iPod vs. high-end audio | iLounge News


iPod vs. high-end audio

Lee Gomes for the Wall Street Journal writes how, while attending CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, he ventured into another smaller venue showcasing the worlds most expensive high-end audio systems. While there, he tests his iPod and the sound qualities of MP3 compression or lack thereof with several high-end systems. His first test was on a $350,000 Wavac SH-833 amplifier connected to $150,000 speakers, and standing nearby was the designer of the amp, Yuzuro Ito .

“I plugged in my iPod and queued up a song by Franz Schubert. Mr. Ito, an elegantly tailored man, closed his eyes and listened intently.

After a minute, he rendered his verdict through an interpreter. Alas, he said, ‘the top of the soprano is not so good. And on the piano, you aren’t getting the natural body of the instrument. Overall, the sound is too clear—all the hues have been stripped away.’

But, he added gamely, ‘it’s really good for digital.’”

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Really, with HD real estate being so cheap nowadays, there’s really no reason to encode lower than 320. I actually rip to .wav when I can - sounds so much better. Unfortunatley, the I-Pod software/firmware updates choke on these files to much…not consistant.

Posted by angry_black_man on January 23, 2004 at 8:08 PM (CST)


“I love my iPod but it’s no high-end audiophile gear.[snip] if you think your really getting the full spectrum of sound out of your iPod, your not.”

Tell that to the editors of Stereophile—who rarely stoop to even listening to such gear. They tested the line-out, mind you (the iPod’s line-level output is probably the best of all portable HD players), but they clearly found it to provide accurate, “high-end” sound when playing uncompressed audio (not just subjective; they actually measured the outputs), and named it their “product of the year” for 2003.

As for the Zen sounding “better”—the iPod and the Zen are clearly, IMO, the top two on the market right now in terms of headphone jack sound quality. But they’re so close that it’s really a matter of opinion as to which is better. The iPod has a bit more accurate/flat response, while the Zen seems to be a tiny bit more hyped. Different people like different things. At least the iPod and Zen are attempting to provide great sound, as compared to some of the other models on the market :-)

Posted by audio geek on January 23, 2004 at 9:12 PM (CST)


obvious thing is, real sounds better than digital sound. why? because its the original sound. then it becomes compressed. now, i ain’t no uber techno genius, but when sound is compressed, it has to lose something, or else it wouldn’t be compressed. high bitrate sound may sound good and not very noticeable, but theres bound to be some loss that people with super hearing can notice

Posted by tearba on January 24, 2004 at 12:30 AM (CST)


I, too was able to marvel at the high-end gear at Alexis Park during CES.  Some truly amazing gear—and interestingly, some real crap.  I learned that high price doesn’t equal high quality.  I found this article spot-on.  What I learned that afternoon is that there are, indeed, people with such discerning ears, that they can detect minute and subtle differences in audio quality.  I have decent ears, but nothing like my friend who escorted me through show.  With him, I was able to get a better understanding of what to listen for, what to avoid, etc.  As for the random test of the iPod with the half million dollar system—I’m sure no iPod has ever sounded better.  The limitations of digital are obvious—especially to anyone who has listened to an excellent analog, i.e, LP recording.  I have many tools in my toolset.  iPod is my tool of convenience.  When I want to sit and really listen to music, even if I have my iPod with AIFF, uncompressed audio, it can’t match up to a high-end CD player or turntable with a discreet DAC.  It just can’t—nor should it.  Thanks for insightful post.

Posted by Eric Silver on January 24, 2004 at 9:29 AM (CST)


I was surprised at how much better an LP sounded on a decent turntable compared the a CD of the same material.  I think people just assume digital equals better and that’s definitely not the case.  Keep in mind that CDs are technically compressed audio to begin with, not in the same way as mp3/aac is compressed, just in that a lot of information is lost or thrown out.  The SACD and DVD-A formats improve on this but digital still has a long way to go.  Of course, I still own an iPod (two actually) as its the best at what it is. 

