The new iPod shuffle is surprisingly small. Holding this new shuffle in the palm of my hand reminds me of the Saturday Night Live comedy skit wherein a fake Steve Jobs disses the iPod nano as obsolete and “too big”, then revealing the even-smaller (though fictional) “iPod Micro”. Reducing the size of MP3 players down to sci-fi proportions is a great idea, but the entire reputation – the sweet success or bitter failure – of an MP3 player is the quality of sound and ease of use. How does the new 2nd gen iPod shuffle rate? Continue reading to find out.
Features and Design
As previously mentioned, the new 2nd gen iPod shuffle is small. It is approximately 1/3 the size of the recently released 2nd gen iPod nano. It’s thinner, narrower and weighs only a fraction of the nano. In comparison to the 1st gen shuffle, the new version comes in a sleek, brushed silver look – similar to the new iPod nano and the MacBook Pro. This conversion from the blanched white “stick of gum” design of the old shuffle is quite an improvement.
As with most products that Apple designs, the 2nd gen iPod shuffle is an engineering feat. Not only is the design gorgeous, it is a very functional device. Similarly sized MP3 players do exist, but I don’t feel they have the overall quality or the universal appeal that the iPod line has earned.
The buttons on the iPod shuffle are just about the right size. My fingers are a bit larger than average, and I was able to use each of the buttons without feeling ham-handed. The controls somehow feel just as suitable for a 9-year-old as they do for this 30-something writer.
The Top of the Apple iPod Shuffle
What’s up Dock?
One of the significant changes in design between the 1st and 2nd generation shuffles is the loss of the embedded USB connector. The 1st gen shuffles could act as portable USB memory keys, or be quickly plugged into a road-warrior’s laptop for charging or iTunes syncing with no external cables or docks. The 2nd gen shuffle cannot, because it has been reverse-gendered. The 2nd gen shuffle requires a tiny dock-dongle (included) to charge and synchronize music.
I have to give the dock-dongle a thumbs-down. When I first learned that the 2nd gen shuffle required the use of a dock-dongle, I was pretty disappointed. How terribly hard is it for Apple to use a female mini-USB port in the shuffle for data transfers and charging? Even my RAZR phone handles that. After receiving the shuffle by FedEx and personally seeing the dock-dongle, I can say that I am not quite as disappointed, but I am certainly not pleased. Now whenever I travel, I’ll have to bring the dock-dongle with me. What a pain. And if the dock-dongle gets lost or damaged? A potential $20 or $30 down the tubes. As of this writing, Apple store employees I spoke to are not aware of the availability of replacement dock-dongles.
The new shuffle can still be used as a memory device for storing important files, but one would have to carry the dock-dongle in order to access those files. I tested the data transfer rate of the shuffle by moving a 117MB video file from my iMac to the shuffle. It took 25 seconds. A 4MB file took 1 second. Not fantastic, but nothing to complain about.
Apple iPod Shuffle and the Dock-Dongle
Setup and Use
Setting up the new 2nd generation iPod shuffle is easy to do. The new packaging is sleek and inviting. The iPod shuffle takes up less than 10% of the available space in the plastic case, making it seem even smaller than it already is. Unlike some products this small, opening the plastic casing does not require a scalpel or acetylene torch. A finger-friendly pull-tab lifts the plastic seal and opens the case.
After removing the shuffle and dock-dongle, hold the tiny iPod in your hand and repeat the New iPod Affirmation, “Oh my God, this thing is so small! It’s so cool!” This stage of setting up the shuffle is irresistible to many and may last a while.
When the shock has worn off, plug the USB dock-dongle into your computer, attach the shuffle and let iTunes recognize the new player. Use the latest version of iTunes, specifically 7.02, which was just updated with the shuffle in mind. Register the shuffle if you wish.
