Closeup of car stereo showing FM frequency on screen
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The Best Bluetooth FM Transmitters for Vehicles

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Cruising in a classic car loses a bit of its appeal if you don’t have your favorite tunes along for the ride. At a time when we play almost all of our music from our phones, who wants to be messing around with tape players and CD stackers any more?

That’s where Bluetooth transmitters come in, giving access to your favorite playlists on the road even when your car is older than you are. These transmitters pair with your phone and other devices, then transmit an audio signal to non-Bluetooth devices like your car radio.

You’ve usually got two options about how you connect: a physical cable, or broadcasting on an FM radio frequency. Some transmitters offer both, but many are FM-only. Whichever approach you use, though, the end result is sweet tunes in your vehicle.

Or at least that’s the theory.

The reality can be a little different, however. Dropped connections, static, and low-quality audio are often a problem with car Bluetooth transmitters like this, and with so many options on the market, sorting out the good from the terrible isn’t easy.

That’s where I come in. After trawling through the hundreds of options, reviewing as many devices as possible, and endlessly discussing the pros and cons of each one with my partner as we drove around, I eventually managed to cut the list down to a manageable number. It took a while!

The result, however, was what I believe to be a good mix of the best Bluetooth transmitters out there at the moment, whatever vehicle you’re driving.

Sale
Best Bluetooth Transmitter: UNBREAKcable FM Transmitter

  • Connectivity: USB stick, Bluetooth 5.0 (in), FM (out)
  • USB Ports: 1x USB C, 2x USB-A
  • Max USB Power: 20W PD, 18W QC 3.0
  • Bass Boost: Yes

Sale
Best Midrange Choice: Syncwire FM Transmitter

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3 (in), FM (out)
  • USB Ports: 1x USB C, 2x USB-A
  • Max USB Power Output: 36W PD, 12W
  • Bass Boost: Yes

Best for Input Options: Guanda Technologies FM Transmitter

  • Connectivity: USB stick, Bluetooth 4.2, aux, microSD (in), FM, aux (out)
  • USB Ports: 1x USB C, 2x USB-A
  • Max USB Power Output: 20W PD, 18W QC 3.0
  • Bass Boost: Yes

Best on a Budget: Virfine FM Transmitter for Car

  • Connectivity: USB stick, Bluetooth 5.0, (in), FM (out)
  • USB Ports: 2x USB-A
  • Bass Boost: No

What to Look For

Audio and Hands-Free Ability

Bluetooth FM transmitters like these all work in much the same way: they connect to your phone or tablet, and then broadcast the audio on an FM frequency that can be picked up by your car radio. Ideally that frequency will be one that isn’t already used by a local radio station, otherwise interference becomes a big problem.

If you mostly drive around the same general area, you can just manually scan up and down the FM band until you find an unused spot, and then keep the transmitter set on that. On long road trips, though, you’ll want to look for a model that can scan for a new frequency as you drive in and out of range of different stations.

A microphone is usually built into the the transmitter for hands-free calling, although the quality varied in my testing. I noticed a definite difference when there was some sort of noise cancellation at work that could isolate my voice from whatever was going on in the background.

Bluetooth Versions

The majority of my picks use Bluetooth 5.0 or higher. These newer Bluetooth versions provide faster data transmission speeds, have much greater range, and consume a lot less power than older versions.

It’s less important for a device like this that will only be sitting a foot or two from the phone that it’s connected to, but still, it’s nice to have: the end result is higher audio quality and less battery drain on your phone.

USB Ports and Charging

Being able to charge your phone or tablet from a USB port is an important consideration with any Bluetooth transmitter. Many cars that don’t have a Bluetooth entertainment system don’t have built-in USB charging ports either. If they do, their power output often isn’t up to the demands of modern devices.

The number, type, and power output of USB ports varies significantly between different transmitters. I looked for devices that could safely and reliably provide fast charging to a variety of devices, ideally with both USB C and older USB-A sockets so you can plug in whatever charging cable you happen to have lying around.

Design and Display

Displays that let me see things like vehicle battery voltage, caller information, and playlists are useful, but the way it’s done is important. The displays on many units didn’t add much value, and some had large screens that flashed, changed color, or were otherwise very distracting.

