iPod Mini and essential mobile accessories
listening equipment review
reviews © Russell W Elliot and Deborah J Elliot 2005
images used with permission
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last updated 18 July 2005
In September 2003 Musical Discoveries' editorial staff began the process of migrating away from using CDs and various players for listening to material we review. While the staff still prefer CDs for a myriad of reasons, especially the quality of the accompanying artwork and ultimate sound quality of playback equipment, the opportunity to carry a large selection of material in a small and lightweight digital package drew significant attention. Our earlier article on the 3G Apple iPod was well received by Musical Discoveries regular visitors
This article provides our insights into our latest mp3 jukebox experience thus far. Read our review of the Apple iPod Mini, the Griffin iTrip Mini, the Griffin AirClick Mini, the Griffin PowerPod and reviews of carrying cases including the Vaja iVolution for iPod Mini and the stunning Countour Design iSee Mini. Internet resources on this subject are vast and this article is meant to share our experience to date and to fill in some blanks for newcomers and experienced users alike. We welcome your comments on the article either in our discussion board or site updates pages.
The Apple iPod Mini
The premium portable music player is certainly Apple's iPod, a cigarette pack-size, hard disc-based music jukebox. On offer today are 4G models in 20GB, 30GB, 40 GB and 60GB sizes, several models sporting color displays. Several of the models are sold with a docking station, remote control and Apple-branded case as bonus items to the package. Ideal for the mobile individual, the iPod will perform its task on battery for about eight hours unassisted. Although airline power adapters are not available at this writing, the aftermarket has produced cigarette lighter plug adapters.
Apple have also introduced two models of the iPod Mini in a range of colors. The extruded aluminum case, smaller size and simple single touchwheel user interface are all advantages over the 3G iPod although 4G full size iPods have picked up the interface. The storage increments of 4GB and 6GB are suitable for many users. With the same outstanding sound, excellent software and intuitive user interface, the iPod Mini was chosen to replace our portable music needs.
Apple's iTunes was released for PCs in October 2003. Most iPod owners find iTunes far superior although not all MMJB features were included within it. The iPod requires an accompanying computer: either a Mac or a PC. The Mac connects via Firewire whilst the PC connects via USB-2. The accompanying software's primary functions are to manage the computer's music library, "rip" (convert) CDs to mp3 (or other formats) and to manage the transfer of the resulting compressed files to the iPod. The iPod supports other formats. While further accessory cables are available the iPod Mini comes equipped with USB-2 cable exclusively.
Image © Apple Computer Corp 2005
The iPod Mini is comprised of a hard disc drive, battery, electronics and user interface. The packaging of these components has been well honed and by this fourth generation they appear flawless. The unit will accept firmware updates from control software that is installed on your base computer.
The mechanical design of the iPod Minni and accompanying accessories is superb.Users will be impressed with the small but effectively sized dock (sold seperately), cables and wall power adapter (sold seperately). Users enjoy the ability to recharge their iPod Mini when connected to their PCs. And the well designed wall power adapter if purchased has interchangable plugs; that is, there is a world power accessory with alternative plugs for the device available from Apple.
From our first week with it, the iPod Mini has proven to be easy to use and an essential component in our mobile lifestyle.
Further Information. Interested visitors should browse www.ipoding.com, a robust source of inspiration for all iPod enthusiasts. The technically oriented site called www.ipodhack.com is also worth a visit. Read further reviews, check out online specials and order the iPod from amazon.com here.
The Griffin iTrip Mini
The idea of making road journeys without a stack of CDs was brought to light when we discovered the Griffin iTrip for our 3G iPod. This device, only slightly thicker than a penlight battery and about the size of your pinky finger, plugs into the remote control and headphone sockets on the top of the 3G iPod. The iTrip accepts audio from the iPod and modulates it on an FM signal that can be played on any compatible receiver, just like those found in automobiles, boats and your home. And it does so wirelessly. he iTrip Mini has perfectly extended the Griffin product line to the iPod Mini.
Image © Griffin Technology 2005
The concept is great and at an attractive price, most enthusiasts will wonder how they ever got along without it. Indeed, that has been our experience. The sound is typical of FM radio; certainly no better and not really any worse. The key is to select the right frequency for your area and to play the iPod at enough volume (with EQ set for your personal preference) to maximise the quality of the experience. However the convenience is unbeatable.