Once the shuffle is recognized and set up in iTunes, fill it up by dragging and dropping your favorite songs, lectures, podcasts and audio books. Apple estimates that you can cram 240 songs into the shuffle, which means roughly 12 hours of audio, which is perfect because the shuffle is represented to get 12 hours of battery life. After transferring your tunes, disconnect the shuffle from your computer, clip it to your clothing, stick it in a pocket or hang it from a random body piercing (if you’re into that) and let your favorite music take you away to that special place.
So, How Does It Sound?
After thoughtfully selecting and transferring some of my favorite ‘testing’ music to the shuffle, I painstakingly sampled the playback with three sets of headphones; the included (last gen) headphones, the latest (and noticeably improved) Apple headphones included with the 2nd gen iPod nano and some Bose TriPorts. Here are some sample songs and my reactions to the shuffle’s audio quality with each headset:
The Feeling: Sewn (Radio Edit)
Shuffle + Included headphones: Decent bass, excessive treble
Shuffle + Latest Apple headphones: Great range, sounds like CD quality
Shuffle + Bose TriPort headphones: Outside world disappears, excellent sound quality
Fink: Wohin du gehst
Shuffle + Included headphones: Weak bass, strong mids and painful treble
Shuffle + Latest Apple headphones: Bass comes alive, strong mids, accurate treble
Shuffle + Bose TriPort headphones: Bass blurs my vision, vocals are razor sharp. Wow.
Jack Johnson: Banana Pancakes
Shuffle + Included headphones: Bass is evident but hollow, great vocals
Shuffle + Latest Apple headphones: Great range of sounds. I hear new elements.
Shuffle + Bose TriPort headphones: Sounds so good, it takes me away to happy times in Hawaii.
I was duly impressed by the sound quality of the 2nd gen shuffle. Of course, the headphones included with the purchase should only be used if you’re stranded on a deserted island and your good headphones have broken. Or maybe you can use them as a makeshift clothes line, or if your shoe laces break. I’m being harsh, but please understand that you absolutely positively will not experience the potential of the 2nd gen shuffle with the stock headphones. Invest in a good set like the Bose TriPort or some Sennheisers and really feel what this pint sized MP3 player can deliver!
The iPod Shuffle and Included Headphones
You must use iTunes 7.02 in order to control volume limits. If you read the included documentation, you’ll notice a tiny little message on the last page that says “Listen Responsibly”. That could be given several meanings, namely “Don’t screw with the RIAA” or perhaps “Don’t destroy your ear drums”. I would stick with both meanings.
The shuffle somehow manages to inherit all the amazing sound quality of its bigger siblings and condense it down into a tiny, microamazing package. The overall sound-quality verdict? With the right set of headphones the new 2nd gen iPod shuffle will give you hours and hours of tireless aural pleasure.
The iPod Shuffle has a Built-in Clip
Like the recently released 2nd gen iPod nano, the 2nd gen iPod shuffle is sold in the new clear plastic packaging. This new packaging scheme boasts a dramatic reduction in size, weight, raw materials and per-unit shipping emissions. It’s also much sexier and Applesque than the recently-dumped paper/card stock packaging. The new plastic cases can be reused as M&M dispensers, paperclip holders, etc.
Apple iPod Shuffle Packaging
Despite my minor irritation with the shuffle’s dock-dongle, I am excited to give this new product an enthusiastic and vigorous ‘two thumbs up’. The design of the shuffle itself is fantastic. The sound quality is stunning, so long as you use good third-party headphones. The $79 price is awesome. Actually, the $79 price is much lower than I’d expect for something this enjoyable. The new shuffle is the kind of product I’d feel comfortable buying as a Christmas (or anytime) gift for my friends, family and clients. With the new Shuffle, the dollar-to-fun ratio is heavily stacked in the consumer’s favor.
I highly recommend buying one or more 2nd gen iPod shuffles. If you’re inherently skeptical, go down to an Apple store or other hip retailer and test the shuffle for a while. You’ll like what you hear.
• Amazing size & sound
• Ultimate portability
• Very low $79 price
• Dock-dongle required
• Blah-quality previous-gen headphones included