I also considered the overall design of the transmitter. While it’s a matter of taste to a certain degree, I favored smaller, less-obtrusive units that didn’t annoy me while I driving. These aren’t without their issues either, though: sometimes the reduced size made controls harder to reach and use, so it’s a matter of finding the sweet spot.

Additional Features

SD and TF card readers let you play music directly from storage cards, rather than via a phone or tablet. Some transmitters also let me plug in a USB stick to do the same thing, which is useful if you don’t subscribe to a music streaming service.

There are some densely-populated parts of the country where finding an available FM band is almost impossible. If that’s a problem for you, look for a transmitter that has a standard aux (3.5mm) socket as well. This lets you plug it directly into the entertainment systems in many vehicles instead.

It often also works as an input, so you have the option of running a cable to the headphone jack on your device rather than connecting via Bluetooth.

I didn’t consider any of these features a “must have”, since not everybody needs them. Where two or more models were otherwise very similar, though, I chose the one that included this kind of extra flexibility.

Now that you know what to look for, let’s check out the recommendations!

Best Bluetooth Transmitter: UNBREAKcable FM Transmitter

UNBREAKcable Bluetooth 5.3 FM Transmitter for Car, [PD 20W + QC 3.0] [Stronger Microphone & HiFi Bass Sound] Cigarette Lighter Radio Music Adapter Charger, Supports Hands-Free Siri Google Assistant

There’s a tendency among the makers of Bluetooth FM transmitters to cram in as many features as possible to make them stand out among a sea of similar units.

Done badly, you end up with large, ugly gadgets that are hard to navigate and difficult to fit into the cramped dashboards and consoles of many vehicles. Done right, you end up with a high-quality device packed full of features you’ll get real value from.

Fortunately this Unbreakable unit goes for the second approach. It’s easy to use, has a bunch of features you’ll get real value from, and most importantly, is the best-sounding Bluetooth FM transmitter I tested.

Audio and Hands-Free Ability

This unit had by far the best quality audio both for music and on calls. I experienced crystal-clear sound across the spectrum (within the limits of the existing car speakers, at least) and the bass boost added a little extra oomph in the low and mid-range.

There’s a slight but noticeable hum at low volumes, an issue common to many FM transmitters. Turning up the volume a bit on my device and/or the car speakers, however, made it disappear into the background.

Voice calls were clear and easy to hear, both in the vehicle and by the person on the other end. The noise cancellation noticeably reduced the amount of road and traffic noise as well.

Charging and USB Ports

Fast-charging your devices is handled in one of two ways: a 20W USB C socket with Power Delivery, or a USB-A port with QC3.0. Most phones and tablets will charge at full speed from one or both, depending on which charging standards they support.

Either way, the end result is fast charging, with very little heat build-up in the unit even during extended use. I had no problem with leaving my phone plugged in and charging throughout a lengthy road trip.

Design and Display

The display is very clear, with large numbers that are easily seen from the driver and passenger seats. As well as the FM station that’s being used, the unit also shows the vehicle battery voltage for a few seconds when it’s first turned on.

One aspect I didn’t love, however, is the blue ambient light ring that pulses in time with the music. It’s not super-bright, which makes it less distracting than you might imagine, but it still detracts from what is otherwise a well-designed and high-quality unit.

Navigating through the options is handled a little differently to some of the other units I tested, using a mini joystick rather than buttons. After a short period of getting used to it, I found it a faster way of starting and stopping music playback, skipping through playlists, changing volume, and answering or ending calls.

Other Features

As well as the two ports intended for fast charging, a third socket let me play music from a USB flash drive rather than my phone. I was also able to charge low-power (5W) devices from it: fine for things like my fitness tracker and wireless earbuds, but anything else took forever.

The transmitter is compatible with both 12V and 24V vehicle power, and comes with a 36-month warranty. Customer service was great, with swift responses to my queries.

Pros

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Easy to use
  • Can also play music from USB stick
  • Good fast-charging options

Cons

  • Some background hum at low volumes
  • Could live without the pulsing blue light
  • No aux in/out
Buy on Amazon

Best Midrange Choice: Syncwire FM Transmitter

Syncwire Bluetooth 5.3 FM Transmitter Car Adapter 48W (PD 36W & 12W) [Light Switch] [HiFi Bass Sound] [Fast Charging] Wireless Radio Music Adapter LED Display Hands-Free Calling Support USB Drive

There are many competing brands at the midrange level, but for me, none of them came close to the quality and simplicity of the Syncwire device.

