VRFM9 FM Modulator Full Review
You're going on a road trip. This isn't a question - it's summer and I know you're gearing up to take the family on that Griswold vacation that will leave you craving anything but fast food and screaming children. Well, I've taken four 9-hour car trips in the last 30 days and I'm here to tell you that you want - no, you NEED to get yourself an FM modulator for your vehicle. Off the top of my head I can think of several uses for these products, many of which will revolutionize the way you view taking your music on the road. A good FM modulators can:
- Allow you to take your loaded MP3 player (regardless of whether it starts with an "i" or not) on the road with you and listen to your favorite songs without having to burn them to 6000 CDs.
- Fill the "missing CD player" gap when you get into a moving truck only to realize that their idea of a "state of the art" stereo system is FM radio and cassette deck.
- Serve as the perfect way to get a new and different batch of favorite songs into your car each day or week by using a simple USB pen drive.
- Reduce dependency on foreign oil and cut global warming - ok, we made that last part up - but you never know.
Roadmaster's VRFM9 feels lightweight but durable. It's always disconcerting to me when I jam something into a cigarette lighter, but the VRFM9 never seemed to feel like it was going to fall apart on me whenever I pulled it out. The six-position ratcheting neck allows you to use the modulator in almost any 12V system, unless you happen to have one with zero clearance (in which case you should trade in your car immediately - go ahead, we'll wait.) The top of the unit features a two-line backlit LCD display with several fixed icons and a scrolling display for track titles. Reverse, Skip, and a Play/Pause button are located just in front of the display. Behind the LCD, and aligned on the neck are the volume/FM station buttons. The right side of the unit is where you can insert a stereo mini cable for auxiliary analogue input of an external player or source component. Underneath the face of the unit are the USB and SD connectors which can be used to connect any compatible device for music playback. The USB connection will also server as a charger if your portable device charges itself via USB.
An extra fuse is included in the packaging and fits easily inside the main trunk of the VRFM9 which screws off easily to allow access. The FM modulator handled easily my "start the car, stop the car" torture tests. Despite the 12V power always remains on in my car, there is a potential for spiking when the car turns over. Despite this, the VRFM never faltered and I am still on the original fuse.
The VRFM9 FM Modulator: Input Sources, Anyone?
The VRFM9 is a Swiss Army knife of input possibilities. Got an MP3 player with USB? Check. How about a simple line out from a portable CD player? Check. SD card filled with some of your favorite tunes? It’s got you covered. About the only thing missing from the VRFM9 is a cerebral transference device that sucks the song directly from your brain… Roadmaster supposedly has a beta out with that feature, but the FCC has it all tied up in paperwork.
The USB input was tested with both USB 1.1 and 2.0 pen drives, both of which worked flawlessly. The SD card also functioned correctly with 256MB worth of MP3 files encoded at rates ranging from 128kbps to 320kbps. The display shows song titles (file name) by scrolling them across the screen. The 15 preset FM stations are also visible as soon as you hit the tuning dial to alter the FM modulation frequency.
The controls on the FM modulator are sparse, but multi-functional. They get the job done but you may have to experiment or – gasp – read the manual. Case in point: The two track skip and back buttons will also adjust the output volume of the VRFM9 if held down for more than a second. The Play/Pause button will enable or disengage the Random/Shuffle mode. The backlit LCD screen also holds a wealth of information, but you will probably have to rely on your copilot to read it while driving. The following info is displayed on the two-line LCD screen:
Elapsed track time
File name (scrolling)
Shuffle mode (or normal play)
Source (SD, USB or line input)
There are also a couple cute icons like a satellite dish which tells you that the unit is broadcasting. Overall the bases are well covered and the controls are direct, and easy to use.
Practical Use and Observations
In using the VRFM9 on so many trips I became intimately familiar with its workings. I never found any quirks or bugs since the system truly worked as advertised and never missed a beat. The one thing I did notice, however, was that the FM modulator clipped quite a bit of the upper frequencies (4kHz+). It was almost as if there was a shelf EQ that didn’t allow the top end of the audio track to get through. I tested the system on several different frequencies, in different vehicles, and in different locations (states, in fact) as well as with multiple sources. In every instance, a CD, XM radio and regular FM radio seemed to provide better fidelity and dynamics. This is something that is partly a limitation of FM modulation and FCC bandwidth guidelines, but in either case it would be good to look into and improve, if possible, in upcoming models.
As you are driving you will no doubt (if you are on an extended trip) come across a point at which you’ll need to change the FM station due to interference. What I liked about the VRFM9 was that I could easily, by feel, hit the station advance button and click up the radio station – all without taking my eyes off the road. The layout of the buttons is intuitive and diverse enough (not to mention few enough) that you don’t get lost in a sea of identical shapes.
For $70 this is one expensive FM modulator, but one that has more features than many entry level MP3 players. For the money, you are getting a multi-tool that can handle just about anything you give it and send the results to your car stereo. Perhaps a future iteration will even allow users to connect their car phone – who knows. For those who are always on the go – this is a great product. We’ll hope that Roadmaster comes up with a fix soon for the lack of top end, but for now we can still recommend this if fidelity isn’t your ultimate goal.
The Score Card
The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:
Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating
Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.
Audioholics Rating Scale
- — Excellent
- — Very Good
- — Good
- — Fair
- — Poor
|Analogue Audio Performance|
|Ergonomics & Usability|
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