Last year, we reviewed MacAlly’s mTune, a pair of headphones with a built-in “dock” for the iPod shuffle. We liked the overall idea and design of the mTune, but found its sound quality to be only average. MacAlly recently released the m-Tune-N, the same headphone system in an iPod nano version, and with a few minor differences, it’s made a similar impression on me.
The appeal of the mTune and mTune-N is obvious: Headphone cables are a pain — they get tangled and they get in the way, whether you’re sitting at your desk or working out at the gym. By connecting your iPod directly to your headphones, you avoid this inconvenience. So the folks at MacAlly took a set of full-size, over-the-ear headphones and built a slot for an iPod nano into the left earpiece. At the base of the slot is a standard headphone miniplug, aligned so that as you slide your nano into the slot, the plug slides into the nano’s headphone jack. An opening in the earpiece provides access to your nano’s control pad, and the top of the nano protrudes out the top of the slot, making the iPod’s screen visible. The result? A set of headphones that carries your iPod nano while you’re listening, sans wires.
You can quickly switch tracks or adjust volume via the exposed control pad; after a few missed buttons, you’ll quickly grasp the nano’s on-head control orientation and will be able to control the nano by touch. (Unlike the shuffle version, when using the mTune-N, your iPod’s control pad isn’t upside-down. On the other hand, since the nano has a screen, you’ll need to either remove the nano from the mTune-N or remove the entire headphone system from your head if you want to navigate the iPod’s menus.)
The mTune-N requires no batteries, since plugging your nano into the mTune-N is no different than plugging the headphone cable of any other pair of headphones into the iPod’s headphone jack. (Although you’re not limited to using the mTune-N with your nano: A 1/8″ stereo minijack on the left earpiece lets you connect any other audio source via a standard 1/8″ stereo cable. Of course, then you’re back to cables.)
The mTune-N’s all-black plastic design with gloss-finished earpieces matches the black iPod nano well. (The white nano? Not so much.) Overall, the black mTune-N looks much nicer than the white shuffle version. Two caveats: When folded up, the glossy outer surfaces of the mTune-N’s earpieces rub against each other, resulting in minor scuffs over time. And because your nano’s top half sticks out of the mTune-N’s slot, the iPod’s screen isn’t protected from bumps and scrapes during use.
The mTune-N’s 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, as with the shuffle version, I found the mTune-N’s plastic-covered metal headband to be somewhat uncomfortable out of the box, resting the weight of the mTune-N and nano (~7.5 ounces together) on one small spot on the top of my head; as I did with the original mTune, I bent the headband slightly to form more of an arch, which improved the mTune’s comfort significantly.
In terms of audio performance, the mTune doesn’t improve much on its shuffle-focused sibling’s sound, offering decent but not great sound quality. Bass is somewhat thin and there’s a bit of tinniness; on the other hand, sound quality is better than with Apple’s stock earbuds. (If sound quality is your primary concern, the mTune-N isn’t the best way to spend $50; Sennheiser’s PX 100, for example, offers much better audio. But then you’d lose out on the mTune-N’s convenience.)
As I noted when reviewing the original mTune, the mTune-N is a great idea that’s 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. My conclusion when reviewing the shuffle version holds true here, as well: If MacAlly could improve the audio quality, 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