Belkin's tiny TuneTalk Stereo ($69.99) lets you record high-quality, 16-bit audio onto an iPod for the first time ever, from both live and line-in sources. It's compatible only with video iPods (5G), and battery life is limited, but the TuneTalk is very easy to use.
The small, black Belkin TuneTalk Stereo attaches firmly to the dock connector at the bottom of any video iPod, adding about an extra inch to the bottom of the device. Two omnidirectional microphones angle outward from the front, providing about as much stereo separation as one can expect from such a small unit. The bottom edge of the TuneTalk houses a slider button for Autogain (more on that later), a USB port, and a line-in jack for recording directly from computers, stereo systems, CD players, powered stereo microphones, and more.
We found the TuneTalk exceedingly easy to use. Connect it to an iPod or click its Record button, and the recording screen comes up. From there, you can record with one click (a Record button on the unit also brings up this screen). During recording, the screen shows just two options: Pause and Stop And Save. Saving can take a while for long recordings, so those who record music concerts might want to create one or two long recordings and edit them into segments later.
Recorded WAV files upload automatically to iTunes every time you sync. There's no separate Voice Memo section in iTunes, but you can find the recordings in iTunes using the Date Added field or their song titles, which are numerical dates/times. (You can also find these recordings on your computer manually in the "iTunes music/unknown artist/unknown album" folder.) The TuneTalk cannot record to MP3 or any other lossy format, but after the recordings are synced, you can use iTunes to compress the recordings to MP3 to save space or encode a podcast.
We appreciated the TuneTalk's Autogain feature, which lets you toggle between autonormalized and flat-volume recording. When activated, it does a good job of helping you record from live sources by amping up quieter passages. The Autogain feature can also work for line-in sources, although you get a cleaner, more accurate recording by disabling Autogain and setting your source to the proper level after running a quick sound check. (You can't listen to ongoing recordings using headphones, so establishing a good level without Autogain requires a short trial session.)
Unlike Creative's Zen V, the iPod/TuneTalk combo can't autodetect song gaps when recording from CD, vinyl, or cassette, so you'll need to edit those into individual files manually.
We were impressed with the TuneTalk's performance, when recording loud, short-format sources, that is. It saves recordings as CD-quality (16-bit, 44.1KHz) WAV files, and they sounded fine from both live and line-in sources when the recording volume was near maximum. However, with quieter sources, such as an interview conducted via speakerphone, we heard the iPod's hard drive clicking in the background of the recordings. Serious audio archivers should look elsewhere--probably at a non-iPod MP3 player with line-in recording capability built in.