A little traveling music, please


Apple's iPod holds all the MP3 tunes you'll ever want

December 14, 2003|By John Flinn | John Flinn,SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

I once set off on an around-the-world journey with a Sony Walkman and seven cassettes. Barely two weeks into the trip, I stopped at a post office in Scotland and mailed it all home: I was already sick of those tunes - somewhere in my subconscious, Steve Winwood's While You See a Chance is still playing on an endless loop - and I didn't feel like buying, and schlepping, any more.

These days my 20-gigabyte iPod, the size of a deck of playing cards, holds the equivalent of more than 400 cassettes. I could travel from Piccadilly Circus in London to Koh Samui in Thailand without hearing the same song twice.

Would Lucinda Williams ease the tedium of that overnight bus ride? You got it. Coltrane for sundowners on the steps of Sacre Couer? No problem. A little Brother Iz on the lanai of the Napili condo? Coming right up.

For music-loving travelers, a good MP3 player has become an essential, gotta-have-it appliance. And while other makers are trying furiously to catch up, nothing on the market at the moment matches the ease of use, storage size and all-around coolness of Apple's iPod.

But the real fun for travelers comes in the nifty accessories, which allow you to recharge it anywhere from Aix-en-Provence to Kyoto, play it through the dashboard stereo in your rental car, listen to digital books and transform your hotel room into a concert hall - sort of.

The iPod is available in 10-gigabyte ($299), 20-gigabyte ($399) and 40-gigabyte ($499) models, in both Mac and PC versions. Loading music requires a personal computer. The 40-gigabyte model holds 10,000 songs, the equivalent of about 800 CDs or cassettes.

Here's a look at all the cool accessories you can travel with:

World Traveler Adapter Kit: Six AC plugs with prongs that fit electrical outlets in Japan, China, the United Kingdom, continental Europe, Korea, Australia and Hong Kong. $39 from Apple's Web site, www.apple.com/itunes.

Car stereo adapters: These tiny transmitters, half the size of a computer mouse, beam a signal from your iPod to an FM radio. Models include Belkin ($29 from the retail store), Griffin's iTrip ($34.95 from the Apple Web site) and iRock ($30 from Radio Shack or Circuit City). Alternatively, a standard cassette adapter - which connects the iPod's earphone jack to your car stereo's cassette slot - works quite well. Less than $20 from any home electronics store.

Portable speakers: You can get a surprising amount of sound these days from speakers so compact that even a go-light fanatic would happily toss them in his duffel. As soon as I drop my bag on the bed of my hotel room, I dig out my speakers, hook up my iPod and fill the room with music.

Sony's SRS T77 speakers weigh 12 ounces and fold into a package the size of two stacked CD jewel cases. If the power and fidelity isn't exactly concert-hall quality, it's just fine for a hotel room. (If the bass thumped any louder you'd have the neighbors banging on the walls.)

The speakers run on AA batteries or AC power, and include a world voltage AC adapter, but not the plugs for foreign sockets. Cost: $80 from the Apple retail store. (I've seen them for sale by online discounters for as low as $59.)

Sony's fold-out SRST55 speakers are smaller and lighter, at 8 ounces, but a little on the tinny side. They run on AAA batteries and AC power, but the cord must be purchased separately. I've seen them for sale by online discounters for as low as $34.

Stay-put ear buds: If your ears keep spitting out your iPod "ear bud" earphones, as mine do, Virgin Electronics makes a set with clips that hug your earlobes and hold the little fellas in place. Less than $10 at Target stores.

The spoken word: Thousands of audio books - best sellers, Oprah picks, self-help tomes - can be downloaded, at a price, from www.audible.com. For $14.95 per month you get one audio magazine, newspaper or radio program plus one audio book; for $19.95 you get two audio books. The Apple Music Store also carries thousands of titles priced from $2.95 to $15.95 apiece.

More gift ideas

Here are some other real-world gift suggestions for travelers. None of this stuff is brand-new. These are compact, tough, useful items that have earned their place in my duffel, trip after trip. Most of them are fairly inexpensive because, as always, we'd rather spend our money on airline tickets than gear.

Rick Steves Civita Day Bag: This is pretty close to the perfect travel daypack. Tough and spacious, it's got plenty of room for a camera, fleece sweater, rain jacket, guidebook and a bottle of Cotes du Rhone. Pockets keep your Swiss Army knife, maps and journal handy. And when it's empty, it squashes down to virtually nothing in the bottom of your luggage. $19.95 from Rick Steves; www.ricksteves.com.

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