In the beginning, I was starved for iPod accessories to review in my columns and books. Weeks could go by without my receiving a single iPod add-on. These days it seems barely a day goes by when a new (or new and improved) iPod peripheral doesn't land on my doorstep. It's gotten so I call my UPS and FedEx guys "Santa."
Don't get me wrong; I'm not complaining. But this avalanche of iPod goodies means I can't afford to devote entire columns to a single product, or at least I can't afford to do it very often if I want to tell you about all the "good" stuff I've tried. So, in a blatant attempt to shrink the pile of cool iPod gear that's threatening to take over my office, here are five of the coolest iPod accessories I've seen lately.
As I said, I get to try a lot of different iPod accessories and must have more than two-dozen cases in my "to be reviewed" pile. The cases I've been using for a while, and like a lot, are from Core Cases.
I have two of them: One for my 5th generation iPod and another for my iPod Nano. They are constructed from 100% anodized aircraft-grade aluminum and are lined with soft foam. They have a nice solid feel to them and they resist scratches and dirt as well as or better than any other case I've used. They also have built-in screen protectors (which I like) and cutouts for the dock connector, hold switch, click wheel, and headphone jack, so you can do almost everything without removing your iPod from the case. In fact, the only thing you can't do your without removing your iPod from the case is stick it into a dock, though you can connect a dock connector cable without removing the case. Another nice touch is that Core Cases include your choice of a swiveling belt clip, a neck lanyard, both, or neither.
Core Cases come in six colors (both of mine are University of Texas orange -- Hook 'Em Horns!) and are reasonably priced.
Price: $19.95 and up.
More Info: Core Cases
Shure E500 PTH earphones
I've told you how much I like to use high-quality earphones with my iPods more than once. And while the earphones I've mentioned in the past have all been orders of magnitude better than the standard Apple offering, the Shure E500 PTH Sound Isolating Earphones are the best I've ever heard.
By the way, the earphones Apple includes with the latest generation of iPods are better in every way then the old ones. They sound better, are more comfortable, and, thankfully, no longer require those awful fuzzy black covers.
But I digress. The Shure E500 PTH earphones are unbelievable. I heard things I had never heard before (or at least had never noticed), like the conga drums in the background of Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi for example. They've always been there but they're relatively quiet in the mix and I never noticed them before.
These earphones have a couple of features that distinguish them from other earphones. First, they have not one, not two, but three separate hi-definition drivers -- one tweeter and two woofers. The highs are crystalline -- clear and distinct but not shrill or harsh in any way. And the lows are phenomenal for in-ear phones. The stated frequency range of these puppies is 18Hz ? 19kHz, which is better than any other earphones I've tested to date.
In addition to sounding unbelievably realistic, the E500 PTH earphones come with something I've never seen before in earphones -- the "Push-To-Hear" feature. It's a little plastic pod that can be connected between the earphones and the 1/8-inch plug. It's a simple device with a tiny microphone and a single sliding switch. When you switch the switch, the music you're listening to is muted and you can hear the outside world perfectly without touching the iPod volume control or removing the phones from your ears.
E500 PTH earphones include a selection of sound isolating sleeves in several sizes, making them the second-most comfortable earphones I have tested to date (see below for the first-most).
The only drawback I can think of is that the Push-To-Hear module is a bit bulky and can be awkward when you exercise or are otherwise active. If I could afford a pair I would, without question, adopt them as my main iPod earphones.
More Info: Shure E500 PTH Sound Isolating Earphones
Westone UM2 earphones
RadTech offers several of my favorite non-iPod products. I absolutely swear by their OmniCleanz screen and lens cleaning solution, their Bluetooth travel mouse, and their ScreenSavrz optical-grade polishing cloth and display protector for PowerBooks, iBooks, and MacBooks. So it came as no surprise to me that their first earphone offering, the Westone UM series, were among the best sounding and most comfortable earphones I've ever tested.
I evaluated the UM-2 model, the top of the line offering, which has dual-drivers. (There is also a single driver model, the UM-1 ($109.95), which I have not yet tried.) Both models include Westone's exclusive True Fit sleeves, which don't require rolling, squeezing, or licking to obtain a good seal. And they're made of softer, denser material than other sleeves so they block outside noise extremely well. Furthermore, these True Fit sleeves are more comfortable than any of the other foam sleeves I've used.
Since they arrived at around the same time as the Shure E500 PTHs, I naturally wanted to test them mano a mano. I was sure the Shure phones were going to sound better, and they did. But the bigger question was whether Shure's phones were worth $200 more than RadTech's Westone UM2s. After extensive testing, my conclusion is: I don't think so. Yes, the E500s sound exquisite, but the UM-2s sound almost as good, are more comfortable, and cost significantly less. In a blind taste test (e.g. my eyes were closed), I found it hard to tell which ones were which, and that says a lot for the UM-2s.
Unless you absolutely require the best possible sound or find the Shure Push-To-Hear feature irresistible, I think you'd be extremely satisfied with the less-expensive Westone UM-2s.
More Info: Westone UM2 Headphones
The iBlast speaker/dock system for iPods isn't the best sounding set of speakers I've tried, but it is the best sounding and best looking system I've seen for under $100. It's about the size and weight of a hardcover Stephen King novel, so it's extremely portable. And with 6 watts per channel and neodymium drivers, the iBlast sounds surprisingly decent given its size and price.
It includes adapters for most (if not all) iPod models, and unlike many inexpensive speaker systems, it can be connected to your Mac via the included USB cable for synchronizing and recharging.
The only complaint I have is that it runs only on AC power. I'd have loved it to also run on batteries but it doesn't. Even so, it's a heck of a little speaker/docking system at a very reasonable price.
Price: around $60.
More Info: iBlast
iThunder by MTX Audio is a whole 'nother kind of iPod speaker system. I feel safe in saying it's the best sounding portable boom box style speaker system for the iPod priced under $200. I love the simplicity of its retro design -- it's got an integrated pop-up handle, an on-off switch, and + and ? buttons for volume control. That's it.
Well, almost. It also has two high-intensity 4-inch full-range drivers in its ported enclosure. In any event, it sounds great and comes by its name rightly -- you can crank 'em really loud without introducing any distortion. And at 5.5 pounds, you can take iThunder with you wherever you go. And since it can be run on 8 "C" cell batteries as well as AC power, you really can take it wherever you go.
You'll also appreciate the full-function remote control -- volume, play/pause, next, previous, backlight, shuffle, and mute -- and the way it snaps into the back of the unit so it won't get lost.
Like the iBlast, iThunder includes adapters for most iPod models. Unlike the iBlast, iThunder doesn't sync your iPod with your Mac (though it does recharge most iPod models, but only when running on AC power).
While better known for high-intensity car audio, MTX Audio knocked it out of the park with its first iPod speaker system. IThunder rocks and it rocks hard.
Price: around $179.95.
More Info: iThunder
And that's all he wrote...