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Positive Feedback ISSUE 10
october/november 2003


iPod (follow-up)

as reviewed by Danny Kaey


ipod.jpg (36104 bytes)





Marten Design Miles II.

E.A.R. 899 integrated and E.A.R. 834P phonostage.

Cary Audio 308T CD player, Transrotor Fat Bob turntable with Shelter 501 MkII cartridge.

Audio Magic and Analysis Plus interconnect and speaker cables.


The iPod is a rockin’ device. As I outlined in my review (see Issue 8), the reasons are simple: It’s a tiny device, smaller and slimmer than a cigarette box. It’s also lightweight, super easy to use, sexy, and best of all, it sounds great (depending on the type of compression utilized). Since my review was posted, several milestones have occurred that I felt need to be addressed.

The biggest one was that a few weeks back—ahead of schedule—Apple released iTunes for Windows. This may not seem like a big deal, since Apple has released Windows software (Quicktime, etc.) in the past, but what marked this event was that it was a full release of the software, which means that you get the identical experience on both platforms AND that Apple managed to tie in about 95% of the computer population to their online music store. Can you say increased revenue? During Steve Job’s speech at the event, he mentioned that they expect about 100 million downloads by next April. Topping it off is a multi-million-dollar exclusive advertising promotional deal through Pepsi for free music downloads. iTunes was slightly updated as well, mostly the user interface and some minor tweaks.

Second, and most important to audiophiles, is that with this release of iTunes for Windows, PC users now have full access to all the treasures of the iPod, namely the ability to encode and copy CDs in full resolution through the supported AIFF file format. You can now make 1:1 copies of your digital music collection, transfer them to your iPod, and listen to them in full-rez either through headphones or your music playback system. AIFF omits some indexing and database-related information to shrink the storage space of a song or album, but don’t be fooled—it does not employ any music data reduction a la MP3 or AAC. The net result is a full copy of your CD stored on your computer, then easily managed through iTunes for use on your iPod. Apple has afforded us an amazing amount of flexibility here. We are not dealing with a proprietary audio format player; instead, the iPod is a de facto storage device for different types of information. Let me be clear that Apple users have had access to this full-resolution encoding all along. What makes this so important is that Windows users now have access too.

Of course, the burning question is: How does it sound? Very good. In fact, it sounds SO good that most of the time I can’t figure out whether I am listening to CD or iPod playback. I catch myself saying "Ah yes, CD for sure," only to realize that I have been listening to the iPod. To go into detail regarding differences between the two formats would be pointless—there aren’t any to speak of. The differences are so minute and inconsistent that I cannot put a finger to them with any consistently.

To enjoy the full benefits of this newly form of audio playback, you need only the docking station (which, except for the least expensive player, comes as part of the package), a mini jack, and you connect it to your AUX input. The output of the iPod isn’t very high, so you may have to turn up the gain on your preamp a few notches to match the level of your CD player. While this isn’t a design flaw, since the iPod was not designed for this purpose, you can’t make out the iPod’s lovely informative display from your sofa. A remote control with a full-feature display would work wonders here! It’s not really that big of a deal, though of course, one of the neat things about the iPod is the ability to have playlists. You can group your favorite performers, tracks, etc. for a long listening session, or better still, have different playlists for different moods.

iTunes for Windows is a major milestone for Apple. Many more users will now be able to benefit from the iPod, and most importantly, it lends audiophiles the tools to utilize the player for full-resolution digital playback. The 30GB model holds about fifty albums in full AIFF resolution, and you can edit and exchange files on the fly between your computer’s hard drive and your iPod. This is important to remember, as many people unfamiliar with this new technology mistakenly assume that you can write these files to the iPod only once. While the iPod doesn’t afford full SACD capabilities (yet), and you can only download compressed AAC files off the iTunes music store, we now have a glimpse of marvelous things to come. Danny Kaey

Apple iPod
Retail: $299 for base model

Apple Computer
web address: