When I bought my new iPod a few weeks ago, I decided to get a Griffin iTrip FM transmitter to go along with it. My car still has the stock CD player in it, and there’s no option for any sort of external audio input. If I want to listen to my music in the car, then I have three choices: 1. Burn lots of CDs. 2. Replace the stock stereo with a model that has a line-in for the iPod. 3. Get a FM transmitter for the iPod.

I’ve tried approach #1 before; it hasn’t worked very well for me. I’m too cheap for approach #2 right now–I’d start with just a cheap receiver, but I’d end up getting new speakers, an amp, and a ton of other stuff that I don’t really need, and it’d take me weeks to get it all installed right because I’d freak out over the bill and decide to save money by installing it myself. Besides–I like my stock stereo. The sound quality isn’t that great, but the user interface is nearly perfect–it dedicates a big button to each function, and doesn’t try to do too much. Most of the replacement models on the market look like they were designed to win a feature-list battle, so they’re covered in dinky little buttons that lead to menus that lead to more dinky little buttons. I’ve reached the point in my life where I’d rather have simple tools for most of the things I do. That way, I can concentrate my efforts on managing the inate complexity of the things that I really care about, without wasting my time fighting with overly complex distractions.

So, that leaves me with an FM transmitter for my iPod. The iTrip is kind of cool–it has no user interface at all. You just plug it in and it starts broadcasting. To change the broadcast frequency, it iTrip comes with a CD full of little MP3s with names like ‘87.9’, ‘88.1’, ‘88.3’, and so forth. You just pick the frequency that you want, hit ‘play’, and the iTrip will switch frequencies. Once it’s been set, you can just leave it alone.

I’m generally happy with my iTrip, but I have three concerns.

First, there aren’t a lot of vacant FM frequencies in most big cities. Seattle isn’t huge, but I could only find 4 or 5 completely unused frequencies on my dial. In LA, NYC, or Chicago, I’d be surprised to find any usable channels, and that’d make the iTrip largely useless.

Second, because there aren’t a lot of vacant channels, it’s not uncommon to run into other commuters with FM transmitters on the same channel. On today’s drive to work, I passed at least two other cars with FM transmitters set to the same frequency as my iTrip. They were both going the opposite direction, so their interference didn’t last more then a couple seconds. Two weeks ago I spent 10 minutes stuck in traffic behind some guy listening to a sermon or something; the next day I was stuck at a light with a Snoop Dog fan. It’s not a fatal problem, but it can get annoying.

Finally, the audio quality of the iTrip isn’t all that great. It doesn’t bother me that much because my car stereo is pretty weak, but if you’re an audio purist with a decent set of speakers in a quiet car, you probably won’t be happy with the iTrip. Cheap speakers in a loud car make the audio quality less of an issue.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the iTrip, but I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. It works well enough for me, although people in bigger cities or people with more discerning ears will probably want to find a better way to connect your iPod to your car. I’ll probably end up replacing my car stereo sometime in the next year or two, if I can find a car stereo receiver that has a decent UI and doesn’t look like it was designed by hyperactive 13-year-olds. For now, though, the iTrip works well enough.