iPod Shuffle 2nd Gen

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, November 2006
Published by: Apple Inc.
Requires: Windows 98 SE through Vista, Mac OS X or Linux computer; iTunes or third-party software to sync music to the device; available USB 2.0 port
MSRP: US$79.00

Small. Very small. That's the first impression you get when you remove the new, 2nd generation Apple iPod Shuffle from its contrastingly large, clear plastic retail package. Very, very small. You'd almost think that the miniaturization loons from Sony Corp. (circa the '90s) sprinkled magic pixie dust over Apple's Cupertino design studio, hypnotizing the entire bunch into the old Sony mode of ever-smaller hardware designs at any cost. The new Shuffle is 1.6" wide x 1" high x 0.4" thick (40.6mm x 25.4mm x 10mm), including the integrated belt clip. It's smaller and thinner in fact than most popular men's wristwatches. We reviewed the 1GB version.

Two-thirds of the front face of the Shuffle is occupied by the famous and easy-to-use iPod control pad. It's the same controller used on the previous Shuffle and it's tactility is excellent with obvious touch, direction and activation feel for all of the basic functions. The outer case is made of aluminum, features a flat top & bottom surface and rounded ends. The integrated aluminum spring tension (belt) clip is strong, with smoothly polished edges and surfaces that will not snag, drag or otherwise mess up clothing or straps of any kind. There's no up, down, top or bottom to the 2nd gen Shuffle because the orientation of the earphone jack depends entirely on the way you clip the device to your clothing or drop it in a pocket. In any case, the earphone jack is on one edge, the shuffle/no shuffle and hold switches on the other. Instead of the newer (better quality) earphones supplied with full size iPods these days, Apple supplies previous generation earphones with the new Shuffle.

The device is supplied with its own proprietary dock. Synchronization with the supplied Apple iTunes software takes place automatically using the Autofill feature, or manually—the setting is user adjustable. The special dock connects to your PC, Mac or Linux computer via attached USB cable. The dock itself has a specially designed mini-plug which injects data through the earphone jack in the Shuffle, a nice example of using a single audio port for both data input/output and bagerry charging. We thought we were taking an obvious shortcut by not bothering to install the latest version of iTunes, only to find out that the 2nd gen Shuffle is only compatible with iTunes 7.0.2 or later. Audio file compatibility seems to be standard for all Shuffles: MP3, protected and unprotected AAC files, as well as WAV, AIFF and Audible files.


So what is a home office, SOHO, small business product review site doing with a 2nd gen iPod Shuffle? We're listening to podcasts and other news and information sources of course! Because the order in which daily/weekly news and information arrives is usually unimportant, the Shuffle is an ideal device for playback. Audio fidelity is more than sufficient and the occasional song thrown in for fun doesn't hurt either. The unit is absurdly lightweight, so jogging comfortably with it is only matter of using earphones which stay put. If you've taken the time and expense to install a mini-jack in your car or motorcycle audio system, the iPod Shuffle works there as well. During 10 days of daily use (several hours each day), we did not encounter any problems. File sync through iTunes was trouble free. Initially, battery life was a somewhat dismal 10.5 hours, but as we fully cycled, drained and recharged the battery through regular use, battery life increased to a respectable 12.5 hours.

Cons: The iPod Shuffle 2nd Gen is synced through a dock connector rather than the original Shuffle's built-in USB connector. That means another USB cable snaking across the desk. Because the new Shuffle is so small, it requires a dedicated dock, so forget about dual purposing a 4G or 5G iPod dock. The belt clip is as large as it can be given the small size of the Shuffle, but that means the clip is useless on typically wide belts and shoulder straps. What happened to the audio quality? The original Shuffle offered acceptable audio fidelity from clean files, but the 2nd gen Shuffle is a bit noisy between tracks and during quiet passages. There seems to be a bit of a problem with the diameter and fit of the headphone port because from time to time we noticed faint crackling when the jack was rotated in the port—we tried B&O earphones, Shure E3C earphones, Sennheiser headphones, Grado headphones and a pair of the latest iPod earbuds with the same result. Top notch audio quality remains elusive for the Shuffle, and we noted a distinct reediness on many tracks. For example, the Shuffle offered little of Nora Jones' huskiness on "Don't Know Why" and Oscar Peterson's rumbling bridge in "Hymn to Freedom" sounded positively thin no matter what headphones or earphones we tried. We've got a terrific rip of Alannah Myles' "Still Got This Thing" in a high gain, maximum variable bitrate MP3 file. With the volume cranked up to suitable rock levels, the loud, wild, opening guitar break underpinned by a relentless bass drum foot pedal and the singer's wailing intro absolutely hammered the Shuffle's output stage into clipping and distortion. It's so small, square-ish and light that we predict this model will go down as Apple's most frequently lost or misplaced device.

Pros: If thin and absolutely minuscule is 'in', then the iPod Shuffle 2nd gen is the one for you. It looks great. The wide, integrated clip firmly clamps onto shirts, sweaters and clothing of all kinds without doing any damage at all. Audio quality for music listening is fair, but voice reproduction is excellent for the most part which makes this one ideal for listening to news and information shows, podcasts, audio books and so on. Some reviewers lament the absence of a screen, but we keep saying that if it had a screen it wouldn't be a Shuffle. Good grief! Apple has released precisely the device it wanted to release. The iPod Shuffle 2nd gen is a simple audio playback device that is absurdly easy to use. Simple, straightforward setup on a PC or Mac lets you sync files to the Shuffle within minutes of opening the package. Read the 'Cons' above before you buy, but other than that it's recommended.

KSN Product Rating:





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