Beginner’s Guide to iPod, Part III: Necessary Accessories for Typical Users | iLounge Article


Beginner’s Guide to iPod, Part III: Necessary Accessories for Typical Users

In the first two parts of this Guide, we discussed how to pick an iPod and the basics of how to use one. The third most common question iLounge editors receive is equally important: "which iPod accessories should I buy immediately?"

When creating this list of recommendations, iLounge assumed two things: first, that the average person will want to connect an iPod to a computer, carry it around, use it in a car, and eventually replace its headphones. Second, that the average person doesn't want to spend a lot of money or time doing these things, and will prefer easy solutions to more expensive or time-consuming ones. We therefore saved our recommendations of higher-priced and niche items for the remaining parts of this Guide.

If you've visited our Reviews section, you're probably aware that iLounge has already reviewed over 115 different accessories for iPods, the majority of which were designed for the larger, white-and-chrome iPods. More recently, accessory makers have developed cases and add-ons specific to the iPod mini, too, and we're now confident that there are top-quality items available for both platforms.

Our full-sized reviews, which are linked to the sections below, discuss several overall quality levels of iPod accessories: those that we would recommend for all people, those that we feel comfortable recommending to people with specific needs, those that we probably wouldn't recommend over existing alternatives, and those that we really disliked and/or found problematic. These levels roughly correspond to iLounge's "Excited," "Happy," "It's Okay" and "Sad" ratings, though as our reviews generally point out, certain products are on the fine edge of one rating or another.

Below, you'll see four categories of accessories: connectivity, carrying cases, headphones, and in-car accessories. The products selected below are our current favorites in their respective categories, and we're proud to guarantee that they were picked without any input or influence from advertisers.

Part I: So You Want to Buy an iPod?
Part II: Five Steps to Using Your iPod
Part III: Necessary Accessories for Typical Users
Part IV: Awesome Accessories for Power Users
Part V: From Photos to eBooks, Creating Content and Troubleshooting

Part III: Necessary Accessories for Typical Users (June 9, 2004)

Connectivity Accessories

If you're a Mac user or you purchased an iPod mini, everything you need to connect your iPod to your computer is already in the box. If you're a PC desktop user with a full-sized iPod, the earlier parts of this Guide previously noted that you'll probably want either a USB cable (Global Source, $15.99; Apple, $19.00) or a Belkin FireWire card ($34.99 and up). PC laptop users lacking FireWire ports can also consider Belkin's FireWire Notebook Adapter (MSRP $59.99, commonly available for $43.00 and up). We reiterate that use of the FireWire cable and FireWire ports is only necessary if you want to get the best transfer speeds out of your iPod, otherwise, USB cables are an entirely acceptable option.

We also previously mentioned that many users like Apple's official iPod cabled Remote Control ($39.00), and others like the Dock ($39.00), both of which are sold separately unless you purchase a 20GB or 40GB iPod. You'll be the best judge of whether you need each of these items; we mention them again here only because they're common items that we've never formally reviewed, and because there aren't any truly great alternatives to either product.


Apple's official iPod cabled Remote Control

As an aside, we'll mention only one additional beginner's tip for each of Apple's official accessories: try not to leave them in a hot car. Hairline cracks have developed in two different parts of the white plastic of one of our official iPod Remote Controls, and we think that similar heat and stress sensitivity issues occur in other Apple accessories - we hear more complaints about cracks in Apple's free earphones than any other component. Though the company does an excellent job of replacing these parts when you call for warranty service, it's easier not to have the need for that service in the first place.

Carrying Case Accessories

White, shiny iPods gave birth to an entire industry: scratch-protecting, colored iPod cases are the most popular accessories that iLounge reviews. In order of preference, we believe that silicone rubber cases are the easiest to recommend to iPod buyers, followed by leather cases, then followed by hard plastic and/or metal cases.

Silicone rubber cases have proved a perfect match for full-sized and mini iPods. Thin, resilient, and available in many different colors, iSkin's and Lajo's rubber cases offer different advantages - iSkin's latest cases eVo (iPod, $29.99) and iSkin mini (iPod mini, $24.99) cover an entire iPod except its controls, and are designed to permit easy access for top-mounting accessories. iSkin's cases include hard screen protectors and belt clips. Lajo's eXoflp (iPod, $21.50) and exoflpmini (iPod mini, $21.50) cover the whole iPod except its screen (iShades protectors and belt clips are sold separately) and permit superior bottom access for Dock Connector accessories.

