Venturi Mini in-car FM music streamer
Handy, helpful little hi-fi add-on
Review This is one of those gadgets that doesn't really fit into any pre-existing category largely due to it actually being three things in one: a standalone hands-free phone device, an RDS FM music streamer and, by way of its USB port, a charger.
Out of the box, the Venturi is about the size of an average candybar mobile phone, albeit one with a 30° kink in the middle and a 12V in-car power take-off stuck up its bottom.
Venturi Mini: comes with bright and clear OLED screen
The review unit we received was all black and while it's handsome enough, we do prefer the look of the brushed metal version shown plugged into the dash of a Porsche Boxster on the Venturi Mini website.
Arrayed across the front panel of the Venturi is a small but commendably bright and clear OLED screen, a microphone, the main scroll wheel control, and four backlit touch buttons that manage incoming calls and music playback. All four require only the gentlest of pushes to activate, though the scroll wheel was a little on the stiff side.
On the right-hand side of the unit is an on/off switch and a full-size USB port, while on the left there are 3.5mm audio in and out sockets, the latter allowing for a hard connection to any car stereo with a suitable input port. There's also a button to select FM frequency. All in all, this little device fits a lot of controls and sockets into a remarkably small space and they all work reasonably well.
Installation consists of open box, open car, plug contents of box into car. Set-up is pretty straightforward too, and the instructions are both comprehensive and easy to understand.
Basically, what you do is plug the Venturi in, pick a 'free' FM band on your car radio and then tune the Venturi into that station. Thanks to RDS, the radio's screen reads "Hello Venturi" when it's receiving a clear signal. The unit can store four FM frequencies, and it's worth locking in all four on your car radio when you initially set the device up. While 88.7 is free in west Manchester, we're prepared to bet it isn't any good in other places. With four paired frequencies there's a good chance that no matter where you find yourself at least one will be free. Swapping frequencies on the go is easy enough, you just tap the top left-hand side key and cycle through.
We prefer the brushed metal version... and a Porsche
Once up and running, the Venturi will stream music from a paired mobile phone through the selected FM station. Being equipped with Bluetooth's AVRCP and A2DP protocols, the Mini gives you get the full stereo effect and handset control with a compatible phone, though if you want to play music from an MP3 player without Bluetooth you can plug the player's headphones jack into the Venturi's input socket with the supplied cable. When playing back music over the cable, the Venturi's controls are naturally sidelined and your player will just keep on playing, albeit inaudibly, when you take a call.
Sound quality is largely dependent on how good your car stereo is, but we found it more than acceptable on the not exactly state-of-the-art Pioneer system in our test car so long as we didn't crank the volume up too loud. For the test, we streamed our music from a TyTn I with Windows Mobile 5 Media Player. Not exactly a hi-fi, but easy enough on the ear all the same.
When the phone rings the radio displays the incoming call number and you simply touch the 'accept call' key and the music stream is replaced by the caller's voice. The built in noise-reducing microphone is more than capable, and during our three-day test we never had any problems conversing over the system, even when driving at motorway speeds and despite the fact the unit was plugged in just ahead of the gear lever at knee level.
The Venturi will allow you to re-dial the last incoming number without recourse to the phone handset and has a built-in phone book which you can download directly from your mobile. The phone book has a few drawbacks: it downloads either all your contacts, up to 100 entries, or none at all. And the scroll wheel is just a little too small and stiff to navigate the phone book easily while keeping your attention on the road ahead.
The benefit of the Venturi having a USB port is that it can charge other devices. We left a USB-to-mini USB cable plugged into it and swapped it around between our TyTn I and a satnav system as needed without having to unplug anything from the power socket. Nice. For £13 Venturi will sell you a set of mini-USB/phone adaptors so you can hook up the charge cable to most common makes of mobile.
One full-size USB port to charge other devices
For some reason, the Mercedes used for testing generally just doesn't like cigarette lighter power adaptors. Sure, they fit, but not well and the slightest nudge often results in the power light going off. Not so with the Venturi, which, thanks to its locking-ring mechanism that opens out the metal contacts once in the socket, slotted in straight, true and firm, and then staid put once locked.
One potential problem with the Venturi is that having the unit stuck directly onto the power socket may preclude its use on certain makes and models. It fitted just fine in our test car, a 93 model Mercedes E230, but it's an automatic. We suspect that on the manual version the position of the gear stick when in fifth would have been in just about in the same place as the Venturi sits. Have a good look at your dash layout before purchase.
It's hard not to be impressed with the Venturi Mini. For 80 quid, you get a perfectly decent hands-free device and FM car stereo music streamer that also has a handy USB charging port.