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Series: iPod Offerings
Add-ons and peripherals for everyone's favorite portable music player
Article 1 of 3 in series
by Dan Frakes
The iPod is one cool gadget; in fact, it's the best-selling hard drive-based music player in the world, with millions of units sold since its release. So chances are either you or someone you know owns oneShow full article
The iPod is one cool gadget; in fact, it's the best-selling hard drive-based music player in the world, with millions of units sold since its release. So chances are either you or someone you know owns one. Use that to your advantage this holiday season and buy your favorite music lover (or yourself) something to accentuate their iPod.
To help you decide on such a gift, the following are some of my favorite iPod-related products. (Unless noted, I've actually tried every item.) I've divided them into some logical categories, and included approximate U.S. prices for each. You may be able to find items for less; sometimes significantly less. I've also noted whether each product is available for the older (FireWire port) iPods, the newer (dock connector) iPods, or both. One topic I don't cover here is headphones. For recommendations on those popular iPod accessories, see last year's "Music to Your Ears: 2002," and an update that will appear in TidBITS soon.
(While writing this article, I grew tired of writing variations of "your gift recipient," so I often use "you." You can pretend I'm talking about the rhetorical "you" - meaning the recipient of your gift - or you can 'fess up and admit that you want some of this stuff, too.)
The Basics from Apple -- Everyone can use an extra cable or dock. Here are some of the more useful Apple-branded gift options.
PC Cable for Windows users ($40, dock connector): If your lucky iPod user wants to use a newer iPod with a Windows PC that has only USB ports (i.e., no FireWire), they need this cable.
Extra dock ($40, dock connector): Although the dock cable works just as well for recharging and transferring data to your iPod, the dock base has a significant advantage for hooking an iPod up to a home stereo - it has a true line-level output. A second dock lets the user keep one permanently connected to the stereo.
Extra dock cable ($20, dock connector): If you connect your iPod to more than one computer, or want to recharge while on the road, a second dock cable can be handy. Users of older iPods can use any FireWire cable.
Extra power adapter ($50, both): The iPod's AC adapter is a bit pricey, but it's nice to have an extra at the office, or wherever your second location may be. Keep in mind that you can use a computer with a powered FireWire port instead.
World Travel Adapter Kit ($40, both): If your favorite iPod user is a frequent traveler, they'll appreciate being able to recharge their player wherever their travels may take them, within certain geographical limits. Apple says the World Travel Adapter Kit supports outlets in North America, Japan, China, United Kingdom, Continental Europe, Korea, Australia, and Hong Kong.
Remote and Earphones ($40, both): The less-expensive iPods don't include a remote, so you could buy your favorite iPod user one as a gift. Unfortunately, the price is inflated because you can't buy the remote by itself; you're stuck buying another pair of the stock iPod earphones, as well.
Apple also sells their own iPod case for $40; however, if you're in the market for a case, I recommend one of those discussed below instead.
Take Precautions: Cases and Bags -- The iPod is a stunning example of industrial design, but one bad drop or bump can turn it into a shiny (and expensive) paperweight. Here are some ways to keep it safe. I've tried most of the cases on the market, and could recommend a few others, but the ones below stand out. Because not everyone has the same needs when it comes to an iPod case, be sure to read the description of each to find out what type of protection it provides. All the cases listed here provide access to FireWire/dock ports, headphone/remote jacks, and hold buttons; I've noted when they don't provide access to the front controls.
Note that the hard cases like the Showcase and iPod Armor only come in one size, which means that smaller iPods will require a foam insert or similar spacer - which are included - to fit snugly. Also, hard cases can make it difficult to use some accessories that connect flush with the iPod's remote jack - such as Belkin's voice recording unit and the iTrip, mentioned below - when the case is on. But that's the trade-off with a hard shell case.
RadTech PodSleevz ($20, dock connector): Most cases offer some degree of protection, but do so by bulking up, leaving you with a big, fat iPod instead of a sleek, svelte one. If you're not concerned with protecting your iPod from drops and hard knocks, the PodSleevz are a great option; they protect the iPod from scratches and scrapes while retaining its slim profile. They also deaden the touch-sensitive controls just a bit, which is a good thing, in my experience.