Both cases are available in multiple colors, including glow in the dark, translucent and solid versions. Because they're protective, inexpensive and color-customizable, we would pick either of these two cases as a "must have" accessory for almost any new iPod owner. We'd recommend Lajo's affordable cases for people who don't need belt clips, and iSkin's for people who want to clip their iPods.


iSkin eVo

The Good: Great screen protection, beveled button design, top-mounting accessory access, flat back design.
The Bad: No control protection, potentially aggravating Dock Connector protection, questionable belt clip, and required purchase of unnecessary accessories.


iSkin mini

The Good: Quality rubber, includes belt clip and nice screen guard, top-mounting peripheral compatibility, above-average protection of the iPod mini, good colors.
The Bad: Lacks Click Wheel protection, belt clip is on the small side, Dock Connector cover slightly tough to open.


Lajo eXoflp

The Good: Quality rubber, great Click Wheel protection, great colors, our favorite Dock access design.
The Bad: No screen protection, no access for top-mounting peripherals.


Lajo exoflpmini

The Good: Quality rubber, great Click Wheel protection, great colors, our favorite Dock access design.
The Bad: No screen protection, no access for top-mounting peripherals.

Leather cases for the iPod are also popular options. The best combination of price and appearance we've seen in a leather case for the iPod so far is Marware's C.E.O. Glove 3G ($27.95), a snug-fitting, handsomely stitched black enclosure with a zipper and detachable belt clip. Though higher-end options are available at higher prices, Marware's C.E.O. Glove does a very good job of protecting the iPod, permitting instant access to screen and controls, and looking sophisticated at the same time. We're less enthusiastic about inexpensive leather options for the iPod mini, though Global Source's recently released Deluxe Leather Case ($27.99) is a good choice, if potentially cumbersome for some users. Part IV of our Guide will discuss truly excellent - but higher priced - leather options for both the iPod and iPod mini.


Marware's CEO Glove 3G

The Good: Resilient, great use of leather, thin and quite protective of most iPod components.
The Bad: Leather is second-tier � but by no means fourth-tier � and iPod buttons are left exposed.


Global Source�s Deluxe Leather Case (mini)

The Good: Quality leather, good iPod mini protection, nice magnetic clasp, fully detachable belt clip, good price.
The Bad: Imperfect fit of screen and Click Wheel holes, needs to be entirely opened to access Dock Connector, hangs awkwardly upside down when belt-mounted.

Some iPod users prefer hard cases, and our current favorite is Contour Design's Showcase ($39.95). Now available in eight different colors, the Showcase uses a three-piece hard plastic shell (front, back, and clasp) to lock the iPod inside for protection. Only the controls and ports are accessible when the case is closed. With an attractive belt clip (included), the Showcase truly does show off an iPod while permitting you to wear it or place it on a flat surface. We especially like the Black and White versions of the Showcase.


Contour Design's Showcase

The Good: The Showcase exemplifies a sturdy, slim, and secure case for 3G iPods.
The Bad: A minor issue... the interior has no soft lining to prevent the iPod from getting scratched.

Replacement Headphone Accessories

The typical music lover only replaces packed-in headphones when they break, and therefore it's not surprising that so many people continue to use the white but otherwise unspectacular earbuds that Apple includes with every iPod. Realizing that many people won't spend more than $40.00 on replacement headphones, we somewhat reluctantly recommend a pair of headphones we ourselves loved before we appreciated the difference between cheap, good sound and more expensive, great sound.

Sony's Fontopia MDR-EX70 and the more recent MDR-EX71s (MSRP $49.95, street price $33 and up) are in-ear-style phones that deliver quality audio and great comfort. They can ride heavier on the low-end/bass than many headphones we've heard - by comparison with the crisper high-end of Apple's packed-in earbuds - and require a bit of a break-in period. But they're extremely comfortable and provide strong passive noise isolation - better overall than even Apple's own In-Ear Headphones. Hard-core iPod fanatics import or seek out imported white-colored versions of these earphones, which are available in long and short cord lengths, to replace Apple's earbuds while preserving the "iPod look." Overall, we think that the MDR-EX70s and 71s are great for the price, but serious audiophiles will want to see the next part of our Guide for more expensive options.


Sony Fontopia MDR-EX70LP

The Good: Outstanding full-range sound at a low price.
The Bad: Most territories appear to have only the black EX70LP version, the white EX70SL are apparently only available in the Far East. Silly miniscule case holds only earphones, not the cable.

In-Car Accessories

Apple designed the iPod to be used with headphones, but it can be fantastic when connected to a car stereo, too. The only hitch: unless you're willing to consider a single, expensive option that we'll discuss in the next part of this Guide, you'll typically need to combine two different inexpensive parts that will produce comparable, but not superior results. First, you'll pick either a direct line-in cable, a cassette tape adapter, or a FM transmitter based on your car's capabilities. Then, unless the first item includes its own power adapter, you'll need a second accessory to keep your iPod charged while in the car.

