Apple iPod Hi-Fi Loudspeaker System

Apple iPod Hi-Fi Loudspeaker SystemGo wireless with your music

Well built and easy to set-up. Works well with all iPod models and the remote is quite good. Can be used outside as long you don't mind the weight of the batteries. Sound quality is very good, but the top end has been lobbed off to protect you from the evils of MP3s. Will play very loudly.

Is not as good as Steve Jobs claims. With all of the batteries inside, it weighs far too much. Top end does not have enough extension. May encourage you to listen far too loudly. Soundstage width and depth suffers due to the design.

The iPod Hi-Fi is a credible desktop system that works very well with the iPod, but it is hardly the high-end audio system killer that Steve Jobs bragged about. It faces a lot of competition from Klipsch, Altec Lansing, Monitor Audio, and others.

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Apple iPod Hi-Fi Loudspeaker System

Apple iPod Hi-Fi Loudspeaker System: Sorry Steve, the Tubes are Staying!

Apple's iPod Hi-Fi loudspeaker system was designed to replace your two-channel home speaker system and while it does sound quite good, it really does not have enough aural prowess to replace any high-end system.

Something very creepy happened during Apple’s press conference when Steve Jobs introduced the iPod Hi-Fi, or, as they like to call it “Home stereo – Reinvented.” I know that I am not the only one who felt it, because my email box filled up (okay, 14 emails) with comments about the end of high-end audio, as we know it.

I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.  (insert image of Obi-Wan…Alec Guiness)

Apple’s desire to build on the astounding success of the iPod and iTunes with a product that would keep iPod-users within the Empire makes perfect sense. It was inevitable, based on the number of 3rd party manufacturers such as Bose, Klipsch, and Altec Lansing producing tabletop docking stations for the iPod (close to 90,000,000 sold), that Apple would have to do something to take those potential sales away from its rivals. The iPod is the hottest consumer product in decades, and from the perspective of millions of users, their media playback device of choice. It is also not going away. Apple plans on getting rid of the current 60GB Video iPod this quarter and releasing something even more specialized to get users to trade up.

I applaud Apple for building the iPod because it has (as long as users are ripping music in a lossless format) encouraged people to listen to music again with a degree of interest that we have not witnessed in years. B&M music stores have turned into morgues. Amazon, iTunes, and other online music retailers get almost all of my business these days. With the exception of trips to used record stores in the Village and the occasional stop at Tower Records/Video on Route 17 in Paramus, I buy everything online. Most people I know who buy a lot of music have completely altered their buying methods.

I also know that Apple hired one of us, the hi-fi audiophile breed, to design the iPod Hi-Fi speaker system. He is fairly well known within the industry, having created some excellent equipment over the years and in no way can he be considered a sell-out. Most designers I know would have jumped at the opportunity to create a high-end speaker system for the iPod with Apple’s deep pockets. When I heard his name, I was actually encouraged that Apple would produce something that would shake the high-end out of the smug coma it has been in for a few decades. As Obi-Wan correctly observed, “That’s no moon. That’s a space station.”

Color me intrigued.

That lasted for about thirty seconds when Apple’s Steve Jobs dropped this statement on the world.

"I'm an audiophile," Jobs said. "I've had stereos costing, well I won't say because you'll think I'm crazy. But, costing a lot more. And, I'm thinking of getting rid of mine for this."

As someone who has used Apple computers for the better part of twenty-five years, I have a love-hate relationship with Steve Jobs. I hate him for almost killing the company on more occasions than I care to recall, but I also love him for finally finding a real strategy and sticking to it. I own five Apple computers, so my loyalty to the company and their products is pretty strong.

Even though I recognize that his comment was nothing more than marketing BS, it made me cringe to hear crap like that. Lord knows how many people took what he said seriously.

I said it before and I’ll say it again now … Does anyone really believe that Steve Jobs dumped whatever high-end stereo he owns for the iPod Hi-Fi?

Get serious.

It was around the same time that Apple announced the iPod Hi-Fi that I was listening to the Red Wine Audio iMod, and quite frankly, digging the shit out of what I was hearing. Red Wine Audio hit a 500-foot dinger with that product and it forced me to completely rethink my opinion of portable media players as far as their use in a high fidelity system. Properly implemented, an iPod is capable of producing a lot of musical enjoyment in the home.

With the review period (iMod iPod) ending, I got progressively more interested in the iPod Hi-Fi because I wanted to hear the two in action together. The Red Wine design changes prevent plugging the iMod into the iPod Hi-Fi via its docking slot, so you need to get a cable and adapter and plug it in through the optical and analog mini-jack on the rear of the Hi-Fi.

With the clock ticking and my wallet refusing to open, I gave up on the experiment. Apple was not exactly handing them out, so I decided to put the idea on the backburner until May…

You say it’s your birthday…

That annoying day where one gets one step closer to social security and Jell-O enemas rolled around and with it came a rather heavy box from some relatives who thought I would have a heart attack if I had to listen to music for the rest of my life with…take a guess…an iPod Hi-Fi.

Some days you just win. Others kick you in the groin and make you wear “My Little Pony” outfits and pink lipstick.

As Wayne and Garth so eloquently put it … “Game on!”

Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Battery Killing…

Does Apple seriously expect people to carry this around with them to the beach? With six D-cell batteries installed, the iPod Hi-Fi weighs in at almost 17 pounds and there is no way that I would schlep this around outside my home. I thought boom boxes went out of style a long time ago with the Atari 5200. While I might be persuaded to take it outside and use it for a party in the backyard (which might happen 2-3 times this century), the iPod Hi-Fi is the kind of product that I would leave on a shelf or dresser and never touch again. One issue that reared its ugly head is that the top-mounted docking cradle adds 4-5” to the height of the Hi-Fi with an iPod plugged in. If you plan on placing the Hi-Fi on a shelf, make sure that you include the height with the iPod as well. I do like the fact that the Hi-Fi charges your iPod while it is inside the cradle; even when in DC mode.

