Review: Griffin iTrip
Pros: Small, simple, stylish and cool. The iTrip rocks your tunes from iPod to FM with exceptional reception quality, and for $35 its a great deal.
Cons: There are none.
In all the reviews written at iLounge, I think this one was the most anticipated by our readers. Can you believe it, the iTrip has finally arrived!
The iTrip was first announced at MacWorld New York in July, 2002. Theres been about a year of design and development to get it ready for shipping. Although the iTrip could have shipped earlier, Andrew Green VP of Marketing for Griffin Technology told me that the LED on iTrip was the reason for the final hold up.
Already in production, the iTrip team realized that it desperately needed a status LED for two key reasons; one to confirm that the unit is connected fully (remember the problems Apple had with the connector and their remotes not fully connecting) and two to guide a user through the frequency change operation. So although it delayed the release of a product that already-had LOTS of preorder customers waiting, we took the extra time to do the iTrip right - and add the LED. It was the right thing to do.
Let me get right to the point. After testing the iTrip with several different FM receivers, it worked far better than any other FM transmitter Ive ever tested. Although its still just an FM transmitter, meaning that the reception quality will never be that of a CD, it comes very close. We plugged it into the iPod, cranked up the cars radio, set the iTrip station to the same frequency on the stereo and it broadcasted the song with clean reception.
Why So Good?
Im no electrical engineer, but Im sure the iTrip sounds as good as it does because of the digital components within its tiny body. The signal never drifts but locks on, providing great reception. If you get bad reception, switch the iTrip to another more suitable frequency, the best are those that do not have a FM station broadcasting on either side of the frequency. You just want a frequency with clean hiss, if that makes sense.
iPod Sings to iTrip
How in the heck does the iPod communicate with the iTrip? Each iTrip station in the playlist is an actual MP3 file. Each file contains a series of ‘blips’ and ‘bleeps’. Our guess is that the iTrip interprets each ‘blip’ and ‘bleep’ as an instruction to set the frequency, I know its vague, but thats my best guess.
I asked Andrew Green at Griffin if he could tell us exactly how it works and he replied, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Actually, how we do what we do in those ‘blips’ and ‘bleeps’ is proprietary and exclusive to Griffin Technology. Thats one of the things that make the iTrip completely unique and special - that it is controlled by the iPod itself. No other FM transmitter - or ANY iPod accessory for that matter is controlled directly from the iPod.
There you have it; its top secret. But really, do you care how it works? What really matters that it does work and we benefit from Griffins ingenuity.
Install, Transmit and Pump Up the Volume
The iTrip is a cinch to install and use (although I did catch myself doing something wrong the first time, more on that later). The package includes the iTrip, install CD and manual. On the CD is an Installer for both iTunes for Mac and Musicmatch for Windows. I installed the iTrip software onto my G4 Mac and iTunes 4. The installer creates a new iTunes playlist named iTrip Stations then loads all the FM frequencies into it. Unlike other FM transmitters, the iTrip includes 100 FM frequencies, so finding that perfect one in a city overrun with FM stations should be easy. You can also save some disk space by deleting those stations you dont think are necessary.
Although the CD includes auto-installers for iTunes and Musicmatch, anyone using EphPod, XPlay, Media Center 9 or any other music manager can install the FM stations manually. Just create a new playlist, name it whatever you like then copy or import any or all the FM stations on the CD into your playlist.
After the playlist is created, plug in your iPod and sync the new iTrip Stations playlist (or whatever you named your playlist) to your iPod. Remember, some of you may be using Manually manage songs and playlists or Automatically update selected playlists only, so go into your iPod preferences in iTunes and select the appropriate settings and sync the stations to iPod.
Before you set the frequency make sure your iPods volume is set between 40% - 80%. Otherwise, if the volume is set too low, the iTrip wont set or change the frequency.
Plug iTrip into the iPod via the headphone port, notice the blue LED comes to life and youre ready to choose a frequency. Turn your FM receiver on and find a suitable frequency. Remember, a frequency with little or no interference from neighboring FM stations is best. Now find the same frequency in your iTrip Stations playlist on your iPod. Now select the frequency by pressing the Play button, the LED will blink rapidly, then press Play again to pause it. The first couple of times I tried this, I kept pressing the iPods center select button, because thats how I usually start playing a song. The iTrip kept on playing all the stations in the playlist, so I took a moment and realized what I was doing wrong. So remember kids, its the Play/Pause button you should be pressing.
The LED will pulse three times indicating that the frequency is locked and loaded. Seconds after choosing and playing a song on your iPod youll hear it broadcasting through the speakers. You should get a strong signal, good reception and your song playing in high fidelity. If you dont, try switching to another FM station. Choose a new station in the iTrip Stations playlist, press Play then press Play again after the LED blinks. Repeat if necessary until you get satisfactory reception and enjoy.
Power Drain and Range
Some of you might be wondering how much power does the iTrip draw from the iPod. Its an insignificant amount, so I wouldnt worry about it. But, if some of you want to save some minute amount of battery life, you can turn off the LED by playing LED OFF in the iTrip Stations playlist. Theres also an LED ON.
Griffin lists the transmitting range for iTrip at 10-30 feet, but while testing it with an FM receiver/amplifier in my home I got about 6 feet before the static started. You may get better results depending on your location, interior walls, FM antennae position, etc. In the car, this wont matter. Stick the iPod/iTrip near your radio and your set to go.
It’s The Little Things
Like the iPod, the iTrip comes in a well-designed package. Griffin, like Apple pays attention to the details. You can browse their website and find an assortment of cool accessories and gadgets, all designed and engineered with detail and quality. The iTrip is no exception. From the box design to the way you use the iTrip with iPod, its these details make the iTrip a pleasure to use. It looks good and sounds great, and reminds me of our friend the iPod.
Speaking of details, Griffin has included a recessed area on the back of the iTrip so you can turn it 90 degrees and plug in your FireWire cable. This is handy for those times you need to charge while in the car.
Griffin will be introducing a new, updated iTrip compatible with new iPod models very soon as reported by Mr. Green in our roundup of industry reactions to the new iPods. I cant wait to create playlists on-the-go with my new iPod 15GB and iTrip II while driving. That should be interesting.
This review is done, and Im going to jump in my Jeep and take a drive with my iTripped iPod and listen to some new songs downloaded from the iTunes Music Store. Ill leave you with a small anecdote about how Mr. Green named the FM transmitter that could.
We had an early prototype of the iTrip at MacWorld NYC 02 and were showing it to a select few, but we didn’t have a name yet. Over dinner at Angelo & Maxies (great steaks by the way) the Griffin team brainstormed names and for a few minutes Odyssey was chosen. In a fit of desperation, the marketing VP (me) came up with ‘iTrip’ to save this great product from a truly awful name.