Plug the iTrip Mini into the top of the iPod Mini. Select the playlist for either US radio stations or European radio stations made on your computer with the Griffin supplied CD and downloaded to your iPod. Or just use the default of 87.9Mhz if that frequency is clear in your area. After the device locks on the selected frequency, the iTrip's led will flash and then lock to show the frequency has been accepted either when the frequency is changed or the music plays. And then just play the iPod. It is that simple. Well almost.
The frequencies on the Griffin CD are each short audio tracks. The best way to manage them and the iTrip Mini device involve loading them into a playlist. Load the playlist onto the iPod Mini. Then bring it up first, find the frequency you want and play it until the LED on the iTrip locks. Then return to the menu and pick your music. And then just play it. While some may complain about sound quality, it is not bad at all. Any quality degradation is far overcome by the convenience offerred by this wonderfully engineered device. Fit and finish is good. Griffin have attempted to achieve the same standard as the iPod Mini.
Read further reviews and order the iTrip from amazon.com here. A great addition to your iPod Mini, the well-made iTrip Mini is an essential for mobile listening.
The Griffin AirClick Mini
Another great innovation from Griffin Technologies, the AirClick Mini is comprised of a small module that plugs into the top of the iPod Mini in the same size and shape at the iTrip Mini and a small hand held remote transmitter. Additional accessories permit the remote to be anchored to a vehicle's steering wheel or bicycle handle bars for example.
Power for the two modules is provided independently; the iPod Mini-attached module is powered through the ports at the top of the mp3 player. The remote is powered by a small battery that is stated to have a life equivalent to that of the remote itself. Remarkably the two devices worked together and with the iPod right out of the package -- it could not have been easier. Bravo to Griffin for such simplicity.
As with Griffin's other iPod accessories, the product's build quality is perfection from every respect. Care has been taken to maintain the iPod look and feel. Fit and finish are stunning. Remote functionality is intuitive and exactly like the earlier iPod wired remote. The key discriminator is the outstanding 60 ft range accomplished by the radio frequency transmitter. Griffin's extensive experience with the iTrip -- which gave the iPod an ability to transmit to local FM radios -- has been extended to the small remote which transmits remote commands to the small mp3 player-mounted receiver.
Griffin also produce AirClick models for the 3G/4G iPod and an AirClick USB that plug into
desktop or laptop computers. Read further reviews and order the AirClick Mini from amazon.com
here. Functionality, ease of use, build quality and superb range make this the iPod Mini remote control. There are no better!
This great little device is a cigarette lighter adapter that produces an iPod compatible power signal on the firewire interface cable that is part of the PowerPod package.
Image © Griffin Technology 2005
Fit and finish is good, like the iTrip Mini, maybe a bit better. The device is neither too big nor too small and it's plenty rugged, a good thing for road warrior compatibility. Griffin, like with the iTrip, have gone to the trouble of offering it in Apple lookalike packaging as well. A nice touch.
Read further reviews and order the iSee-Mini at amazon.com here. A great addition to your iPod-Mini, the precision quality of the PowerPod makes it another essential for mobile listening.
Griffin iBeams. Two clever accessories from Griffin Technologies are packaged as the iBeam. Two devices are packaged together in this recent offering from the iPod aftermarket kings. The first is a small LED-based flashlight while the second is an extremely powerful laser pointer. Both devices come with "plug protectors" that also double as keyring fittings.
Image © Griffin Technology 2005
Flashlight output exceeds the iPod Mini's display and is perfect for finding things that have gone missing under a car seat or to find a a key dropped in a dark parking lot. The flashlight is limited to uses like these. The user is not going to change a tire in the dark with this device. The laser pointer is extremely bright and it throws a precise narrow beam making a spot on the surface pointed at a long way, even in lit rooms.
Griffin's innovative designs typically receive the highest critical acclaim from online and printed publications. However, Griffin left out one important feature in their iBeams. The device can only be turned off by unplugging it. Plug the these device in and it comes on. Pull it out and it goes off.
While this design could be accepted for flashlight iBeam, it is a significant shortcoming of the laser pointer. Laser pointers not only draw a significant amount of power, but the longer one is left on the more likely that it will be shined inadvertently in someone's eyes. A laser pointer is meant to be used intermittently to draw attention to a topic when making a powerpoint presentation. The next generation of the iBeam (laser) should include a momentary switch.
Read further reviews and order the iBeam at amazon.com here. A great addition to your iPod-Mini, These two innovative devices from Griffin Technology are useful accessories even without momentary switches.
The iPod Mini Cases
The iPod Mini is not supplied with a standard Apple-branded case. Apple have this time left cases to the after-market. The internet offers an opportunity to explore a vast array of alternatives. Read about some of them below.
