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Personal digital music players have caught the imagination and are now commonly owned by many people, the world over.

Of course and inevitably, companies have developed a range of after-market accessories to enhance the basic units.

Here are two examples of such items for you to consider.

 
 
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iPod and iPhone Accessories

Some Low Cost Add-ons for your iPhone or iPod

An almost bewildering variety of accessories are available for Apple's various iPod portable music players.

It is kindest to comment that some are more useful than others.  Here are four interesting ones we've found.

Part one of a two part series on iPod and iPhone accessories, part two is here and please see links on the right for more articles on iPods and other MP3 type players.

 

 

Many companies have come up with optional extra items to be used to extend the pleasure and convenience you enjoy with your iPod or iPhone.

It can be hard to choose from the bewildering variety of very similar seeming products, and products tend to also be similarly priced, removing that otherwise significant point of differentiation.

Add-on accessories are not only helpful for you, they can be great stocking stuffer type gifts to present to other people, offering a good solution to the ever-present problem of 'what do I buy (anyone) for their birthday/anniversary/Christmas/etc?'.

Here are two items to consider (and two more in part two), with the headphones also able to be used with many other similar products too, not just the iPod and iPhone.

A Huge Universe of Accessories

One of the compelling reasons to buy an iPod is the huge range of add-on accessories available for the unit.

In addition to the few products offered directly by Apple themselves, there is a booming industry of providing extra bits and pieces to enhance your iPod experience.  More recently, the iPhone - itself a quasi iPod as well as cell phone, and with the same interface connector on its bottom - is also being well served by a growing range of after market accessories.

Surprisingly, with all their marketing muscle, Microsoft has not been able to encourage the same degree of third party support for its largely non-event Zune players, and we continue to predict the Zune will never become a serious iPod challenger.

We look at three interesting accessories to consider plus a fourth 'bonus' accessory that is hard to categorize, chosen for no particular reason other than they caught our eye and interested us.

iFrogz Audiowrapz 3G Nano Case and Speakers

We just love our little 3G Nano iPod (click link for review).  It is a thing of beauty and a work of art, as well as a gorgeous and compact feature-filled MP3 player.

Of course, if you want to play music from it, you must either connect it up to headphones (see below) or to some sort of 'boom box' type amplifier/speaker system.

Now there is a third option - the Audiowrapz by iFrogz.  This is a silicone rubber type case that protects the Nano, plus at the bottom of the case, there is an extra 1.3" of body, inside which is a little micro-speaker type unit plus two passive 'radiators' (these route the sound from the back side of the speaker out the front too), with their front grills protruding slightly through cut away holes in the silicon protective case.

The unit is puzzlingly rated at 'output power 126 +/- 3db'.  Quite apart from the fact that the unit of measurement should be a dB not a db, if it is talking about sound pressure levels, 126dB is akin to a jet taking off - deafeningly loud and capable of causing physical pain.  When I asked the company for clarification on what this claim referred to, it was unable to explain!

Actual testing, on axis, with a sound level meter placed one foot away from the unit, playing a range of different music sources at maximum volume showed the unit struggled to reach or exceed 50 dB.  By comparison, a quiet home has a 50dB level of background sounds (mine is higher than this when the heaters are running) and conversational speech, from 3' away, is ten times louder at 60dB.  So, yes, the unit is quiet.

The case comes in various bright and garish colors, as well as a more muted grey which I chose for mine.

The case itself is an excellent protective cover, but does add appreciably to the bulk of the miniature sized Nano.  Well, I guess 'bulk' is a relative term, the case measures 4.2" x 2.2" and is 0.55" thick, so it is still slightly smaller than a full size regular iPod.  And with reinforced corners, one can confidently drop the unit from a reasonable height onto concrete or other hard surfaces with no damage done to the Nano.  It weighs 1.8 oz - very light, and just slightly heavier than the weight of the Nano it protects.

There are two cut away windows - one each for the Nano's screen and control wheel.  An extra bonus is a separate piece of clear protective film that you can stick over the fragile and easily scratched 'glass' material of the Nano's screen.  I duly did this with no more than the usual amount of difficulty that I always have exactly sticking sheets of film to displays.

The main feature of this unit is its ability to play music through its built in speaker.  This is a moderately high efficiency speaker and plays the music from the Nano without further amplification, so there's no need for extra batteries or an external power supply for the Audiowrapz case.

If you want to use headphones, you can still do that.  There's a headphone jack on the bottom of the unit that will accept the same headphones as can plug into the Nano itself, and when you plug in headphones, the speakers cut out.

So, that's the theory.  How does it work in practice?

The quality of sound from the speaker and augmented by the two radiators is more or less (mainly less) what you'd expect.  Very thin and tinny sound with no real fidelity to it at all.  And, even at maximum volume, the sound is very quiet and barely audible if there is any type of background noise - for example, as I type this, the sound of my typing is drowning out the sound of the music from the Audiowrapz.

There's also a disappointing design constraint.  Although the headphone jack is passed through to the bottom of the case, the charging slot/control interface connector isn't passed through.  So every time you wish to recharge the Nano, you need to tortuously pull it out of the case, and then plug it back in again when it is charged.

The manufacturer explained that if they added a pass-through of the proprietary Apple connector, this would require them to pay a hefty per unit licensing fee to Apple, which would have made it impossible to offer the unit at such a bargain price.

