Technical Difficulties

iPhone car charger (in theory)I’ve been attempting to purchase a vehicle charger for my iPhone ever since I first got it, and so far, no luck. I’ve bought and promptly returned three different models (two Griffins from an AT&T and an InCase model from an Apple store), and ALL of them cause screechingly terrible interference with my car stereo. (Said interference completely disappears as soon as I unplug either the charger or the phone.)

Next up, I’m trying out the InCharge Travel set, per a recommendation from an Apple employee.

The thing that kills me is, Apple has to be aware of this problem. All the reviews of these chargers on their website are very vocal about this — I’m definitely not the only one. And yet, there only exist shitty third-party chargers that cause massive and weird interference. (Some people even get FM radio interference. From a CHARGER.) And a call to their tech support pretty much resulted in the guy browsing the Apple store online, like I’ve already spent MANY HOURS doing. Thanks, buddy. (I know he probably just wanted to help, but what I really wanted was for the issue to get escalated to someone who might actually know something about this phenomenon. No dice.)

So why hasn’t Apple come out with its own superior, interference-free charger, instead of selling tons of shitty third-party models that everyone bitches about? Is it because they can’t find a solution to this problem? That doesn’t seem very Apple-y, but who knows. A friend who’s tech-savvier about this sort of thing than I am basically said there was no way around this problem, since the iPhone just sends and receives way too much data and essentially winds up functioning as a giant receiver whenever it’s charging.

But I’m not giving up yet, oh no! I just have to go out of my way to make sure every vendor I shop at has a liberal return policy. Input welcome if any imaginary readers/iPhone users out there have found a non-sucky car charger!


  1. You should do a test. Put your phone in “Airplane mode” and see if you still get the interference. I’m guessing that what’s going on is that the phone is like “hey, cool, I’m being charged, free energy!”, and so boosts the transmitter strength in the radio. This leads to bad interference, but it really (sadly) has nothing to do with the charger.

    (Or maybe I’m just full of it, who knows?)

  2. Actually, you’re not the first person to suggest that — but I feel like it defeats the purpose of having an iPhone, ya know? I want my music to get interrupted when I get calls!

    But to be fair, I haven’t actually done this test yet. I’ll have to give it a try next time I run into this problem.

    Thanks physicist friend! :D

  3. Kendra’s test is a definite thing to check.

    Here’s a few others:
    1. Does having it on airplane mode make a difference?
    With airplane mode off, try the following:
    2. Do the speakers show the any of the same symptoms when the iphone is plugged only into the speakers and not the charger? (Perhaps a lower buzzy sound?)
    3. Do the speakers show any additional buzzing and humming when the iphone is plugged only into the charger, but not the speakers? Turn the volume way up to silence to see if you can tell a difference. (aka speakers possibly not shielded properly)
    4. Is there another car you can try the same hookup in?

    Odds are the solution is in filtering and/or shielding. There’s also an outside possibility that connecting the two systems is somehow creating a weak circuit somewhere. Results from the experiments above will help point in the right direction.

  4. So I just bought and returned my fourth charger, this time from DLO. And I got a third new interference noise — so far, it’s a different noise for each brand. At least there’s some consistency. :)

    Unfortunately, I was so disappointed that it didn’t work that I got right out and returned it, without thinking to test the airplane mode setting yet. Guess I’ll do that with the next charger I try, whatever it be!

    But to answer your other questions, Christian:

    2) No. No noise whatsoever when it’s charging, but not plugged into the speakers. (Though to be fair, I’ve only tried with the stereo set to CD, and not radio.)

    3) No. No noise whatsoever when it’s plugged into the stereo, but not charging — it sounds great!

    4) Yet another thing I haven’t thought to do. :) But I can try a similar setup in Grant’s car — he has a cassette adapter instead of a direct-to-stereo jack. And the cassette adapter always makes a very subtle noise kind of like the Griffin brand chargers I tried. (But much, MUCH quieter.) I’ll give it a shot when I get a new model.

    Thanks for weighing in, you guys!

  5. Some revised info/tests:

    I went back to the Griffin PowerJolt charger, since it’s the least horrible of all four I’ve tried.

    I tried putting it in airplane mode while it’s plugged in and playing music, and it turns out I’ve been getting two separate noises. Putting it in airplane mode reduces or removes ONE of them, but not completely nor consistently, and it still leaves the other noise.

    The first noise I’m hearing is a sort of constant clicking noise with an underlying buzz. This one never goes away, no matter whether it’s in airplane mode or not. With other chargers this noise was manifested differently, but with this one it’s pretty subtle, unless your music is very quiet.

    The second noise is the high-pitched squealing I had originally complained about. Some further observation confirms that this noise actually alters with the velocity of the car — it’s almost gone when idling, and very very present when going on the freeway.

    I’ve tried messing with the volume combo of the phone and the stereo to see if that solves it, but the answer is no. Also, it’s interesting to note that Noise #2, the high-pitched squeal, seems to increase during “noisier” songs, and quiet down during softer songs or verses. Very odd.

  6. HA! No, I do not, sadly. When Grant eventually breaks down and buys one out of jealousy, I can try then…

    And I do still need to test my phone in another car — I’ll update when I do!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *