Review: Griffin AirCurve

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Short Version: An iPod amp that sounds great – until you try to use it.

I’ll be honest. I couldn’t wait to review the Griffin AirCurve, not because I thought it would be good, but because I thought it sounded like the kind of thing that something that seems like a good idea until you actually build it . I know Bose is always going on and on about the Wave Radio, but the ideal of a hunk of plastic that amplifies your iPhone with just the shape of it and no additional power seemed stupid.

When it arrived, I eagerly unpacked it. The AirCurve itself is a brick of polycarbonate with a wavy acoustic channel that starts where the iPhone speaker is and winds around until it opens into a wide mouth at the front. The idea is that the shape of this channel alone will significantly amplify the sound coming from the tiny built-in iPhone speaker without any additional power required. No batteries. No plug. It does have a pass-through hole to run your own iPhone cable to provide power, but you do have to provide your own cable. It comes with two rubber inserts, one for the original iPhone and one for the 3G. You need a dockable case or just a naked iPhone to use the AirCurve. I inserted the correct adapter for my 3G iPhone, got some music playing, and placed the iPhone in the AirCurve.

Wow. It really was a lot louder. I took out the iPhone. Put it back. Took it out again. I did this for a few minutes, just amazed at the difference it made. The next time I had friends over, I had one of them do the same thing with his iPhone. The expression on his face was priceless. He took it out. Put it back. Took it out again. You get the idea. “I might just have to get one of these,” he said.

I use my iPhone as an alarm clock, so I keep the AirCurve on my night table. It amplifies the regular alarm sounds so they are loud enough to wake me up, and I’m a pretty sound sleeper. When I get up, I usually run Stitcher Radio to listen to news podcasts while I get dressed. It’s also easy to cart around the house and is fairly convenient as I don’t have to worry about power or batteries.

I am really impressed with the AirCurve and have found it quite useful, however, it’s not perfect. While it does an impressive job of amplifying the sound coming from the iPhone, you are still amplifying that tiny speaker, so don’t expect a high fidelity experience. This shouldn’t be a significant concern as I’m guessing if you are considering any speaker system for twenty bucks, you’re not too concerned with having an audiophile’s experience.

The second flaw is in the cable pass-through. I knew that power was optional and that you needed your own cable, but assumed there would be a pass-through plug. You’d connect your cable to a port in the back which would be wired to the cradle part of the AirCurve so you could drop your iPhone into it like a regular cradle. Not so. The pass-through is a hole. You run the USB end through the AirCurve  to your power source. There is a small channel on the bottom of the Aircurve to press the cable into to keep the cable from getting in the way.

Unfortunately, the end that plugs into the iPhone is not held tightly by the AirCurve. You can easily pull the iPhone out, but to plug it back in, you need to feed a little extra cable from the bottom, plug it in by hand, place the iPhone into the AirCurve, and then pull the cable tight again. I wonder if a cable with a taller iPhone end, like the older iPod cables had, would be held in place better, but those older cables have a slightly thicker USB plug and cannot be fed through the AirCurve. Griffin advertises that they have a cable that will fit, and maybe that would eliminate this problem, but I think they should just have made the pass-through hole a bit wider. I’m tempted to get out my Dremel and either make the hole bigger or one of my older iPod USB cables smaller.

Bottom Line: You’ll be surprised at how well this works. For $20, it’s a pretty cheap, yet elegant solution. Cable management is a mild nuisance when using the AirCurve to charge your iPhone. Good for podcasts and speech, but music quality is lacking.

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