Vaja Cases i-Volution iVod Mini.Produced skilled by craftsmen in Argentina, the iVod Mini has been designed to protect the iPod Mini more or less all the time. The iVolution is a rigid case, the padded exterior covered with gorgeous catarina leather and the interior fully lined with silky smooth but rugged Vaja logo-embossed nylon.
As with all of the iPod Mini cases, player can not be docked while in the case although the access point conveniently permits the player to be connected to the travel cable. With its edge carefully protected by an additional millimeter of length, the top of the player is exposed to permit various aftermarket accessories to be used at the same time as the case. A metallic iVod logo also smartens up the front lower right hand corner of the case.
Image © Vaja Corp 2005
In addition to the incredible build quality and excellent choice of materials, the magic of the Vaja iVolution case is clearly the snug fit of the case to the iPod Mini. One only has to study the photos above to recognize that insertion and removal requires care and patience. We had superb results with our review sample. The fit is extremely precise.
Our iPod Mini slid into the case without incident, requiring a modest pressure until the insertion was complete. Every bit of the case interior is covered in patterned nylon that has been perfectly adhered to the interior case shell. This nylon lining eliminates the possibility of the case interior from scratching the exterior of the iPod Mini.
The case exterior is manufactured with stunning quality. The leather and craftsmanship are superb with all edges perfectly turned, tucked and glued. The case's inset clear plastic window protects the iPod Mini's display and the case's lining adds enough interior separation to prevent direct contact and potential scratches. The case thickness adds only a small additional dimension to the iPod Mini. When inserted the iPod Mini fits perfectly and access to the ports on the top and bottom is fantastic.
There are two previously unpublished tricks to a successful removal of the player from the case. First, guide the control wheel beneath the lining while applying pressure to the bottom of the iPod Mini. Second, connect the travel cable and apply pressure to the connector to push player out of the case. Once a sufficient portion of the the player is exposed at the other end, gently pull it the rest of the way out of the case. Although our first removal attempt was a little harrowing, we are happy to report several perfectly safe insertions and removals after the tricks were discovered.
Vaja continue to make stunning cases for mp3 players and the iVod Mini is no exception. This case has had a positive reaction from our entire editorial staff and we had an excellent experience dealing with Vaja's staff. As a result of the snug fit, the best application for the iVolution is one where the iPod Mini is left in the case. Further details on the product and ordering information can be obtained at the Vaja Cases website.
Contour Design iSee-Mini.The most robust iPod Mini case comes from Contour Design, a company that has a heritage associated with producing aftermarket Apple accessories. The iSee-Mini is the latest in the company's series of iPod compatible cases. Manufactured from highly polished crystal clear acrylic, the case fits absoultely perfectly and provides total body protection to the iPod Mini. The entire look and feel of the iPod Mini is maintained.
Image © Contour Design 2005
As the image above shows, the case is made from two individual pieces of injected acrylic. The iPod Mini slides into the front part. Thanks to Contour's extremely clever design, either the case's back part or the Apple-suppled belt clip can be used to complete the installation. The player is held into the case by whichever piece is snapped onto the back of the iPod Mini. Unlike the Coutour Showcase for the 3G iPod, access to the top of the player permits other aftermarket accessories, like the iTrip Mini to be used.
Image © Contour Design 2005
A built-in cutout in the back piece of the iSee-Mini makes attaching a lanyard easy and secure. The case is extremely easy to use, especially when compared to the wide variety sleeve-style alternatives. Scratch damage to the iPod Mini on insertion and removal is prevented by precision design and flexibility of the selected material.
Image © Contour Design 2005
As can be seen from the illustrations, the case is only slightly larger than the iPod Mini. In fact, the case is no larger than the compact sleeve style iVolution illustrated above. Innovation in both protective and aesthetic aspects has resulted in another truly superb design. The production and material quality is equally excellent. The iSee is also an extremely good value for money.
The iSee-Mini is highly recommended to all iPod users. Click on either of the illustrations to visit the manufacturer's website where the product can be ordered online. Read further reviews and order the iSee-Mini from amazon.com here. A great addition to your iPod, the precision quality of the iSee-Mini makes it another essential for mobile listening.
