Pros: An inexpensive adapter cable that enables you to connect virtually any top-mounting 3G/4G/mini iPod accessory to the bottom of any Dock Connector-equipped iPod, providing the same power and almost the same iPod interactivity you’d get with earlier iPods.
Cons: Volume level of adapter audio output is fixed at 35-40% of iPod’s maximum, a level that’s fine for typical indoor listening with Apple’s earbuds but not ideally suited to many other accessories. Dangling cable design leaves accessories hanging awkwardly off of each iPod’s bottom. Separately, and through no fault of the adapter, battery drain of old iPod accessories may limit their usefulness with newer iPods, especially the nano, and old recording accessories won’t work properly or at all when attached.
When Apple decided to remove its proprietary extended headphone (“Remote”) connector from iPod nanos and 5Gs, several companies talked about releasing “old accessory adapters” – devices that would allow owners of old iPod accessories to keep using them with the newer iPods. At least a couple of major players passed on the idea, but recently BTI and Targus have provided us with actually working adapters. This brief review focuses on Targus’s 9-Pin to 30-Pin Accessory Adapter for iPod Family of Products ($20), while a separate review looks at BTI’s variously labelled u-Link / uLink for iPod nano (iLounge rating: B). [Editors’ Note: Though we have been told that the 9-Pin to 30-Pin Accessory Adapter is due for imminent release – sooner than the March release originally promised – the accessory has not yet been posted on Targus’s web site, or the web site of developer ABT.]
Both of these products work in the same basic way. They provide one port to plug in an old top-mounting iPod accessory, and a plug that connects to the bottom of a current model iPod. So connected, old accessories such as remote controls, Bluetooth adapters, and FM transmitters are able to draw power from the iPod and perform their normal features. In short, the old accessory behaves pretty much as it should, even though it’s connected to a newer iPod. The only common exceptions to this rule are old voice recorders, which don’t work on new iPods at all because of firmware differences, and seem to have issues working fully with even old iPods when connected through the Adapter.
This core functionality aside, Targus and BTI have taken substantially different approaches to designing their adapters: for instance, Targus’s Accessory Adapter is in the shape of a ten-inch white cable, dangling a connected old accessory from the iPod’s bottom Dock Connector port, while BTI’s u-Link is a white or black plastic piece that fits on an iPod’s bottom, holding the accessory sturdy, but inexplicably, backwards. For obvious reasons, neither of these solutions is aesthetically or functionally ideal.
Additionally, the cable-versus-hard plastic design decision turns out to be more than skin deep: Targus’s Adapter is physically compatible with all Dock Connector equipped iPods – 3G, 4G, 5G, mini and nano – while u-Link specifically fits and works only with iPod nanos. BTI decided to connect to both the nano’s Dock Connector and headphone ports at the same time, which is actually a superior way to emulate the old iPod top connector. Unlike the Accessory Adapter, u-Link thereby allows users of old FM transmitters and remote controls to hear changes in the iPod’s volume level through the adapter, a beneficial if not necessary feature when you’re using certain old accessories. For this reason, many nano owners will find u-Link a better solution than the Accessory Adapter for their needs, a fact reflected in our split rating above.
Everyone else, however, will necessarily find the Accessory Adapter a better solution. And by “everyone else,” we not only mean owners of 5G iPods, but also those with 3G, 4G, and mini models. Targus notes that the Adapter can be used with every iPod (including nano, unlike u-Link) as a simple headphone splitter, with the 5G and nano as an old accessory adapter, and with the 3G, 4G and mini as a way to use two top-mounting accessories at once. For example, you can actually attach a Griffin iTrip (LCD) FM transmitter to an older iPod’s top while an old top-mounting remote control is connected to its bottom, or use DLO’s miniFM radio receiver on a 4G iPod’s bottom while connecting a Griffin iBeam flashlight to its top. More practically, you could attach a Griffin iTalk Voice Recorder to the old iPod’s top and a Macally PodWave/IP-A111 to its bottom. Will anyone actually use two accessories at once? That’s your decision to make. There are only two reasons you might not bother.
First, there’s that volume issue. Because the Accessory Adapter doesn’t connect to any iPod’s headphone port, it instead draws audio from the incredibly powerful and typically loud Dock Connector port. The good news is that Targus has automatically attenuated (read: limited) the volume to approximately 35-40% of the iPod’s standard maximum volume level, a “typical” indoor listening level that won’t kill your ears while listening to Adapter-connected accessories with Apple’s earbuds. The bad news is that 35-40% volume is lower than the optimal level for many other headphones and accessories, and though you can still connect headphones to the iPod’s headphone port, you can’t adjust the Adapter’s own volume output level upwards or downwards. So you’ll need to turn your separate speakers up more when using top-mounting Bluetooth accessories, Griffin’s iTrip (LCD) or SmartDeck, and expect mixed results from separately amplified devices such as Griffin’s iFM and DLO’s miniFM radio adapters, which sound better as radios than as iPod audio pass-throughs. In our view, an A-level implementation of the Accessory Adapter really would include at least a switch, or better, a dial, to let you attenuate the volume level for various applications.
Both BTI and Targus’s devices raise one additional new concern: battery drain. Unlike newer iPod accessories we’ve tested, older ones haven’t necessarily been optimized for the batteries in nanos and 5G iPods, so those expecting to get the same run times as they did from past iPods may be surprised or disappointed. This isn’t the Accessory Adapter’s fault, of course, but should be borne in mind before you entirely write off the idea of buying new accessories designed to be fully compatible with current iPod models. It’s an even more serious concern if you’re considering pairing two top-mounting devices on an iPod at once; both will be competing for the iPod’s limited power, and run down your battery much faster than normal. Since there’s no way to connect an iPod to an external battery with the Accessory Adapter attached, you’ll definitely need to manage your power wisely.
Like u-Link, the Accessory Adapter is a handy add-on that will prolong the life of many top-mounting accessories that might otherwise have been written off, and its wide compatibility with all Dock Connector iPods will be a positive for many people. But it’s certainly not perfect; its dangling cable approach and single volume level will prove less than ideal for some users, especially nano owners whose alternative option is the better-sounding but still quirky u-Link. Our feeling is that virtually any nano owner would find the u-Link a better fit for their needs than the Accessory Adapter, excepting only those few people with multiple new iPods or a need for a combination adapter and so-so headphone splitter. All other iPod owners will find the Accessory Adapter a good but not great way to keep their old accessories in service.
Used with 3G/4G/5G/mini iPods
Used with iPod nano
Company and Price
Compatible: iPod 3G, 4G/photo/color, 5G, mini, nano