Review: DVForge JamPod Audio Mixer
Pros: Simple, inexpensive top-mounting iPod add-on that lets you mix two audio signals into a single headphone jack for output.
Cons: Audio quality is unimpressive, particularly when adjusting volumes, while small aesthetic, fit and finish issues leave the product a notch less finished in design than most top-mounting iPod accessories.
Even when an iPod accessory is clearly a novelty designed to appeal to a small niche of people, we’re loathe to dismiss it out of hand if it’s reasonably priced and at least marginally useful. Like Griffin Technology’s earlier iBeam laser pointer and flashlight for the iPod, DVForge’s new JamPod ($29.99) is a prime example of niche novelty marketing at work: it’s designed to appeal to those people who want to mix together the audio output from an iPod and a live audio device such as a guitar or bass, or for that matter two iPods.
Each JamPod package consists of two pieces: a white glossy plastic nub that fits on the top of any iPod or iPod mini, and a 48-inch white guitar cord with a jack to connect to the JamPod’s top. The nub isn’t the most attractive iPod accessory we’ve seen, but it’s not the worst, either, with a relatively large rounded casing that has gray JamPod logos on both sides. JamPod’s flat top surface includes an audio input port, a mixed headphone output port, and a volume control that simultaneously boosts the levels of both devices to which it is connected.
Use of the JamPod is simple: you attach your headphones to the headphone port, your guitar or other device via cable to the input port, and tune their levels using the volume knob. If you connect two iPods, you have the added benefit (and responsibility) of controlling their volume levels using their own controls, a calibrating process that can be challenging at first and yield unpredictable results. Static, distortion, and unpleasant noises are to be expected unless you start at low volume levels and work your way upwards. Additionally, the mixer unfortunately starts with a relatively high base level of noise - surely not the sort of sound appropriate to any professional recording or listening application, as it’s even evident in Apple’s packed-in and not-so-incredible earbuds.
However, when the volume levels are properly adjusted, mixed music overwhelms the noise, creating a generally pleasing combination of different sounds that’s more than acceptable for casual listening. And if you’re trying to test your own mash-ups using iPods, or interested in using a live string instrument to accompany your pre-recorded music, JamPod handles the mixing pretty well. So long as you’re not continuously tweaking volume levels and aren’t hoping for professional-grade audio quality, you won’t mind, but we’ll warn audiophiles up front - ironically part of the device’s target audience - that they mightn’t be satisfied with the overall results.
Our major issues with JamPod were restricted to its handling of volume adjustments. iPod volume tweaks on a 4G or photo iPod resulted in popping sounds that corresponded with each incremental change in volume, and JamPod’s built-in volume knob has a slightly unpleasant texture and turning mechanism that could have used some extra fine-tuning. As we’ve heard the former issue to a much lesser extent with some other accessories we’ve tested, we weren’t totally surprised to hear it here, and amplified. However, even if it’s a fault attributable in some way to the iPod hardware, it was still unpleasant whenever it happened, and people won’t like how it sounds.
A smaller and generally less important issue was in the JamPod’s extended headphone plug, which because of licensing issues does not use Apple’s official part to connect to the iPod’s four-pin connector. In the first connection we made with an iPod and JamPod, DVForge’s unofficial part didn’t seem to fit quite perfectly, but after one or two insertions and removals worked fine. It’s not an aesthetically attractive a replacement as Apple’s original part, and looks inexpensively constructed on all edges, but worked fine in our testing regardless. We can’t really blame DVForge for using a substitute part, but given the company’s recent pledge to use components that meet or exceed Apple’s own standards, this isn’t the world’s best start.
Overall, the JamPod is an okay accessory that for a few reasons isn’t right for all of our readers - the typical hallmark of an A-rated product - and won’t thoroughly satisfy all members of its specified niche, the hallmark of a B-rated product. While we think it may appeal to a number of amateur musicians and tinkerers, those expecting outstanding audio quality won’t be impressed. The $29.99 price tag - reduced from its originally announced $49.99 - generally matches its actual value as a toy that might be fun for younger and/or less demanding iPodders.
On a final note, and in light of recent industry developments inside and outside of the iPod market, we feel obligated to publicly reaffirm our commitment to providing objective coverage of iPod accessories from manufacturers unaffiliated with Apple Computer - including products from DVForge. True, it would be easier for us to ignore such products based on events that take place behind the scenes, and we unquestionably feel that JamPod’s manufacturer specifically has embroiled itself in more than its fair share of controversy. But we also believe that it would be inappropriate for us to alter or deny coverage to a company that lives up to its customer service obligations and attempts to offer innovative accessories without cloning or undercutting the efforts of others. Whether those accessories live up to their promises and readers’ expectations is an issue we will continue to examine on a product-by-product basis, but in the absence of extreme extenuating circumstances relating to specific companies, we’ll continue to provide the same broad coverage of small and big players that you have come to expect and hopefully enjoy.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge.