Review: Digiana Audia X iTube-101 3-in-1 for iPod shuffle
Pros: A 3-in-1 car mount, recharger, and FM transmitter for the iPod shuffle, with digital tuning, a memory button for presets, and a pulsing blue light. Gooseneck provides maximum position flexibility for your car.
Cons: FM transmission clarity is acceptable but not spectacular. Shuffle stops playing mid-song randomly, perhaps because of loose connection with the unit’s docking base, the single biggest factor in our rating.
It’s one of the most unusual FM transmitter designs we’ve ever seen, but we have to admit that it looks better in person than in pictures. South Korea-based Digiana’s three-in-one car charger, FM transmitter and gooseneck car mount Audia X iTube-101 for iPod shuffle ($44.99) is the first iPod-specific extension of the company’s existing Audia X line of all-purpose FM transmitters, notably featuring a white body and blue LCD screen rather than the silver and green look of its battery-powered DGT-201 model.
Following in the footsteps of DLO’s TransPod for iPod shuffle (iLounge rating: B-) and expanding on XtremeMac’s AirPlay for iPod shuffle (iLounge rating: C-), iTube 101 provides a single-unit way to recharge, position, and perform your iPod shuffle’s music in your car. As these grades should suggest, none of the iPod shuffle-specific transmitters and chargers we’ve tested so far has been great. In fact, each one has had at least one significant problem. TransPod didn’t mount properly in three of our test cars, and AirPlay’s audio didn’t sound good.
In our tests, iTube sounded better than AirPlay, and depending on the station, either as good as or not as good as TransPod. Overall, TransPod has a better chance of sounding decent on a challenging station, but on a good station, iTube performs acceptably. Its biggest problem was that it only tunes from 88.1FM to 107.9FM, and can’t tune down to 87.9FM, an almost-always-clear station that provides a good reference and comparison point against most of the standard iPod FM transmitters we’ve reviewed. But neither do TransPod or AirPlay, or for that matter Belkin’s TuneCast II (iLounge rating: B+), a portable and shuffle-compatible solution.
iTube’s best features turned out to be that mounted perfectly in our tests, and recharged our iPod shuffle properly. Despite its odd double-gooseneck shape, which all of us agreed could have been simplified, it’s extremely easy to position any or all of the iTube wherever you want. Unlike TransPod, we have zero doubt that there’s a way to make it work in virtually every car out there.
It’s also easy to use. The tuning controls are on the left hand size in chrome, and a three-station memory button is on the front center for easy recall of user presets. The blue screen is easy to read, and the company even includes a matching, pulsing light that does its best to match the beat of your music - a touch we liked. All that’s missing by comparison with the TransPod is an audio-out port, which isn’t really necessary given that the shuffle’s bottom only mirrors its headphone port, and an audio input port, which enabled TransPod to serve as an FM transmitter conduit for other audio devices. We really didn’t miss either of these features.
That’s all of the good stuff, but the bad thing we saw was something totally out of the blue, and won’t endear iTube to people. Several times during testing, the iPod shuffle just stopped playing mid-song for reasons we can’t explain - we’re not sure whether it was a loose connection between the shuffle and iTube, but whatever it was, it doesn’t happen with other connected devices. We re-tested the shuffle with TransPod and AirPlay just to see if the same thing would happen with either, and it didn’t.
So that’s the rub. iTube-101 is a somewhat odd-looking but functional 3-in-1 device that does more than AirPlay at a lower price, and sounds better. It’s vaguely comparable in audio quality to TransPod, more flexible, has one fewer but not critical feature (passthrough to the FM transmitter), and a much lower price. And every once in a while, it’ll pause your music, so you’ll have to restart it. We’re not going to classify that as a show-stopping defect and classify it in our D- category, but it’s clearly not something a lot of people are going to want to deal with. If you’re among them, give it a try. If not, NewerTech’s RoadTrip! 87.9FM (iLounge rating: B+) or Belkin’s TuneCast II will transmit your shuffle in a car, wait for another 3-in-1 option, or hope that a revised version of iTune-101 appears.