What Are You Getting Your iPod?

With 5.7 million of them out there, makers of add-ons are vying to get in on the action

Your iPod is more than just a portable music player. It's an extension of you, full of your favorite tunes. It's almost like a fine suit or a designer watch -- a status symbol that makes you feel better as soon as you slip the white earphones in. Your iPod does so much for you; shouldn't you do something for it?

Perhaps it's time to accessorize. With 5.7 million of the players out there, a cottage industry has emerged to sell iPod add-ons. Apple Computer (AAPL ) offers them, too, but frankly, the goods from many other makers are better.

Let's start with a carrying case. WaterField Designs' iPod Case is a $40 ballistic nylon home with a subtle color weave on the side and a flap that covers the device's face (sfbags.com). Most important, the inside of the flap includes a little pocket for the earphones. Incase makes a handful of whimsical music-player holders, particularly for the iPod mini, including snazzy $30 iPod mini sleeves featuring a "flame" design (goincase.com). The only drawback is that you have to slide the device in and out to get at the controls. The iPod has a haute couture wardrobe, too, including Kate Spade's shimmery gold crinkle leather case for the mini, complete with matching carry strap, for $75 (katespade.com).

Sometimes you want to share your iPod's repertoire with friends. To do that you need speakers. A handful of high-end speaker makers have designed ones that match the iPod's sleek look, starting with Bose's $300 SoundDock (bose.com). Pop the iPod into its nest in front of the speaker and listen to the clear, rich sounds for which Bose is known. JBL's OnStage is a doughnut-shaped speaker system that nearly matches the Bose in sound quality but costs $100 less (jbl.com). Altec Lansing's $180 inMotion iM3 speakers don't offer the same quality (alteclansing.com). But unlike the others, they fold up and come with a carrying case. All of the speakers recharge the iPod while it's docked.

As much as iPod owners love the device, they grumble a bit, too. The biggest complaint: ill-fitting earphones. Any replacement headphone will do because the iPod uses a standard jack. But there's something about that telltale white cord that lets others know an iPod is on the other end of the line. So Etymotic Research came out with its $150 white ER-6i earphones that slip inside the ear canal and pump out superior sound (etymotic.com). They even come with two different sets of eartips so users can get a better fit.

ON THE ROAD

Rocking out with headphones while you're driving is dangerous, so a handful of companies have come up with ways to play music from the iPod through a car stereo. Griffin's $35 iTrip fits right on top of the player and sends out music over a free FM radio frequency that you select (griffintechnology.com).

The problem with an FM transmitter, though, is that it's prone to interference when you're driving in cities. One solution: Alpine Electronics' KCA-420i, a $100 adapter that plugs iPods directly into Alpine's car stereo units (alpine-usa.com). Drivers then navigate their iPod tunes using the stereo's controls.

The ultimate car stereo solution is also the most expensive -- a BMW. The German luxury auto maker has outfitted some of its models, including a $50,000 330ci convertible that I tested, with iPod adapters in the glove box. But there's one big problem: Drivers can play only preprogrammed playlists from their iPods -- you can't select the song that strikes your mood at the moment. Then again, you may not care if you're in a Bimmer. It's not much of an iPod accessory, but it's an awfully cool car.

By Jay Greene

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