Belkin TuneStage 2
When it was released in 2005, Belkin's TuneStage offered a novel approach to listening to your iPod on your home stereo. The device consisted of two parts: a transmitter that snapped to the top of the iPod and a receiver that connected to the stereo. Once synchronized, anything played on the iPod was in turn broadcast over the speakers of the home audio system, effectively turning the music player into a wireless remote. But a few drawbacks limited the appeal of the TuneStage--most severely, it lacked compatibility with newer iPod Nano and video iPod models. Belkin's engineers went back to the drawing board and came up with the TuneStage 2 ($150 list, less online). Not only does the new model correct nearly all of the shortcomings of the original, it's also one of the cooler home iPod accessories we've seen to date.
The original TuneStage transmitter dongle snapped into the headphone and accessory jacks found on the top of older iPod model, but that input configuration disappeared soon after the TuneStage hit stores. The updated transmitter dongle fits the standard 30-pin dock connector found on all recent versions of the full-size iPod, the iPod Nano, and even the older iPod Mini. It's about the same thickness and width as a 30GB iPod, but it extends the player's length by about an inch. The dongle looks a bit oversized on the latter two models (and it's off center on the second-generation Nanos), but that's a small price to pay for the improved compatibility.
At first glance, the tiny receiver unit looks nearly unchanged from that of the previous TuneStage. About the size of a VHS tape, the receiver has a small adjustable antenna and two analog audio outputs: a standard pair of red/white RCA stereo jacks and a minijack stereo output. (Belkin includes a 7-foot minijack-to-RCA cable for connecting to either set of jacks to its opposite number on another device.) The rear panel also includes a USB port. Connect the included USB cable from the receiver to the mini-USB port on the transmitter--while it's attached to iPod--and it recharges the music player without interrupting playback. Another welcome change: the TuneStage 2 receiver and transmitter sport an attractive black and silver color scheme that's a better match for most home stereo equipment.
As far as setup is concerned, you connect the AC-powered receiver to your home stereo--any A/V receiver, minisystem, or boombox with a spare stereo input will suffice--and snap the transmitter dongle into place on the underside of the iPod. That's it. There's no software to install, no wireless settings, nothing to adjust on your iPod. Blue LEDs on the transmitter and the receiver confirm that each has recognized the other. You operate your iPod as you normally would when listening over headphones, but the music emanates from your stereo's speakers, of course.
The TuneStage 2 uses Bluetooth wireless technology to broadcast audio from the iPod transmitter to the receiver base. It's the same basic technology used for cell phone headsets, but the TuneStage 2 utilizes the very latest version 2.0 of the spec, which includes something known as "Enhanced Data Rate" (EDR). We didn't have an older (Bluetooth 1.1 or 1.2) product to compare, but the audio quality was generally crisp and clear. Because Bluetooth transmission is digital rather than analog, it's less prone to the sort of dropouts and static that are all too familiar when using older FM wireless iPod transmitters such as the Griffin iTrip or Belkin's own TuneCast models.