Developer: Digital Lifestyle Outfitters
Requirements: FM radio and any iPod with dock connector.
The TuneStik is DLO’s latest FM transmitter for the iPod. Unlike the TransDock and TransPod series of FM transmitters from DLO, the TuneStik is not also an iPod charger, and the TuneStik features a RF remote control. Being a happy owner of two TransPods, I was eager to give the TuneStik a tour of duty as the primary means of iPod broadcast in my vehicles.
The TuneStik is well deserving of its name; it’s tiny, conforming to the dimensions of the iPod. When plugged in, especially on an iPod of similar color—and the TuneStik is available in any color you can think of, so long as that color is black—one might be hard-pressed at first glance to notice that it is not part of the iPod itself. My father-in-law, whom I had picked up from the airport when he came for a visit, was fooled for a moment when he first examined the unit in operation in my Honda Pilot.
The TuneStik installed on my 60 GB iPod.
Since the TuneStik is not large enough to enable charging of the iPod through a vehicle’s power plug, as the TransDock and TransPod transmitters do, DLO included a dock connector pass-through, so you can plug in any dock-connector power cord to the TuneStik, and your iPod will receive power. This worked when I used it with a cord, though in a vehicular setup, it’s a bulky setup. I would warn you to not plug in your TuneStik-attached iPod to the standard iPod Dock. While the TuneStik makes the connection just fine, the overall height of the iPod with the TuneStik attached makes the unit unwieldy, putting too much rearward pressure on the Dock’s connector.
The RF remote is equally tiny, and color-coordinated with the TuneStik. It features buttons for play/pause, forward, back, volume up and down, as well as a button to turn on the iPod’s backlight. The final button is the Frequency button, used to tune the TuneStik to the FM frequency of your choice while plugged in to the iPod.
Left to right, the TuneStik’s cradle, remote, and TuneStik module.
The remote also features a cradle you can attach to your steering wheel through means of a Velcro strap. This makes it easy to control the iPod through the TuneStik while driving, and indeed, this was one area where the TuneStik setup worked as advertised. The remote cradle can be problematic, however, depending upon your personal driving habits and the layout of your vehicle’s steering wheel. For myself, the best place for cradle placement, from a usability standpoint, also happened to be the one spot on the steering wheel my left hand rests the most. I liked the ability to control the iPod with the remote without having to look away from the road, but I did not like having to revise my own driving habits to do so. You may feel differently.
When DLO released their first TransPod a little over two years ago, I was fairly smitten. One thing I appreciated with the original TransPod was that I could dial it down to the lowest FM frequency possible, 87.9. In the radio station-heavy metropolis of Dallas/Fort Worth, this was a boon. As a matter of fact, having travelled through a good portion of the southern United States, as well as northern Mexico, in the past two year and a half years, I cannot recall having a single interference issue with the TransPod set at 87.9.
Alas, the next generation TransPod we purchased for my wife’s minivan did not dial as low, going down only to 88.1, and we have intermittent interference issues with it. After much trial and error, we seem to have found a decent frequency for it, but we still get the occasional burst of static or random overpowering from some other transmitter.
The TuneStik suffers a similar fate, only more so. I had a devil of a time finding a suitable FM frequency for it to remain on while riding around town, much less while driving long distances. It has been very easy for the little TuneStik to be overpowered, and I wonder if its small size, and therefore lack of shielding, has something to do with it. I have been unable to remain static-free on multiple frequencies while running errands within a 12-mile radius. The TuneStik is nearly useless in a rain storm with any significant electricity in the air. We’ve seen more than normal rain this June and July in north Texas, and during one particular storm, which wasn’t that heavy, rain-wise, the TuneStik struggled, with static constantly mingling in during playback.
Setting the TuneStik’s FM frequency.
The TuneStik is supposed to have an effective range of 27 feet, so one would think it would not have any problems resting in the center console, a mere three to four feet from the vehicle’s radio. Even at that short range, the TuneStik, on a clear and sunny day, would have problems with intermittent static while driving around. To make matters worse, the TuneStik is very susceptible to interference from the one source you’d want it to be shielded: the human body. Any time I attempted to handle the iPod with the TuneStik attached, static increased over the speakers.
The TuneStik is advertised as a means of playing your iPod through your home stereo as well. It works just as it does in an automobile; tune your home stereo to the same frequency as the TuneStik, and play tunes from your iPod. I have an Aiwa shelf stereo in the study that my iMac is hooked up to; this is my primary means of playback from the iMac. Being in a completely stationary setting didn’t bode much better for the TuneStik. It took several minutes to get a clean signal to the Aiwa, even though the iPod/TuneStik was a mere 12 inches from the stereo’s antenna! Again, even in this stable environment, the TuneStik was susceptible to interference whenever I picked up the iPod to move it around.
Given the constant unpredictability of outside interference causing the TuneStik to stumble, I cannot recommend this unit for iPod playback through FM radio frequencies. This is disappointing, given my favorable past experiences with DLO products. I hope they can fix these interference issues in the next hardware iteration.