Shortly after Apple released the iPhone, Shure became the first of several companies to completely address a problem plaguing fans of older headphones: they didn’t work. The Music Phone Adapter MPA-3c not only converted their differently-shaped headphone plugs for the iPhone’s special recessed jack, but also added a microphone and a button that handled the same phone call and music controls offered by Apple’s packed-in iPhone Stereo Headphones. Shure’s major sticking point: a $40 price tag.
Right before MPA-3c’s release, Monster Cable contacted us with an unusual pitch: what if you could get more features, cheaper and sooner? The “more features” and “sooner” parts didn’t happen—we only saw the company’s iSoniTalk ($20) in stores late in 2007—but at half the price, there’s no doubt that it’s a better deal than the MPA-3c, and surprisingly comparable in performance.
Just as with Shure’s design, Monster gives iPhone users three critical pieces: a shirt-clipped microphone, a call answer/end button, and a cabled headphone plug adapter that connects to the recessed 3.5mm port and any pair of earphones you already own. These three parts enable you to hear iPhone audio through older earphones, take phone calls with the microphone, and start or stop both calls and audio using the button, which sits directly above the mic.
iSoniTalk’s cable design is a bunch different from Shure’s, however: the microphone and button combination are still at the far end of the cable, but instead of connecting to your headphone plug, they dangle alone; the plug gets connected to a splitter, creating two parallel cable lines—your headphones and iSoniTalk’s mic and control box. The benefit of Monster’s cable design, which includes small passive plastic clips to hold both cables together, is that you don’t elongate your existing headphone wires, a problem when using Shure’s MPA-3c with many non-Shure headphones. Depending on the old headphone cable’s thickness, however, you may or may not have luck running the cables together—iSoniTalk’s clips worked fine with some of the cables we tried, but not with the high-end Ultimate Ears shown in the photos here.
Cable management is really iSoniTalk’s only issue. Callers told us that Monster’s microphone system was almost indistinguishable from Shure’s, giving the MPA-3c’s audio quality only a hint of an edge in our testing—not enough to make a difference even if they were at the same price point—and both were rated as slightly crisper than the mic found on Apple’s pack-ins. Sound quality through connected headphones was the same, as well, and both units’ call buttons worked as they were supposed to. Shure’s shirt clip is larger than Monster’s, but we preferred the way iSoniTalk’s clip looks, and found it just as easy to wear.
Overall, for its $20 asking price, iSoniTalk is a highly recommendable headphone port adapter for the iPhone. It blows past the functionality of $10-12 options from companies such as Belkin and Griffin, offering a more complete talking and control solution for iPhone users, and yet doesn’t carry the too-high price tag of the MPA-3c it rivals in performance. This is a surprise given Monster’s typical pricing strategy, and certainly a welcome one. Though you may find that its approach to wire clasping is imperfect, you’re as likely to have a similar issue with Shure’s approach, and may well have a pair of earphones that bundle up nicely with Monster’s clips. Consider this a top pick unless something decidedly cooler comes along.
Company and Price
Company: Monster Cable