WaterField Designs iPod Case ($40, both): A step up the protection ladder, the WaterField case offers a flip-open front which hides the controls when closed and provides a pocket for earbuds. The WaterField case also includes a sturdy, rotating belt clip and is one of the more stylish on the market.
Marware SportSuit Convertible ($40, both): The ultimate "active" case, the SportSuit Convertible provides a thick layer of neoprene with rigid side and back inserts for protection, and rubber edges for a secure grip. The hard-shell, flip-open cover is detachable and provides a pocket for credit cards/money and earbuds. In addition, the Convertible uses the popular Multidapt clip system, which means you can buy any of a number of attachments that allow you to mount your iPod in your car, on your bike, on your belt, etc.
Contour Design Showcase ($40, dock connector): If you want excellent protection in a case that lets your iPod look like an iPod, the Showcase provides a white, rubbery enclosure with clear plastic panels on the front and back so you can still see the iPod's shiny surfaces. It includes a unique horizontal belt clip that doesn't leave any protruding posts behind when you remove it. The Showcase also allows you to take the iPod out of the case quickly, which is a hassle with many other cases.
Matias iPod Armor ($50, $55 with belt clip, both): Like the Showcase, the iPod Armor encloses the entire iPod in a hard shell. But because it's "full body armor," it doesn't provide holes for the front controls, so you need to use the iPod's remote while it's in the case. You can still access the headphone and remote jack and the hold switch on the top of the iPod, though. Made of rigid aluminum, it's a great case if you want serious impact protection.
Pelican 1020 Micro Case ($15-$20, both): Pelican cases have long been known for their capability to keep the elements away from your gear, and the Micro series is perfect for personal electronics - the 1020 is big enough to hold an iPod (even inside one of the cases above) and some earbuds. If you or your iPod-loving gift recipient is an outdoors/adventure type, consider a Pelican case for those times when the iPod needs to be protected from Mother Nature. You can't use the iPod while it's in the Pelican case, but for keeping the iPod safe and sound in transit, it's ideal. It even floats, and it has a purge valve to equalize pressure.
Incase Designs Belt for iPod ($25, both): If you walk or run with your iPod and prefer not to carry it in your hand, the Incase Belt is the best of its type that I've seen. It's lightweight and comfortable, with a pouch specifically designed for the iPod. It also has a separate pocket for keys, money, cards, and the like, and a handy access hole for the remote/headphone cable.
HeadRoom iPod Bag ($40, both): If you're serious enough about your iPod sound quality that you've purchased a portable headphone amplifier - like the HeadRoom AirHead - the HeadRoom iPod Bag is for you. It holds your iPod, portable headphone amp, and a pair of earbuds/canal-phones in a handy bag that you can clip to your belt or hang from a strap.
WaterField Design iPod Gear Pouch ($35, both): The iPod Gear Pouch is one of those "Who needs that?" things that ends up being quite handy. If you know a hard-core iPod user who takes all their iPod gear with them when on the go, check it out. It holds an iPod, AC adapter, dock, earbuds, and all cables in padded compartments inside a stylish pouch that you can throw in your travel bag. It even has an external, zippered pocket for storing other small items.
Burton Amp Pack ($200, dock connector): The Amp Pack is a semi-rigid backpack that works just like Burton's jackets (see below) - you place your iPod in an EVA molded pocket between the straps (where it's safe, sound, and inaccessible with the pack on), and then connect the built-in headphone/remote cable. The right-hand shoulder strap then provides Burton's SOFTswitch iPod controls, and the left strap provides a headphone jack, so you don't have to weave your headphone cable through a bunch of holes and tunnels. Your iPod is fully protected, yet you can still change tracks, adjust the volume, and even turn it off. The other nice thing about this arrangement is that you can quickly disconnect your headphones, which can be a pain on some other backpacks; the shoulder strap even has a small pocket for storing your earbuds.
Dress for Success -- If your gift recipient would rather carry the iPod in a pocket, then perhaps a coat that hides the iPod while still providing access to its controls is the way to go. Or maybe your recipient would like a jacket that accommodates a bunch of gadgets. Either way, there are some good options available.
