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Page Last
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Thu, Dec 19, 2002
05:32:49 PM EST

Contents and Source
Material Copyright © 2002,
L.O.F. Communications
All Rights Reserved

 
Otomek FX-200 FM Transmitter
Available from C. Crane and Company
Reviewed by Charlie Summers

Last year, Lou Genco purchased and reviewed the Vectronics AM Radio Transmitter kit (VEC 1290K) from Tech America (see OldRadio Mailing List v99 Issue #116, available to subscribers through the archive server). Although somewhat handy with a soldering gun, I decided to take a completely different tact and purchase a pre-built and complete unit, which requires no assembly; I also looked for an FM unit to avoid the interferance of an AM transmitter. And so I now share my brief experiences with the Otomek FX-200 FM Transmitter, available from C. Crane and Company.

I found the product listed on their website, at a price of $39.95 which included ground shipping. I ordered the item on Monday 10 July, and was surprised to receive a note the evening of the 11th telling me the item had been shipped from the California company via USPS Express Mail...the item arrived in southcentral Pennsylvania on Thursday the 13th with the regular mail delivery.

I have to admit to being a little surprised at the size of the box; I knew the item was not large, but...er...wow. The box was small, and included an AC adapter as well as two AAA batteries. When I got the box open, most of the box was catalog and "popcorn" - the tiny white box that contains the unit looks more like it contains a small set of coasters than an FM transmitter.

Removing the transmitter from the box, I was a little surprised to discover it's labled "FX-100" both on the top and on the label underneath...according to Jessica Gillette at C.Crane, this is a cosmetic issue that is limited to current stock on hand. I honestly didn't notice that there was an instruction sheet in the box (which I actually read long _after_ the transmitter was set up operating) - the device is about three inches round, with a telescoping antenna that extends only six inches. There's a battery compartment underneath that accomodates the two included AAA batteries, a jack on the "side" of the device (think of it as a hockey puck, although it's smaller) for the included standard 3V "wall wart" power supply, and a 36" cord ending in a stereo (three-conductor) 1/8" plug, the same size as is found on any normal set of earbuds or lightweight headphones.

It didn't take years of college to figure this one out, folks; the 1/8" plug went into the speaker out of the computer (actually, in my case, the headphone jack of the computer speakers), the wall wart went into the wall and was plugged into the side of the unit, and the antenna was unfolded.

I tuned a small radio to the default 100.5mHz on the FM band, and heard through the radio the episode of "David Harding, Counterspy" the computer was playing...and another local station faintly in the background.

The longest setup time was spent finding a clear space on the FM dial...in my area, between the local stations, Lancaster, Harrisburg, and even Baltimore, MD. stations, there just ain't much "dead" room to be found. I'm currently nestled in a spot between two largish stations a little below 100mHz; I was expecting at any moment one of them to wipe the little transmitter out, but after broadcasting for over 24-hours, it hasn't happened, so I think this is where it'll stay. Tuning the transmitter is about as simple as it gets...there's a small dial under the base with a slit cut in it. The instructions I read later suggest using a screwdriver or a coin; since I hadn't read them yet, I used a thumbnail which worked just perfectly, thanks.

The range, frankly, isn't terribly great in my current setup. It transmits all through the house (including the basement), and about another 30' or so in the back yard, and not much past the end of the front lawn (roughly 15' from the front of the house); on the other side of the garage (lengthwise through the house to the outside), though, the other local stations pound it into submission. So although it works perfectly acceptably for me, if I had a large spread of land or a bigger house, I'm not sure I'd be as pleased as I currently am.

It also depends, of course, on the receiving radio. The table radio in my bedroom pulls the signal in quite strongly, where my inexpensive Sony Walkman radio (used in the walk-around referenced above) requires some finessing when I'm standing beside the same table to get a solid static-free signal.

The web pages suggest 150' as a range; C. Crane also offers telephone assistance to help with the range, something I haven't yet availed myself of, but may in the future just to see how much I can get out of it. Since as things stand it's hitting everywhere I need it to hit (the house, the basement, and the patio in back of the house), I'm not really concerned about trying to push the unit to the complete 150' suggested range.

There are two models listed as being currently available, the "FX-200" and the "Super FX-200," and the information on-line and in the catalog doesn't really explain the difference, cryptically suggesting that if you have a, "single output" on your computer sound card you should order the Super FX-200. Jessica Gillette of C. Crane explained to me that the FX-200 is designed to work with speaker-level signals, where the Super FX-200 is designed to work with line-level signals. This means using line outputs with the FX-200 would probably require a small amp ahead of the transmitter, where using headphone/speaker signals with the Super FX-200 would require an attunator, or at least droping the speaker volume _really_ low. Since just about any computer around today has a stereo speaker jack, it seems to make more sense not to spend the extra $10 on the Super FX-200 - worst-case, you may need to purchase a Y-connector to "split" the speaker signal to both the FX-200 and your speakers at your local electronics store.

Bottom line: it doesn't matter whether you're listening to the BBC on-line, OTR mp3's off-line, or cassette tapes and CDs you want to share to all the radios in your house, this tiny little unit will allow you to break the chains holding you to your computer desk or one room. If you have a large spread, you may need something more powerful, but if you have an average middle-class home like mine, this thing is more than powerful enough to reach everywhere you want to listen. There is pretty much zero setup required, and even though it does come with an instruction sheet, I didn't need it. C. Crane shipped my Internet order promptly, and at no additional cost...and they promote a 30-day "Satisfaction Guarantee," where returns in like-new condition are completely refunded, so I'm not sure how you could go wrong. This is not a kit, so no soldering skills are required; certainly a kit would probably cost less, but you can't beat the time from receipt to operation with this pre-built unit.


The FX-200 Transmitter is available from C. Crane and Company, on the web at:

http://www.ccrane.com/fx200.asp

If you purchase this unit, please let them know in the "comments" section where you heard about it, so they keep us informed about new products and improvements.


Charlie Summers, who since his early 20s has been practicing to be the best curmudgeon possible and by now has it down pat, is a long-time Old-Time Radio program collector who currently maintains the most popular OTR discussion mailing list on the Internet, the Internet OTR Digest, publishes The Nostalgia Pages, and takes instructions from his four year old daughter, Katherine. His reviews prove once again that those who can, do; and those who cannot, criticize those who do...his commentaries only prove that he's cranky. He may be reached at webmaster@lofcom.com.