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iPod Q&A - Revised October 6, 2007

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I have been reading about the Apple iPod Hi-Fi and have been surprised that it seems to be receiving a great deal of criticism on blogs and forums. Is the iPod Hi-Fi better or worse than other iPod stereo systems?

Please note that Apple quietly discontinued the iPod Hi-Fi on September 5, 2007.

A great deal of the criticism directed at the Apple iPod Hi-Fi is no doubt because it is named "Hi-Fi". In the press release for the system, Apple boldly states that it "adds true high-fidelity sound quality to the iPod" and provides "unrivaled sound quality, realistic sound imaging and optimal audio performance."

Photo Credit: Apple Computer

Anytime a product is labeled as "high-fidelity", audiophiles will weigh in with their opinion. Audiophiles tend to be extremely demanding and quickly dismissed the product. Although some audiophiles may listen to an iPod loaded with songs in Apple Lossless Format, perhaps connected to a high-end stereo system, many stay away from the iPod altogether, and some even avoid digital formats like CD, preferring the sound that analog provides.

Even the definition of "high-fidelity" is open to debate, but it often is used to refer to a system capable of faithfully reproducing sounds that cover the full range of human hearing (20 Hz to 20 kHz). Using this definition, as the iPod Hi-Fi is capable of reproducing "53 Hz to 16 kHz", it is not truly a "high-fidelity" system. On the other hand, unlike many low-end speakers, it is high-fidelity "enough" to reveal flaws in compressed music.

Nevertheless, despite the name, the iPod Hi-Fi presumably is intended for the average iPod user, rather than audiophiles. iPod users tend to have a variety of music, often in distorted and compressed formats like MP3 and AAC at 128 Kbps, and likely are interested in a convenient way to listen to music on their iPod while sitting on the couch or around a patio with friends. The iPod Hi-Fi, as well as other iPod-compatible stereo systems, are excellent for this type of use.

Obviously, "better" and "worse" are subjective terms, but there are a variety of reviews online that compare the iPod Hi-Fi to other iPod-compatible stereo systems that you may be interested in reading.

Of the reviews available, iLounge provided an extremely in-depth evaluation that should be read in its entirety for the full perspective provided, but the author concludes that:

If sustained sound quality at high volumes was the only measure of a great iPod speaker system, ratings would be easy to assign, and iPod Hi-Fi would be at or near the top of the pile.
From our perspective, however, the aggregate assessment of a speaker system should also take into account factors such as typical-volume performance, dynamic range, pricing, design, size, and practicality. Considering all of these factors, and despite its good (if warm) low-volume sound and strong performance at high volumes, iPod Hi-Fi falls somewhere in the middle of the semi-portable speaker pack. Because of its comparatively high price, staid design, and underwhelming treble response, it's hard to recommend to typical iPod users over Altec's inMotion iM7, Bose's SoundDock, or JBL's On Time for most of their listening purposes. Even Klipsch's iFi has recently fallen in price to as little as US$200, making it a comparatively aggressive alternative to iPod Hi-Fi. Except when placed at the far end of a large room and cranked up, these options will provide listeners with great audio experiences at lower - potentially considerably lower - asking prices.

Playlist Magazine also provided an excellent review that should be read in its entirety. The magazine concluded that:

In addition to providing good sound, the [iPod] Hi-Fi includes a number of clever and unique features that set it apart from systems that are simply speakers and an amplifier. And considering that Bose's SoundDock has been selling exceptionally well at US$300, a US$350 price point for the Hi-Fi's significantly better feature set along with sound quality that some people will prefer doesn't seem all that unreasonable.
And it really is in this context--compact systems--that you should consider the Hi-Fi. Although I'm sure a few iPod owners will get rid of a larger home stereo system--especially an older one--for the convenience and compact size of the Hi-Fi, I don't see people with true high-end stereo systems trading them in. Rather, the Hi-Fi is going to be an attractive option for people looking for good, room-filling sound in a compact package: It's a bookshelf system for the iPod generation, and one that can even be taken with you in a pinch. . . In that respect, the Hi-Fi succeeds admirably, even though not everyone will prefer its sonic presentation to that of its competitors.

The Windows-centric PC Magazine provided perhaps the most favorable review, with the author concluding that:

I wholeheartedly recommend this speaker if you're looking for an extremely powerful single-cabinet speaker that's portable (runs on batteries as well as AC), because this is about as good as it gets. It's not cheap, you can't throw it in your backpack, it's not a 5.1 system, and it won't take the place of thousand-dollar high-end floor-standing speakers. But it's not intended to be any of those things. It is a compact powerhouse that charges your iPod while it pumps out pristine audio. . . This one's a winner.

As for which system you should buy, that is entirely your decision. Just like any other audio equipment, you should listen to a variety of iPod-compatible systems yourself. Ideally, try to listen in an environment similar to your home or office with a variety of music that you enjoy.

Ultimately, Apple's marketing department and the opinions expressed on the Internet don't really matter. You should buy the iPod-compatible stereo system that sounds best to you and is within your budget.

Site sponsor PowerMax sells a variety of iPod-compatible stereo systems.

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