Tuesday, February 28, 2006

iPod Hi-Fi: First Impressions

Steve Jobs, with his instinctive grasp of litotic understatement calls it "Home Stereo. Reinvented". Using his equally familiar 'Reality Distortion Field', he managed to avoid mentioning that this is another 'Corporate And Lacklustre Product Name'.

The iPod Hi-Fi is a three-driver (two 80mm mid-range with a sealed acoustic suspension and a 130mm dual voice coil woofer featuring a ported bass reflex design) amplified speaker system in a sealed resin enclosure. It will ship with inserts designed to accommodate virtually all of Apple’s dockable iPod models. There is an auxiliary input in the back if you have an iPod shuffle or other personal stereo.

Built-in handles let you lug the 8kg (think 8 bags of sugar) system around — it’s white and rectangular, with a (removable) black grille. It is designed to be mains-powered, but it can (just) run on batteries — six Mars Bar-sized D cells (reminds me of those 'battery-powered' 70s ghetto blasters). The specifications indicate that it will be plenty loud (Apple quotes 108 decibels at 1 metre; that's the kind of volume a chainsaw generates).

Apple has updated the iPod’s software to accommodate the new speaker system — a new software update will add a 'Speaker' menu to the iPod’s interface, allowing users to adjust tone control, control the backlight and switch to a special 'large album art' setting via the (supplied) Apple Remote. It costs $349 (£200, but add at least £30 to that when it arrives in the UK).

I'm sure it will sound great. I'm even more certain that it will be a tremendous success (I can picture the heads of a dozen iPod accessory manufacturers' CEOs thudding against their mahogany desks). However, I personally question the need for stereo in a device of this type. And if you're a bit short of cash and can live without a custom iPod dock, there is a UK-designed device that will amplify your iPod, is available for half the price, comes in iPod-complementing white and grey, has a rechargeable battery that can last up to 14 hours between charges, AND has a DAB digital radio built in.

Visit the Pure site to see it. I've listened to it, and the large, mono speaker produces a full, natural sound that comfortably and enjoyably fills a normal sized room. And at just 1.5kg, it seems positively iPod-like compared to the (urgh... still hate that name) iPod Hi-Fi.

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