In the same vein as the great iPod vs Cassette battle, I’ve recently undertaken a highly scientific comparison of the Griffin iTrip Mini versus a Sony Cassette Adapter. First up, lets outline the test environment:
- One iPod mini with some music loaded onto it. Admittedly this is a bit of a lo-fi experiment, so instead of Dvorak and Bach, I’ve selected a range of bad 80’s rock (Poison, Europe, Bon Jovi).
- One as-new iTrip Mini tuned to the default 87.9 MHz FM frequency (unused by any commercial stations).
- One as-new Sony CPA-9C “Car Connecting Pack”, consisting of a cassette-sized adapter with an attached 3.5mm stereo plug. In fairness, this is the most expensive cassette adapter I could find at around twenty bucks. I imagine you could pick up white-label versions for $5 or $10.
- One slightly used 1994 Mazda Eunos Millenia, with factory-standard four speaker CD/Cassette stereo. Travelled 67,000kms, recently serviced and lubed.
The test consisted of repeatedly listening to such classics as The Final Countdown and Bad Medicine. While struggling not to vomit, the author managed to swap the iPod output between the iTrip Mini and the cassette adapter, all the while listening for subtle variations in the dynamic range of Joey Tempest’s dulcet tones. Results follow:
The Griffin Technology FAQ clearly states:
With a clear frequency the iTrip will play your iPod?s music at a surprisingly high level: Compared to other FM transmitters, the iTrip’s sound quality will win every time.
Unfortunately – at least in the case of the test vehicle – the iTrip failed to produce better quality than any of the commercial radio stations that I could receive. Thankfully I could not find a commercial station broadcasting 80’s rock, but by careful comparison I managed to conclude that the iTrip had significant background static that was clearly audible when the music was at low levels.
In comparison, the cassette adapter managed to produce surprisingly crisp output. I haven’t played a cassette since I was given a bad mix-tape sometime back in high-school, and all I remember was muddy half-sounds played at varying speeds as the gunk on the pinch rollers attempted to rip the magnetised particles clear off the tape. I guess technology has progressed.
Winner: Cassette Adapter
- Takes a few seconds to power on after music starts.
- Powered by the audio output from the iPod, so no batteries required.
- Frequency can be changed, but is a bit fiddly because frequencies are stored as mp3 files on the iPod, and must be selected and played in order to change the output frequency.
- Can be used to play music on a home stereo very easily.
Sony Cassette Adapter:
- Plug adapter into iPod. Insert Cassette. Press play.
- Could be used with a home stereo, but something like this (or in fact a cheaper plain version), would be better.
- Occasionally, on inserting the adapter, the alignment of the read head on the cassette deck seems to be slightly out, resulting in low volume or no bass. On my particular deck, this is fixed by hitting Stop then Play a couple of times.
Winner: Cassette Adapter
The iTrip wins hands-down in this department. It mates perfectly with the profile of the iPod Mini, and Griffin have done a brilliant job packing all the smarts into such a tiny package.
In comparison, the spindly cord dangling out of the cassette slot of the car stereo looks like a bit of forgotten dental floss hanging off the bathroom sink.
Winner: iTrip Mini
For sale: one slightly used iTrip Mini.
Seriously, unless you’re looking for something that looks fantastic and is extremely portable, don’t bother with the iTrip (or other FM transmitters). As long as you have a half decent cassette deck, an adapter will always be able to out-perform FM in terms of frequency and clarity.