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Backstage: Vote on Podcast, preview 5 new reviews

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Thursday, December 2, 2004
Backstage Categories:

Life has been crazy since I started full-time work with iLounge two months ago, and I have to admit that I really like it crazy. Between our Podcast, the Buyers’ Guide, tons of reviews and a few cool things that are going on behind the scenes, I’ve been busier and happier than I can recall in months, and it looks like that’s going to continue full steam ahead in the near future.

So, wonderful readers, I’m using this blog entry for two purposes. First, I want to ask whether we should continue doing Podcasts in the future. Comments on the first one have been universally positive, but as with all new technologies, there haven’t been enough comments to constitute a critical mass from my perspective. We have a vague sense of how many people downloaded the first one (thousands, not tens or hundreds of thousands), but we’re still not sure whether it’s worth taking the considerable time to create them for a currently small audience. Thoughts?

Second, in Backstage style, I wanted to drop a handful of new reviews your way before they appear on the main iLounge site: Audio Outfitters’ earPod, BTI’s Auto/Air Adapter, Macally’s PodWave and PodDuo, and Marware’s CEO Classic 4G. The text in each review isn’t finalized yet, but they’re close, and the grades are final. They’re here for now mostly because we’re not ready to push the iPod Photo, HP Tattoos and Socks pieces off of the main page yet, but like a few other pieces we have here, they’re pretty much ready to go live. Click on Read More for tons and tons of additional reading, but no photos. I could put up another five or so reviews today, but we’ll just see how this mini-flood works out for the time being.

Audio Outfitters earPod

We’ll admit – we have a problem. We lose the foam covers for our earphones with some regularity, mostly when the earphones go in and out of our pockets. We’ve lost a few iPod covers and a few cell phone headset covers, too. It doesn’t happen with earphones that include carrying cases – assuming that we use them – but it has happened often enough to make us receptive to a solution.

Audio Outfitters has one. The company’s earPod ($11.99) is a white plastic storage case that protects and winds the cord of earbuds such as Apple’s. Once your earbuds are safe, you can toss the case in your pocket or belt clip the whole affair on your pants if you desire. earPod is so simple in concept that we won’t spend a lot of time discussing it, but here are the basics.

Picture an oversized, all-white Oreo cookie and you’ll understand the basics of earPod’s design. Then imagine what you’d find inside if you spun off one of the Oreo’s cookie pieces: frosting, right? In the earPod, one face rotates off to reveal a large white padded hole with room for Apple’s packed-in iPod earbuds or most other in-canal earphones. Plastic spokes around the hole provide multiple openings for your cord, which then winds around the protective central chamber. After winding, you seal the case shut. If you want to use the earPod’s rear-mounted, small but sturdy belt clip, you can, or you can detach the clip to give the case a thinner profile for your pocket or bag.

The earPod does exactly what it promises to do, and we generally like how it looks and feels. While not a perfect match for the iPod in the sense that its matte plastic is dull by comparison with Apple’s acrylic, it looks good enough and is likely more scratch-resistant for Audio Outfitters’ choice of materials. And though it’s a little larger than we’d like – mostly due to its ability to hold more than just Apple’s small earbuds – we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to people who want to protect their earphones. It’s solid and well-made, and for $11.99 won’t break your wallet if you need its functionality.

Grade: B

BTI Auto/Air Adapter

American Airlines promised that our cross-country flight would be off the ground at 12:16, but it was 4:00 and we hadn’t left yet - no surprise given their recently mediocre reputation. Thankfully, we were counting on our juiced-up iPod photo to keep us entertained, but after four hours, the battery of a 3G iPod or mini would have been almost half gone, and a 4G battery would be down to two-thirds – before we even took off. Would there have been any way to keep the music playing all trip long, even despite the delays?

