The RocketFM allow you to send sound out of your Mac or PC (by way of a USB connection) to any FM frequency between 88.1 and 107.9 MHz. Although similar products have already existed, few bypass the computer’s audio output (usually a headphone jack). The RocketFM acts as its own sound interface, much like Griffin’s iMic.
The RocketFM is painless to set up. If you just plug it into a free USB port, it appears as an output choice on the Sound preference pane on OS X. By selecting it, your audio is automatically sent out on 88.1 FM. If you want more options, you can use the accompanying CD, which installs a small preference pane for picking the frequency and if you want the signal to be monaural or stereo.
Since no special drivers are required to make the RocketFM work, it can be used with just about any audio application that respects OS X’s audio settings. This includes GarageBand, iTunes, QuickTime, VLC, Sound Studio, and iMovie, just to name a few.
The RocketFM’s base is removable so you can use it with a laptop in a car. We tested it with an iBook and a basic Pioneer stereo in a Ford Taurus, and it worked quite well (despite the iTrip having trouble in our crowded Chicago radio market). Testing it around the house also proved to be successful, with the RocketFM working up to two rooms away, but fading soon after that. It even had the strength to overpower other radio stations enough to only have a little static if you were close by.
Although the RocketFM is fairly useful for “instant computer speakers” or a “poor-man’s AirPort Express”, there are some downsides. First, the frequency range is much smaller than some transmitters. We really would have liked to see the use of frequencies as low as 87.7 (since most radios can tune it, even though it’s not in the “official” FM spectrum), but FCC regulations do not allow FM transmitters to work that low (although many ignore the law). One way around this is to install the Japanese version of the software, which tunes to lower frequencies. Second, it has a blue LED, which might look cool, but it stays lit if your computer goes to sleep. We really wish there was an option to turn it on or off completely (like the radioSHARK or PowerMate). Bonus points if they can make the LED pulsate in a later revision.
Our RocketFM shipped with version 1.0.4 of the software. Since then, Griffin has updated it to 1.0.5, which has added reading what version of the hardware you have and has Japanese tuning support built-in (if you pick it in the installer). Other than those two features, it looks and works identically to the 1.0.4 version.
Finally, if you’re living in Europe, the RocketFM probably won’t be appearing on store shelves, since FM transmitters are illegal to use in some areas (most notably Great Britain, Switzerland, and Italy).
Overall, the RocketFM is a good combination of form and function. It’s simple, but works well, and doesn’t cost too much. We liked the idea of taking an iPod accessory and migrating it to the computer, especially when something as unique as this comes along.
The One-Sentence Verdict™
The RocketFM is a good adaptation of the iTrip for computer use.
Pros: Good looks, strong signal, easy-to-use software, removable base
Cons: LED always on, signal wouldn’t cover entire house, might still be trouble in largest radio markets