Beginner’s Guide to iPod, Part IV: Awesome Accessories for Power Users

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In the previous parts of the iLounge Beginners’ Guide to iPod, we’ve focused on the needs of Typical Users – people with limited budgets and iPod experience. This fourth part of the Guide focuses on the needs of “Power Users,” pickier buyers who are willing to spend extra cash to get something nicer than the average consumer’s bare needs.

While the categories of accessories are the same as those in our list of “necessary accessories for Typical Users,” the Power Users list below therefore assumes that price is not as much of an issue, and focuses on top performance instead of value. With only one exception – see our Carrying Case Accessories section – these are the accessories we would choose for ourselves if money was no object.

You may notice that the Typical User’s Connectivity Accessories section has disappeared from this Power Users guide, and the reason for that is simple and unfortunate: we don’t have any special recommendations for cool remote controls, alternate iPod docks, or other connectivity devices. Long-awaited third-party iPod Bluetooth wireless remote control and audio transmission devices have not been released, though we suspect that Apple’s recent announcement of Airport Express ($129), a portable wireless router that can transmit music to any stereo speakers, may herald the start of a wireless iPod revolution. But unless Apple or a third-party releases wireless iPod-specific accessories, we’ll have nothing more to say on that subject.


Part I: So You Want to Buy an iPod?
Part II: Five Steps to Using Your iPod
Part III: Necessary Accessories for Typical Users
Part IV: Awesome Accessories for Power Users
Part V: From Photos to eBooks, Creating Content and Troubleshooting

Part IV: Awesome Accessories for Power Users (June 10, 2004)

Carrying Case Accessories

Four companies’ deluxe iPod carrying cases have set themselves apart from the rest of the pack, both in price and performance. While we continue to prefer and regularly use iSkin’s and Lajo’s silicone rubber cases – inexpensive but resilient options we recommended in the Typical Users part of this Guide – we recognize that some users prefer more expensive materials and have special needs that only other case options can fulfill.

Our top recommendation goes to two leather cases from Vaja, the i-Vod 3G (for full-sized iPods, $49.90 and up) and the iVod mini (for iPod minis, $49.99 and up). Vaja is a deluxe Argentine leather carrying case maker, and each of its cases simply oozes class – in design, materials, construction, and even packaging. Form-fit to each iPod and customizable in color, the i-Vods are the rare iPod accessories that feel entirely worth their higher-than-average price. Though Marware’s C.E.O. Glove 3G and Global Source’s Deluxe Leather Case are good lower-priced alternatives, Vaja’s i-Vods remain king of the hill options that you’d want to buy for yourself or a well-to-do family member. Moreover, the manufacturer has an outstanding reputation for quality developed across cases for numerous portable electronic devices, and we’ve been very impressed by their dedication to making iPod-specific leather cases that match Apple’s design sophistication.

pic Vaja i-Vod 3G
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The Good: Great quality leather and nicely designed. Good functionality and protection.
The Bad: Price is higher than most leather cases, but again it’s the quality of leather and construction you’re paying for.
pic Vaja iVod mini
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The Good: Beautiful design, fit, and finish, including hard plastic screen protection. Optional detachable belt clip is implemented quite well.
The Bad: No Click Wheel protection, custom-colored price may deter some buyers.

STM’s Cocoon is our favorite travel carrying case for the iPod – a mostly hard pouch-like case that looks great, adds only a small amount of bulk to the iPod, and wonderfully protects the iPod from drop and scratch damage. Each Cocoon includes a vinyl sleeve with detachable lanyard necklace to use the iPod in a less bulky way when it’s not in transit. The manufacturer has an excellent reputation in the travel case business prior to entering the iPod market.

pic STM Cocoon
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The Good: Looks great, feels great, protects iPod perfectly for most travel purposes, includes both hard and soft cases that fit any iPod.

The Bad: Top and bottom holes aren’t zipperable, so it’s not fully protective.

Matias’ makes the best metal carrying cases we’ve seen for the iPod and iPod mini. The company’s iPod Armor (for full-sized iPods, $49.95) encloses the entire device (save for small port holes) in resilient aluminum, and its iPod Armor mini (for iPod minis, $49.95) uses a combination of aluminum and plastic to achieve enclosure with transparent screen protection. Though both cases prevent users from accessing the iPod’s controls and screen when inside, it also prevents anything else from harming the enclosed iPod.

pic Matias iPod Armor
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The Good: A very well-made product that offers outstanding protection for your iPod.
The Bad: Extremely inconvenient to open the face or remove the iPod, making it not suitable for people who change their playlists often.
pic Matias iPod Armor mini
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The Good: Looks great, protects the iPod mini superbly against virtually any type of impact-related physical damage.
The Bad: So-so rubber Dock Connector protector, no top protection. Some users may prefer full-time Click Wheel access, though we liked the case as-is.

