iPod Tech Support - The $399 Pyramid

Earlier, Chris Breen wrote about reports of static and noise problems with the new 4G iPods. Since then, I've tried several times to contact Apple for comment about the problem, but with no luck.

In addition to writing and editing a magazine about all things Mac, we at Macworld are also consumers of products. In fact, I purchased a new 40GB Click Wheel iPod recently that suffers from the static affliction. So, I figured I'd try and contact Apple tech support as a regular consumer instead of PR as a member of the press.

After giving my name, phone number, and serial number of my iPod (to make sure I was still entitled to free support, I'm guessing), I was transferred to a person who asked me what the problem was. I explained to him that I got static through my headphones, especially when the hard drive spun up. He asked about my headphones, and I told him I'd tried several different ones. How about the Apple headphones? Those worked fine, I told him. His reply (not an exact quote): "If it sounds fine with the Apple-supplied headphones, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the iPod."

Eh? So Apple doesn't support third-party headphones, I pondered. "If you put some third-party software on your computer and had a problem," says he, "we'd tell you to contact that vendor." The problem is, this isn't a computer we're talking about, it's a consumer electronics device. You think Sony would sell you a CD player and tell you that you can only use the headphones that come with it, especially when those headphones are of limited quality? And it's not like I'm using some cheap ear pieces—mine are custom-built in-ear monitors from a company called Ultimate Ears, which, well, cost more than the iPod itself. Just to be sure, I plugged my headphones into two other 40GB 4G iPods we have in the office, and had no problem—obviously, the headphone aren't the problem.

It was at this point that I felt like I was part of the game show, The $10,000 (up to $100,000) Pyramid (or just Pyramid, as the new, Donny Osmond version is known). In case you're unfamiliar with it, the game has teams made up of a celebrity and a contestant, who try to get the other person to guess a word or phrase without being too specific (or using part of the word or phrase itself). When I asked if I was the only person with this particular problem, he said "uh, that I know of, yes." Had other people called with static problems in general? "Er, in the past, there have been people with some type of issues." I felt like he was reading from the "these are the things you aren't allowed to say" manual, lest his supervisor bang a gong and send him packing. OK, I'm mixing game show metaphors (apologies to Chuck Barris), but my point is, if he used a phrase such as "we've seen that problem," or "that's a hardware defect," I'm pretty sure he'd be executed on the spot. Of course, I already knew that I wasn't the only person with these problems, but I wanted to hear it from him.

I've found that pulling out the headphone jack slightly can solve the problem, but there's definitely some shielding or other hardware issue—and I shouldn't need to jiggle the headphones on a brand-new iPod to get it to sound right, don't you think?

(Don't forget to read Jon's update about this issue. --Ed.)

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