Few car stereos have direct line-in capabilities, which would be our first choice and easiest option to guarantee audio quality. If your car has direct line in, SiK's imp cable ($29.95) gives your iPod almost everything it needs on the road: a direct line out jack and power charging. You'll only need a male-to-male line-quality audio cable to go between your car and Sik's cable. Serious audiophiles lacking direct line-in car jacks will want to see the more expensive in-car options mentioned in Part III of this guide.


Sik imp In-Car Charger/Line Out

The Good: Cheap, clean audio for current-model iPods.
The Bad: Do older iPod users need another car charger?

With affordability in mind, our "second best" recommendations are cassette tape adapters. People with cassette tape decks can use Monster's iCarPlay Cassette Adapter ($19.95) or Sony's CPA-9C (MSRP $19.95, discussed within the Monster review) to connect the iPod to the car's stereo - so long as the tape deck loads tapes on their side. While these cassette adapters' audio quality isn't as pristine as a direct line-quality signal, it will sound great to 95% of purchasers. As a final note, we'll caution readers not to choose cheaper cassette adaptor solutions, as we've had bad experiences with their both audio and build quality. Twenty dollars ($10 more than cheaper cassette adapters) is a small price to pay for clean in-car sound, and you'll surely need to buy a replacement if you pick an off-brand.


Monster Cassette Adapter

The Good: Clean audio output favorably comparable to Sony's similar product.
The Bad: The neutral case color may still contrast with the interior of your vehicle. And depending on where you buy it, Sony�s similar Cassette Adapter may be cheaper.

FM radio transmitters overwhelm a channel of your choice on your car's FM radio, filling it with the music contained on your iPod. Sounds good, right? In practice, it's alright. As we mention in most of our FM transmitter reviews, even under optimal circumstances, FM transmission is unlikely to deliver audiophile-grade audio quality. And frankly, we think that FM transmitters so rarely benefit from such optimal circumstances that we'd never recommend them to users who have cassette tape decks or direct line options in their cars. Even if they look great, we've come to consider them third-best options overall.

If FM radio is all your car includes, Griffin's iTrip FM Transmitter ($35.00) integrates wonderfully with the iPod to broadcast your tunes over the airwaves directly into your car's radio. Though Belkin's TuneCast II ($49.99) is a bulkier and seemingly more expensive option, some users have found that it works in places the iTrip does not (and vice-versa). Belkin's device has a higher retail price, but iLounge users have located discounted prices online that make both devices comparable.


Griffin iTrip

The Good: Small, simple, stylish and cool. The iTrip rocks your tunes from iPod to FM with exceptional reception quality, and for $35 it�s a great deal.
The Bad: There are none.


Belkin's TuneCast II

The Good: Small, easy-to-use FM transmitter includes LCD tuner and batteries, therefore is likely to work anywhere.
The Bad: Depending on store, may be more expensive than comparable FM transmitters.

Keeping power running to your iPod while in the car is the final part of the equation. Though several companies make inexpensive car chargers for the iPod, our favorite right now is Belkin's Auto Kit (MSRP $49.99, street price $27 and up), which matches the full-sized iPod's color, has a nice plug for the iPod's Dock Connector port, interfaces with any cassette tape adapter, and includes an additional audio amplifier just in case you want to play with one. We recommend keeping the amplifier low in order to prevent audio distortion, the only complaint users have had about this nice-looking Belkin device.


Belkin Auto Kit

The Good: This unit is certainly top notch and is a must buy for those who love their iPods as much as their cars!
The Bad: None.

In the next part of this Guide, we'll look at another collection of iPod accessories - deluxe items that will appeal most to users with bigger budgets and special requirements. We'll look forward to seeing you then.

Jeremy Horwitz is Senior Editor of iLounge and practices intellectual property law in his spare time. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the "best book about law school - ever," and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.

Part I: So You Want to Buy an iPod?
Part II: Five Steps to Using Your iPod
Part III: Necessary Accessories for Typical Users
Part IV: Awesome Accessories for Power Users
Part V: From Photos to eBooks, Creating Content and Troubleshooting

« Beginner’s Guide to iPod, Part IV: Awesome Accessories for Power Users

Beginner’s Guide to iPod, Part II: Five Steps to Using Your iPod »

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Yea i like these woo im first again cant wait for tomorrows one keep up da good work Jeremy

Posted by Snowy in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 9, 2004 at 2:38 AM (CDT)


i thought it was very well writen and a good read

Posted by tristan burke in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 9, 2004 at 4:32 AM (CDT)


I have the belkin auto kit - if you have a casette deck in your car - i HIGHLY recommend it - the line out means you don’t have to fill your car with wires to and from your ipod, and you don’t have to fumble around setting the ipods volume control hoping you won’t set it too hot for line level *(i am an audio engineer - geeking out).

the only thing i’d like to change is:
it’d be cool if you could connect to your casette deck through the line out without it being plugged into your charger (say, if your cell phone is dead)...

the only draw back is in some cars you may be able to hear the whirring of the casette adapter… but hey… worse things have happened.