Answer: yes. Assuming that you’re in the airplane’s correct seating section – something you can plan for in advance – Battery Technology Incorporated’s new iPod Auto/Air Adapter ($24.99, available $18.99 and up) will provide the energy you need for as long as you’re on the plane. Made from two interconnecting pieces of iPod-matching white plastic, the power adapter doesn’t charge your iPod, but it otherwises act like a direct AC power source, keeping your music playing until it’s unplugged.

The Auto/Air Adapter’s first piece consists of an Apple Dock Connector plug and cable that leads into and out of a white power regulating box, which leads to an air power adapter plug. Apple’s Dock Connector plug is the thinnest and most compatible one we’ve seen with third-party cases, so we like to see it in accessories. A second white and metal piece transforms the air adapter to an auto-ready power adapter so that the Adapter can be used in your car, locking firmly to the Air adapter plug with a clasp. BTI includes a single greenish light on the power box that illuminates whenever power is running through the Adapter.

In-Air/In-Car Tests

We tested the Auto/Air Adapter four hours into the aforedescribed American Airlines itinerary when our test iPod’s battery began to show signs of discharge, plugging it in to one of the plane’s in-seat power adapters. Surprisingly, though many planes have been equipped with smaller ports that fit the Adapter’s air plug, this flight instead had a full DC power jack identical to the one in an automobile. Equipped with the Adapter’s auto plug, we had no problem switching over to a compatible power plug standard.

By design, the iPod’s battery meter instantly showed full power when the Adapter was connected, but didn’t display a charging icon as it normally would with devices described as “car chargers.? It turns out that Apple for some reason has advised BTI not to provide battery recharge from the Adapter, and thus you shouldn’t expect to use it for that purpose in either a plane or a car. This was just fine for our air travel purposes, but does suggest that the Auto/Air Adapter is best connected early in a flight rather than after your iPod’s battery has been drained downwards. It also suggests that there are devices better suited to in-car use, offering both battery recharge capability and other features such as line out.

Full power from the Auto/Air Adapter gave us the luxury of doing something with our test iPod photo that we wouldn’t have tried without spare power: we ran an extended backlit photo slide show with music, generally the most battery draining use of the hardware, and there was no hit on the iPod’s battery life. We could imagine the Adapter being even more useful today on an extended intercontinental flight, and of course if Apple adds additional graphics-intensive features to the iPod photo (or future devices).

The Adapter works just the same in a car, which is to say that it enables a battery-drained iPod to be used immediately when driving, or keeps you from depleting your iPod’s battery in the car. Truthfully, we can’t strongly recommend it for car use, though, because so many other car adapters offer battery recharging and line-out audio through the Dock Connector port. BTI’s design means that you’ll need to listen to music in your car through the iPod’s headphone jack, which isn’t optimal given many users’ desire to draw line-quality audio from the iPod’s Dock Connector.

BTI’s design limitation on battery recharging may satisfy recent Apple suggestions to developers, and perhaps it’s safer for certain iPods in the long run. But in the absence of a good explanation from Apple or a developer as to why this power charging restriction is necessary, especially given that it’s contrary to products developed by other authorized iPod developers, we’re inclined to prefer more fully-featured iPod chargers when we’re driving.

Conclusions

Especially when used in a plane, BTI’s Auto/Air Adapter does what people want it to do – provide power to keep your iPod playing for hours at a time. And there aren’t many other in-air options. Monster makes the iAir Charger ($29.95), which features an almost identical two-piece physical design, but with a black casing and Monster’s oversized, case-unfriendly Dock Connector adaptor. BTI’s cheaper and more case-compatible solution will be more than acceptable for in-air purposes.

That said, we liked it as an air power source but found it less useful than other options as an auto power source. The Auto/Air Adapter is really an air adapter with the secondary ability to be used as a car adapter in a pinch. We don’t mind this, because it’s cheap enough to pick up without price concern if you’re going to be traveling by airplane (and take the time to pick the right seats on your flight), but it would be great if the Adapter was more fully functioned for all intended purposes.

