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Looking for Home Theater Accessories for Your New iPad? Here's a Few Worth Checking Out!

Looking for Home Theater Accessories for Your New iPad? Here's a Few Worth Checking Out!

7 Jun 2013

Chris Chiarella via Home Theater Magazine –

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I won't bore you with the usual long-winded love letter to the iPad. At this point in the evolution of Apple's bestselling touchscreen multimedia tablet, you already know that the latest version supports 1080p on its Retina display, in addition to AirPlay wireless audio/video, various capacities of embedded flash memory, and optional cellular data connectivity on the three major carriers. It plays movies in HD, it plays music in Apple Lossless, along with an entire online store's worth of games and apps.

In fact there's so much it can do, some folks might want a little friendly advice on how to get the most out of their iPad. We've already shared our favorite iPad apps, so now we're focusing on accessories, a selection of physical add-ons that manage to enhance your enjoyment even further. Yes, this is so there will be an emphasis on devices recommended to unleash the sonic prowess of the iPad. (There isn't a whole lot we can say about improving or passing through the video if you're already toting around a million more pixels than an HDTV onboard.) Keep in mind too that these clever little extras make great gifts for the iPad owners in your life.

LifeProof nüüd Case and Cover/Stand for iPad ($120)

The iPad is not a “bargain” item, and so adequate thought must go into selecting a proper case, not merely to add bling but to genuinely protect your financial outlay. And for that we haven't found anything better than the LifeProof nüüd. Pronounced “nude,” it is so-named because while it ably ensconces the rear and all sides, nothing is placed over the screen itself. This approach relies instead upon the inherent durability of the sheer glass face of the iPad, so there is no loss of tactile response, and that gorgeous Retina display remains completely unobstructed. But with all of the seams surrounded, the device is rendered effectively water-, dirt-, snow- and shock-proof and every case is tested to meet or exceed military standards for survivability. Even the iSight camera is treated royally, with a circle of double-anti-reflective-coated optical glass positioned over its lens. Despite improvement over four generations, Apple's onboard iPad speaker remains an Achilles heel, but the nüüd provides a specially designed speaker port with a sound enhancement system that actually improves the audio while still protecting the delicate driver inside. And since holding the iPad for hours on end can become somewhat tedious, a LifeProof bundle is available with a snap-on cover for extra protection; snap off the cover and it can be used as a stand.

iSound Portable Power Max 16000 mAh Charger ($130)

Think of what it must take to drive that big, bright, better-than-HD screen, and then try to envision the diminutive size and weight of the lithium-polymer power source inside that slender tablet's shell. In short, Apple's 10-hour battery is a marvel, but even it needs to re-up once in a while. And if you're not near an AC outlet, then you need a friend like the Portable Power Max 16000 mAh. The number and the curious maternal-sounding letters refer to the awesome capacity, and iSound's top-of-the-line model is the only backup battery we've tried that can fully charge any dead iPad back to 100 percent. And it performed this feat in only 8 hours, faster even than connecting to my Apple wall charger. Yes, I then needed to recharge the Portable Power Max for the better part of a day with the included AC adapter, but I was touched by its nobility, giving its all so that my iPad could go on. The unit packs five standard USB ports, plenty to connect and juice a multitude of less-hungry portable devices simultaneously, and a USB mini/micro adapter cable is supplied. There's even an extremely bright flashlight built in (just because) in addition to an array of charge indicator lights. Remarkably, our sample arrived raring to go right out of the box with four out of five already lit.

Satechi BT MediaRemote ($50)

Some of the accessories on this list allow you to use the big, sharp touchscreen to control your media playback, beaming your audio to remote destinations, right from your able mitts. But what if you want to exploit the contents of your iPad without holding the iPad itself, maybe even one-handed, possibly without even looking down? Satechi makes an elegant, lean and lightweight controller, the BT MediaRemote by name, using Bluetooth connectivity to manipulate the basic functions of Apple's wireless tablet. It's easy to carry and use, even by touch alone, with the de rigueur play/pause, fast forward/rewind, volume up/down and mute buttons, some pulling double duty once you learn the tricks explained in the manual. For example, the Volume Up button can be used to trigger the iPad camera's shutter and snap a photo remotely, which gets rid of the shakes and lets you be in the photo. Another secret of its apparently minimalist design is its placement of less frequently used controls, including the zero through nine numeric keys, behind a sliding door. And the Home button can be used to activate Siri, which is available on third-gen and later iPads running iOS6.

