For What It’s Worth — Belkin TuneCast II Mod Works

Earlier this year I threw in my two cents regarding the iPirate meme circling the blogosphere, with people modifying the iTrip mini FM transmitter for the iPod in order to eke out a few more feet of broadcast power. And just last week I mentioned in passing that some other mini transmitters, like the Belkin TuneCast II, can also be modded for better output.

So, I got myself a TCII for about half the $60 retail price to play around with and use to broadcast ‘net audio around the house. I chose the TCII because it seemed easily modified, and because it apparently has PLL tuning to any frequency in the FM band, making it flexible and unlikely to drift off-frequency.

Out of the box the results are pretty crappy. It’s designed for use in a car, and it’s fine for the distance between the dash and the radio, but pretty staticky between two rooms 15′ apart.

So I cracked it open and added about a yard of wire to the antenna connection on the circuit board, per these directions, and sure enough, it covers my ranch house pretty well. I don’t think it’s any better than what you’d get from a transmitter kit like the Ramsey FM-10. But the one advantage the TuneCast has is that PLL tuning, since the FM-10 is notorious for drifting off its set frequency, even after just a few hours.

I wouldn’t want to amplify the signal out of the TCII, just like I expressed some caution about amplifying the iTrip. These little transmitters just aren’t made for real broadcasting and therefore don’t have clean output that won’t interefere with other stations without some kind of massive filtering that wouldn’t be worth the effort when much better transmitters can be had for $100.

But for dorm-casting, or covering a small area with an FM signal, it ain’t bad. I may screw with it a little more to see if there’s a better way to connect up an antenna and see if there’s any advantage to using a dipole or j-pole type of antenna. I’ll definitely post any results.