Grade: B+

Macally PodDuo

To date, two companies have released iPod-matching headphone jack splitter accessories, tools that enable the iPod’s headphone jack to accommodate two sets of headphones (or speakers) at once. Each accessory thus permits simultaneous two-person headphone listening or single-person listening device comparisons, though there is some potential for additional battery drain: both splitters are unpowered, and thus permit both sets of headphones or speakers to drain power at once.

Macally’s PodDuo ($9.95) is the most recent such accessory, and it’s also the smallest: unlike Monster’s iSplitter (originally $12.95, now $9.95), which includes a large white plastic hub and black cabling that dangle off the iPod’s top, the PodDuo is a T-shaped hard plastic tube that fits neatly on the top of any full-sized iPod. It’s only 2.2? long, 1.2? wide, and 0.4? high, adding only minimally to the size of anything save the iPod mini. A small polished metal strip runs across the PodDuo’s top, matched by metal 1/8? headphone ports on the tube’s left and right sides.

From a functionality standpoint, there’s not much to say about the PodDuo besides that it works: it’s particularly easy for two people to enjoy iPod listening at once, as we tested it on a cross-country trip with an iPod photo. Despite sharing the iPod’s single headphone port, both sets of headphones functioned acceptably, with plenty of volume to overcome the roar of jet engines. We ultimately preferred it to the iSplitter solely because of its smaller size, which left just that much extra room in our carry-on bag for other goodies.

Though larger, Monster’s iSplitter does have one advantage. While it doesn’t noticeably impact typical listening, the iSplitter uses gold-plated contacts for its connections to both the iPod and attached headphones, whereas Macally’s PodDuo doesn’t. Those planning on using a splitter under potentially corrosive (read: wet) weather conditions might well prefer Monster’s gold plating.

But otherwise, the PodDuo is a bit better of a visual match with any current iPod than the iSplitter, and its smaller size makes it even easier to carry wherever you go. It’s not a glamorous product, but one that social (and/or romantically involved) iPod owners may especially appreciate: a convenient design made for two, attractively priced.

Grade: A-

Macally PodWave Speaker System

After testing virtually all of the speaker systems designed specifically for the iPod, we’ve come to view the speaker market as having divided into the following four categories:

Ultra-Portable: Griffin iTalk and Monster iSpeaker. They fit into a pocket (perhaps a large one) and run off iPod or battery power.
Portable: Altec inMotion Series. They fit into a briefcase and run off iPod or battery power.
Quasi-Portable: Tivoli iPal, Elecom ASP-700i, JBL OnStage. They either can’t fit into a briefcase or can’t run off iPod or battery power.
Non-Portable: Bose SoundDock, JBL Creatures, Klipsch PMU2/etc. They can’t fit in a briefcase and they can’t run off iPod or battery power.

While it’s possible and useful to compare speakers from one category to those in another, there are reasons to prefer product-to-product comparisons only within a given category: people who buy ultra-portable speakers aren’t expecting the same sound quality or horsepower as a set of non-portable speakers, and people who buy non-portable speakers typically favor sound quality and horsepower, and aren’t looking to pay a premium for compactness they’ll never use.

In that context, Macally’s new PodWave ($39.00) is not only the best ultra-portable speaker system we’ve seen so far for the iPod, but for some people and purposes (underline the word “some?), it will also rival the considerably more expensive full-fledged portable systems we’ve identified above.

Modestly longer (3.3?) than the top of any iPod, the PodWave is a 1? deep white plastic tube that protrudes that same single inch when connected to an iPod’s headphone port. Otherwise, like other top-mounting accessories, its gold-plated headphone jack sticks out of its bottom, but unlike them, it doesn’t interface with current model iPods’ tiny four-pin headphone data ports. Two white metal rounded speaker grilles stick out of its sides, creating separate left and right audio channel outputs from the iPod. A gray Macally logo is on its front, with a single AA battery compartment (for around 8 hours of power) and a simple black on-off switch on its rear. There’s no volume knob; only the iPod’s volume controls adjust its output.