With an appealingly minimalist design and getting all of the basics right, if you’re after a high-quality Bluetooth transmitter at a very reasonable price, it’s hard to go past.

Audio and Hands-Free Ability

Supporting Bluetooth 5.3 (and below), pairing was quick and easy across several different devices, with few of the dropouts and audio glitches that plague lower-quality models.

The noise-canceling tech in the inbuilt mic did a pretty good job of providing clear sound quality on phone calls. Audio quality is good in general, but it could do with a bit more volume: it wasn’t as high as some of the other models I looked at.

The bass boost button on the bottom noticeably improves music playback, and honestly I’d suggest leaving it enabled most of the time. Like the above UNBREAKcable model, the dial on the front was responsive and easy to use, controlling everything from handsfree calling to volume and FM channel.

Charging and USB Ports

The Syncwire transmitter has more powerful charging options than many others, at least as far as the USB C port is concerned. You can get up to 36W out of it, which is enough to fast-charge pretty much any phone or tablet you’re likely to have in the car.

The 12W USB-A port is fine for charging a phone or something small, but I’d typically use the USB C port where possible: it’ll be a lot faster. The total power output is 48W, which is higher than anything else on this list.

There’s a third USB port on the front as well, which is solely for playing music from a flash drive. That’s not as popular an option these days, but it’s good to see it there for those who do need it.

Design and Display

The display is clear and large enough to see easily, and given the minimal information it provides, you’re unlikely to need to look at it while driving in any case.

There’s a “rainbow” (i.e., multi-colored) light around the transmitter’s outer ring, useful for quickly finding it in the dark, but kinda annoying when you’re driving. Thank the heavens, it can be disabled via double-pressing the bass-boost button.

I rate the build quality highly, and was impressed by the solid construction and firm feel of the controls. The only real problem I had with the design was the placement of the bass boost button: being on the bottom of the unit, it was a bit hard to access due to the limited clearance in my vehicle’s center console.

If that’s an issue for you as well, I found that I could rotate the transmitter by 45 degrees when I inserted it. It worked fine, it just meant that the display wasn’t horizontal when I looked at it. In practice, though, I just left the bass boost enabled all the time anyway.

Pros

  • Well-constructed
  • Noticeable bass boost
  • Impressive fast-charging options

Cons

  • Relatively low volume
  • Bass boost button can be hard to access in some vehicles
Buy on Amazon

Best for Input Options: Guanda Technologies FM Transmitter

Upgraded Bluetooth FM Transmitter for Car, Wireless Radio Adapter Kit W 1.8' Color Display Hands-Free Call AUX in/Out SD/TF Card USB Charger PD 20W for All Smartphones Audio Players - Matte Black

Although the Guanda Bluetooth transmitter is a well-constructed device with plenty of features, it missed out on being one of my top picks due to its awkwardly-designed gooseneck and overly-busy display.

Despite those flaws, I ultimately decided to include it on my list for a different reason: it has the widest range of input options I’ve come across so far.

Audio and Hands-Free Ability

Despite only supporting the older Bluetooth 4.2 standard, the quality of the audio was towards the higher end of the devices I looked at, with clear, interference-free music and phone calls. The CVC noise cancellation did its job well, even when there was a lot of background traffic or road noise.

As with many FM transmitters, there was sometimes audible hum or static at low volume levels. Turning things up a bit made the problem go away, as it often (but not always) does.

Charging and USB Ports

A pair of USB ports are easily accessible on the front of the unit: a 20W USB C PD and 18W USB-A that’s enough to fast-charge almost all phones and tablets. While the max output isn’t as high as with the Syncwire above, this is a better combo if you’re traveling with someone else and need to quickly charge two phones at once.

Note that the company makes two versions of this transmitter: the one I recommend, and another with two USB-A ports. The latter puts out less power, so it wouldn’t be my first pick. If all of your cables are still USB-A and it makes more sense for your situation, though, you’ve got the option.

Design and Display

The large display is bright and very visible, but in this case that’s more of a negative than a positive.