Burton Jackets (Men's Shield, $380; Men's Ronin 2L, $360; Women's Radar 2L, $360, dock connector): Burton now has three snowboard/ski-focused jackets that incorporate their SOFTswitch iPod control system. They're a bit pricey, but not outrageous as far as snow gear goes. Like the Amp Pack above, all include an EVA molded interior pocket to keep the iPod safe and warm, with a SOFTswitch remote control built right into the sleeve. All three jackets are "active" snow jackets - two-layer, waterproof/breathable shells - but differ slightly in their styling. If someone out there has me on their holiday gift list, I wouldn't turn down a Shield - the iPod controls are very cool, and the jacket is great.
SCOTTeVEST ($80-$450, both): SCOTTeVEST make an entire line of "technology-enabled clothing" - a buzzphrase that basically means "lots of pockets to store all your gadgets, and holes and tunnels to connect their wires." For example, you can store your iPod in any of the multitude of pockets, then route your earbud cables through the jacket and exiting from holes near your neck/ears. In fact, many of the jackets even have earbud pockets in the collar, so you can stow your them away, still connected, when not in use. You can get both vests and full jackets, from lightweight windbreakers to limited edition leather coats.
What about Software? Because the iPod is so versatile, a cottage industry in iPod-related software has emerged. You can find products that sync news headlines and email with your iPod, transfer files to and from it, and much more. Consider buying your iPod lover some helpful software. Because there are so many titles, I haven't listed any here. I instead recommend doing a search for "iPod" at VersionTracker, MacUpdate, or MacShareware.net via these links.
<http://www.versiontracker.com/php/search.php? plt%5B%5D=macosx&mode=basic& amp;action=search&str=ipod&x=0& amp;y=0>
<http://www.macupdate.com/search.php? keywords=ipod&os=macosx& amp;button.x=18&button.y=16>
<http://macshareware.net/modules.php? name=Downloads&d_op=search& amp;query=iPod>
Give the Gift of Music -- I'm always amazed at how infrequently music lovers receive music as gifts. Instead of another gadget, consider giving your favorite iPod owner some CDs or an iTunes Music Store Gift Certificate ($10-$200, both). The iTunes Music Store lets iPod users buy individual songs (99 cents) or entire albums (usually $10), download them to their Mac, and then transfer them to their iPod. By giving gift certificates to the Music Store, you don't have to worry that your recipients won't like the CDs you bought them, and they can use the credits whenever they want - all at once or a little at a time.
An iTunes Music Store Gift Certificate could be good for encouraging someone to try an audio book now that Apple carries thousands of books from audio bookseller Audible. But if you know they're already fond of listening to recorded books while driving or commuting to work, consider a gift subscription to Audible, whose books are compatible with iTunes and the iPod.
But Wait, There's More! Stay tuned next week for the best in third-party iPod add-ons, car accessories, speakers, reading, and repair options!
PayBITS: If Dan's recommendations helped you find the perfect iPod
gift, say thanks with a couple of bucks via Amazon or PayPal.
Read more about PayBITS: <http://www.tidbits.com/paybits/>
Article 2 of 3 in series
by Dan Frakes
Last week I gave you Part 1 of my holiday gift suggestions for the iPod user(s) in your life, covering Apple accessories, music, software, cases, bags, and jacketsShow full article
Last week I gave you Part 1 of my holiday gift suggestions for the iPod user(s) in your life, covering Apple accessories, music, software, cases, bags, and jackets. Part 2 provides you with the best in third-party iPod add-ons, car accessories, speakers, reading, and repair options. Give your favorite iPod user even more reason to love their iPod with one (or more) of these useful items.
To recap from last week: I've divided products into categories, and included approximate U.S. prices for each, though you may be able to find items for significantly less. I've also noted whether each product is available for the older (FireWire port) iPods, the newer (dock connector) iPods, or both. For recommendations on headphones, see "Music to Your Ears: 2003," elsewhere in this issue.
