Developer: Griffin Technology
Requirements: 3G or 4G iPod (a dock connector version for 4G and 5G iPods will be available soon)
Griffin Technology’s iFM is absolutely fabulous in its primary capacity—receiving radio broadcasts. This redeeming factor only barely makes up for its other shortcomings.
Don’t let the diminutive size fool you. The iFM is a hearty FM radio receiver.
The reception was as good as any portable FM receiver I’ve ever used. Even inside my home with the wires not stretched out in any way (the headphone cord doubles as an antenna), the music sounded good. The receiver’s frequency response is 20Hz-15KHz, and it outputs a maximum of 20mW each into 32 ohm speakers. A bit more power wouldn’t be a bad thing, but the iFM drove my Bose headphones quite well.
The iFM requires absolutely no access to your iPod in order to listen to a broadcast; it just needs to be connected so it can draw power. This means you can leave your iPod tucked away in a bag with a cord leading to the iFM, which can be clipped to your pocket. Your headphones connect to a shorter cable that comes out the bottom of the iFM. It stores up to six preset stations and can be adjusted for tuning ranges in the United States, Europe, and Japan. If you do decide to listen to music stored on your iPod instead of the radio, simply shut off the iFM’s switch. There’s no need to disconnect it—iPod music passes through to the headphones transparently.
While the iFM performs flawlessly in the FM tuner department and is adequate as a corded iPod remote, I found it rather lacking in all other respects.
Even though it is pleasingly small and the radio sounds great, the physical design could use a rework. Most functions are controlled by sliders and buttons on the sides of the product and felt a little bit cumbersome to use. On more than one occasion, I accidentally slid the Power/Radio/Remote switch to a different position while trying to use the volume and tuning buttons on the opposite side.
The Record button is presumably miniscule to prevent accidental presses (a good thing), but I almost have to use the edge of my fingernail to reliably press it. Moreover, for my third-generation iPod, this button is mostly useless since it can only initiate recording on later models. For 3G models, you must use the iPod’s interface.
The bottom of the iFM has two wires coming out—one that includes a reasonable length before connecting to the headphone and remote jack of an iPod, and a shorter one with a connector for your headphones. It’s slightly unwieldy and might be nicer if there were an integrated headphone jack.
If you recall last year’s iTalk review, you’ll remember that I was completely satisfied with the product. The iFM also functions as a recorder but, unfortunately, pales in comparison to the iTalk. Besides lacking the playback speaker the iTalk sports, voice recordings are drastically lower in volume than those made with an iTalk. Please note that this sample is the raw recorded file from my iPod and has not been altered. Compare it to the normal distance recording from the iTalk review, which was also unaltered.
The iFM can also record radio broadcasts, but I found this feature pathetically useless (turn down your volume a bit before playing this radio recording). The puzzling thing is that these recordings seem to be overdriving when the voice recordings are so much softer than those from an iTalk. No, what you heard is not broadcast static. Prior to recording, the music sounded wonderful. I found myself actually hoping my unit is simply defective. I would’ve assumed the broadcast recording function would have been better-tested before the product was released. Perhaps the Apple-specified 8KHz, 16-bit, mono WAV files are to blame, but one would think some built-in attenuation would solve the problem. Sure, monaural music at 8KHz won’t sound superb, but it should at least sound like music and not like needle scratches.
In spite of the FM receiver’s splendid quality, the “icing” features (remote control and recording) are not of sufficient quality to justify the price point. My take: lose the recording functions that don’t work well anyway and cut the price by half or more. I have little doubt I’d rate such a revised version as Excellent.
Reader Comments (2)
My comment/concern is the small rocker switches are not terribly convenient to use. At one point the volume switch began sticking (would only go lower, could not be raised)... am hoping for prompt replacement.
Clearly, I had no knowledge of Apple's FM tuner that was just announced at Macworld when I reviewed the iFM. Since it's the same price, maybe you'd want (if possible) to return the iFM for refund and get Apple's instead. Looks like a better interface, although there is one advantage to the iFM that I can see—as I stated in the review, the iFM can be used without directly accessing the iPod at all. It only has to be attached for power. Apple's tuner, however, uses the iPod's display for the tuning interface.
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