Gear Guide, Part Two: Gear for Your IPod
They call it "the iPod ecosystem"-that's the expanding universe of speakers, headphones, cases, and other player-related paraphernalia that now surrounds the iPod.
As part of Macworld's Winter Gear Guide, we're sharing our picks for accessories and add-ons that will add more pizzazz to any Apple gear--be it an iPhone, Mac, or iPod. In this second part of the Gear Guide, we're here to help you find the right equipment to make your iPod sing.
One Charger, No Waiting
If you've got one iPod in your house, there are probably others like it (not to mention iPhones) under the same roof. That's a lot of power-hungry mouths to feed. To avoid a mess of dock-connector cables, as well as a shortage of USB ports or wall outlets, check out Griffin Technology's PowerDock, a handy charging station that accommodates either two or four i-devices. Clad in attractive brushed aluminum, the PowerDock's weighted base keeps it stable. Its dock cradles are compatible with all dockable iPods, and with Griffin's $20 Dock Adapter, you can even charge your iPod shuffle.
Two-dock model, $50; four-dock model, $70; Griffin Technology
Keep It Down in There
Given how often today's kids listen to music-and how young they start-damage to hearing is a growing concern. You can encourage your 'tweens to lower the volume, but few kids know what safe levels really are. Ultimate Ears' LoudEnough headphones offer a unique solution: kid-friendly earbuds that restrict output to safe levels-you simply can't crank them to ear-splitting volumes. But these headphones aren't sonically crippled: sound quality is very good for the price, they offer enhanced bass response, and the canalbud design blocks a good amount of external noise, reducing the need to crank up the volume. Available in appealing colors such as plum, mint, and blueberry, each LoudEnough box includes a color-matching hard case and three sizes of silicone eartips especially designed for smaller ears. Designed for 6-year-olds to teenagers, the headphones are also a good buy for adults.
$40; Ultimate Ears
Sounds like an iMac
Focal-JMlab's XS multimedia systemYou may listen to most of your music on an iPod or a computer, but if you still crave great sound, Focal-JMlab's XS multimedia system will appeal to your inner audiophile. Clearly inspired by Apple's latest iMac line, with glossy- and satin-black surfaces, aluminum trim, and aluminum stands, the XS is also an impressive bundle of technology. The two-way satellite speakers are based on Focal's Solo 6 Pro monitors; the base for the right-hand speaker includes a Universal iPod dock; and the 70-watt subwoofer includes two 30-watt amps (for the satellites) and a USB sound card. Connect the XS to your Mac's USB port, and it takes over digital-to-analog-conversion duties. You also get a remote for controlling volume and iPod playback.
iPod Touch Booster
Suppose it was your job to fly around the world delivering presents to all the good boys and girls-and had been your job for more than a hundred years. Yeah, you'd begin to dread the dull routine of December 24th, too. But suppose you could take along an iPod touch or an iPhone whose battery didn't poop out after just a couple of movies? With one of Mophie's Juice Packs, you can. This case incorporates a lithium polymer battery that jacks into the iPhone or iPod touch's dock connector and audio port and provides up to 24 additional hours of audio playback and seven hours of additional video playback on a first-generation iPod touch. The iPhone models can also do wonders for the phone's standby, talk, and Internet-use times.
A Fitting Result
The earbuds included with your iPod (or iPhone) offer decent sound quality, as far as earbuds go. But they don't always provide a very good fit-many people who are satisfied with the sound nevertheless buy new headphones simply because they can't get Apple's earbuds to stay in their ears. Those people can also turn to BudFits-rubber earclips, available in clear, white, or black, that hold Apple's earbuds in place. Just snap the stem of each earbud into a BudFits clip and then press the headphone cable into the small groove on the back of the clip. You end up with a set of earclip-style headphones based on the stock earbuds that come with an iPod or iPhone. In fact, the BudFits-equipped earbuds are secure enough for vigorous exercise.
On the Clock
How popular is the iPod? Popular enough that a modern clock-radio seems hobbled if it hits store shelves without an integrated iPod dock. With the Pure-Fi Dream, Logitech offers just such an iPod- and iPhone-compatible "bedroom music system" (read: very nice clock radio) complete with an AM/FM radio, surround-sound stereo audio, two alarms, a remote control, and a motion-activated snooze function. That's right-instead of blindly slapping the top of the thing in the hope of gaining an extra ten minutes of shut-eye, you can just wave your hand over it.
Behind the (Click) Wheel
Many new cars now ship with audio-input jacks, letting you play iPods, iPhones, and other portable audio devices through the car stereo-and raising the safety issue of controlling one of these devices while driving. Do you really want to try navigating through a playlist as you steer your car down a steep mountain road? Kensington's LiquidAux Deluxe for iPhone and iPod can help. This iPod power adapter charges all dock-connector iPods except the 3G iPod. It can do this because it uses a USB power connector rather than FireWire. It also features a line-out connection to your car's auxiliary input jack and a small remote control that you attach (with Velcro) to your steering wheel. From there, you can play, pause, and skip songs without fear of swerving off course.
If you like the notion of your iPod keeping a close eye on your exercise regimen but aren't partial to Nike shoes, you can still incorporate the Nike + iPod Sport Kit into your workout. Just add a set of Sole's DK+ footbeds to your shoes. These moldable insoles provide custom support to your feet. Warm them in a 200-degree oven, place them into your favorite sport shoes, shove your feet in, and walk around for a bit so the insoles can conform to the shape of your feet. Once you've molded the insoles, remove your shoes and place the Nike + iPod Sport Kit transmitter into the holder designed for it. Then turn on your iPod and hit the road.
Squeezebox BoomLogitech's Squeezebox Boom is a tabletop music player with a difference: it connects via Wi-Fi instead of the AM or FM band, and what it plays back is your music library; just about any Internet radio station in existence; online music services such as Pandora, Rhapsody, and Last.fm; and any podcast you can think of. You can set the Boom's configurable alarm system to wake you to your favorite Internet radio station on Tuesdays, your local all-news station's Internet stream on Mondays and Fridays, and a favorite playlist late on Sunday mornings. There's even a programmable snooze button. The Boom is tiny, but its speakers sound good enough for bedside music listening-it may make you chuck your old clock radio forever. But don't take our word for it--watch the Squeezebox Boom in action in this Macworld Video.
[Dan Frakes is a senior editor for Macworld. Senior editor Christopher Breen is author of The iPod and iTunes Pocket Guide, fourth edition (2008, Peachpit Press).]