o The rear panel provides an on/off switch, a DC power input jack, a USB input jack, an RCA coax S/PDIF output jack, and a stereo pair of RCA analog audio outputs.
o The front panel sports a volume control knob, and 3.5mm mini-jack headphone output, and clever, recessed LED volume control display.
o The same display also contains a tiny receiver module that can respond to an Apple remote control (though NuForce emphasizes that the Apple remote is purely optional and to be used at the owner’s discretion; the remote is not required in any way to operate the iDo).
o The iDo can be ordered in any of four satin-finished colors: black, silver, red, or blue.
• Accessories—The iDo comes with the following items:
o A wall-wart type power supply.
o An Apple-compatible digital audio cable (fitted with an Apple 30-pin connector on one end and a USB plug on the other).
o A non-skid, non-marring translucent white rubber tabletop-stand for the iDo.
o A simple yet reasonably detailed manual, complete with a well thought out document entitled “A Beginners Guide to Good Audio”.
The iDo brings a number of sonic benefits to the party, the most important of which I’ll try to describe here.
First, I noted that the iDo brought about an increase in perceived detail and resolution, with a concomitant reduction in noise. I use the word “concomitant,” here, because two related things are happening at once. On one level, the iDo is simply decoding and relaying more sonic information, including in particular very low-level information, than Apple’s iDevices could ever hope to capture. But at the same time, the iDo lets you more fully appreciate the newfound information on offer by eliminating subtle but nevertheless distracting layers of background noise and digital hash. Indeed, a not uncommon reaction among first-time listeners would be comments to the effect that, “I didn’t know an iPod could ever sound so clear.”
Next, I found that the iDo ushered in a newfound sense of precision and control, as if the NuForce was holding headphones and earphones with a firm and secure grip, and bidding them to behave precisely as they should. The benefits of this heightened control or “grip” were clearly audible at both frequency extremes, though I felt the iDo’s impact was perhaps most significant in the mid-to-low bass region. I tried the iDo with headphones and earphones that normally sound quite good with iDevices, but with the iDo in play their low-end performance rose up to a whole new level, taking on greater depth, improved transient clarity, and better overall impact and definition. It was almost as if the iDo enabled already fundamentally good ‘phones to become even better, so that they could finally get on precisely the same page with the music.
Finally, and I think we may have the iDo’s ability to serve as a USB Host Mode DAC to thank here, the iDo significantly improved the overall stability—and especially the timing characteristics of the sound (an improvement some listeners interpreted as a greater sense of “focus.” My Playback colleague Garrett Whitten made a very astute comment after his first listening experiences with the iDo. He listened with his eyes closed for a long stretch, head bobbing in time to the music, and then looked up and said, “Wow! I really didn’t expect the iDo would or even could have so much impact on the way the timing aspects of the music seem to unfold. Music can sound pretty good straight through an iPod, but with the iDo in play music just flows naturally, with timing that’s super-crisp and just sounds right.” I would concur.
How big a difference does the iDo make? Let me answer by simply saying that, once you hear the iDo in action, you probably won’t be happy going back to listening straight through your iDevice. The difference is much like the difference you might hear if playing a piece of music through your headphones hooked up to an iPod, and turning around to play the same piece of music with your ‘phones connected to a good amp being fed by a high-end disc player. Is it dramatic and worthwhile? It most certainly is (and not outlandishly costly, either).
Note, during Playback’s listening tests we used several good sets of headphones and earphones including: V-MODA Crossfade M-80 headphones, Audeo/Phonak PFE 232 universal-fit earphones, ACS Custom T2 Live custom-fit in-ear monitors, and Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitors. In each case, I was wowed by the extent to which the $249 iDo was able to hold its own with more costly amps and DACs that I’ve heard in the past.