Review: Griffin Hands-Free Mic + AUX Cable
When Griffin introduced the Hands-Free Mic + AUX Cable ($30) at CES this year, the idea was good enough to win a Best of Show Finalist award, but not to take home the final prize. With a single, simple cable, the company turned a car with an auxiliary audio port into a giant speakerphone for the iPhone, iPhone 3G, or iPhone 3GS, adding a cool-looking chrome microphone and a one-button remote control for starting and stopping calls or music. It made sense, didn't break the bank at that price, and as with all Griffin products, looked nice -- except for a little slice-like defect in the mic's chrome surface.
The bigger issue we anticipated during the Cable’s first showing turned out to be legitimate: the microphone’s placement is going to be an problem in some cars. In the name of efficiency, Griffin places the microphone and the auxiliary audio plug in the same housing, having the mic stick directly out from the aux plug, wherever it may be in your car. If it’s at the right height—say, at the top left of your car stereo, and you’re the driver—callers will hear you just fine even over road noise at typical driving speeds. The auxiliary audio cable will play your iPhone’s music through your car’s speakers, requiring volume adjustment initially on the iPhone’s integrated controls, and callers will sound as loud and clear as the device’s volume and car speakers are capable of rendering them. Griffin’s single remote button is easy enough to grab and press for calls, and to play, pause, or skip forward and backward through audio tracks.
But try to use the Hands-Free Mic + AUX Cable in the wrong car and you’ll have major, major problems. Our test Toyota Highlander happens to have an auxiliary audio port at roughly knee level on the driver’s side, a distance and position that rendered our voice almost inaudible over ambient noise—even the iPhone 3GS’s Voice Control feature couldn’t discern caller names when we tried to dial automatically. Your voice will vary considerably based on your position in the car relative to that auxiliary port: if you’re a passenger and in a Honda Fit, for example, you’ll be closer to the mic and more audible than the driver, solely because the aux port’s on the other side of the stereo.
The decision to place the microphone at the aux port may be efficient, but it’s not inevitable. Scosche’s upcoming Plug and Play Handsfree Car Kit uses a similar design, but also includes a wired extension cord and dashboard microphone mount for use in cars where the aux port is too far away from the driver. While Scosche’s solution sells for twice the price of Griffin’s, it also includes other features such as Bluetooth support and a battery, bolstering its value and functionality; for the $30 asking price, Griffin could and should have included a similar extension cable and mount. This is the rare situation when the normally uber-smart company was out-thought by a competitor.
That having been said, the Hands-Free Mic + AUX Cable has a couple of advantages even in its current form: it’s the lowest-priced solution of its sort that we’ve tested, and unlike Scosche’s product, it doesn’t need to rely on batteries. Griffin’s solution will not work in every car, and if the aux port in your vehicle isn’t at the top corner of your stereo near the driver or passenger—whomever’s going to be doing more talking—save yourself the effort and don’t even bother trying it. Yet if the aux port’s in the right spot, this is a budget-priced solution that provides a convenient alternative to wiring up your car with a more deluxe hands-free option. If it was more universally vehicle-compatible, it would be a lot easier to recommend to everyone.