Summer Gear Guide: Gifts for dads

Father’s Day is just around the corner, and you’re stumped for gift ideas. You won’t be able to face dad if you wind up giving him another tie. Your dad doesn’t even like golf. And you’re only now back on speaking terms after last year’s nose-hair trimmer episode.

But if dad owns an iPod, your worries are nearly over. There are dozens of iPod accessories that can help him get the most out of his music. But which one should you pick?

Our editors have been combing through Playlist’s Product Guide searching for iPod gear for all kinds of dads, whether they’re an iPod novice or they have more gear than they know what to do with. And we’ve assembled a collection of iPod accessories at every price range, from gifts for less than $25 to high-end gear that will cement your place in dad’s will.

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For novice iPod owners

There’s a first time for everything—walking, talking, eating oysters, and, yes, even unwrapping your very first iPod. And when you do open that box, you’ll find some earbuds, a fuzzy gray pouch, and a data cable—useful accessories, but hardly the stuff that will expand your iPod’s capabilities beyond the basics. If your dad is the sort of person still getting by with few accouterments that ship with the iPod, here are some ideas to help expand his horizons.

Protect your ’pod There’s a reason Apple provides that little gray pouch with fifth-generation iPods and iPod nanos for a reason—these models show marks and accumulate scratches. Given that dad will expose his iPod to the elements from time to time, he can make its front and back scratch-resistant by applying Power Support’s Crystal Film Set ($16 for 5G iPods, $15 for iPod nanos ). Held in place by static electricity, these thin films are tough as nails, clear as glass, and easy to apply.

Covertec’s Luxury Pouch Case for the iPod nano comes in a rainbow of colors.

Now that scratches are taken care of, you can help dad protect his iPod from bumps and bruises with a leather case from Covertec. The leather Luxury Pouch Case for iPod Video costs $30 , comes in a variety of colors, and leaves the iPods controls and ports easily accessible. This same style case is available for the iPod nano for $20 . To give your tiny iPod a more classic look, check out Covertec’s $27 Luxury Case for iPod nano .

Listen up If your dad is like most iPod owners, it won’t be long before he craves better-sounding and more comfortable earbuds. V-MODA supplies just that in its $50 Remix M-Class earbuds . Available in three flashy finishes, the M-Class earbuds are more than just aesthetically-pleasing accessories. Their fit and finish, as well as their sound quality, are impressive.

In-ear earbuds like the FS1 from XtremeMac and Future Sonic can improve upon the performance of the included earbuds that come with each iPod.

Dads disappointed in the size and fit of the earbuds that come with the iPod should give a listen to XtremeMac’s $150 FS1 earbuds. Designed by Future Sonics—the company responsible for many of the in-ear monitors musicians use during live performances—the FS1s provide both a comfortable fit and well-rounded bass response.

For a completely personal listening experience, dad needs headphones that conform, quite literally, to his ears. He can have just that with Ultimate Ears’ $550 UE-5c custom-fit earphones. Each pair is created from impressions taken of the ears by a local audiologist. Expensive, yes, but they’re as comfortable as can be and deliver great sound that blocks out all but the most clangorous noises around you.

The iCub combines a subwoofer/amplifier/digital-audio-converter unit with a pair of quality satellite speakers for impressive audio performance.

If you’re going to drop $550 on a pair of custom-fit headphones, you shouldn’t flinch at spending $750 for Focal-JMlab’s iCub. A combination subwoofer/amplifier/digital audio converter unit, the iCub coupled with a pair of quality satellite speakers (which aren’t included) produces impressive sound (provided that the sound you feed it through its analog and digital inputs is of a quality sufficient to show off the iCub’s sonic qualities). The iCub offers tight and controlled bass frequencies without the thump offered by lesser subwoofers and its amplifier produces rich and realistic tones (at just about any volume you care to crank).

Plug in Part of the pleasure of owning an iPod is jacking into other gear you own. To inexpensively pair your iPod with your home stereo, grab dad Monster Cable’s $15 Mini to RCA Audio Interconnect Cable. A stereo miniplug on one end plugs into your iPod’s headphone port and the two RCA connectors on the other fit snugly into your stereo receiver’s Auxiliary jack.

Speaking of cables, Apple includes a single Dock Connector to USB cable in the iPod’s box. For a more flexible cable—one dad can use to power his iPod even when his computer’s asleep—get Apple’s $19 iPod Dock Connector to FireWire and USB 2.0 Cable . This is a “Y” cable that bears a dock connector on one end and splits out to USB and FireWire connectors. Although the 5G iPod and iPod nano won’t sync over FireWire, they will charge from a FireWire connection—even when the computer’s asleep (something a USB connection on some computers won’t do).

With an iPod USB Power Adapter, dad can charge his iPod even when he’s away from the computer.

And while we’re on the subject of power, why force dad to tie his iPod to the computer every time he wants to give it a charge? Opt for Apple’s $29 iPod USB Power Adapter and dad can juice his iPod from any available power outlet.

Odds and ends To really put the “portable” in your portable player, dad should be able to play it through his car stereo. There are lots of ways to do this. A direct cable connection from the iPod’s dock connector to the stereo’s input provides the best audio, but this isn’t a convenient or affordable option for everyone. If it’s not, consider DLO’s $99 Transpod , an FM transmitter that plays the iPod’s music through the car’s radio. Providing power through the car’s auto power outlet (commonly known as the “cigarette lighter”), the Transpod is easy to use, lets you store four preset stations, and overpowers all but the strongest competing FM stations.

