Review: Belkin TuneDeck for iPod nano
Pros: A single accessory that combines a high-quality cassette tape adapter, iPod nano mount/dock, and charging cable into one visually and electronically integrated unit. iPod nano dock looks good, provides top Dock Connector audio output.
Cons: Works only with iPod nano - no auxiliary audio input. May not work in some cars. Price is roughly on par with buying separate components. Mount may not be in your ideal location.
Some disparate accessories just beg to be combined; others don’t. Belkin’s new TuneDeck for iPod nano ($50) is one of the smart hybrids - the sort of “one stop” purchase that eliminates the need to buy three separate car accessories that many iPod owners want: a cassette tape adapter, an iPod charger, and a car mount. Better yet, the tightness of its integration actually makes it better than the sum of those parts.
Like many great ideas, what Belkin has done with TuneDeck seems in retrospect to be a simple idea: it has grafted a black and clear plastic iPod nano dock similar to the one found on TuneBase for iPod nano (iLounge rating: B+) onto the end of a cassette tape adapter. Though the dock isn’t as flexible or height-adjustable as TuneBase’s, you can tilt it on one axis (to the left or right) so that the driver or passenger can see the nano’s face and controls. Underneath the dock is a single port - for power. You use it to connect an included car charging cable to TuneDeck’s bottom, thereby recharging your nano’s battery while it’s docked.
There are several advantages to this unified approach. Unlike the vast majority of cassette adapters we’ve tested, Belkin pulls audio from the iPod’s Dock Connector port rather than its headphone port, which guarantees the highest-quality sound from your nano, and eliminates your need to fidget with the iPod’s volume controls. All of Belkin’s components look and work properly together - charging, audio out, and mounting worked exactly as expected, and thanks to the nice iPod nano dock, looked sharp in our test vehicle. The nano’s light weight and TuneDeck’s sturdy metal mounting bracket kept the iPod firm while we were driving; we had no concerns about its stability or performance. Its audio also sounded very good - clean, and a little bit more midbass-heavy than Philips’ PH2050W (iLounge rating: A-), in a way that most people will like.
Disadvantages are four in number. As much as we really like TuneDeck, there’s no question that as a model-specific accessory, its life expectancy - unlike two of the three separate components it integrates - will end if you stop using an iPod nano that fits the dock, especially since there’s no auxiliary audio input port. Like all cassette adapters, there’s a risk that it might not work in your car, so you should purchase it from a retailer with a reasonable return policy, just in case. While repositionable, and hugely preferable to leaving your nano in a cup holder, the mount is unlikely to be as ideally located in your car as you might prefer. And the $50 asking price isn’t cheap by cassette adapter standards.
Having pointed each of those issues out, however, we think that TuneDeck is a highly recommendable iPod nano accessory overall. Though it’s obvious that we could buy our top-rated, standalone cassette adapter without charging or mounting features for $10, TuneDeck clearly isn’t just a cassette adapter: it’s a novel 3-in-1 accessory that basically delivers a complete solution for people who want to use their iPod nanos in cars with cassette tape decks. Belkin’s included charging cable, mounting ability, and superior audio connection to the iPod appropriately counterbalance the price difference. If you have an iPod nano and plan to keep using it in your car’s tape deck for the foreseeable future, TuneDeck should be at or near the top of your list of options.