Accessorize iPod Add-Ons -- The iPod is much more than simply a portable music player, and it's more versatile than many people realize. Here are some add-ons that your iPod lover might love to own.
SendStation PocketDock ($19, dock connector): One of the biggest criticisms of the newer iPods is that they did away with the standard FireWire port in favor of the new dock connector. Granted, the dock connector has opened the doors for some great accessories, but it was still nice to be able to use any old FireWire cable you had lying around to recharge or sync your iPod. The PocketDock is a nifty (and tiny) adapter that you plug into the dock connector on your newer iPod, enabling you to use any standard 6-pin FireWire cable.
SiK imp ($26, both, but only dock connector iPods for the purpose here): The imp is officially a car charger for any iPod, but if you have an iPod with a dock connector, it provides a truly unique feature: you can disconnect the imp's cable from the car charger and get a truly portable, line-level output cable, perfect for use with a portable headphone amplifier. (The cable also provides a standard FireWire port, like the PocketDock.)
TEN Technology NaviPod ($50, both): One of the great things about the newer iPods is that the dock base provides a real line-level output, making it perfect for connecting to your home stereo. Add a NaviPod, and you have a true remote-controlled iPod audio system. The NaviPod receiver sits on the top of your iPod and lets you use the included remote control to play/pause, skip, search forward/backward, and control the output volume. (The latter is useful on older iPods that don't have a line-level output, or when you're connecting your newer iPod via the headphone jack.) The NaviPod also includes a handy metal stand that keeps the iPod standing upright (and, thus, keeps the remote receiver visible) when not in the dock. Both models provide pass-through jacks - so you can still connect cables when the NaviPod is in place - for headphones (both) and FireWire (older iPods). The only drawback to using a NaviPod is that you can't see the iPod's display from across the room (but to be fair, the iPod's own remote has the same limitation).
Belkin Backup Battery Pack ($60, dock connector): The newer generation of iPods are smaller and lighter - but at a price. The battery only lasts about two-thirds as long as the previous generation. If you or your iPod lover need longer iPod battery life and don't mind adding some bulk, consider Belkin's battery pack. It holds four AA batteries and connects to the dock connector on the iPod, providing 15 to 20 hours of juice (assuming a fully charged iPod battery). The iPod fits in a cradle on the pack, secured by a suction cup that safely attaches to the iPod's metal back.
SiK HotWire ($11, both): I often want to charge my iPod through my Mac without it mounting in iTunes, so that I can just snatch it out of its dock base when I need to use it. The HotWire provides a solution: a "power-only" FireWire cable. Use it by itself with older iPods, or via an adapter like the PocketDock with newer iPods. Since it doesn't transfer data, you can't sync with it, but it's perfect for charging.
Belkin iPod Voice Recorder ($50, dock connector): This tiny gadget allows you to record voice notes on your iPod; you can then play them back on the iPod (the Voice Recorder also includes a tiny speaker), or transfer them to iTunes or another audio application when you get home. The sound is mono-only, and the recording quality isn't close to being high-fidelity, but then again, the Voice Recorder is intended for voice memos, not for concerts and performances.
Belkin Media Reader for iPod ($100, dock connector): If your iPod owner is also a digital photography buff, the Media Reader might be useful. It's basically a universal media card reader (CF, SmartMedia, SD, Memory Stick, and MMC) that plugs into the iPod's dock connector and then transfers photos to the iPod. When you get back to your computer, you can then import the photos into iPhoto or your favorite photo application. The Media Reader is most useful for those times when you either don't have a computer handy and you need to empty your media cards, or you want to make sure you have backup copies of important photos. There have been reports of poor transfer speeds when copying more than 256 MB of photos at once. Belkin and Apple are reportedly working on a fix.
PodPod iPod stand ($15, both): The new iPod docks are great for syncing, but they're also useful for keeping the iPod upright (and thus away from desk clutter and scratches). If you want a stand for a second location (or, if you have an iPod that didn't come with a dock), the inexpensive PodPod is a nice option. Simple? Sure. But it's hard to beat for the price, and it's quite attractive.