At 17? x 6.6? x 6.9?, the iPod Hi-Fi resembles a center channel speaker and fit rather easily on our dresser where it was used for a majority of the review. The double-walled, sealed and tuned resin enclosure is very sturdy, and I was glad to see that Apple put some thought into this. One of the reasons a number of the other tabletop docking stations sound terrible in my opinion is that their enclosures vibrate more than a pocket rocket. They resonate so badly at above average volume levels that the sound just falls apart. Zero coherence. Not so with the iPod Hi-Fi. The bottom of the enclosure is lined with a thick, gray rubber pad that stops the unit from sliding around, and also helps control unwanted vibration.

The Hi-Fi’s rear panel provides a 1/8-inch (3.5mm) auxiliary input jack that accepts either an analog or an optical digital S/PDIF cable. If you decide to use Apple’s AirPort Express with the iPod Hi-Fi, you can feed its internal DAC with an optical cable. The back also hosts the battery door and a jack for the system’s AC cable. Unlike many similar systems, the Hi-Fi doesn’t require an external power brick; the power supply—an auto-switching model that supports 100-240V at 50-60Hz is inside the unit. One thing clearly missing from the rear panel is a video output jack. Apple has never “officially” touted the iPod Hi-Fi as a home theater speaker system, but it seemed logical to me considering the video capabilities of the iPod that they would have seen that feature as a strong selling point. Guess not.

The iPod Hi-Fi is powered by an internal Class D amplifier, but Apple has yet to provide any official power specs. Whatever those figures are, the Hi-Fi does not struggle at all to reproduce music at dangerously loud levels. I was able to crank the iPod Hi-Fi with Green Day, Dead Can Dance, and Stereolab and it never even broke a sweat.

The Hi-Fi’s speaker drivers consist of two 80 mm wide-range drivers. They are designed to take the place of separate midrange and tweeter drivers and are in sealed enclosures, along with a 130 mm, dual-voice-coil, ported woofer in a larger overall enclosure. Most importantly, they are of decidedly better quality than those found in competing docking stations.

Having spent some time with both the competing Bose and Altec Lansing systems (SoundDock and iM7), it strikes me as being rather obvious why the Hi-Fi has a warmer, more engaging, and certainly less fatiguing presentation: better quality drivers, an emphasis on the midrange and midbass performance, and a top-end that has been rolled off to compensate for the iPod’s deficiencies in that regard. The iPod Hi-Fi is certainly never going to be mistaken for a detail hound, but that is okay, considering that it really is not a high-end speaker system.

There I said it.

I plan on adding a Part “II” and Part “III” to this review over the course of the month, where I’ll discuss more of the Hi-Fi’s features (remote, tone control, sound quality using the AirPort Express), but I want to conclude this first installment with some thoughts on its sound quality and where I think Apple has gone wrong with this product and its marketing.

What I really like about the Hi-Fi is that I can listen to it for more than an hour and not get a headache. I cannot say the same about its competitors whose sound I find congested, bloated in the midbass, and overly etched in the treble. The Bose has slightly better extension on top than the Hi-Fi, and it sounds better if you listen to it in the nearfield. The iPod Hi-Fi sounds much cleaner and more focused from further away; something, which worked really well in the bedroom as we placed it almost 10 feet away, and on our dresser, which is 42” tall.

It has a rich and punchy presentation that works well with most types of music; remains focused at loud listening levels, and has surprisingly taut bass response.

So where does it fall down?

The lack of detail bothered me because I felt it robbed Coltrane, Gerson, and Etta James of those little nuances that allow me to connect with the music. I have heard high-end speakers fail in that regard as well, so the Hi-Fi is not alone.

Apple’s engineers will, I am sure, disagree with me on this point, but I think the single-box design fails in regard to creating a soundstage and precise stereo imaging. I have never really been hung up on that aspect of sound reproduction (I will take soul and coherence over a rock solid image any day), but it bothered me with the Hi-Fi. Music rarely expanded outside the confines of the Hi-Fi creating a soundstage where one could clearly delineate specific instruments and performers.

Perhaps I am asking too much of a $349 speaker system, but Mr. Jobs did say that this was an “audiophile” system that would get you to throw away your more expensive separates.

Had Apple come out and promoted the Hi-Fi as a genuine step-up over traditional mini-systems with bookshelf speakers and a stepping-stone to even higher levels of fidelity, I would have embraced it with great enthusiasm.

Asking me to pretend that it even comes close to the sound of my Fi X and Cain and Cain Abbys or the Shindo Labs Montille, is like asking me to pretend that A&W root beer tastes like Boylan’s Creamy Red Birch Beer, or that White Castle tastes as good as a double-double from the In/Out.

Sorry, Steve.

I will be holding onto my beloved iPod Hi-Fi and using it where it belongs; in the kitchen, bedroom and when the power goes out.

Technical Info:

Brand: Apple

Model: iPod Hi-Fi Loudspeaker system

Drivers: Two 80mm wide range, One 130mm woofer

Enclosure: Sealed resin chamber

Frequency response: 53Hz – 16KHz +/- 3 dB

Max Sound Level: 108 dB at 1m

Height: 6.6 inches

Width: 17 inches

Depth: 6.9 inches

Weight: 14.5 pounds without batteries

Weight: 16.7 pounds with batteries

Price: $349.00

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