Almost everyone has a case, accessory, or speaker system for the iPod, and it gets a bit difficult to note the ones that stand out from the crowd, but here are a few suggestions from Mac Edition Radio for 2006!
There are a slew of speaker system options, starting with the retro cool Specktone from Speck Products, which we reviewed earlier in the year. The Specktone is fun and stylish with a room-filling bass supplied by a seriously amplified 28-watt sub-woofer. Our only wish for it was a remote control. The case is beautifully finished wood, and the controls are simple: on/off and volume! It comes in three hip colors - black, white, and green - and is the perfect gift for the hipster on your list. The Canvas Sport fits the 2nd generation Nano and iPod Video, and even though it’s very hip, inspired by a set of Chuck Taylor basketball sneakers, it’s only one of Speck's witty and playful designs. I mean who else would make the iKitty or iGuy? We always wonder what irreverent take on the iPod or computer will be next on their list!
For more infomation visit: www.speckproducts.com
A new company, mStation, introduced the mStation 2.1 Stereo Orb earlier this fall. The Orb is a small round ball, with an integrated iPod dock on top. It comes complete with a full set of inserts for just about any iPod made, and has two speakers and a sub-woofer (the .1) built-in. When I first heard the unit at the N.A.P.P.’s Photoshop World in Las Vegas, it was being used to supply music for the Midnight Madness dance contest, where Photoshop Gurus danced for prizes and glory. The little Orb did the trick, filling the room with sound, which was quite the feat considering its size. It comes complete with a remote control, and a full set of bass/treble adjustments. As you click the remote to change the tone, a small LED glows on the unit to let you know that the remote is working. This brought up my only complaint … the color never changes to let you know when the system is set to flat, or no tonal change. You can count the LED blinks, but it might be nice to have another way (i.e., color change) to indicate a flat default setting. The control is quite sensitive; a click in any direction has a quite pronounced effect on the sound, so it would be nice to know where you are. That aside, the unit is quite good, and perfect for a bedroom, dorm room, or kitchen. I’ve tried other globe type designs in the past, and found that I didn’t like their design from an aesthetic sense, and the sound was almost universally lousy. Not so with the mStation 2.1 Orb. It looks nice, is the right price, comes in black or white, and the sound is rich, without undue coloration, and the powered subwoofer provides enough punch to fill the room. Making things more festive, the Orb is now avaiable in white, black, silver, pink, green, and blue! Blazing Orb colors Batman!
For more infomation visit: www.mstationaudio.com
One of the coolest products this year is also the smallest. The Griffin iTalk Pro turns your iPod Video into an audiophile quality digital audio recorder. When the iPod Video was introduced, most people were ooohing and ahhing over the video output and the beautiful new screen. Not us ... we were excited about the buried-in-the-fine-print specification that it could record audio at a full 16-bit audio at 44.1 kHz, which is essentially CD quality. Naturally the built in microphones couldn’t sound that good, could they? It wouldn’t compare to our dedicated Digital Audio decks, could it? Well the good news is that it can! For under $50 the iTalk Pro can record high-quality audio from its own built in stereo microphones, but for my money, it really comes into its own when used with an external microphone. For a fantastic and inexpensive combination, mate the iTalk Pro with Griffin’s own discontinued stereo Lapel Microphone, and you have a quick and easy Podcasting system. Naturally, there are some limitations, you can’t set recording levels beyond settings of: Auto, High, and Low. And you want to make sure your iPod is charged, because the dock is occupied by the iTalk Pro, so you can’t use auxillary power, but the sound quality even better than I expected, and for the price it’s a bargain. Plug in an external microphone into the stereo mini-jack and you might just shelve some of your more expensive audio recording gear! Tom Sherman, who helped test our unit, found that it worked great, but his iPod ran out of juice after about 3 hours of recording. Since the dock was in use by the iTalk Pro, that meant the end of recording until he could recharge the iPod, so maybe the future will find a way to run the iPod off an outside power supply.
For more infomation visit: www.griffintechnology.com
One of our favorite vendors through the years has been Contour Design. We originally heard about Contour when they introduced their G-Rack, which turned the top of your G3 or G4 into a flat usable surface, or CD storage slots. Since then they have become the favorite of Final Cut Pro users everywhere with their Shuttle Pro controller, and their Showcase line of iPod cases continue to be a hit with users and reviewers. A combination of clear plastic with rubber edges, they are tough and easy to use. Best of all, taking an iPod out of one takes but a second, with no stretching or pulling. The Showcase line fits most iPods. We liked the white models, but they start to show dirt right away, so we took the black ones for a spin; not only don’t they show wear and tear, they look right at home with your iPod. There are fancier looking cases out there, but not many that are as well-thought out.