Griffin Technology iFM ($35, old): If you or your recipient is a radio listener, and has an older iPod, you can add an FM tuner via Griffin's iFM. It connects to the iPod's remote control jack and uses (and requires) the iPod remote to control the tuner. To cut down on cable clutter, the iFM piggy-backs onto the iPod remote and provides a place to store the iPod remote's cable.
Griffin Technology RadioSHARK ($70, both): Unfortunately, this product isn't available for the December holidays, but it's such a cool idea that I had to mention it. The RadioSHARK provides an AM/FM radio that connects to your Mac via USB; the included software lets you record radio to digital audio files, which can be played on your Mac or transferred to your iPod for on-the-go listening. Think of it as TiVo for radio.
Road Trip: Car Accessories -- To truly appreciate what it means to have thousands of songs on your iPod, you need to take a trip that passes through radio no-man's-land. Whether it's a lack of any radio stations at all, or an overwhelming proliferation of "all talk, all the time" stations, having your favorite music with you can make the trip much more enjoyable. But you need a few items to get your music playing in your car and to keep your iPod going. (In other words, setting someone's car up to be an iPod-playing-roadster is a great holiday gift.)
Griffin iTrip ($35, both): Although a number of FM transmitters - devices that broadcast your iPod's signal to a specific radio frequency, allowing you to listen to it via your car's FM radio - exist on the market, the iTrip is clearly the top dog, for a number of reasons. First, it's an amazingly small package that sits right on top of the iPod, leaving no wires or dangling parts. Second, it allows you to use any frequency on the FM dial, which means that you're much more likely to find an open frequency than with many of the other transmitters. (Griffin even offers the "iTrip Station Finder," a Mac OS X application that tells you which frequencies are open in each city, as reported by users.) Finally, and most importantly, I found the performance of the iTrip, especially on the newer iPods, to be much better than some of the other models on the market. The only downside is that setting the broadcast frequency is a bit of a quirky procedure; however, once you figure it out, it's easy to do. (Also see Travis Butler's detailed review of the iTrip in "Taking an iTrip: Three FM Transmitters" in TidBITS-681.)
Cassette adapter (cost varies, both): If the car stereo in question has a cassette deck, consider a cassette adapter instead of an FM transmitter. Originally developed years ago to connect portable CD players to car cassette players, these devices are now available for as little as $10, and can take the signal from your iPod's headphone jack and transmit it to your car stereo via an adapter that looks just like a cassette tape. Since there's no radio transmission involved, the sound quality is often significantly better. There are so many of these adapters on the market, and relatively little difference between them, that I didn't list any particular models here. For the most part, you can't go wrong with any one you pick.
Direct connections (cost varies, both): For the best possible sound in the car, you can try to connect your iPod lover's iPod directly to your car stereo. If it's a newer stereo with an auxiliary port on the front, it's as simple as buying a mini-to-mini cable: connect one end to the iPod's headphone jack (or, preferably, the line-level output on the dock base), and the other end to the stereo. If the car in question doesn't have such a jack, you may be able to add one for a reasonable price. Most car stereo dealers have kits, or you can find them online.
Griffin PowerPod ($25, both), Belkin Auto Kit for iPod ($40, dock connector), SiK imp ($26, both): To use the iPod for longer trips, you'll need a way to power it past its normal battery life. You could use the Belkin Battery Pack mentioned above, but these solutions let you power (and charge) your iPod from any automobile with an accessory power jack (the "cigarette lighter" jack in older cars). The PowerPod provides a standard FireWire port, so you can use it with any iPod, old or new, and it's now shipping with a free dock-connector-to-FireWire cable (which is $20 by itself from the Apple Store). The Belkin Auto Kit works only with newer iPods with a dock connector, but it has a headphone jack built into the charger body. The imp works with old and new iPods, and provides a true line-level output when used with newer iPods.
