Review: Kensington Accessory Adapter for iPod shuffle
Pros: An inexpensive adapter that renders your iPod shuffle compatible with a number of popular Dock Connector-equipped iPod accessories, including speakers, docks, car chargers and car-only FM transmitters. Simple to use, and arguably a more practical alternative for many people than buying shuffle-specific accessories.
Cons: Specific accessory compatibility isn’t guaranteed, or necessarily identical in quality to performace with larger iPod models; portable FM transmitters, remote controls, and other devices requiring iPod battery power generally will not work. Audio quality when connected to speakers is unlikely to be superior to using shuffle’s headphone port, may be impacted by interference depending on the accessory.
We don’t review many iPod shuffle-specific accessories these days because we’ve gotten the sense that they’re not especially popular, but we’re making an exception for Kensington’s Accessory Adapter for iPod shuffle ($20). Why? It’s not the most important or best executed add-on we’ve ever tested, but it does something useful - it lets you pass on dead-end, iPod shuffle-specific accessories, and instead use certain future-proofed iPod Dock Connector accessories with the lowest-end iPod. The key words to focus on here are “certain” and “lowest-end iPod;” the more realistic your expectations are going in, the more satisfied you’ll be with Kensington’s results.
Accessory Adapter is a glossy white plastic box with holes at both of its smallest ends. One side has a Dock Connector port, the other a USB port. You insert the iPod shuffle’s USB plug into that port, which is covered by a thin layer of Kensington’s neon green plastic, then attach a Dock Connecting iPod accessory to the other end. Depending on what you’ve connected, you’ll see the shuffle’s charging light start to flash, and/or hear shuffle music start to come out of the accessory you’ve attached. The combined iPod and Adapter are about half an inch taller than a standard full-sized iPod, so the shuffle may poke out a bit more from a docking accessory than other iPods would have.
What works? Generally, speakers and docks work fine for audio and charging purposes, but not for data synchronization. Car and other battery chargers also typically work. And some in-car FM transmitters, namely ones that don’t rely on an iPod’s battery, like Kensington’s Digital FM Transmitter/Auto Charger, will also work.
The reason we underscored “lowest-end iPod” above was to suggest that the experience here, like the shuffle itself, isn’t as thrilling as you’d expect if you’d instead bought a larger iPod or all-new, shuffle-specific accessories. This is a cheap alternative, with compromises. Used with the Accessory Adapter, the shuffle’s bottom port audio quality is no better than through its headphone port, which is to say acceptable but not crystalline. Since the shuffle’s custom USB plug doesn’t output fixed level line-quality sound, you’ll also need to manually adjust the shuffle’s volume to match any audio accessory’s amplifier (or lack thereof), just as you would with its headphone port. Also, depending on how well the accessory is shielded from outside interference, you’ll sometimes hear a high-pitched sound when the shuffle’s status light flashes; thankfully, the sound typically isn’t too loud with the shuffle’s volume properly adjusted, and doesn’t happen with everything. Finally, if the shuffle’s battery is empty, you’ll need to let it charge a little before using it with even powered audio accessories; it may randomly pause playback until its battery is ready.
Why did we underscore the word “certain?” There are a fair number of standard iPod accessories that won’t work with the Accessory Adapter. Portable FM transmitters, such as Griffin’s iTrip with Dock Connector, won’t work. Apple’s iPod Camera Connector won’t work either, for obvious reasons. Remote controls - both separate ones, and the ones that control speaker systems and iPods - don’t generally work, at least to the extent they’re supposed to control the shuffle; they’ll still control your speakers. And random other self-powered accessories, such as TEN Technology’s naviPlay Wireless Headset Kit, inexplicably won’t let you pass through audio, either, and thereby don’t work at all. Finally, for physical reasons, old top-mounting accessories, including most 3G/4G FM transmitters, microphone adapters, and the like, are non-starters too.
As with most of these accessory adapters, what you’ll get for $20 is a fair compromise - a way to make a reasonable number of standard iPod speaker, car, and charging accessories compatible with the cheapest iPod. In our view, it’s quick and semi-dirty, but probably a smarter buy for shuffle owners than going out and getting shuffle-specific accessories at this stage of the low-end iPod’s life. Though it could be more compatible, it’s good and affordable enough to earn our general recommendation.