Improving FM reception, an iPod alternative

Week of December 19, 2004

Q: I want to improve my table radio’s FM reception. Can I use a connection to my DirecTV dish for this? I don’t know if the dish receives all signals or only DirecTV signals. If I can hook the external antenna port on the CD 740 to the dish line, then I should get great FM reception, right?

-Jonathan Woody, Pittsburgh, PA

A: The coaxial cable coming from your satellite dish antenna does not carry FM signals. Digital television signals from the DirecTV satellites come down from space to your dish, which transfers them to the satellite receiver box where they are decoded and sent to your television for viewing.

Your solution is not the correct one, but you are on the right track! Ordinary television rabbit ears make an absolutely amazing FM antenna. If you connect the VHF antenna lead to your tuner, you will be amazed by the results.

Only the VHF portion of the antenna is designed to receive FM as well. If you do not have a set of rabbit ears already, visit your local department store and pick up a set. No need to get expensive, amplified models- just pick up the cheapest set they have, which should cost $10 or less.

If you have a receiver that receives FM, be sure to try this out if you still using the wire antenna that came with your receiver. Of all the tweaks and tips I have in my arsenal, this one is near the top in terms of bang-for-your-buck. You will find that local stations come in stronger than ever, and if you have a good tuner in your radio you will receive stations from far away. Readers who have tried this at my recommendation have been shocked at the results.

Q: I am considering buying my son an Apple iPod for Christmas, but want to know what you think about other MP 3 players out there. I looked at Cambridge Soundworks site and they have some great products at much better prices, though they do not hold quite as many songs. Have you tested any of these or any others that you would recommend?

-Bob McCartney, Glenshaw, PA

A: Your question regarding Cambridge Soundworks was very timely. My recent good experience with their CD740 table radio (which, according to recent emails, has pleased readers ordering them as well) has encouraged me to check out their website for other products. One product on their website that caught my eye was the Creative MuVo2 FM (Moo-Voh 2 squared FM) MP3 player.

As the name suggests, the MuVo2 FM has an FM tuner in addition to its MP3 player component, so you can listen to FM radio as well as MP3 tracks. What’s more, it can record FM as you listen and later download the recorded FM to your computer. It also features a built-in microphone so it doubles as a voice recorder, and it has a user replaceable battery. (The built-in battery that requires a service call to replace it has been a bone of contention for iPod owners.)

The downsides? I recently received a MuVo2 FM to test and it does not seem to have the solid heft of the iPod, and the screen is much smaller. It seems to be strictly an MP3 player, whereas an iPod can also hold games, address book information, and calendars, among other things.  The MuVo2 FM does not work with Macs, which means I will be upgrading my Windows laptop with a USB 2.0 connection in order to test it. It also “isn’t an iPod”- the industry leader. There is something to be said for owning the standard bearer, even when it costs a bit more to buy and own.

The 5 GB MuVo2 FM sells for $199 after rebate. That seems like a great deal to me for a very feature-laden MP3 player incorporating FM and a voice recorder, which are more likely to be used than the iPod’s extra features. I’ll be sure to report on my experiences with the MuVo2 FM on my website sometime in the coming weeks.

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