If you’re the type of person who frequently takes long road trips (as I do), then you know how frustrating it can be if you’re in an older car that doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles such as Bluetooth, USB plugs or even an auxiliary jack to plug an MP3 player into. Moreover, if you’re on a tight budget, spending the additional $200-$300 dollars for an upgraded radio, plus the cost of installation, and (in some cases) adapter harnesses to mate the radio to the car can be prohibitive.
Enter Livio Radio’s Carmen: A small and cost effective solution for taking your tunes on the road with you. This tiny little unit plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter and has an MP3 player and FM transmitter built into it.
The Carmen comes with everything you need to get started, sans the computer. Simply plug the Carmen into the supplied USB cable and the other end into your computer, and you can immediately begin dragging and dropping your non-DRM MP3’s on to it like you would a USB drive or another MP3 player. No additional software is required to operate the device, and drivers for it will load natively on any Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7 system.
Adding to the value of the Carmen is Livio Radio’s Internet Radio recording software. This software allows you to tune into many thousands of live streaming or prerecorded online radio stations or podcasts and record them to your Carmen. This enables you to take your favorite radio shows or podcasts on the road with you and listen to them while you drive, without having to maintain a persistent internet connection running on your phone or laptop. Of course, if you’re recording streaming radio, then there is the fact that you have to wait for it to record the show in real time. However, it is a nice feature to have available if you enjoy listening to a particular show, such as All Things Considered on NPR, without having to hunt for the radio station that it might be playing on while you’re driving through the middle-of-nowhere, Ohio.
Livio Radio also has integrated an Auxiliary input jack on the Carmen which allows you to plug in your own MP3 player or Cell phone and listen to your music/shows that way as well. If you have a persistent data connection, you can simply plug in your cell phone through the Auxiliary jack (given that your phone has a 1/8th inch audio jack) and queue up your favorite music; Or, in my case, my favorite stations on Last.fm.
The sound quality is about what you would expect from a device that’s transmitting over an FM signal at relatively low power. Obviously, the audio quality isn’t going to be what you would get from a directly installed digital audio source. Frustrations can also arise from trying to find a radio frequency that has nothing broadcasting on it, so it won’t walk over the top of your signal. Higher densely populated cities such as New York or Toronto may be more difficult to find a blank frequency as those cities tend to have far more radio stations in the vicinity. I personally found this to be the case in Toronto where even the blank frequencies seem to have white noise being broadcast over the airwaves.
For the cost of $59.99 ($24.33 street) the Carmen really is not a bad deal, considering what you get with the package. For someone with a budget on a string and needs some tunes for a long trip this is definitely a favorable option.