Like many people, I dislike headphone cables. They get tangled, and they get in the way, whether you’re sitting at your desk or working out at the gym. Unfortunately, you have to get your iPod’s audio to your headphones somehow, and unless you switch to a wireless headphone system (see our review of such systems at http://playlistmag.com/reviews/2005/07/bluetoothheadphoneroundup/index.php), this process usually involves cables.
Unless you have an iPod shuffle and MacAlly’s new mTune, that is. The clever folks at MacAlly figured that since the iPod shuffle is so small and light, why should it be separated from your headphones at all? So they’ve taken a set of full-size, over-the-ear headphones and built a slot for your iPod shuffle into the right earpiece. At the base of the slot is a standard headphone miniplug — you place your iPod shuffle into the slot upside-down so that the plug slides into the shuffle’s headphone jack — and an opening in the earpiece provides access to your shuffle’s control pad. The result? A set of headphones that carries your iPod shuffle while you’re listening, sans wires; you can quickly switch tracks or adjust volume via the exposed control pad (although your shuffle is upside-down, so its controls are, as well).
The mTune requires no batteries, since plugging your shuffle into the mTune is no different than plugging the headphone cable of any other pair of headphones into the iPod shuffle’s headphone jack. (You’re not limited to using the mTune with your shuffle: A 1/8″ stereo minijack on the right earpiece lets you connect any other audio source via a standard 1/8″ stereo cable.)
The mTune’s white and gray plastic design is an excellent match for the shuffle itself; however, the all-plastic construction can look a bit cheap. The soft earpads are quite comfortable and block out a moderate amount of outside noise, and I like that the mTune’s earpieces fold up and into the headband for smaller packing. On the other hand, I found the mTune’s plastic-covered metal headband to be somewhat uncomfortable out of the box, resting the weight of the mTune (6 ounces plus the shuffle itself) on one small spot on the top of my head; I eventually bent the headband slightly to form more of an arch, which improved the mTune’s comfort significantly.
In terms of audio performance, the mTune offers decent but not great sound quality. Bass is somewhat thin and a lack of treble detail makes the overall sound of the mTune slightly muffled. For the same $50, you can get much better sound (for example, from Sennheiser’s PX 100). However, to be fair to the mTune, you’d lose out on its convenience.
Overall, the mTune is a great idea that is hampered by average sound quality. I enjoyed being able to walk around the house listening to music without any wires or bulky transmitters and receivers, but I ended up appreciating the better sound of wired solutions enough that I was willing to put up with cables. If MacAlly could improve the audio quality of the mTune, this would be a great product. As it is, it’s a very convenient one for those who aren’t as picky about their audio.–Dan Frakes