Apple iPod Hi-Fi Loudspeaker and Docking System

The boombox gets a twenty-first century makeover.

On Feb. 28, Apple Computer announced the iPod Hi-Fi, a remote-controllable powered stereo loudspeaker with integrated iPod docking port. With optional-but-necessary iPod (approximately $400), the $349 Hi-Fi is a complete compact audio system in the $750 price range.

Clad in iPod signature white, the Hi-Fi has a rigid polymer cabinet, two custom-made wide-range drivers, a single woofer, and no tweeters. Two front ports help it reach as low as 53Hz, according to Greg Joswiak, VP of iPod products. Upper frequency range is 16kHz, with both specifications “at the –3dB point.”

Class D switching amps provide the power. A 3.5mm mini-jack input accommodates the iPod Shuffle or sources other than iPods. On AC, the iPod Hi-Fi can hit 108dB, Joswiak said, and can reach 102dB peaks with six D-cell batteries. Battery life is said to be five hours or better. Handles molded into the upper corners make the almost-15 lb. device totally portable. Two buttons on top provide volume control; the simple remote does the rest—including volume and tone controls and menu navigation.

To test the Hi-Fi’s audio capability, I fed the two-channel output from an Integra DPC-8.5 universal disc player into the Hi-Fi’s aux jack. I can’t verify 108dB, but the Hi-Fi can play surprisingly loud. Heavy instrumental rock (Lazy Boy’s Amnesia) actually had a hint of weight and power.

But the sound had a hollow boxy quality. Massed strings were disturbingly gritty, and female vocals (Cleo Laine, Kiri Te Kanawa) were so strident and annoying that high notes had me leaping for the volume control. Electric guitars may scream, but acoustic guitars sound as if they are made of plywood and plastic. Above moderate listening levels the iPod Hi- Fi gets real screechy real fast.

Several dozen reviews appeared online immediately after the iPod Hi-Fi was announced—lengthy explanations of its functionality with a cursory “sounds great.” Don’t believe it. Despite its name, this product isn’t hi-fi. It can’t approach the warmth and intimacy of a Tivoli table radio or the power imaging of a similarly priced traditional stereo system, such as the $400 Marantz SR4320 receiver and $300 pair of B&W DM303 bookshelf loudspeakers, kindly loaned for comparison by Access to Music (www.accessmusic. com). For desktop use, the $750/pair NHT Pro M-00 powered monitor is the real thing.



Upside: Most buyers won’t care about the iPod Hi-Fi’s lack of extended high frequencies or true deep bass. With compressed recordings via an iPod, it sounds decent as long as it isn’t turned up too loud. Its compact form and portability make it ideal for places where a full audio system might be intrusive.

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