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Review: Griffin iTrip Aux

by on January 9, 2015

If you were reading this site back in 2008, you might remember that we reviewed Griffin’s AutoPilot, a combination car charger/remote/audio interface for iPods, and later iPhones. For cars without dedicated iPod interfaces, but auxiliary inputs (or using a cassette adapter—this was 2008), this was a great one-cable connection that would charge the device and pull the arguably better line out signal. With the introduction of the iPhone 5, newer cars, Bluetooth audio streaming, and USB-capable car stereos, the AutoPilot started to seem unnecessary. That being said, Griffin has introduced its spiritual successor, the $50 iTrip Aux, an AutoPilot for the Lightning age.

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The design is very similar to the AutoPilot, although matching Griffin’s current industrial design. The iTrip Aux, taking a name in line with the company’s long-running FM transmitter line, looks like most other cigarette lighter power outlet chargers, but at the end are three buttons—one skips backwards, one skips forwards, and the third toggles play and pause. Along the side of the bulb is a hardwired 40-inch cable with a Lightning connector and a 3.5mm jack for connecting an audio cable to your car’s auxiliary input. Griffin even includes a 40-inch cable, or you can use your own if you want something longer or shorter. Gone from the AutoPilot are the replaceable fuse and the Hi/Lo switch, simplifying the design a bit. The AutoPilot name does live on, being used to describe the playback controls.

This is a product that really should have been introduced two years ago, but probably wasn’t due to Apple’s restrictions on the use of the Lightning connector. Personally, I had used the AutoPilot with Apple’s Lightning to 30-pin adapter, followed by various Bluetooth receivers, a separate 12 watt USB charger, and a Lightning cable. Sure, I could’ve replaced the stereo in my car, but I actually like the factory unit. Furthermore, it has a few features that would be hard to integrate some aftermarket solutions, including steering wheel controls, a Bluetooth speakerphone microphone, and a separate amplifier. Additionally, my car was made during the weird in-between time where Bluetooth was available for phone calls, but not audio streaming. Although a number of Bluetooth solutions are great, I was curious to see how Griffin’s hardwired effort fared.

You might be wondering why I don’t just use a 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable from the headphone jack and any old Lightning cable lying around. One reason is that I’d have to connect two cables to my device, and the other reason is that the audio signal would then be amplified twice: once by the iPhone’s internal headphone amplifier and then again by the car. Instead, the signal is carried at a unamplified level, leaving all volume adjustments up to your car’s audio equipment. Although it may not always be noticeable, this prevents additional distortion. That being said, the iTrip Aux most likely has its own digital-to-analog converter, much like the one found in Apple’s Lightning to 30-pin adapters, generating the sound pulled digitally from the iOS device. If this is the case, it’s even more noteworthy since it’s only $10 more than Apple’s cable adapter, but will also charge and control your device. Griffin also included a ground loop isolator inside to kill any extra humming noise that might be caused by some car’s electrical system. My car has been susceptible to this in some scenarios and I was unable to notice any noise.

The iTrip Aux also features a 12 watt/2.4 amp charger, allowing it to charge any Lightning-equipped iOS device, including iPads. This is a nice touch, even if you only use it with an iPhone, as the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus can take advantage of the additional juice.

It’s worth noting that the controls will control apps other than music, including Pandora, Spotify, podcasts, and anything else that uses the standard iOS audio controls. In fact, on most podcast apps, the skip buttons will function for skipping time as opposed to tracks. There is a faint white LED ring around the play/pause button to indicate that it is getting power and also slightly illuminate the controls. It’s a shame that it didn’t continue the AutoPilot’s color-coded charging feedback, although looking at the iPhone’s screen isn’t too tough to do (when it won’t interfere with driving, of course).

The big complaint with the AutoPilot was that the buttons were hard to reach or inconvenient on some cars, and this obviously continues with the iTrip Aux. It’s not the device’s fault, but rather something to keep in mind if you’re setting your expectations. Still, in 2008, most iPods had physical buttons that might have been in easier reach. Now, all devices have touchscreens, so even reaching a little further for a physical button might be a safer option.

My iTrip Aux wish list would change three things: make the Lightning cable removable/replaceable, make the charger portion a bit smaller (to fit in consoles or power outlets that are behind doors), and move the audio controls to either a small wired or wireless remote. That being said, I’m no engineer, so don’t know how possible or cost-prohibitive any of these decisions would be.

Amusingly, seven years ago, a number of products comparable to the AutoPilot existed, charging an iPod or iPhone and pulling a line out signal. Today, the only product that can compare to the iTrip Aux, is maybe Apple’s iPhone 5/5S/5C docks with some sort of car charger added.

One might be wondering why the iTrip Aux even needs to exist today, with simple audio cables and Bluetooth doing much of the heavy lifting for integrating iOS devices in older cars. Besides offering a higher quality signal, the ability to use any device with a Lightning connector (including guest passengers), and some basic controls, it’s a nice all-in-one option to bring iOS integration into older vehicles. For the price, it’s a bargain considering that it mixes a high-output charger, a rudimentary remote, and gets a line-level audio signal. It’s nice to see an update to a product we enjoyed years ago.

Update (3/6/15): Recently, we started exhibiting issues of the unit not always “turning on” with the car, requiring it to be unplugged and plugged back in. Griffin offered to replace the unit, but they are currently indefinitely out of stock. We’re not sure if it’s a manufacturing issue, high popularity, or something else, but you might want to wait if you’re going to pick one up.

The One-Sentence Verdict™

Griffin’s iTrip Aux took what made the AutoPilot great and reintroduces it for devices with Lightning ports.

Pros: Basic audio controls, one cable for charge/audio, line-level output, 12 watt charging
Cons: May not be as necessary today thanks to newer car audio technologies, buttons may be hard to access, would like to see a removable/replaceable Lightning cable
Rating: Pending

The Facts

Product: iTrip Aux
Company: Griffin Technology
Platform: iPhone, iPad, iPod with Lightning
Price: $49.99

This post has been filed in iPhone, Mobile Devices, Reviews