Review: Griffin SmartTalk Headphone Adapter with Control + Mic for iPhone
In the pre-iPhone era, there were hundreds of earphones with slightly different plugs, virtually all of them compatible with the headphone ports of iPods. Then the iPhone came along, unexpectedly recessing its headphone port and making other changes, requiring companies to either re-release old models with compatible plugs, or sell adapters. Griffin Technology has done both, coming up with the newly iPhone-compatible TuneBuds and TuneBuds Mobile, as well as its latest iPhone adapter, SmartTalk ($20).
As their prices might suggest, the $20 TuneBuds are a standard pair of replacement iPod earbuds, while the $20 SmartTalk includes an iPhone-friendly microphone and control button, and the $40 TuneBuds Mobile include all of these components in one product. Just like Monster’s earlier iSoniTalk, SmartTalk is there for the person who wants to use a pair of iPod earphones with the iPhone, but doesn’t want the earphones to be TuneBuds; it works with whatever pair of standard earphones you may want to connect. Like TuneBuds Mobile, SmartTalk uses fabric cabling—here, in a 32” length—and integrates its microphone and button into a single enclosure designed to be worn near your mouth. As with iSoniTalk, a spring-loaded clip on the unit’s back is there to suggest that you mount it on a lapel or shirt collar, but unlike iSoniTalk, SmartTalk has a hole on its top for insertion of earphones.
It turns out that this is one of three fairly significant differences between Monster’s and Griffin’s approaches, as well as that of Shure’s earlier Music Phone Adapter MPA-3c. Monster’s design has you connect your old earphones close to the iPhone’s headphone port, while Shure’s also uses a nearly three-foot cable and is primarily designed to connect with Shure-branded headphones that split their cabling in the middle. Griffin’s basically adds the three feet of cable, requires you to mount the microphone at neck level, then has your existing headphone cords dangle down from there. This isn’t the most ergonomic or thoughtful implementation of the adapter idea.
Another difference, and perhaps the most important one, is in the three companies’ microphones. Callers found iSoniTalk’s and MPA-3c’s microphones to be nearly identical, which leaned in favor of Monster’s $20 design, but here, callers told us that SmartTalk didn’t sound as good as iSoniTalk. As the same distance from our mouths, SmartTalk’s volume/gain level sounded lower, making us harder to hear than with iSoniTalk or with Apple’s packed-in iPhone Stereo Headset. We also found that it was a little easier to accidentally hang up on our caller during insertion of the SmartTalk, as pinching the unit’s sides to stabilize it on your collar triggers the call disconnect/connect button; Monster mounts it on iSoniTalk’s front, instead.
The only thing we preferred in SmartTalk was the simpler design of the headphone port adapter. Monster attempted to compromise, accommodating different headphone cables with a passive clip system, and grafting a very oversized adapter on iPhone’s top. Griffin instead uses a clean, simple cable that looks better with the iPhone, and looks really nice overall—until you attach your headphones to it and the cables hang down from your neck.
Overall, thanks mostly to its better microphone and cable management for the same price, we’d pick iSoniTalk over SmartTalk any day. Though SmartTalk isn’t a bad option, looks nice, and does a pretty good job for the $20 asking price, you’ll get better outgoing sound quality, wearability, and controls with the Monster design. Shure’s MPA-3c is a better choice on sound, but at twice the price.