Booq Venom Mini.The latest case from Booq builds on a successful second generation iPod case for the 4G device. Booq's newest Venom case is made for the iPod Mini and is made of genuine leather and extremely luxurious suede throughout. It fits the iPod Mini perfectly. Hand sewn from the finest nappa leather and suede, the case offers luxurious protection and a perfect fit for the player. The case leaves room for top-mounted accessories, and it has a sturdy metal belt clip wrapped entirely in genuine suede. With just the right fit for the iPod Mini, and its precise cutouts and a generous opening for easy dock connector access, the Booq Venom Mini sports a sleek refined design.
Image © Booq Bags 2005
We were very impressed with the fit of the iPod Mini into the Venom Mini case. No unusual gyrations were required for insertion and removal with cutouts to permit good grip of the player during the process. The case buttons shut without excessive force. The Booq design maintains the spacing at the top of the Venom Mini case with a thin leather strap to connect the leather that covers the front of the iPod Mini to the back of the case exterior. This strap covers the iPod Mini's hold switch. Therefore the unit has to be slid down in the case each time the hold switch is toggeled on or off. The strap appears to provide little benefit and Booq might be well served to consider eliminating or at least moving it to another location in the next generation of this otherwise stunning case.
Image © Booq Bags 2005
The case is available in white ("bianco") and black. The white case is finished with a gray suade interior. The black case is black throughout. Craftsmanship and finish of this case are superb. Note that this case is entirely leather. Like some after market cases such as those reviewed above, there is no protection to the iPod Mini's display when the display is visible, but when the Venom Mini case is closed, the protection provided by the case is incredible. Booq provides a lifetime case repair warranty and 30-day money back guarantee on all direct orders. This full leather case is an extremely good value and is highly recommended for serious enthusiasts.
Griffin Technology's EarJams are a snazzy little product that enhance stock iPod earbuds. They simply snap on the Apple-branded iPod and iPod Mini in-ear headphones. EarJams are made of white plastic that matches the color of the Apple earbuds and gray rubber inserts that fit into your ear canal. Snap them on the earbuds and choose the rubber size that fits your ear.
Image © Griffin Technology 2005
EarJams come with three sizes of replaceable soft and thin rubber ear pads to ensure a comfortable fit. The medium size is attached at the factory. They easily pull off and slide on. A small zippered carring case included in the package adds a nice touch. They are considerably more comfortable than the naked earbuds on their own. As well as actually fitting better, our testers claimed their ears didn't hurt as much as they do when trying to wear the earbuds without the EarJams for long periods of time.
Griffin claims that the EarJams increase volume levels by 10db. We noticed a significant difference while using them. They also claim to deliver massive bass and improved sound quality as well as enhance comfort and fit. They make a big difference. The bass has a lot more thump, the volume is significantly louder, but the high end response has been reduced. EarJams significantly reduce interference from outside noise and while reducing external noise pollution they enhance personal listening privacy.
Our testers have taken them off and on a few times and are consistently blown away at how much improvement they make. One comment was, "I'll never listen to my iPod without them again." Read further reviews and order the EarJams from amazon.com here. If you would like a boost in volume and bass and an improved fit, this is a product for you.
Apple In-Ear Headphones
The Apple branded iPod in-ear headphones are a welcome addition to the company's portable music product line. With a comfortable fit they provide a fair decrease in ambient sound as well as ample bass feedback--especially so for earbud headphones. Unlike the earbud headphones that ship with the iPod they sit inside the ear canal, not just in the outer ear. While this might ordinarily seem uncomfortable Apple seem to have engineered a proper solution to ensuring the fit of their product.
Besides the typical Apple-esque packaging and finesse, the headphones come with three easily interchangeable sizes of rubber inserts to ensure a comfortable fit. The headphones come with a case that has space for the headphones and is engineered to allow the cord to wrap around the outside. While some users will return the headphones to the case after each use, the process caters more to a longer-term storage solution than the quick drop-them-in-your-pocket technique that most are familiar with from the earbuds.
The typical design advantages with most Apple products are abundant including the signature white-color to the precision printed L and R on each of the earphones. A small slider allows the wearer to adjust the separation of the earphones--not necessarily needed, but certainly welcome. Contrary to other reviews, our testers didn't find the wires clingy or prone to entanglement.
There's excellent fidelity across the entire range of high and low notes. The sound quality is far superior to the stock earbuds that Apple ships with their iPod. One problem that Apple didn't seem to overcome is that when the wires rustle, the sound is transmitted up the wire to the earphone. Although initially disturbing, our testers grew immune to the annoyance over time.
Read further reviews and order the Apple in-ear haeadphones from amazon.com here. A great addition to your iPod Mini, the precision quality of these headphones make them another essential for mobile listening.
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