Review: SwitchEasy ThumbTacks Micro-Microphone
After years of dealing with big $50+ iPod microphone accessories, we've been thrilled in recent months to see smaller and considerably less expensive options become available. First was Incipio's $18 Lloyd, which we loved, and now SwitchEasy has appeared on the scene with an arguably more appealing little alternative, ThumbTacks ($13). Shaped but not sized like the real things, ThumbTacks are sold in three colors -- white, red, or black -- and add what SwitchEasy has called an excellent quality mic to Apple's recording-ready late 2008 iPod models.
First, the good news. Unlike Lloyd, which does connect to and work completely with the headphone ports of the iPod nano 4G, 120GB iPod classic, and iPod touch 2G, but was really made to fit only the iPod nano, ThumbTacks not only fit all three of these models, but even work with many iPod cases. On the 120GB iPod classic in particular, but really on all of the models, the addition of this stubby little microphone looks surprisingly natural; SwitchEasy has come up with a seriously cool way to design an office- or school-ready microphone, and it feels well-built, besides. Assuming you’re not prone to losing small things, you’ll be pretty impressed by the ThumbTacks concept.
Given the low price, even the bad news doesn’t seem so bad. We did direct comparisons between the microphone in ThumbTacks, the one in Lloyd, and the one in Apple’s latest Remote + Mic equipped headphones—the reference version given that it’s the company’s “official” solution. At the same 10-inch distance from one’s face, there’s no doubt that Lloyd is the best of the mics in offering a balance of natural sound and intelligibility, with ThumbTacks sounding comparatively a little less intelligible either from a slight decrease in treble or more muffling of the mic behind plastic, and Apple’s mic offering the least natural and most treble-sharpened sound of the bunch. We’ve posted one of our ThumbTacks comparative audio testing samples here so that you can hear the differences for yourself, and while the differences between Lloyd and ThumbTacks aren’t huge, we’d definitely pick Lloyd first. The sonic results were basically the same on other iPods.
One other reason that users might prefer Lloyd, and even Apple’s microphones, is something missing from ThumbTacks: previewing capabilities. Plug Apple’s headphone and mic combos in and you can listen instantly to a playback of whatever’s been recorded; use Lloyd and there’s a passthrough audio port for whatever you might want to connect. With ThumbTacks, the headphone port’s stuffed only with the microphone, a fact that prevents the iPod touch 2G from playing audio through its integrated speaker, and limits your ability to hear what you’ve recorded on the other compatible iPods, as well. The solution is simple—unplug ThumbTacks and connect other earphones—but it’s not as convenient.
Ultimately, SwitchEasy’s budget-priced, universally compatible approach to this microphone makes it a highly compelling option, anyway. Now the lowest-priced mic accessory we’ve seen for an iPod, ThumbTacks’ $5 savings versus Lloyd isn’t trivial, and neither is the fact that you can simply plug it into many encased iPods; previewing aside, it’s like getting one of Apple’s microphone options, only less expensive and with better audio quality. Of course, the cool design and color options don’t hurt, either. As a $13, iPod-agnostic mic, ThumbTacks is worthy of our A- rating and high recommendation; if you need superior fidelity or previewing capabilities, other, more expensive options might better suit your needs.