iLounge would like to congratulate the winners of its “Best of 2005” Awards, first announced in its Holiday Buyers’ Guide 2005-2006, which is now available for download.
The winners are:
Best Headphone of 2005:
Etymotic Research, for its ER-6i Isolator earphones (iLounge rating: A, $149).
Best iPod Speaker of 2005:
Altec Lansing, for its inMotion iM7 Portable Speaker System (iLounge rating: A-, $249).
Best iPod shuffle Case of 2005:
iSkin, for its Shuffle Duo (iLounge rating: A, $20).
Best iPod nano Case of 2005:
Incase, for its Neoprene Sleeve Case (iLounge rating: A-, $20).
Best iPod (4G) Case of 2005:
Vaja, for its i-Volution/iVod 4G Case (iLounge rating: A, $60+).
Best iPod mini Case of 2005:
Speck Products, for its ToughSkin mini Case (iLounge rating: A, $35).
Best iPod Car Accessory of 2005:
ProClip USA, for its Padded Tilt Swivel Adjustable Mount (iLounge rating: A, $40).
Best iPod Dock of 2005:
Kensington, for its Stereo Dock (iLounge rating: A-, $90)
iPod Accessory Maker of the Year 2005:
Griffin Technology, chosen unanimously by the Editors of iLounge for its excellence in products released, innovation in design, and outstanding customer service in 2005.
Congratulations to all of this year’s winners, and we look forward to seeing what you have in store for 2006! For explanations of why these winners were chosen, continue reading below.
Dennis Lloyd, Publisher
Jeremy Horwitz, Editor-in-Chief
Larry Angell, Senior Editor
Bob Levens, Chief Forum Administrator and Contributing Editor
Jerrod H., Contributing Editor
A few words on why these winners were chosen:
Headphones/ER-6i: These headphones have all four of the key factors we look at when testing headphones: detail, balance, comfort, and value. Though many excellent headphones have been released this year, and we were tempted to make this award to a more expensive product, the fact is that ER-6i’s $149 price makes it an affordable gift for anyone, and its performance benefits over standard earbuds are very considerable. We also appreciated the lack of cord noise/microphonics in this particular model, which distinguishes it from earlier and some more recent Etymotic designs.
Speakers/iM7: Last year, our key factor in picking a winning speaker was the price to performance ratio, and that remains a very serious concern to us. Normally the higher than average $249 price tag of the iM7 system would have made it less of a viable competitor in this category. But Altec hit all of the right notes with this design, from looks and strong performance to portability and what appears to be emerging as the “new iPod trend” – a dock with remote and speakers. The next generation of iPod speaker systems needs to view iM7 as the one to beat on pricing, performance (both audio and remote control), and design. Simply cloning this and trying to sell it for $20 less is not a winning strategy: we think the $149-199 category is ripe for competition this year.
Cases: We picked a variety of cases that struck us as the year’s best without any pre-planned agenda. Two of the cases we picked were especially good values for consumers: the beautifully designed Shuffle Duo from iSkin ($20) and the same-priced Incase Neoprene Sleeve for iPod nano. Both cases offer outstanding protection and good, sleek looks that no one would be ashamed to pull out of their pockets. We also strongly applaud these companies for keeping their prices reasonable. We also wanted to recognize the excellence of Speck’s ToughSkin design, which got better and more protective as it evolved from 4G to iPod mini versions. Speck has made a number of cases this year that were in the running, but this one had the best combination of attention to detail and protection. Pricing was the only issue that concerned us.
Vaja’s iVod series of puffed leather cases is the only premium case award we made this year. It takes a really special iPod 4G case to be worthy of a price higher than $35, in our view, and because of its customization options, high-quality materials and unique designs, Vaja is one of very few companies that consistently produces cases that we think of as works of art. We received an e-mail after the award from an excellent designer who said, paraphrased, “I’m going to try and design some high-end cases this coming year to be eligible for an award.” Our response, also paraphrased: “only one high-end case out of 4 iPod cases selected won an award. Three lower-priced cases won. Focus on making excellent cases that everyone can afford.” Awards are no good (from our perspective) if no one can afford your winning products.
Car Accessories/Padded Adjustable Mount: A tough category because there are so many products to consider, and so few “breakthroughs.” The winner was ultimately a product that does the most outstanding job at its specific task – enabling an iPod to be mounted for easy viewing and access in any car. Proclip’s solution is smart because it does two things well – it pays attention to your iPod by resizing to fit the iPod in any case you purchase, which so many car mounts do not, and it pays attention to your car by integrating with a mount specific to your vehicle. ProClip has addressed essentially every car, and virtually every iPod/case combination with this solution. It is more expensive than we would prefer, but it does its job better than anything else we have tested.
Stereo Dock/Dock of the Year: This category is in the middle of major changes because of the release of the 5G iPod and nano: since there is no top port on current iPods, 5G and nano docks will be basically useless if all they do is charge and sync an iPod. Stereo Dock did three things well. First, it offered an excellent bundle of things average people need to connect an iPod to a stereo – cables and power charger, nice dock, and memorable remote. Second, it worked properly and included a novel feature – variable audio-out – which worked with the remote, and later wound up in Apple’s own Universal Dock. Third, though its price initially seems too high, consumers have the option of finding it for considerably less ($60) by shopping around. We are going to be much more price conscious on docks going forward, but this one was too well-executed to ignore.
Griffin Technology/Accessory Maker of the Year: This award is going to be judged from here on out on a November 1-October 31 calendar, roughly matching the dates of our Holiday Guides. Our biggest criteria are listed in the Guide: excellence in products released, innovation in design, and outstanding customer service. The first two are easy to judge ourselves, and we monitor the last one through reader comments and other anecdotal information. It should also be mentioned that “excellence in products released” is a reflection of the pricing, performance, and build quality of what a company turns out – all things we consider in our reviews.
Over the last year, Griffin has done what a lot of other companies are now trying to do – evolve from a maker of novel electronic add-ons into more of a one-stop-shop for electronics, cases, speakers, and headphones. With relatively few exceptions, these moves have been executed well during the past 12 months; the company has released many innovative products across various categories that are affordable for average consumers, and has done in our judgment an impressive job of responding to consumer concerns during the same period. No company will execute perfectly or have 100% happy customers all of the time. Griffin’s had a few yawners in 2005. But some companies try much harder than others to answer their phones, e-mails, and do what’s right both in pricing, manufacturing, and accurately marketing to consumers. Griffin’s formula is working, and we wanted to acknowledge that.