<http://catalog.belkin.com/ IWCatProductPage.process?Merchant_Id=1& amp;Product_Id=149006>
<http://store.sik.com/merchant.mv?Screen=PROD& amp;Store_Code=SS&Product_Code=03- 1004>
Belkin TuneDok ($30, both): For me, the biggest challenge of using my iPod in the car was where to put it. There are a number of mounting products on the market, but I prefer the TuneDok. It provides three different sizes of "cup" bases, one of which is sure to fit in your vehicle's cup holder. You then attach the actual iPod mount - which securely holds your (bare) iPod using the same suction cup design as the Belkin Battery Pack - to the base. The iPod's top and bottom are left exposed, so you can still connect an auto charger, audio cable, and/or FM transmitter. In fact, the TuneDok has a clip on the back to keep the audio or charger cable attached when you take the iPod out of the car. Okay, so it's hard to describe; trust me, though, it works very well.
Listen Out Loud: Speakers -- Apple responded to feedback when they added a line-level output to the dock base for the newer iPods; now users can get the best possible sound when connecting the iPod to a home stereo. Here are a few accessories for listening without headphones. If you have an older iPod, or a newer iPod without a dock base, you can also use these accessories; however, you must use the iPod's volume control to approximate a line-level output from the headphone jack.
Griffin iPod Home Connect Kit ($15, both): You can buy the right audio connection cables anywhere - such as your local Radio Shack or electronics superstore - but the Griffin set is a "can't go wrong" choice. It includes both iPod-to-male-RCA and iPod-to-female-RCA cables, which should let you connect to any home stereo that uses RCA inputs.
Tivoli PAL ($129, both): There are a lot of portable speakers out there, but the dirty little secret of "stereo" speakers is that if they're too close together, you pretty much lose any stereo imaging. So in many cases it's better to get a higher quality mono speaker. I highly recommend the Tivoli Audio PAL (Personal Audio Laboratory). You simply connect your iPod to the PAL's line-level input via a mini-to-mini cable. With its small size (6 by 4 by 4 inches; 15.2 by 10.2 by 10.2 cm), all-weather design, and 15 to 20 hours of rechargeable battery life (it can also run off AC power), you can take it with you on any adventure. Even better, it includes one of the best AM/FM tuners on the market, and, most importantly, it sounds great. I often use a PAL, iPod, and NaviPod remote (mentioned above) as a portable system (see my amateur picture at the URL below) - people are always amazed by the sound coming out of this tiny package. It also makes a great office or bedroom system.
Tivoli Model Two ($159, both): If you don't need portability and want true stereo sound, check out the PAL's big brother, the Model Two. It has the same amazing tuner and input jack, but with stereo sound via two separate, real wood, enclosures. It also has a second "computer mix" input that lets you hook up your Mac at the same time - a nice touch that lets the computer audio play full-time, whether listening to the iPod or the radio. Like the PAL, you'll be amazed by the sound, and the design is retro-cool.
Altec Lansing inMotion speaker system ($150, both): In terms of gadget factor, this portable speaker system wins hands-down. Stored for traveling, it's the size of a small hardcover book. But open it up and it provides stereo speakers in an impressive package that complements the iPod's own design - simply place the iPod in the built-in dock (which can actually charge and sync newer iPods) and you're good to go. Although the sound quality isn't as good as that of the Tivoli models mentioned above, it's a lot better than I expected given the size of the speakers. Plus the inMotion is a better solution for a suitcase, carry-on, or backpack due to its slim profile.
Cambridge SoundWorks Model Twelve ($400, both) or Acoustic Energy Aego 2 ($600, both): If you (or your loved one) are picky about sound and you've got money burning a hole in your pocket, check out the ultimate in two-channel, self-powered speaker systems - just plug one of these systems into your iPod (or your Mac, for that matter) and get great sound that will amaze your friends (and possibly annoy your neighbors). Both of these systems have stellar reputations; the Aego 2 takes the prize for best sound, but the Model Twelve system is "transportable" and can be powered by a battery, accessory power jack, or AC.
<http://www.cambridgesoundworks.com/store/ category.cgi?category=search& amp;item=c1md12ee&type=store>
Read Up -- Although the iPod and iTunes are easy to use, you'll never use them to their full potential without some help. I suggest a little iPod leisure reading.