For more infomation visit: www.contourcase.com
For the iPod lover in your family who also happens to love baseball, basketball, or comic book heros, then go no further than XtremeMac, who has introduced a great line of cases created in partnership with Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and folks like Marvel Comics and the Simpsons. The only problem is they are limited availability items and you might need to hunt around for them. Their TuffWrap cases are just that - tough outer cases bonded to softer inner cases. We reviewed their excellent FS1 earphones earlier this year, and they are a quick way to dramatically improve the sound of the iPod user on your list. They have also introduced an audio recording adapter for the 2nd Generation iPod Nano, and the iPod Video, the MicroMemo High Fidelity Digital Audio Recorder.. but it arrived too late for a full test ... so we will update you on our review in the near future.
For more infomation visit: www.xtrememac.com
Lots of folks now make high-quality earphones, but most agree that they all owe a debt to Etymotic, whose ER-4 earphones are considered the gold-standard by which most earphones are measured. Their ER-6 Isolator models were created with travel and the iPod and MP3 players in mind, and their increased sensitivity make them an ideal match. For the discerning audiophile on your list, either the ER-4 or the lower-priced ER-6 would be an ideal gift. Both offer superb sound, uncolored and accurate, from a company known for its positive energy and customer service. The ER-4 are dead-on accurate and flat, so much so that some users use the Etymotic ER4P-24 cable which bumps the bass response up 10db. Audiophiles often judge products by how flat they are, by their accuracy to the source, but a funny thing is that most of them don’t really want our systems to be that accurate, we need a bit of coloration (known to audiophiles as “musicality”) to make the sound come alive. So, while flat may be ideal on paper, in real life, it’s usually a bit lifeless. Add in the subjective sense of what represents music to a listener, and it’s easy to see why one size never fits all in audio. A serious note about the in-your-ear design is that by giving an earphone with this design as a gift, you also might be saving someone’s hearing in the process, since the common earbuds that ship with iPods and MP3 players allow the outside ambient noise in, users have to really crank the sound on their players to drown it out. The result is almost certain accelerated hearing loss. The in-your-ear earphone design seals off the ear canal, which almost entirely mutes outside sounds, so that you can hear the music at a much lower, and safer level, yet achieve much higher fidelity in the process. Of course you can’t hear much of the outside world, so they might not be ideal in situations where for safety sake you should be able to hear the outside world, but the sound quality of this design simply leaves the others in the dust and preserves your hearing to boot! Etymotic just introduced the first Bluetooth earphones, the ETY-8 and we plan a detailed review of them in the future.
For more infomation visit: www.etymotic.com
How about some inexpensive headphones that rock? The Skullcandy Icons are under $25 and sound great. Just as important, they are almost indestructible. Skullcandy is a new company that has a huge following on college campuses, with hip, trendy designs that combine low price, good looks, and good sound, plus an attitude. They have a full line of products including a great MP3/WMA/CD player, the Skullcandy 360. With a unique wired remote control, you can bury the player in your backpack or pocket and control the unit with its remote control.
For more infomation visit: www.skullcandy.com
Want great sound from your iPod, where ever you go? One of our first choices is from Altec Lansing, one of the legendary names in audio. When the iPod originally came out we reviewed their first inMotion portable audio system. Since then they have reinvented and improved upon their original idea with a line of speakers that accommodate just about every iPod made. Their newest model is the IM9, which comes complete with a backpack. Why? Because this unit is meant to travel, with tough rubberized edges, and more than a full day of battery life on its 4 C-cell batteries. Looking like a rectangular black hockey puck, the inMotion 9 has a rich sound, far more than we expected from a portable system only 3 inches thick. It accepts inputs from other sources via an auxiliary jack. A thoughtful touch is video out for watching videos from your Video iPod on your TV. If you want your sound to go, the iM9 is a great way to go.
For more infomation visit: www.alteclansing.com
There are lots of docks that promise to connect your iPod to your stereo, some will connect to your TV, but our favorite is the DLO HomeDock Deluxe, which connects your iPod to your audio system and TV. Its killer feature is that it allows you to navigate your iPod’s menus on your TV. No more squinting at a tiny little screen two inches in diameter - you can now view the menu on your wall-sized display! I know some folks might argue that you can use an Airport Express with iTunes, or a Squeezebox to stream music, but not everyone wants to turn their computer into their home entertainment system. A small, elegant device like the HomeDock Deluxe allows your iPod to become the portable source of entertainment for the house. If you are fortunate enough to have a second home, then the HomeDock Deluxe allows you to set up the dock, secure in the knowledge that all it takes is an iPod to travel with your favorite music and videos. As you might expect it has a remote control, and it’s build quality is very high so it will complement your home theater system. Naturally, it will charge your iPod when you aren’t using it. One nice touch is that it ships with just about every cable you could need, so you won't have to search one out at additional cost. DLO stands for Digital Lifestyle Outfitters and they have made a significant impact on the Mac market. We expect to see many more of their products in the future.
For more infomation visit: www.dlo.com
Harris Fogel, Posted 12/9/2006