The only thing missing from the design is a plastic molded groove to accommodate iPod hold switches, most likely absent because of the different placements of such switches on different-sized iPods. As a result of this omission and its lack of interface with the modern iPod headphone data port, the PodWave doesn’t necessarily stay perfectly straight when mounted on an iPod’s top, though it won’t really move much unless you push it yourself. Other than this minor issue, the PodWave’s a great match for any full-sized iPod, and only modest overkill on the iPod mini.

Sound quality seriously surprised us. We had expected that the PodWave would perform terribly given its small size and low price, two factors which individually or collectively doom many audio accessories. But Macally appears to have made some smart manufacturing choices: for the dollar and given its intended purpose, the PodWave’s sound is pretty clean and maintains a healthy frequency balance. It’s not tinny, and while there’s no thump in its bass response, you can hear enough bass at normal listening levels to satisfy the type of needs you’ll have for such a small speaker system. When compared against Altec’s imMini system, it doesn’t sound shrill, but it also doesn’t have any deep resonant sound. This isn’t a surprise, but it’s worth noting.

The PodWave’s stereo separation is also surprisingly good, thanks to Macally’s decision to have the speakers cast their sound off to the left and right rather than forward at the listener. While the unit does create a predictably small sound stage, you can clearly hear sounds intended to come from the left and the right even at a fair distance from the iPod and speakers; everything else sounds as if it’s at center stage in the middle of the iPod.

Only one limitation bears mention: don’t expect the PodWave to deliver enough volume and clarity for stress-test listening - it’s not going to be audible over the sounds of a passing train. This is the one area where the device cannot compete with full-fledged portable speaker systems such as the inMotion series from Altec. Use of the PodWave under regular conditions requires you to pump the iPod’s volume level up to around its 75% mark, and scratchy bass distortion becomes noticeable at slightly under 90%. As a result, you can use PodWave perfectly well in a single room and outdoors, but it’s not going to deliver loudspeaker-level volume or audiophile-grade clarity at its top volume levels. It’s a nearly perfect individual listening device if you don’t want to use headphones, but no substitute for a larger system.

Overall, the PodWave is an important product for the iPod family: the first truly pocketable stereo speaker solution for the platform, and at a wonderfully affordable price. It can’t do everything, but what it does, it does well.

Grade: A-

Marware C.E.O. Classic 4G

As the iPod accessory market has matured, so have consumer expectations for their precious dollars. Fourth-generation iPod accessory manufacturers have been forced to choose between radically changing the products they released in the iPod’s prior generation, or keeping them mostly the same on the theory that customers won’t mind.

Marware’s C.E.O. Classic leather case fits its Classic name in two senses of the word. It’s a fourth-generation version of one of the earliest iPod cases, and a throwback to the style of cases designed for PDAs before the advent of the iPod. Almost identical to the 3G C.E.O. Classic case (iLounge rating: A) we reviewed at greater length and really liked here, the 4G version remains a well-made offering that will appeal to those who like PDA-style cases.

Since the two cases are so much alike, you should read our earlier 3G review for more details. But in brief summary, the 4G C.E.O. Classic is a two piece case: the first piece is a suede-lined leather and clear vinyl sleeve with a hard backing, excellent detachable belt clip, and three holes: one on top for iPod insertion, one on bottom for Dock Connector port access, and one for the 4G iPod’s Click Wheel.

Marware’s second piece is a snap-on front lid that attaches to the top rear of the sleeve with two brass snaps, and at the bottom with a third brass and lower flap. When fully closed, the case covers every part of the 4G iPod save its headphone jack; you can as easily use the case without the lid and have more immediate access to the iPod’s controls and vinyl covered screen. A small pocket in the lid’s front gives you a place to store a business or credit card.