Seagate Wireless Plus Hard Drive ($200)

For the longest time, the onboard capacity of the iPad topped out at 64 gigabytes, then Apple gave the world 128GB… but what if you could locally store an entire terabyte of media files? (Remembering of course that usable capacity is always less than advertised capacity.) The Seagate Wireless Plus contains a 1TB hard-disk drive, along with a rechargeable battery good for about 10 hours. That's roughly triple the play time and double the capacity of their first-gen drive, the GoFlex Satellite. Wireless Plus creates its own Wi-Fi network, so it sends its content wirelessly, straight to the device without a connection to the Internet, perfect if you can't access the iCloud because of slow, costly, or unavailable Wi-Fi, or if you don't want to incur data charges. The free Seagate Media app allows you to effortlessly browse the drive's varied contents with a rich visual interface. Yes, you can stream as many as three different HD movies to three devices at once, or use it as a wireless hub for up to eight users, but for me it's all about the capacity. For the first time I can now transport my entire Digital Copy collection of 300+ feature films wherever I go. Loading up is drag-and-drop easy, and the drive also offers USB 3.0 connectivity, a blessing when transferring lots of big files. (My iTunes Digital Copy of Django Unchained alone is a whopping five-and-a-half gigs in HD!)

Wireless Speakers
Sometimes you just don't want to use headphones, and I can't really endorse Apple's tiny edge speaker. You could plus into an outboard audio dock, but why, when you have both ubiquitous Bluetooth and Apple's proprietary AirPlay wireless technologies inside? And just when I thought I'd heard it all, an accessory for an accessory raised the bar even higher.

Jawbone Big Jambox ($299)

2011's Jambox was one of the most impressive Bluetooth speakers I ever head, and its bigger, bolder successor does not disappoint. BIG is its first name, so be prepared to put your back into lugging this nigh-three-pound bad boy wherever the party is. That heft represents a 15-hour lithium-ion battery, custom neodymium stereo drivers and not just one but two passive bass radiators. There's also some sophisticated digital signal processing and dynamic EQ onboard, so it's no surprise that we found the sound to be rich and full with clear stereo separation and big, thumping bass. Unmistakably we could feel the air movement without even laying a hand on the speaker, and the LiveAudio mode delivers a more three-dimensional experience, which combined with the already wide soundstage is particularly enjoyable on movies. Bluetooth connection is fairly standard, as this stylish brick (in Graphite Hex, White Wave and Red Dot versions) identifies itself by name to the iPad and speaks to let you know when it is in pairing mode and when you have successfully linked up. From there it is a bevy of on-unit buttons, as volume and playback can be controlled both by the iPad and the Big Jambox. The choice of voice and the function of the dedicated Talk button are user-customizable, and future apps and updates are just a USB connection away.

soundmatters foxLO Bluetooth Subwoofer ($179)

Let's get this straight right up front: You can never have too much bass. Well, not too much good bass anyway, and so the compact, eminently portable foxLO is a worthy complement to your compatible Bluetooth speaker. It will work with soundmatters' own foxLv2 Bluetooth (2.2), as well as the competing Jawbone Jambox, connecting at the 1/8-inch audio out mini-jack of either with foxLO's bundled cable. An attenuator add-on cord is also included, and recommended—to reduce signal power without distorting it—when connecting to the foxLv2 specifically. The 30-watt sub uses a linear magnetic drive woofer/dual passive radiator system, and it neither contains its own battery nor does it draw from the attached speaker, so it must be connected to AC power when in use. All four corners are covered by removable rubber guards, so you can stand it up or lay it down just about any which way you like. At 4.5 x 2.5 x 6.3 inches, it's much bigger than the foxLv2 I used for this review, suggesting the amount of sonic work you should expect it to do. The Level slider balances bass output and potential overload, while the limiter button lets you choose between safer-yet-deep bass (Off) and higher volume with a hint of danger (On). The upshot of a properly set-up and tweaked system is a mighty, dynamic audio experience for both music and movie content, almost freakishly responsive and more akin to a respectable home sub-sat system than its quirky looks might suggest.