Posted by puck in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 9, 2004 at 5:32 AM (CDT)


OOPS! i forgot…

a great little accessory for $10 -
the javoedge screen protector.

I have the marware sport case (love it!) somehow though i got very light scratches on my screen.

to prevent further damage i bought the screen protector and when i put it in place - you could no longer see the original scratches… the screen looks like new!

Posted by puck in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 9, 2004 at 5:33 AM (CDT)


dont forget cleaners in later parts

Posted by BIGP in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 9, 2004 at 12:02 PM (CDT)


cant wait intil tommarrow

Posted by catashtrophe in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 9, 2004 at 12:33 PM (CDT)


I have a nice hook-up for my 3G iPod (10GB or 20GB) in my Honda Element EX.  The direct line-in outlet included on Elements is the way to go.  I used cassette-adapters with my previous wheels and also picked up the Belkin FM Transmitter to compare.  TIP:  turning a Sunglass Hut visor clip upside down while attached to the overhead storage cubby offers a convenient and stable location for my iPod (with the Marware CEO Leather Glove) while being cheap and non-permanent.

Posted by beachbumbob in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 9, 2004 at 1:57 PM (CDT)


I think it should be mentioned that the FM transmitters, such as the itrip are illegal in the UK… poxy beauracrats.

Posted by Greg Edwards in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 9, 2004 at 6:44 PM (CDT)


I have a sony x-plode deck in my car and installed a direct line 1/4” to rca jack. My friend uses a cassette adapter in his car. The difference in sound quality is amazing. The direct line doen’t distort or muffle the sound at all. These problems are the case in my friends car.

Posted by Ross in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 9, 2004 at 9:04 PM (CDT)


Good basic guide for a newbie such as myself. Thanks a lot.

Posted by Tiketti in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 10, 2004 at 12:39 AM (CDT)


With regard to the lack of Griffin iTrip, I ordered one from Semsons & Co. Inc.
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
I received my iTrip within 7 days.

Posted by Paul Jackson in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 10, 2004 at 1:19 PM (CDT)


On the topic i just use the cassete adaptor from my discman - its not the greatest quality but better den nuffin!

Posted by Snowy in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 11, 2004 at 12:26 AM (CDT)


The Belkin FM unit is expensive to operate with the speed with which it uses up batteries.

The only downside that I’ve found with the iTrip is that it’s broadcast range is very short compared to the Belkin.  With the Belkin, my friends riding with me on their motorcycle can pick up the FM signal; this is not the case with the iTrip unit.

Posted by Tim in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 12, 2004 at 6:52 PM (CDT)


The iTrip is so much better than the belkin fm transmitter.  No wires to deal with, plus it looks like it belongs with the iPod.

Posted by AJ in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 12, 2004 at 10:12 PM (CDT)


If you own a PC laptop ... you might want to get a **POWERED FIREWIRE HUB**—about $30 - $40—because otherwise your iPod won’t be powered (in 99% of PC laptops) while you are transferring data / updating, etc.  Plug the iPod into the hub, and then the hub into your PC 4-pin firewire port.

Posted by Terry in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 17, 2004 at 11:32 AM (CDT)


is there anything on the market that will allow you to connect early ipod to desktop pc without a firewire port,but which has usb,

Posted by daren axon in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 18, 2004 at 12:31 AM (CDT)


I am new to IPOD and want to use it in my 2004 Chevy Avalanche. It has a Bose system and i want to keep that same consistant sound. Can anyone recommend a installation sytem for my car?

Posted by PaulieIpod in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 20, 2004 at 7:46 AM (CDT)


i havent bought an ipod yet…still researching. on the apple site they have a Monster iCarPlay Wireless - FM Transmitter for iPods
and i would like to know if this is any good? i don’t have a cassette player in my chrysler sebring and i’m not sure if i have a direct line in. does anyone know if i do? and is the icarplay thing any good?

Posted by michal in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 20, 2004 at 5:30 PM (CDT)


Can anyone help me. I have just got a mini iPod and want to know if anyone knows if you can hook it up to a BMW Stereo. BMW US offer it as an option instead of an auto changer. Is there anyway I can do this in the UK as it is not an offical BMW extra here?

Posted by Andrew Gillick in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 24, 2004 at 8:37 AM (CDT)


I see (at Best Buy) that Belkin makes a digital FM transmitter ($49) as well as an analog ($20). Does anyone have experience with the digital unit, and is it worth the extra money?

Posted by BobSmall in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 24, 2004 at 12:26 PM (CDT)

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