Review: Belkin Headphone Adapter for iPod shuffle 3G
Without a third-party adapter, the third-generation iPod shuffle cannot be fully used with other companies' headphones and earphones, one of several facts that seriously reduce the appeal of Apple's smallest iPod to date. So far, two companies have released these adapters at or around the $20 price point; the latest is Belkin with the Headphone Adapter for iPod shuffle 3G ($20).
By comparison with the earlier $18 Ozaki iCommand Controller for iPod shuffle 3G, Belkin’s Headphone Adapter is a more attractive but also physically larger accessory. Both devices incorporate the same three buttons—volume up, volume down, and multi-function play/pause/track change—found on Apple’s most recent Earphones and In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic, but they do it in different ways: Ozaki adds the buttons in an inch-long box that sits on top of the shuffle, while Belkin uses a roughly 1.25”-long tube for the buttons, connecting it to the shuffle with around 6 inches of cabling. One of our photos shows their respective sizes and designs relative to competing alternatives, such as Apple’s own earphones, and the second-generation shuffle.
This cable lets you connect pretty much any pair of earphones you’ve previously purchased to the iPod shuffle, adding the control buttons the shuffle requires, and can also be used for track and volume control purposes on the 2008 iPod nano, classic, and touch models, as well as the iPhone 3GS. Notably, it does not contain a microphone of any sort, nor do its volume controls work on the iPhone or iPhone 3G; the multifunction play/pause button does, however, start, stop, and skip tracks. Ozaki’s remote fit more awkwardly on non-shuffle devices, didn’t work with the pre-3GS iPhones, and blocked the three-position power and shuffle switch on the iPod shuffle. Like the shuffle itself, neither of the companies promises that its adapter is waterproof, and thus they shouldn’t be exposed to rain or heavy sweat.
Sonically, the Headphone Adapter doesn’t create any surprises. When used with the third-generation iPod shuffle, or with other iPods for listening purposes, it doesn’t impact sound quality even when tested with extremely expensive headphones. As a remote, it works entirely as expected save that it blocks any downstream remotes, one- or three-button, from functioning; this means that if you try to use it with most third-party iPhone headsets or more recent three-button remote-equipped headphones such as Apple’s, you’ll need to rely on Belkin’s buttons rather than the others. Similarly, while it can be used with prior iPhone headsets for the iPhone 3GS, microphone quality is significantly diminished in the process, so it’s not a good pick for calling purposes. In other words, iPod shuffle users will find it to perform exactly as promised, while anyone hoping to use it with another iPod or iPhone will have no problem with music quality, but audio input may be an issue.
There’s not a lot else to say about the Headphone Adapter except that its suggested retail price is—mostly due to Apple’s licensing and chip expenses—somewhat objectionable. As we said when we reviewed the Ozaki iCommand accessory, “while we have been entirely open about the fact that we’re not fans of the third-generation shuffle’s lack of integrated controls, we have no issue whatsoever with an accessory that attempts to remedy that problem and restore headphone port compatibility with other headphones. That said, paying $18 for a far less than perfect implementation of that concept feels like a stretch to us: an ideal accessory wouldn’t block the device’s power switch and would either be a better physical match, or offer some additional functionality—waterproofing, protection—that isn’t here.” Belkin has developed an option that looks better and doesn’t block that switch on the shuffle, but also costs a little more. On balance, we’d pick this Adapter first, but it’s hard to feel good about coughing up $20 for something that should have been included in the shuffle’s box in the first place. Our view is that Belkin has done nearly as good of a job as it could under circumstances that are less than ideal for iPod shuffle users; only an aggressively priced waterproofing option might strike us as a wiser purchase.