Kensington iPod Accessories
By Chris Bray
Kensington, the well known accessory company, has released some new affordable iPod accessories, entering a market that already has more baubles and shiny objects than you can count.
What Kensington generally brings to this market products that are generally less expensive than the competition, while offering many of the same features. Here we review three of their devices: the sx 3000R Speaker with FM Radio, the Entertainment Dock 500 for iPod, and the Universal FM Transmitter.
These three products work well independently, but also complement each other. The sx3000R ($170 US) turns an iPod into a small stereo suitable for a bedroom, or on your desk at work (if you don't have your own office). I was impressed with the audio coming out of the unit, considering its size (the unit looks large, but the speakers on the back are surprisingly small), and even the bass was decent. You're not going to win any audiophile competitions with this, but for the ability to listen to your music in the background instead of some phony DJ, it's pretty good.
It comes with a remote control that is simple but effective to use. It also has the ability to tune into that phony DJ if you want to hear those new radio singles or enter one of their ludicrous contests (or even just hear the traffic report). You can add up to three FM presets, and cycle easily through them (though I had to consult the manual for this - it's easy but not intuitive). The unit also has a clock/timer which you can use either as a sleep timer or an alarm clock, provided you remember to plug in the iPod when you go to bed.
Unfortunately the sx 3000R died on us after a few weeks. I hope this is just a fluke, because it is quite a nice unit. Strangely, the iPod still receives power and charges, so it's still useful as a charging station, but sadly the speakers themselves no longer show any signs of life.
If you want to listen to your tunes on the way to or from work, or on a long drive (which may or may not be the same thing), you can try the Universal FM Transmitter ($50 US). On first glance, this device looks almost exactly the same as the Aerielle FM transmitter TechnoFile reviewed a while back. We discovered this is because apparently Kensington licensed the technology.
Far from being a bad thing, the Aerielle (and by extension the Kensington unit) is still the best of the FM transmitters I've used. Sound quality is as good as you can get through a low power FM signal, connection is quick and easy, and you can save three station presets, so that if you suddenly get interference on one frequency you can switch to another easily.
My only complaint with the FM transmitter, as with the Aerielle unit, is that the unit goes to sleep if it detects no signal for a minute or so. Normally this is no big deal, except the threshold is low enough that sometimes it will mistake a quiet song for silence and shut off partway through, and then it takes a good 10-15 seconds for it to power up again. The part that baffles me is why it bothers to go to sleep when it's plugged into the cigarette lighter in the car.
But this isn't a common event; most of the time it works wonderfully. Kensington also offers a transmitter specifically for the iPod which adds the ability to keep the iPod charged, but doesn't offer the ability to connect to any audio device such as a laptop or music phone.
Once you're home and ready to wind down, you can slap your iPod into the Entertainment Dock 500 ($100 US) and play your music, podcasts or movies on your home stereo or home theaer (whichever way you prefer to swing). It features an RF remote that I found initially encouraging (play the tunes downstairs while you're cooking in the kitchen upstairs!). However, the remote we got had severe range issues, on the order of a limit of approximately three-and-a-half feet.
Considering the premature death of the sx 3000R, I can only hope something happened in shipping, since with that range on the RF remote I couldn't even use it on the couch which was only four feet from the unit, let alone upstairs (which is the whole point of using RF, that it works through walls, right?).
The Entertainment Dock 500 is a small unit, not much bigger than the iPod, and has connectors on the back for power, S-Video, and the combined stereo-audio-plus-video jack. It doesn't come with an S-Video cable, but does come with the composite cable, and the cable splits far enough from the end that you can hook it up to your stereo and TV, instead of having to connect all three to the TV.
Audio quality was excellent through the Entertainment Dock 500, but I was disappointed in the video. Now, considering what a hassle it was to transcode a DVD into a format that iTunes would actually deign to put onto the iPod, dropping the resolution and getting the encoding right, and so on, I figure this is a limitation of the iPod itself, not the Dock. This leads me to the conclusion that unless you're going on a long trip and/or trying to keep the kids quiet, stick to podcasts and leave the movies on DVD.
Then again, your mileage may vary.
So there you have it. Three useful and affordable iPod accessories from Kensington. They work well on their own or together, so you can have your tunes playing from the minute you wake up to the time you go to bed. We had some quality control issues on two of the three units, so perhaps they were damaged in shipping, but otherwise the units were very nice to use.
We welcome your comments!