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Review: XtremeMac AirPlay²

by on April 10, 2006

We were very impressed with XtremeMac’s original AirPlay, which we reviewed over a year ago. It offered features comprable to Griffin’s iTrip, but was much easier to operate.

A lot has changed in a year—iPods have lost the top “remote connector”, and many more FM transmitters have come into the market with similar features and even lower prices. As the AirPlay was rendered useless with currently shipping iPods within about a month by the double-whammy of Apple’s introduction of the iPod nano and fifth-generation iPod, XtremeMac was forced to reinvent the wheel with the AirPlay².


AirPlay² + iPod

AirPlay² + Dash Mount/Cover

Although the second generation of the AirPlay costs $10 more, it feels more refined and matches the current iPods much better. Just a few months ago, this product was priced around $60, so the price increase has made it more attractive. Rather than plugging into the top of the iPod, the AirPlay² plugs in on the Dock Connector and features a pass-through Dock Connector for charging. This is a slightly better option than Griffin’s mini-USB port, requiring you to have a different sort of power source.

Let me interrupt here stating, as always, that FM transmitters are a tough product to review. Although they might work fine in our tests, which range from medium-sized cities to rural areas, larger metropolitan areas with crowded radio markets might make it tough for you to even use them.

The AirPlay² is about an inch-and-a-half square and no thicker than an iPod nano. It’s available in white or black. The white version has grey accents, while the black version is entirely black. Other than that, both models are the same—they feature an attractive white-text-on-blue backlit LCD. Also included with the AirPlay² is a plastic “dash mount” holder that can double as a cover.

iPod nano owners will find the AirPlay² to be a perfect fit—it’s exactly the same thickness and width as the nano. Full-size iPod owners will find that the AirPlay² is a bit smaller and off-center, but still usable. For some reason, we found it to sit at a slight angle when attatched to our 30GB iPod. Although there are many suggestions that you could keep an iPod upright with the AirPlay², it probably isn’t a good idea as this could put stress on the Dock Connector. iPod nanos should be fine, however.

A slight learning curve is required with the AirPlay². Rather than having + and – buttons to adjust the output frequency, the AirPlay² features 3 preset buttons and an “AirPlay²” button. Tapping this button will let you switch between preset mode and tuning mode. By holding down this button, one can choose between stereo and monaural output—good for if you’re having trouble sending out a signal. To actually set presets, you just hold down the button you want to assign when in preset mode—this works much like many car stereos.

The only downsides we saw, besides slightly awkward use with larger iPods is the lack of the ability to tune to 87.9 FM—many other products allow this, and this frequency is almost always clear, no matter where you go. The other is that AirPlay² does drain the iPod’s battery considerably, so using a car charger or AC adapter is always a good idea.

Without getting into details about how it worked in our situation (since there are so many variables, such as radio antennas, frequencies, and other radio stations), we can say that the AirPlay² worked similarly to many other FM transmitters. Sound was clear and would be perfectly suitable for use in a car, even if the antenna is in the back area.

Overall, the AirPlay² is a good product, although it is considerably better for nano users. The strange fit on the large iPods, mixed with an appetite for battery life makes the AirPlay² a good choice, as long as you know the downsides. Where it does shine is a large display, intuitive interface once you get used to it, and a real Dock Connector for auxiliary power. Users of iPod minis and fourth-generation models will be better off getting the original AirTrip.

The One-Sentence Verdict™

The AirPlay² is a complete redesign from its predecessor, and offers a number of interesting changes, but might not be for everyone, especially full-sized iPod users.

Pros: Compact design, Dock Connector pass-through allows use of existing AC adapters and car chargers, easy-to-read display
Cons: Somewhat fragile connection to iPod, does not broadcast to 87.9 FM

Rating: 8/10

The Facts

Product: AirPlay²
Company: XtremeMac
Platform: iPod (4 5 M N)
Price: $49.95

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