At a Glance
Cassette adapter with built-in dock for iPod nano
If your car has a cassette deck, a cassette adapter is often the easiest — not to mention the least expensive, with some adapters available for as little as $5 — way to get your iPod’s audio to play through your car stereo. And although a cassette adapter won’t sound as good as a direct connection to your car stereo, it should sound quite a bit better than most FM transmitters, which have to send your iPod’s audio over the airwaves and are thus subject to both interference and the quality of your car’s radio tuner. On the other hand, cassette adapters generally leave you with cables dangling from your cassette deck, and most require you to find someplace to mount or secure your iPod as well as to fiddle with your iPod’s volume to get the right level.
If you’ve got an iPod nano, a near-perfect solution — provided it works with your car stereo — is Belkin’s TuneDeck for iPod nano. This unique accessory combines a cassette adapter with a car mount: you insert the TuneDeck into your stereo’s cassette slot, and a sturdy, built-in cradle protrudes from the stereo. Place your nano in the cradle and the TuneDeck grabs the audio output from your iPod’s dock-connector port and sends it to your car stereo. Because of the line-level audio signal provided by the dock connector, the TuneDeck’s sound quality is better than that of most other cassette adapters, and you don’t have to fiddle with your iPod’s volume control to get the right level.
(The original version of the TuneDeck for iPod nano, released in 2006, fit only the first-generation iPod nano. The current version works with both first- and second-generation nanos, the latter via an included adapter.)
The TuneDeck’s cradle rotates approximately 45 degrees from side to side to give the driver or passenger a better view of the screen. Although another 10 degrees of rotation in each direction would make this feature more appealing, even the limited rotation is useful. Of course, one minor drawback to the TuneDeck’s cradle design is that if your car stereo has a CD player located just above the cassette deck, you’ll need to remove your nano from the TuneDeck before inserting or ejecting a CD.
If your iPod’s battery is getting low, an included accessory-jack (“cigarette lighter”) adapter can supply juice by plugging into the bottom of the TuneDeck’s cradle — although doing so (temporarily) adds back a bit of the cable clutter the TuneDeck is designed to get rid of.
I noted above that the TuneDeck is a great solution “provided it works with your car stereo.” First, as the photo above should make clear, the TuneDeck works only with cassette decks into which you insert cassettes sideways (narrow-edge-first). If you have one of the less-common wide decks that require you to insert cassettes bottom-first, the TuneDeck won’t fit (although Belkin has told us that they’re working on a version for these decks). Second, as we’ve mentioned in previous reviews of cassette adapters, car-stereo cassette decks are finicky creatures; we have yet to find a cassette adapter that works in every car. The TuneDeck, for example, worked flawlessly in a Honda Pilot but didn’t work at all in a Hyundai Sonata, just to name a couple cars in which we tested it. So, as with all cassette adapters, I recommend buying the TuneDeck from a store with a good return policy.
That said, I enthusiastically recommend the TuneDeck if you’ve got a nano and a car with cassette deck. The TuneDeck sounds great, is well-designed, and rids your car of the cable clutter associated with traditional cassette adapters; its biggest drawback is that it’s expensive compared to most cassette adapters — but, of course, it offers quite a bit more. As I said when we awarded the original TuneDeck a “Plays of the Year” award in December 2006, the TuneDeck is a truly unique product that shows the folks at Belkin have been thinking outside the box when it comes to iPod accessories.–Dan Frakes