Finally, Eroch Studios’ Lilipod ($35.00) is the only waterproof iPod case currently available, and while it’s not perfect, it does what it’s supposed to do. Made for use during extreme sports and situations involving water, the Lilipod is missing only two features: waterproof earphones (available separately) and better iPod access while encased (not yet available). But it’s one-of-a-kind at the present time, so if you need it, get it.

pic Eroch Studios LiliPod
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The Good: Nice iPod-matching style, very protective of the iPod against water, shock, and other harm.
The Bad: No access to screen or controls (even wired remote) when case is sealed, opening mechanism exposes iPod to potential scratch damage.

Replacement Headphone Accessories

Until you’ve used excellent headphones, it’s impossible to appreciate how much of your music you’ve been missing: even your first experience will reveal layers of audio you may never have known were there. Having tested a number of excellent higher-end headphones, we strongly recommend that serious music lovers owners at least try one of them to see what their favorite songs were intended to sound like.

Four of the five high-end headphones we’ve reviewed and liked are “in-ear” style headphones. Shure’s E3Cs ($179.00) and Future Sonic’s EM3s ($143.10) are the most affordable, but if you have the extra money to spend, we highly recommend (and have fallen in love with) Etymotic’s ER-4 ($330.00) headphones. They look a bit odd, but sound absolutely fantastic, especially the ER-4P versions. The best audio quality we’ve ever heard came from Ultimate Ears’ UE-10 Pro ($900.00) professional grade custom-fit earphones, but they offer less of an improvement over the considerably cheaper Etymotics than some might expect for the price difference. Our “birthday gift” pick of the bunch is the Etymotics.

pic Etymotic ER-4S
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The Good: Supreme sound reproduction. Outstanding support/customer relations from the company.
The Bad: Expensive, but worth it if you can afford it.
pic Future Sonics EM3
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The Good: Outstanding Sound, lightweight & portable, excellent fit.
The Bad: Pricey, but probably will come down in the future.
pic Shure E3C
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The Good: Amazing clarity; clean sound throughout the entire range. Extremely lightweight, yet durable. New Ultra-Soft flex sleeves are much more comfortable than the old, harder plastic ones.
The Bad: Pricey for many iPod users. Bass, while accurate and clean, is not ‘booming’ or powerful by any means… not for bass lovers. Isolation when using grey Ultra-Soft sleeves is poor.
pic Ultimate Ears UE-10Pro
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The Good: Outstanding audio reproduction, even by comparison with other high-end earphones, and entirely personalized individual fit.
The Bad: Exclusive pricing, Y-cable design discourages traditional neck-front use, requires custom-fitting process and potential adjustments.

The fifth set of headphones we liked is Bose’s QuietComfort (and successor QuietComfort II, $299.00) ear cup-style Acoustic Noise Canceling Headset. They sound great and don’t require in-ear placement, but more importantly provide active noise cancellation – a technology that lets you hear only the noises inside the headphones while screening mid- to low-pitched noises from the outside world. Though we prefer the sound and passive noise isolation of the in-ear Etymotics overall, Bose’s offerings deliver very good audio reproduction for people who don’t mind carrying larger headsets around.

pic Bose QuietComfort
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The Good: Excellent noise canceling ability and full-range sound. Comfortable and lightweight.
The Bad: Cannot cancel higher frequencies. Inline headphone control box needs some getting use to.

In-Car Accessories

Part III of our Guide discussed inexpensive in-car solutions for typical users, but just as there’s a world of difference between the cassette adapters and FM transmitters we’ve reviewed, there’s an equal distance between the performance of those options and the more expensive one we’re listing here. After a potentially professional installation – depending on your level of electronics expertise – Dension’s ICE-Link ($149.00 to $239.00, car-dependent) integrates beautifully with your car’s stereo, adding line-level audio output and recharging capability to almost any vehicle. Some vehicles’ stereos will even be able to display song titles and other details from the iPod’s song lists. Less expensive than replacing an entire stereo, ICE-Link can be combined with several mounting solutions (including Pro Clip’s nice-looking custom car mounts, $19.95-$34.95) to place your iPod at a perfect viewing angle for long drives.

pic Dension ICE-Link
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The Good:Does exactly what is advertised, and handles its task with aplomb. Reduces perceived distances between destinations because you’re rocking out in style.
The Bad:Pricey (when you don’t add-up all of the unit’s strengths). Might require a custom installation, which can run you another $100 or so. Might result in additional traffic violations due to head-banging or in-car break dancing.
pic Pro Clip Auto Mounts
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The Good: Great build quality, appearance, ease of installation and fit.

The Bad: Plastic residue traces may scratch chrome iPods, users with unusual cars may have issues, price may deter some potential buyers.

Specialty Accessories

In the fifth part of our Beginner’s Guide to the iPod, we’ll look at additional accessories that expand the iPod’s abilities past digital music storage and playback. If you didn’t know that you could use an iPod to record audio, store digital photographs, and read both books and news of your choice, get ready to learn all the exciting details!

Jeremy Horwitz is Senior Editor of iLounge and practices intellectual property law in his spare time. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school – ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.


Part I: So You Want to Buy an iPod?
Part II: Five Steps to Using Your iPod
Part III: Necessary Accessories for Typical Users
Part IV: Awesome Accessories for Power Users
Part V: From Photos to eBooks, Creating Content and Troubleshooting