The only major differences between the 3G and 4G Classic cases are the omission of the 3G’s additionally necessary four button holes, and enlargement of the headphone jack port, which has now been made considerably (but prudently) larger to accommodate larger connectors and movement of the lid on and off of the iPod’s face. Marware’s leather remains very good indeed – upper medium-grade in appearance and texture, though the suede interior is a little underwhelming by comparison.

Our feelings haven’t changed much in the past year. Especially given its $34.95 price tag, Marware’s C.E.O. Classic is a very good value and an impressive leather case – if you like PDA-style cases. We think that the iPod market is rapidly maturing past that old school design, but if you’re looking for something classic, there’s plenty to like about Marware’s offering.

Grade: A-

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Comments

1

I was lucky enough to be chosen to give input to AudioOutfitters prior to the release of earPod.  I was excited about some of the ideas that were presented and couldn’t wait to see what they would give us.  I was admittedly a little disappointed when the earPod came out as I was expecting something else.  I would have to agree with the grade given by iPodlounge.  I use mine daily at work and can’t complain too much, but I sure wish it was smaller and something I could keep attached to my iPod, which would most likely be difficult due to the fact that I use an iSkin on my iPod.  I will say one thing, since I began using my earPod, I’ve not had a single experience with tangled earphones, which is exactly what they wanted to eliminate.

Posted by Lindan in Las Vegas on December 2, 2004 at 1:40 PM (PDT)

2

Have you though of making the Podcast a regular thing. At least once a week.

If you do 6 segments, each segment 3 min long. You get a good 18 min show.

2 segments music (Creative commons)
1 Hardware or Software Review
1 iTunes howto (reuse iTunes 101 201 etc)
1 Interview or new stuff
1 Wish we had (for thing you would like to see change in ipod or itunes or accessory etc)

Posted by SouthPaw in PV, NY on December 2, 2004 at 9:01 PM (PDT)

3

Thanks to both of you for your thoughts. SouthPaw, this is the exact reason I’ve been re-considering whether to make the Podcast regular - it doesn’t seem like many people care.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on December 3, 2004 at 5:56 PM (PDT)

4

Jeremy don’t despair.
I think most people coming to site have no clue what a podcast podcasting is only 4 months old!!  Do a howto. Then do a few shows. Get listed in ipodder directory. Adam Curry, Dawn & Drew, Phillip Torrone, Dave Slusher might Give you a mention then it will take off.

The leading iPod site needs to have a podcast.

Posted by SouthPaw in PV, NY on December 3, 2004 at 11:46 PM (PDT)

5

Listening to the podcast right now - tis nice to put a voice to the name - I’d agree it’s still novel but can be useful and interesting way of getting news - do the forum members know about it, I wonder?

Posted by ginalee on December 4, 2004 at 1:49 AM (PDT)

6

Gina - interested in plugging it on the forum? Feel free to mention Backstage there too. ^_^

SouthPaw: In concept, I really want to agree with you, but there really is an issue of how big the whole podcasting thing really is. There was a bit of buzz and now it’s quieted down a lot. We may want to take some measures over here to pump it up, but we’ll see.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on December 4, 2004 at 9:17 AM (PDT)

7

Jeremy, I listened to the podcast as well and like Gina said, it was nice to be able to put a voice to a name.  My only concern with the whole idea would be that you guys are not able to update the news ALL the time, though it is often.  Some days there just isn’t anything new to report. There would be times when the podcast is something I’ve already listened to.  Another concern is that when the news just keeps rolling in throughout the day, I’m sure you all couldn’t keep podcasting as it came in.  I’m always around a computer it seems and can check the site often, but my iPod is formatted for Mac and cannot always plug in and receive a new podcast.  I think to be effective it would have to be done for a specific topic such as Backstage since that doesn’t get updated as regularly as the main news site, or even for the reviews section or buyer’s guide.  Keep up the good work guys.