Audyssey Audio Dock Air ($400)

You have to love Apple's AirPlay technology. Sending your audio to an outboard speaker frees you from the solitude of headphones and allows you to share, which I was raised to believe was a good thing. It also eliminates wires, but where AirPlay moves ahead of Bluetooth is in terms of range, since it utilizes your Wi-Fi network and is thereby limited only by your particular 802.11 setup. It also sends its signal without any additional compression necessary, so the same folks who appreciate the difference between the quality of the Apple Lossless audio codec and common 128kbps MP3s will likely relish this improvement. But which AirPlay speaker to use? The Audyssey Audio Dock Air is a substantial piece of audio gear, packing a pair of three-quarter-inch tweeters, 3-inch woofers and 4-inch passive bass radiators, so you can be assured that the low end is going to kick. (The AADA spent a lot of time next to my desk, and I could definitely feel the bass massaging my leg.) Combine that with Audyssey's home theater-tested audio processing technologies—including Audyssey BassXT which actually manages to wring more air out of your speaker—and you have a one-piece wireless titan that does wonders with whatever you stream or store on your iPad. Even when the Audio Dock Air was driven hard, I found the performance to be rock-solid, with a tight low end, an effortless midrange, and crisp highs to boot. And you can link up to four Audio Dock Air units across the house for a bona fide multi-room audio system.

Bluetooth Headphones
Were you surprised to discover that your iPad does not include headphones? No matter, as even Apple's iconic white earbuds (and now EarPods) take a backseat to these premium wireless alternatives—in-ear, on-ear, or over-ear—that liberate the listener as well as the audio.

Phiaton PS 210 BTNC Bluetooth 3.0 Noise Canceling Earphones ($160)

Even handy, ubiquitous earbud-style headphones bring with them the hassle of cords, and cords have given me nothing but grief since the Walkman days. So for Earbud Nation comes sweet salvation in the form of the Phiaton PS 210 BTNC's “wireless” connectivity. Why the quotation marks? Well, in truth the earbuds are not merely wired to one another but to a little Bluetooth dongle complete with control buttons, which does bring a set-it-and-forget-it ease of use I suppose: Once the dongle is charged and clipped or tucked out of the way, we are not tethered to the iPad itself. Just as pleasing as the light, snug (four different-sized sets of soft silicon eartips included) and inconspicuous form factor, however, is Phiaton's active noise-cancellation, which is not easy to find in any earbud since a lot of headphone designers have noted that 'buds already plug up the ears like… well, earplugs. But on a droning jumbo jet, I for one need greater amnesty , and here I get it with effective eradication of the omnipresent rumble for a welcome respite, plus overall enjoyable music and movie listening. The PS 210 BTNC 'phones support Bluetooth 3.0 specifically, which offers superior sound quality, battery life and range versus 2.0. (The newest iPads support backward-compatible Bluetooth 4.0.) No Bluetooth allowed? No gas left in the wireless dongle's tank? No worries: “EverPlay-X technology” allows you to plug in the included cable, bypassing the wireless mode and using the 'buds non-stop.

Creative WP-450 Wireless Headset ($150)

Earbuds are not for everyone, and neither are over-ears for that matter. And into that nether-region swoops the underappreciated on-ear headphone, which combines lighter weight than its over-the-ear cousins and (potentially) a broader sonic spectrum than the wee in-ears. By positioning themselves atop the ear canal instead of inside, or rather than surrounding the entire ear, a compact headset like Creative's WP-450 allow environmental sounds to seep in, along with enough fresh air to keep you cool and comfortable, even during extended wear. (The soft leatherette cushioning here helps, too.) The Neodymium-magnet drivers deliver a remarkably large and transparent soundstage—the WP-450's high-frequency response is particularly strong—with little- to-no evidence of strain at higher volumes despite their fold-and-tuck size. The built-in rechargeable battery far outlasted me, while the controls located on the right earcup are quick to learn and the unseen yet quite capable microphone with Creative's ClearSpeech Engine is a boon to the iPad's nifty voice-control features. A simple carry bag and a USB cable are included.

Logitech UE 9000 Wireless Bluetooth Headphones ($400)

It helps to think of the Ultimate Ears 9000 cans as serious headphones first and foremost, and oh yeah, they also happen to be wireless. As the memory foam settles around your ears and the earcups swivel to embrace your noggin, and as the awe-inspiring dynamic range of your favorite tunes tickles your brain from both sides, the prevailing sensation is one of freedom. The large, laser-tuned drivers and onboard DSP render familiar songs with a welcome spaciousness and exquisite nuance. Never before have performance, comfort, and convenience come together quite like this. They play loud without strain and the bass thump is genuine. The size, shape, and fit go a long way toward blocking out reality, and the active noise cancellation pretty much handles the rest. (The useful Listen Through button also gives you the choice of letting outside sounds in without having to take off the 9000s.) Well-positioned on-earcup buttons offer basic control when you don't want to touch the iPad, while an included yet optional cable adds a microphone and in-line controls. The tough-looking travel case with polishing cloth implies that these headphones—a serious investment, no doubt—will last well beyond the next couple of iPad generations, and look spiffy doing it.