Secrets of the iPod ($12, both): A number of iPod books are out there, but in my opinion none of them quite matches up to Chris Breen's Secrets of the iPod, published by Peachpit Press and now in its third edition. In addition to general iPod info, tips, tricks, and shortcuts, it also has the best section on troubleshooting of any iPod book I've seen. And it's the only book on the market that offers you free music (a link to Chris's own solo piano album).
We Can Rebuild Him -- If your favorite iPod user has an older iPod, or just hasn't taken very good care of their newer one, some gifts for repair and maintenance might be appreciated.
Ice Cream ($20-$25) or iCleaner ($17-$25): One of the drawbacks of the iPod's shiny, attractive surface is that it scratches easily. Ice Cream and iCleaner can both remove those small-but-far-too-noticeable scratches. The standard products are intended for your iPod's plastic surfaces, while Ice Cream M and iCleaner Pro are for removing scratches off its smooth metal backside.
Battery Replacement ($50-$100, both): One criticism of the iPod has been that its battery is non-replaceable. However, if your loved one's out-of-warranty iPod battery is starting to show its age, all is not lost. Laptops for Less now offers replacement batteries ($50) for both the original and newer iPod models, including detailed installation instructions. PDASmart offers both a do-it-yourself kit ($60) and a mail-in replacement service ($68). Finally, even Apple is now offering their own replacement service ($100). The upside to Apple's service that you get a 90-day warranty; the downside is that I've read reports that you may not actually get your original iPod back; instead you get a refurbished replacement unit. I haven't been able to confirm this either way.
AppleCare for iPod ($60 or less, both): Apple has long provided AppleCare policies for their computers; they've recently introduced one for the iPod. It's officially a "two-year" plan, which in AppleCare language means "two years from the date of iPod purchase." In other words, instead of 90 days of phone support and one year of warranty support, you get two full years of both. Note that you can buy AppleCare from authorized resellers including companies like TidBITS sponsor Small Dog Electronics.
PayBITS: If Dan's recommendations helped you find the perfect iPod
gift, say thanks with a couple of bucks via Amazon or PayPal.
Read more about PayBITS: <http://www.tidbits.com/paybits/>
Article 3 of 3 in series
An iPod is a wonderful way to carry your music library around with you... but sometimes, you just don't want to mess around with using headphones. I travel a lot, and want an external sound option I can carry with meShow full article
An iPod is a wonderful way to carry your music library around with you... but sometimes, you just don't want to mess around with using headphones. I travel a lot, and want an external sound option I can carry with me. The portable FM transmitters I reviewed a while back can also be used to broadcast to any FM radio, but you can run into the same signal issues you do in a car, and often there isn't even an FM radio to use.
Hence, portable speakers. You can buy cheap unpowered/unamplified speakers for $10-15 at just about any consumer electronics store like Best Buy, but even the best ones I've heard sound pretty lousy. You can also acquire a set of regular powered computer speakers and travel with them, but they're a mess to travel with and set up, and they need a wall outlet.
Or you can go somewhere in between by purchasing a set of battery-powered portable speakers. These are easy to carry around (smaller than some of the unpowered sets I've seen), but the batteries allow amplification, giving a much louder, richer sound than unpowered speakers can manage. I've used two of them: the Sony SRS-T55 and the Monster Cable iSpeaker Portable.
<http://www.sonystyle.com/is-bin/ INTERSHOP.enfinity/eCS/Store/en/-/USD/SY _DisplayProductInformation-Start? ProductSKU=SRST57>
Sony SRS-T55 -- I found these speakers at an Apple Store in Indianapolis about a year ago (they have apparently been superseded by the SRS-T57), and they've been faithful performers since then. These are traditional magnet-cone speakers, mounted in "wings" on a folding case, with the batteries in the central box. The whole thing folds to a block about as long as an iPod, half an inch (12.7 mm) taller, and about twice as thick.
Overall, I've been very happy with these speakers; they seem well-designed and solidly built, and are a major improvement over unpowered speakers. A nice touch is that you can use them unpowered if the batteries run out, though it highlights the advantage amplification adds! I have only a few minor complaints:
After a year of use, the hinges have loosened some - not enough to cause problems, but enough to make me wonder how well they'll last another few years.
