Review: Belkin TuneTalk for iPod
Pros: An inexpensive omnidirectional microphone for use with 3G, 4G and color/photo iPods, with flexible stem and recording status light. Good sound quality and price.
Cons: No speaker or headphone pass-through port so that you can listen to your audio without unplugging the accessory. Not as compact as other microphone accessories.
Despite its simplicity, Belkin’s TuneTalk ($29.99) is one of the more interesting iPod accessories of the last six months: it rethinks but doesn’t fully replace the company’s earlier Voice Recorder (iLounge rating: B), and is being offered at an even lower suggested retail price.
Unlike the Voice Recorder, a hard plastic speaker and microphone nub that sat on top of third- and fourth-generation iPods, TuneTalk is all microphone: extending out from the top of an iPod by several inches, the white wand goes into the iPod’s top headphone and extended headphone ports, drawing power from the iPod and not requiring a battery of its own.
The microphone is flexible, and can be bent gently - not sharply - in any direction. By moving the mic away from the iPod’s body, Belkin also avoids picking up sounds from the iPod’s hard disk whenever it is accessed, a benefit that will be of varying importance to different users.
TuneTalk is topped by a large silver microphone head, which you cover with an included gray foam cap if you desire. According to Belkin, the cap reduces wind noise on the microphone, though we didn’t notice a difference in the light winds outdoors when we were testing it. A red light on the front of the silver head shines through the cap to let you know it is recording.
There’s nothing more to TuneTalk - unlike other microphone products such as DLO’s VoiceNote (iLounge rating: B-) and Griffin’s iTalk (iLounge rating: A-), there’s no speaker, no headphone pass-through port, or external microphone port. TuneTalk records, and that’s it.
Recording works just as with all of the earlier iPod voice recording accessories, which is to say almost effortlessly. Plugging TuneTalk in activates the iPod’s recording mode, one button click starts the recording going, and another button click stops recording. A still-unresolved bug in some iPods’ firmware means that you might need to hard reset your iPod to get the recording and playback functionality working perfectly - a step that affects all voice recorder accessories. We’d recommend you take this precaution to avoid surprises or disappointment, but once that’s done, TuneTalk records without incident.
Audio quality is a reflection of three factors: TuneTalk’s microphone, its gain level, and the iPod’s own limitations. As you’re probably already aware, Apple has crippled the iPod’s recording ability, limiting it to an 8Khz, monaural recording mode that’s ill-suited to recording anything other than voices. You won’t use TuneTalk - or anything else - to make good recordings of concerts, or other musical audio performances.
But it works as advertised for various types of voice recordings, and does have a superior microphone to the one in the Voice Recorder. How do recordings sound? They’re good overall - thanks to a better gain level, they’re louder under most circumstances and better-sounding than DLO’s VoiceNote and Belkin’s original Voice Recorder, but not as good to our ears as Griffin’s iTalk. By comparison, TuneTalk recordings are softer and more bass-heavy - less crisp and detailed - than iTalk’s, but it’s still easy to discern what voices are saying on TuneTalk either up close or at a distance.
The single most glaring omission from TuneTalk is an obvious one: a way to let you listen to your recordings without unplugging the device - either a speaker or a pass-through headphone port. As a consequence, inexperienced recorders (or people trying to backtrack and listen before recording something new) won’t find TuneTalk as convenient as most of its predecessors.
That TuneTalk omits this feature is the single biggest issue with its design, and the primary reason that rating it isn’t easy. A quick look at Amazon.com shows that you can buy a more fully-featured and somewhat better-sounding iTalk - or the original Belkin Voice Recorder - for about the same price. With iTalk, you’ll get a more balanced and versatile product overall than TuneTalk, with a speaker, dual-purpose input/output port, and good microphone, though TuneTalk has one small advantage on audio - no hard drive sounds. The Voice Recorder is a more balanced design because of its speaker, but recordings don’t sound as good overall.
We think the choice between the Voice Recorder and TuneTalk is a draw - the Voice Recorder is smaller and its speaker, while not fantastic, is more useful than none at all. That said, if you don’t need a speaker, you’ll be happier with the way TuneTalk’s recordings sound. It’s not our top choice overall, but still a solid recommendable option - and if you can find it for $20 or less, it’s worth bumping up a notch to a B+.