The HomeDock Deluxe from DLO lets you connect your iPod to a home stereo or television.

DLO also offers a good solution for integrating your iPod into your home’s media center. Its $150 HomeDock Deluxe performs the functions of Apple’s iPod Universal Dock and a whole lot more. This sleek dock and solid IR remote control not only let you connect your iPod to a home stereo and television via the included audio and AV cables, but you can also navigate through your iPod’s music collection from a special television interface developed by DLO.

If dad has already welcomed in the 21st century by procuring that era’s most popular music player, it’s time he made his kitchen radio just as current. You can help him do so with Tivoli Audio’s $300 iSongBook . This portable iPod speaker system/radio includes controls for playing AM and FM radio, five presets per radio band, sleep timer and alarm, a preset for playing the iPod’s audio through its dock connector, a clever fold-down dock for mounting the iPod, a remote control, and speakers that can be separated to provide a broader stereo field. Oh, and it sounds good too.—CHRISTOPHER BREEN

For new fathers

Forget about dads who are new to the iPod. What about fathers who are new to fatherhood? Here are some gift ideas sure to earn you a big “thank you” from that novice dad—assuming he’s alert enough to speak after weeks or months of interrupted sleep, 2 a.m. feedings, and countless dirty diapers.

Music to sleep by Giving dad the gift of music in the form of a $24 gift certificate from the iTunes Music Store is a great gift idea. But it’s important that you also recommend he purchase his music within a particular genre: baby lullabies. Why emphasize music to help the young ’un nod off to sleepsville? Because more sleep for the baby means more sleep for dad and mom, which makes for a happier household. As the father of a three-year-old and a two-month-old, I’ve had good luck with Baby Einstein Lullaby Classics and Lullaby (Classical Music for your Baby) . If you’re into Celtic music, you’re in luck as well— Celtic Twilight 3 Lullabies is a collection of Celtic lullabies. Sure, Dad might spend his certificate on something else—but not if he’s smart.

Kolcraft’s iBaby Reclining Umbrella Stroller features an iPod dock with speaker so that you can enjoy some tunes when taking your baby out for a stroll.

That new music doesn’t have to stay behind when dad takes the baby out for a stroll. The $30 iBaby Reclining Umbrella Stroller from Kolcraft includes an iPod dock with speaker, so that both dad and baby can enjoy the iPod. The iBaby stroller has your regular stroller features as well, including a cup holder for dad’s water bottle, a sun shade, and a three-point safety harness for baby. For only $30, though, don’t expect audiophile quality sound from the built-in speaker or much in the way of color options—the stroller only comes in pink.

Baby proof that iPod As a babies become toddlers, they will quickly discover a new sport: throwing dad’s stuff. If this activity involves something of limited value—dad’s shoes, say, or the newspaper—a good laugh can be enjoyed by all. But if the child happens to grab dad’s nano or iPod Video and sends it hurtling toward the tiled kitchen floor, things suddenly become less funny. Enter OtterBox’s protective Otterbox iPod case. Available for every iPod ( shuffle: $20, nano: $35, color-screen iPod: $50), these rubberized sturdy cases will help your iPod survive your child’s experimentation with gravity—and yet, the controls are still usable within the case. As a side bonus, these cases are waterproof down to one meter, which means even a bit of rain while out strolling with the iBaby won’t hurt your iPod.

One of Otterbox’s protective cases can keep your shuffle, nano, or full-sized iPod safe from your offspring’s wrath.

If one’s child possesses superhuman strength, and you’re fearful that not even the OtterBox is protection enough for that full-size iPod, then the $40 Matias iPod Armor case from Matias is what you want to give to dad. This padded rugged aluminum structure will save his iPod from anything the little one can dish out. While locked up in the case, the iPod’s controls aren’t usable, but you can use all the controls once the case is flipped open. This thing is so rugged that Dad’s iPod would have a good chance of surviving an accidental tumble down the concrete stairway outside the local day care—not that I would recommend such a stress test.

Dad’s all ears As Christopher Breen mentions up above, the earphone buds that come with every iPod provide better-than-average sound, but you can certainly do better—especially for your Dad—and for not much money, either. Sennheiser’s MX500 in-ear headphones sell for $20 , while delivering better sound quality than the Apple-provided units thanks to deeper bass response and better midrange. The MX500 even features a volume control on the cable.

On those rare occasions where someone volunteers to watch the baby so that dad can enjoy some quiet time, a $330 set of ER4 MicroPro in-ear headphones from Etymotic Research will come in hand—especially if a crying baby doesn’t want to cooperate. These in-ear headphones block out from 35db to 42db of external noise, the highest among any type of headphone. Once dad fits them properly to his ear canal, he’ll hear nothing but his music… at least until mom comes and taps him on the shoulder to let him know it’s time for a shift change!

The FX6021 2.1 speaker system from Altec Lansing offers a three-speaker setup for sharing your music with others.

Music for all When it’s time to celebrate that first birthday party, here’s a suggestion on how to share some festive music with the other attendees: Altec Lansing’s $250 FX6021 2.1 speaker system . You get an impressive three-speaker setup (two satellites and a subwoofer), a multi-function wired controller, and even a wireless remote control. Plug in dad’s iPod via its audio output, and you’ll have a roomful of great tunes. The FX6021 produces excellent overall sound, with great midrange and detail. The subwoofer’s driver is a bit small, so you won’t be able to make the floor bounce, but it still sounds great. And when the party’s over, dad can connect the system to his Mac for desktop use.—ROB GRIFFITHS

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