While the built-in equalizer worked well for music playback, with five different modes that you can quickly switch between, the pulsating EQ display was frankly annoying, especially at night.

The gooseneck design means this unit is usable in a wider variety of vehicles than most of its competitors, but also creates downsides. I found it harder to answer or end calls while keeping my eyes on the road, since the unit moved around as I was driving, especially at higher speeds.

To make things worse, the gooseneck seemed to become a bit less rigid over time, making the movement more pronounced. I did eventually get used to it, but since it’s not an issue with other types of design, I think Guanda would have been better off leaving the gooseneck out entirely.

Additional Features

With four different input options (Bluetooth, USB, aux, and SD/TF card), you’ve got more options than usual about where you’d like your music to come from. Throw a bunch of music files onto a flash drive or memory card, or plug a cable into anything with a headphone jack, and you’re good to go.

This, primarily, is why I’m including the transmitter here despite its limitations. If you don’t need all those choices, you’ll be better off with one of the other models I’ve talked about. If you do, though, you’re not making major compromises to have them.

Pros

  • Good noise cancellation in hands-free mode
  • Two fast-charging ports
  • Impressive range of audio input options

Cons

  • Gooseneck design isn’t very stable, especially at highway speed
  • Display overly busy and distracting
  • Some hum/static at low volumes
Buy on Amazon

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Best on a Budget: Virfine FM Transmitter for Car

Virfine Bluetooth FM Transmitter Car, V5.0 Bluetooth Car Adapter, Bluetooth Radio Car, MP3 Player QC3.0 Quick Charge, Hands Free Calling, 2 Playing Modes, Blue led Display, Black, Medium (BH347)

In some ways, the Virfine FM Transmitter is very similar to the more expensive Syncwire unit. It’s not quite as well-finished and doesn’t have Syncwire’s quality feel, but for how little you’re paying, I was pretty impressed by what this unit had to offer.

If you don’t need a USB C port or multiple fast-charging options, it’s a great way of getting a solid FM transmitter at a very low price.

Audio and Hands-Free Ability

Despite typically being the cheapest option on this list, the little Virfine unit performed well, with above-average sound quality across the board.

The combination of Bluetooth 5.0 and decent noise-canceling tech meant that I got no complaints from the other party while on calls, and I was happy with the audio quality while listening to music and podcasts as well. Just like the majority of transmitters here, though, a little background hum was audible at low volumes.

Charging and USB Ports

Compared to the other devices I recommend, charging isn’t the strongest suit of the Virfine.

It’ll still do a good job of fast-charging phones and tablets from the top USB port, as long as they support QC3.0. The bottom port, however, only has a 5W output, and is intended mostly for playing music from a USB stick. It’s not powerful enough to charge a phone, especially if it’s being used for navigation at the time.

There’s also no USB C port, so if you’d prefer that, you’ll need to choose a different device.

Design and Display

The display is nice and clear, with a large-format readout providing battery voltage and FM frequency details. Similar in design to the Syncwire model, it also shares its downside: having some of its control buttons on the underside of the unit.

In this case it’s the handsfree and skip/volume buttons, which is more of an issue: they’re both buttons you’ll use pretty regularly. Again, though, you can rotate the transmitter in the accessory port to make the buttons easier to access, at the expense of putting the display on an angle.

Manufacturers’ obsession with bright lighting continues with the Virfine, and despite the marketing material assuring me that my car would look “cooler and more attractive” as a result, I’d much prefer it wasn’t there. Thankfully it can be turned off by holding down the channel button.

Additional Features

Being able to play music files from a USB stick is always a nice touch, especially in such a low-cost device, and it worked without issue in my testing.

Pros

  • Low price
  • Good handsfree calling
  • Can play music from USB stick

Cons

  • No USB C port
  • Fast-charging only available from one port
  • Can be hard to access handsfree/skip buttons
  • Some background hum at low volumes
Buy on Amazon

Main image via Everyonephoto Studio/Shutterstock.com, product images via Amazon

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar Pete Lech says:

    In the Southern Calif area, it is virtually impossible to get an empty frequency that works.

    1. Yeah, I can definitely believe that. How well these sorts of devices work is very dependent on how crowded the FM band is in the area you’re living in/driving through.

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