Review: Belkin TuneBase for iPod shuffle
Pros: A simple, attractive combination of iPod shuffle car mount, charger, and audio output device that uses a gooseneck to give you flexibility in positioning your shuffle for easy access on the go. Includes cassette adapter. Reasonable price.
Cons: Audio quality through audio output port is lower than through shuffle’s headphone port because of high-pitched interference in TuneBase’s audio signal, evident whenever TuneBase is connected as a charger. Included cassette adapter is a little off the best we’ve heard.
We’ve previously reviewed Belkin’s TuneBase and TuneBase FM car mounting, charging, and audio-out products for the iPod mini - attractive designs with goosenecks for convenient mini mounting. Now we’ve had a chance to test TuneBase for iPod shuffle ($39.99), a derivative product designed solely for use with Apple’s cheapest iPod.
Like its predecessors, the new TuneBase is a white glossy plastic bulb that fits into your car’s power charging outlet, with a front green light that glows when powered, and a gray-colored gooseneck mount and white base that suspend your iPod inches away from the bulb. This TuneBase’s gooseneck is not only shorter and thinner than the others, but also less flexible; your iPod mounts less than five inches from the bulb, and without as much precision. You can choose an arc, but not a sharp one, as TuneBase will bend back to something more gentle.
That’s not a major problem: unlike DLO’s TransPod for iPod shuffle (iLounge rating: B-), this suffices to put your iPod shuffle in easier reach, and didn’t prevent us from using our car’s gear shifter, but your shuffle will be neither as close nor as precisely where you want it as with Belkin’s earlier TuneBases. In order to bolster the stability of the buib, the unit includes an optional rubber piece that will secure TuneBase from shaking in certain cars, an issue we didn’t have with this version or its predecessors. When your iPod shuffle’s inside, it will charge properly under all circumstances, and mount nicely. As compared with offerings such as Digiana’s iTube 101 (iLounge rating: C+), Belkin’s design is a simple and visually clean in-car solution.
Unlike the iPod mini products, TuneBase for iPod shuffle also includes a cassette adapter that’s light gray in color, with a matching cord. In concept, this adapter is identical to the separate adapters we’ve looked at from companies such as Sony, XtremeMac and Monster, plugging into an audio-out port on the bottom of TuneBase’s bulb and allowing you to listen to your iPod shuffle’s audio through a tape-ready car stereo. In execution, the cassette adapter is a little noisier than the best we’ve heard (Sony’s), but not enough that most people will care at normal volumes. If your car has an direct audio/auxiliary input port, you can connect it to TuneBase with a stereo minijack to minijack cable (not included) and bypass the cassette adapter, but unlike Belkin’s TuneBase FM, there’s no FM transmitter in this version of TuneBase, so you’ll need to pick one of these options or hear nothing at all.
What people will likely care about is the audio that comes from TuneBase. In a way, the audio port on TuneBase’s bottom is equal parts a cosmetic and simplifying feature: since the iPod shuffle’s audio is the same on its top and bottom (unlike other iPods), it shouldn’t matter where you plug the cassette adapter in to TuneBase; the sound should be the same. But when you mount TuneBase in your car, you’ll want to plug the cassette adapter or a stereo minijack cable in more or less permanently, and then pull the shuffle in and out without needing to disconnect anything from its headphone port. It looks nicer and is easier.
Unfortunately, this TuneBase’s audio-out port suffers from a problem that has plagued its predecessors: its audio signal isn’t good. High-pitched noises can be heard almost all the time as interruptions in the sound when TuneBase is plugged into the car charger and the iPod shuffle. We noticed that they go away when the charger is unplugged - TuneBase still works as a pass-through for audio when not charging - but this is an unrealistic way to use the device. Similarly, you can unplug the cable from TuneBase’s bottom and connect it directly to the shuffle to make the audio issue disappear, but this takes away from the device’s convenience, and shouldn’t be necessary. Audio from shuffle’s bottom shouldn’t sound worse than audio from its top, and doesn’t when you’re using a competing all-in-one device like DLO’s TransPod.
We have found every generation of TuneBase tough to rate for the same reason: we love the aesthetic designs, think Belkin’s gooseneck solution is as close to optimal for mounting in our cars as we’ve ever seen, and don’t mind the prices, but audio problems have been present in all of the units’ bottom output ports. For that reason, like the original version of TuneBase, this product only receives a limited recommendation - it works for mounting and charging, and will be fine for those who either don’t mind the high-pitched noises or plugging the cassette adapter into the shuffle’s top port, but it’s not what it easily could or should have been.