And, talking about recharging, the speakers are self-powered.  They don't need their own power source, but they do require the Nano to be run at full volume all the time, which will deplete the Nano's battery somewhat faster than would be the case when listening at a lower volume (and therefore power) setting through headphones.

Who will find an Audiowrapz a useful accessory?  Perhaps parents who want to let young children play with a Nano - this way, the Nano can be mishandled or dropped with relative safety, and with the very low volume coming out of the speakers, there's neither a danger of hearing damage to the child or of a noise nuisance for other people in the house.

It is definitely a device with marginal utility, but at a bargain price of only $19.99 or less from Amazon, and also available from Walmart, Target, and probably elsewhere too, there's not a lot of downside to buying one.  A great 'stocking stuffer' gift, or a good extra gift if you're also giving someone a Nano.

Flamingo Music Headphones

The standard ear buds that come with an iPod or iPhone give poor quality sound reproduction and are not very comfortable, being a 'one size fits all' for people with a huge range of different ear shapes and sizes.

There are an almost limitless number of replacement headphone options, ranging from very inexpensive but junk, to $300+ miniature headphones and similarly expensive full size headphones.

It seems the underlying paradigm for a miniature MP3 player such as an iPod is that the headphones should be small, so as not to compromise the portability of the combination of player and headphones.  That means, for those of us who don't like sticking things in our ears, we're going to have to accept some degree of discomfort, or else have a massive size mismatch between large on the ear or around the ear traditional style headphones and a miniature MP3 player.

And now this new set of headphones hopes to give you another alternative.

The Flamingo music headphones claim to provide much better sound than regular inexpensive ear buds, and a new way of fitting the headphones into your ear that is comfortable, secure, all in a size and weight package that is not much more than regular ear buds.

Size wise, each ear assembly is somewhat larger than a typical earbud, but in terms of how much space they take to pack up and away, there's not a huge difference in space needed, and with a weight of only 0.6 oz, the extra weight compared to regular earbuds (which weigh about 0.4 oz) is totally trivial.

The design of the Flamingo music headphones has a speaker part that lies partially on and partially in your ear, and with a 'flange' that protrudes from the top of each earpiece.  This flange fits under one of the curves in your ear, holding the earpiece in place, and avoiding the need to wedge the earpieces tightly into your ear.

Flamingo provide six different sized flanges, plus a seventh generic bud shape as well.  With seven different size/shape options, the chances are you can customize the earpieces to comfortably and securely fit in your ear.

The headphones come in several different colors.

So, what do they feel like, and what do they sound like.

I'm probably not the best person to review these, because I really don't like sticking things in my ears, making my comments perhaps more critical than from many others.  Certainly every day one sees countless numbers of people apparently quite happy with Apple's default supplied ear buds stuck in their ears, so I'm probably in a minority.  I find that after only a few short minutes, regular buds become uncomfortable for me - maybe I have non-standard sized ears?

However, with the Flamingo headphones, and with seven different size adjustments that can be made, the comfort issue is vastly improved.  It still isn't my first idea of fun to have have headphones in my ears, but after I changed the size from the pre-installed #3 mounts to a smaller #2 mount, the headphones became almost comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.  I reduced the size still further to the #1 mounts, and they became even more comfortable.  So, in terms of comfort, I'll grudgingly give them a thumbs up.  Be sure to experiment when you get a set - if they feel loose to start with, successively increase the size of the flanges until they become too tight, then probably go back one size to get 'just right'; and if they start off too tight out of the box, start reducing the size flanges until they become too loose, and then consider going back up one size to again end up at just right.

This is a bit of a hassle to start with, but you really will unmistakably feel the difference as you change flange sizes and it is quite easy to determine the size best for you.

And as for sound, the improvement in quality was stunning and very obvious, particularly in the bass notes.  Sounds that were completely absent through the Apple ear buds suddenly appeared brightly and full of life in the Flamingo headset.  Individual instruments were more clearly defined and positioned than with the Apple earbuds, and possibly the Flamingo headphones are also a bit more efficient, requiring less power to create the same volume of sound (and therefore allowing longer battery life from the MP3 player).

That's not to say their sound is equivalent to a high quality around the ear set of full sized headphones, of course.  But the sound quality is appreciably better than Apple's earbuds, and for what they are, it is a clearly discernable improvement in a set of headphones that are only slightly larger than the supplied earbuds.

Because these in-ear units rest lightly just outside the entrance to your inner ear, they do not block out other sounds from around you.  While this is bad news in a noisy environment (you'll still want noise cancelling headphones in such cases) it is good news in a normal environment, making it easier to hear people talking to you, warning sounds, etc.

Much better sound, and much greater comfort, in a set of in-the-ear headphones only slightly larger than Apple's earbuds.  Most people will probably join with me in feeling these to be well worth their $50 list price.

Available from the manufacturer's website and doubtless elsewhere too.

Read more in our MP3 articles series

See the links at the top right of the page to visit other articles in our extensive series on personal music and video players and related technology issues.

This particular article is part 2 of a two part article profiling some accessories to consider for your iPod or iPhone.  Please also visit

1.  iPod and iPhone Accessories Part One
2.  iPod and iPhone Accessories Part Two

 

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Originally published 13 June 2008, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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