Posted by Lindan in Las Vegas on December 4, 2004 at 3:50 PM (PDT)

8

I think the Podcast should definitely be a regular thing.  I love my iPod and and I love iPodlounge.  To be able to listen to it on the go is fantastic!

Posted by BulkHedd on December 6, 2004 at 6:09 PM (PDT)

9

If only the PodWave used the 4-pin port too, and had the OPTION to run from iPod power. That would be great! I’d gladly settle for losing some iPod battery life for the sake of having my music wake me up, or whatever. Plus my Photo gets 17 hours anyway smile

I would not want to have another device to feed batteries into. The AA slot is nice if you want longer listening and no drain on the iPod, but I don’t want to HAVE to use it.

Posted by Nagromme on December 6, 2004 at 7:30 PM (PDT)

10

Re podcasting—it may not be popular yet, but being ahead of this wave makes sense for the #1 iPod site smile I’d keep doing it and give it time to catch on and grow.

It depends on the time/money/labor cost to IPL, I realize.

I’m stuck on modem for now and haven’t listened to any podcasts from anyone yet. So I don’t know what you include. But a random suggestion: for listening on the go, some “fun” content might be nice mixed into the “useful” content that the website tends to have. Humor, commentary, interviews on the iPod phenomenon, special guests, whatever. I know people on this site tend to flame “fun”/“interest” content on this site, but I like variety myself. And people who want to cut straight to the factual content can always hit Skip.

The IPL community could be drawn upon to submit audio files of their content, too. Maybe some would become regular “columnists.” Sorry, I’m not volunteering smile

In that case, the podcast could even include original music submissions (from garage bands to Garage Band). I know that would open up a can of worms, but it would be neat—and as always, easy to skip. It might even work as a joint effort with MacJams or some such music site(s). It could start small—one community song per podcast even. (Let the forums vote on which one and save yourselves the labor of listening to the submissions? The runner-ups could go back in the running for future podcasts.)

Modem or not, one of these days I’ll try some podcasts.

Posted by Nagromme on December 6, 2004 at 7:40 PM (PDT)

11

I listened to the first iPodlounge podcast, and sorry, but I almost fell asleep! smile

Podcasts aren’t for everyone. If you are a good talker and have an interesting voice, and know interesting information, then go for it. If not, don’t do it just because you can (like blogs). You have to think more like radio talk show hosts. Exciting, informative, creative!

Anyways, since you are the #1 iPod site like Nagromme mentioned, it would be smart to lead the iPod community with the first iPod-focused podcast. But personally, I’d rather have more content on the site since I visit that more then I listen to podcasts (haven’t found many good ones to listen to…don’t have time - rather listen to music) smile

If you do a podcast, your strength will be in the users. I’ve always wanted to do a podast that featured only local music, so maybe you could get music that’s created from iPodlounge users and play that only, keeping it iPodlounge focused.

You would definitely need a how-to, since podcasting is a brand new term and very few people know about it.

BTW, the next version of Pod2Go will support podcasts, so keep an eye for that smile

Keep up the great work. This site rocks!

Posted by kainjow on December 8, 2004 at 4:19 PM (PDT)

12

I think Podcast would be a great tool for iPodlounge.
I personly would like to hear - Hardware, New items reviews as I find it much easier to listen to a review than to sit and scroll and read (but that’s just me), I could then refer back to the website for pics etc. Just my 2 cents worth!
Keep up the GREAT work…fanstastic site and great content.

Paul

Posted by AusPod on December 9, 2004 at 8:35 AM (PDT)

13

was just wondering if anybody could help me. i live in ireland and recently purchased the jbl onstage speakers in new york. i am looking for a power adapter that will fit in to british and irish sockets. my original sower supply has blown. any bit of help would be greatly apprieciated.

Posted by david_ireland in ireland on February 21, 2005 at 5:30 PM (PDT)

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