The Practical Mac

iRock!, a Gadget We Can't Live Without

- 2003.04.03 -

Rating: 3 and a half out of 4

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We live in a gadget world. We are mesmerized by robotic lawn mowers and vacuum cleaners whose hype is greater than their bite. However, once in a while we find a gadget that makes us wonder, "How did we ever live without this?" The iRock! 300W falls into this category.

The iRock! 300W is manufactured by First International Digital, Inc. of Chicago, a Motorola spin-off company. The premise is simple: The iRock! 300W plugs into the headphone or line-out jack of your iPod (or other portable music device) and transmits its signal to your car or home stereo.

The 300W can transmit on the FM frequencies of 88.1, 88.3, 88.5, or 88.7, so you are sure to find a station free of standard radio transmissions. Depending on conditions, the 300W has a range of 10-30'. In our tests, we were able to get a crystal-clear signal in both of the vehicles we used for evaluation. One vehicle had the radio antenna in the windshield, and the other outside by the trunk. Indoors, the unit had no trouble transmitting a clear signal up to about 25'.

The 6" flexible antenna doubles as the jack for your portable audio device. In a clever piece of design iRock 300Wwork worthy of Apple, the combination antenna/jack plugs into a rubber receptacle on the back of the 300W when not in use so as to protect the jack from damage.

The 300W operates on two AAA batteries (not included). iRock! claims a typical battery life of 20 hours. In our test, we got just over the 20 hour mark. The unit has a simple push button on/off switch and a small LED on the front to let you know when it is on.

We envision many uses for the 300W. It allows you to use a portable cassette or CD player in a car that doesn't have one.

We still have nightmares about the hoops we had to jump through to listen to CDs before we got a car with a built-in CD player. We placed a portable CD player in the passenger seat and strung out two portable speakers - hopefully in such a position so as not to interfere with driving or fall to the floor when we turned a corner - and hoped for the best.

With this column, Low End Mac is instituting a uniform ratings system for product reviews. Reviewed products will receive from zero to four LEMs. The scale goes something like this:

  1. Buy this and you will want your money back.
  2. Possibly useful if you are in need of a product of this specific type, but it may not be worth the cost or effort.
  3. Okay, but has a few shortcomings or deficiencies.
  4. A solid, capable product that performs as advertised.
  5. Wow! A truly stellar, impressive product.

Products might receive ratings with "1/2" increments from time to time.

In keeping with the focus or this website, when rating products which are for use directly with or on a Mac, a factor in our evaluation will be how well it works with lower-end Macs and the Classic Mac OS.

We once purchased an adapter that allowed us to use the portable CD player with the car stereo. One end plugged into the portable CD player and the other end had an adapter in the shape of a cassette tape which popped into the car stereo to transmit the signal via the car's cassette player. While it was a nifty idea, the cords involved in setting everything up were reminiscent of a spider web. And the thing broke after about two weeks.

Our current vehicle has a built-in CD player but no cassette. We have to go through the same sort of gyrations to use a cassette player or iPod. The iRock! 300W allows you to kiss all those cords good-bye. The only real complaint, and this is minor, is that there is no "automatic off" feature. If you get out of your car and don't notice the LED on the front, you are apt to leave the device on and run down the batteries. An automatic shutoff after four hours or so (or even an adjustable time) would be a welcome feature.

The 300W also allows you to use your portable music device with your home stereo when other connection methods are not available or convenient. At US$29.95, this is a "must-have" for any music enthusiast. (Please note that the iRock! 300W is not currently available outside of the U.S. and Canada.)

Rating: 3-1/2 LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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