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Review: Griffin RocketFM

11/29/06 | by Adam | Categories: Technology, Music, Reviews

Link: http://www.griffintechnology.com/products/rocketfm/

Summary: USB powered low-range FM transmitter

As probably noticed in other posts, I'm not much of a fan of Calgary radio. This poses a bit of a problem as I like waking up to music and if my first reaction is that I'd like to strangle the DJ, well, it makes for a poor start to the day. I do however have a very fine collection of music in digital form that I like listening to. The obvious solution is to make my music collection what I wake up to.

This introduces a technical problem. The collection is quite large and wouldn't fit on an iPod so the various iPod-based alarm clocks won't work. There are various wireless receivers like the previously reviewed Creative Soundblaster Live but those all require a separate speaker system and I only have a bedside table to put it on. For similar reasons, a PC-based solution wasn't going to work, not to mention that waste of power it would involve.

I'm actually quite happy with my existing clock radio so something that would utilize it was preferable. FM-based solutions are not uncommon (unless you're in the UK -- and now they're legal there too) but every single one I looked at required either a car adaptor or a battery. Again, not a good solution for a permanent installation.

Fortunately Griffin came up with a solution with their RocketFM. It's a small cream-coloured oval-shaped plastic box with a built-in FM transmitter, powered and controlled via a USB cable. As far as the operating system is concerned, the RocketFM appears as a soundcard so audio applications have no problem connecting to it. My music server is always on and it's Linux based; it's a newer motherboard and Linux release so USB is properly supported. Plugging in the RocketFM is trivial and configuring it isn't much harder. Griffin supplies a little application for Windows or OSX that allows you to choose the appropriate broadcast frequency and that's all the configuration that's required. The setting is stored in NVRAM so the system can be powered off without resetting the unit. This is good as there's no Linux version of the controller so I had to program it on another computer and then move it back.

Choosing a frequency is a bit of a pain, but it's not the fault of the supplied software. As this is a very low power unit, the range is quite short and it isn't capable of winning the battle against terrestrial radio stations, even distant ones. Eventually I found some space on the spectrum which wasn't being bled into (99.7 by the way.) The container can be opened easily and the aerial straightened out. This increases the range a bit and definitely improved the quality at the receiving end.

I loaded up the default music player on the Linux box with the complete collection and let it rip. After some minor tweaks, AdamFM (as I call it) has now been going solidly for a couple of months. Anything broadcast over FM is never going to win any quality awards after you've heard the originals on CD, but when it's coming out of a single speaker alarm clock, it really doesn't matter.

A minor word of caution here: on my original installation, I didn't have a lot of memory on the Linux box and the audio player regularly cut out after about six hours; thus I'd (not) wake up to silence. In addition, the RocketFM has a ceiling as far as volume is concerned. If you let the software use its maximum, the top end of the audio will be truncated and sound terrible. A lower volume (about 70% in my case) works well.

I like this thing. It's great, it doesn't require batteries, it's pretty darn cheap, and it works properly. Future Shop currently has it at $50, but I've seen it for less around town. Recommended.


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