Options for augmenting the entertainment your car stereo offers during your daily commute have come a long way – from the cassette adaptor to CDs to the aux in jack and an iPod and now to Bluetooth Streaming Audio. Of course, if your in-dash car radio doesn’t support Bluetooth, you might not have any options – unless you have a product like the Bluetooth Internet Radio Car Kit (aka “The Kit”) for iPhone by Livio Radio.
The Kit is a $100 hardware and app combination that work together to not only stream your music collection through your stereo, but also to act as a hands-free phone interface and to add Livio Radio’s extensive collection of over 45,000 radio stations into your listening mix.
The Kit, at its heart, is a control module that plugs into your power socket and provides you with two ways to connect to your stereo: via FM modulator, or direct via cable to your car stereo’s AUX IN jack. I really appreciated the fact that Livio included both connection methods as I tried the product in several vehicles, some of which had AUX IN jacks and some of which did not. A handy USB connector on the bottom passes through power for your iPod or iPhone. If you wish to use another audio device that does not support Bluetooth, there is a LINE IN jack. The gooseneck mount allows you to position the control unit in an almost any orientation desired; I never had a problem finding a good arrangement in any of the various cars I installed the Kit in. Various buttons allow you configure the FM frequency, advance or rewind tracks, pick up and hang up the phone, adjust the volume, and more. Additional buttons control functions of the Livio Radio app, such as launching the app, tagging songs, or finding similar stations.
The Livio Radio App is uncomplicated; those who have used other streaming radio directory apps should find Livio’s app to be similar, if not very familiar. A menu of radio sources, further broken down by genres (such as talk, 80’s, Jazz, etc) lead to individual stations that can be streamed. You can also enter a “Direct Tune” number to immediately recall a station – although how I am supposed to remember the 6-digit IDs is beyond me. Fortunately, you have 6 presets into which your favorites can be stored.
The Settings menu offers helpful options and filters, links to support and help, and even a sleep timer (which presumably you would not elect to use while driving!). There are the usual sharing options to post what you are listening to on Facebook or Twitter, and a Tag menu that allows you to purchase songs from iTunes that you have tagged with the app or from the Tag button on the Kit. Sadly, this feature did not work for several songs that I tagged, including “Must Of Got Lost” by J. Geils, “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin, and “Heard It In A Love Song” by Marshall Tucker – far from the most obscure songs out there. It did, however, find “American Woman” by The Who, giving it a pretty low 25% recognition rate (in an admittedly insignificant sample size).
Incidentally, you cannot listen to the full list of stations unless you are connected to the Kit. If you are not connected, the app will complain and stop streaming. Stations stored in presets, however, are not affected. A $4.99 in-app purchase will allow you to listen to the missing stations when not connected to the kit, but I noticed that the stations seemed to be identical to those found in the free TuneIn Radio App, which – I must be honest here – is a much better app for playing streaming stations. Of course, the Kit won’t integrate with TuneIn radio; so there is a tradeoff to be considered.
Connecting the iPhone 4S to the Kit was as simple as any Bluetooth pairing. Connecting via FM was just as easy, however, I found that the orientation of the unit affected reception in certain vehicles. A quick chat with the folks at Livio confirmed my suspicions – the FM antenna is biased towards the front/top of the unit; so if you find that your reception is affected (and I found this in only one of several cars I tested the Kit in), you may need to re-orient the unit somewhat. That being said, selecting stations was easy (push the knob in and turn it to the desired frequency), and holding in the knob for 2-3 seconds enters a search mode in which the unit looks for a clear frequency automatically. The AUX OUT and AUX IN jacks work as expected.
The Bluetooth Internet Radio Car Kit for iPhone is pricy compared to other, similar options, but the connections it offers and the overall quality are marginally worth the price, especially for multi-car families that may share it. Livio’s licensing model for the App in the face of a superior, free alternative is puzzling, but at least the in-app purchase isn’t required in addition to the hardware purchase. In the final equation, the build quality, various connection and power options, and portability make this a recommended accessory.
The Bluetooth Internet Radio Car Kit for iPhone is available for $99.95 at Radio Shack stores.
Livio Radio provided a product sample for review on iSource. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.