Although the shape is convenient for packing in a suitcase, it doesn't fit well in a laptop bag.
The battery compartment latch is problematic; for a couple of months, it kept popping open unexpectedly, although it is now working again, for no particular reason I can see.
The audio patch cord is permanently attached, only about two feet long, and can't be stored in the case; this limits how far apart you can put the iPod and the speakers, and makes carrying the whole unit around messier than it could be.
Minor nits aside, I like these speakers and would recommend them.
Monster Cable iSpeaker Portable -- These speakers appear to be identical to the Wharfedale LoudMan Portable Flat-Panel Speakers; I'm not sure who originally manufactures them, but Monster Cable seems to have a much broader distribution network.
The iSpeaker Portable is a flat-panel speaker set built into a case that looks and works like a double-CD jewel case. Although I've been happy with the SRS-T55, I bought an iSpeaker Portable a month ago for a couple of reasons: I hoped the touted NXT flat-panel technology might give better sound, and it fits into a pocket on my laptop bag. The results were mixed; it fits my bag beautifully, but the sound is only about equal to, though notably different from, the Sony (read on for sound comparisons).
While I'd still recommend these speakers, I'm overall less satisfied with them than I am with the SRS-T55. The main problem I have is that the design seems unaccountably poor/cheap in spots: the swing-out panels stick in the closed position, the battery compartment door doesn't fit solidly and has to be fiddled with to latch properly, and the wires leading to the speaker elements are bare and exposed. I expect to see things like this when I disassemble a speaker, not when I flip it open to use.
Other minor nits:
The speaker/iPod cable is a separate piece, and is solidly made with what appear to be gold-plated connectors - appropriate for a company that made its fame from high-quality audio cables. However, there's no place to store the cable inside the speaker case, so you must carry it separately.
It needs more room to set up than the SRS-T55, and the panels must be spread fully open for best sound.
It's more fragile than the Sony; I feel like I need to treat it with special care to make sure it lasts.
The iSpeaker Portable's defining characteristic is the way it packs decent sound into a slim package; I just wish it had better attention to detail, both in design and construction.
Overall Performance and Notes -- I'm not an audiophile. That said, neither of these speakers will win any audio awards, except in their own narrow category. Both have decent highs and midrange, but are seriously lacking in bass. The iSpeaker Portable's flat-panel technology has a crisp, clean sound to it, but feels somewhat flat and hollow compared with the Sony; the SRS-T55 has a deeper, richer sound, but it's not as clear or well-defined. Overall, I'd rate them about equal in sound quality, with my preference flip-flopping between them depending on my mood. Both are capable of filling a 30-foot by 40-foot (9.1-meters by 12.2-meters) room and being heard another 50 feet (15.2 m) down the hallway, which is reasonably impressive for something this size running off batteries.
Both speakers use 4 AA batteries, and they both have a level of battery drain that's low enough to last several hours with NiMH rechargeable batteries. I like to sleep to music, and they usually last about two nights before needing to change batteries. (As with most power-hungry devices, I highly recommend NiMH rechargeable batteries, which sell for extremely reasonable prices these days.) Both can also be used with optional AC adapters, sold separately.
If I had to pick between them, it would be tough; in the end, I'd probably decide on the iSpeaker Portable, just because it fits in my laptop bag and operates well enough otherwise, though I wish it were more solidly built.
Both of these speakers are designed for general use and work with any device sporting a headphone jack (such as a PowerBook). One other choice designed specifically for the iPod is the Altec Lansing inMotion. For third generation iPods, it acts as a dock as well as a speaker set, allowing you to sync and even charge your iPod. However, with a list price of $150, it's three times the $50 list price of the SRS-T57 and the $60 list price of the iSpeaker Portable; even at usual discounted prices, it's still double the price of the others. Dan Frakes thought highly of it in his iPod Gift Guide, and it's gotten some good buzz elsewhere, but it's a little too rich for my blood right now.
[Travis Butler is the computer geek for a small distribution company located in Kansas City. He has dreamed of computer-based jukeboxes since the late 1980s, but is still boggled sometimes at how far things have come in the last few years.]`
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