Posted by TWinbrook46636 on January 24, 2004 at 10:27 AM (CST)


“Tell that to the editors of Stereophile .....”

I don’t care what they say, I don’t consider an analog line-out by way of mini-jack “high-end”.  It’s a great walkman though.

Posted by jr on January 24, 2004 at 4:13 PM (CST)


The point about the analog minijack is spot-on - it makes for blurry noise and a high sound floor.

I can’t understand why Apple hasn’t put a digital output on the iPod. Some of the older mp3 players have RCA digital outputs while the newer ones now have TOSLink optical digital output. And we pay $400 for an ipod with a mini jack? That my friends is just cheap.

Posted by minijack on January 24, 2004 at 5:44 PM (CST)


I’m not an audiophile but I enjoy listening to all genres of music - country to hard rock to classical. I like my iPod because it makes all those different types of music accessable at anytime. AAC or MP3? $500K or $299? Doesn’t matter - my iPod simply works for me.

The article was a wonderful compliment to the iPod from someone who obviously has a finely tuned ear.

Posted by Joel Mason on January 24, 2004 at 5:56 PM (CST)


And we pay $400 for an ipod with a mini jack? That my friends is just cheap.

the price is for the apple brand name. everything apple or with mac compatibility cost much more than any far superior product.

Posted by kades on January 24, 2004 at 6:50 PM (CST)


I’m not sure the point of the article by this author.  The iPod is not a high fidelity device on par with a mid priced CD/DVD player but it does give decent sound (using AAC).  Anything that is compressed will not sound exactly like its original regardless of codec and different types of music will reveal that fault.  But that’s not why I bought an iPod-not for high fidelity, but for portabiity.  It sounds slightly better than a good cassette deck but it holds 2/3rd of my music collection in a package in the same size as a cassette tape..  Plug in and enjoy the music!

Posted by cwh on January 24, 2004 at 10:02 PM (CST)


Here is an independent audio quality test:
Such tests are a bit more void of emotion…


Posted by richters on January 25, 2004 at 8:05 AM (CST)


here’s another test

Posted by kades on January 25, 2004 at 10:33 AM (CST)


Sometimes it is difficult to recognise the best sound quality when you listen to an unknown song or piece of music. Listen to music you are quite familiar with and you might have great chance of admitting the superiority of even a relatively cheap HiFi system.

Posted by ga on January 25, 2004 at 11:02 AM (CST)


so, tell us,
are welisteining to our ipod on our stereos?

I am - although it’s nothing great - denon receiver and old mirage speakers. 
compariong the cds to the ipod i mostly don’t hear a difference.

but what about you audiophiles? is your ipod a walkman or an integral part of your home sound system?  Anf finally, does having the dock make you more prone to using it on your stereo or not?

Posted by Daddo on January 25, 2004 at 2:53 PM (CST)


Just two comments.

1. Using the pre-out on the dock bypasses the internal preamp and will result in better sound than the mini jack on the iPod body.

2.  The reason that there are no RCA’s on the iPod is to keep the size down.  They had to redesign the firewire port into a proprietary flat design to make the 3g ipods that small, and you want support for RCA’s?

One last thing to remember was that they let the author plug an iPod in to a half million dollar system…thats not a small feat in itself!

Posted by Nate Warner on January 25, 2004 at 3:01 PM (CST)


Years ago, when I was an ‘audiophile’, I went to listen to a fellow named Mark Levinson expound on his reference system, which consisted of source material played from a studio grade Studer Revox B77 reel to reel tape deck.  Compact Disc had just come out, and Mark said that he wouldn’t be satisfied with CD until they got the sampling rate up somewhere around 500 KHz or higher.  In other words, CDs sucked.  Flash forward a quarter of a century, and now I…er…am uniquely familiar with the iPod.  I’ve listened to CDs versus the iPod, and I’d have to say that CDs sound ‘better’.  But as some of you have pointed out, one has to consider the environment in which the iPod was meant to function.  If you’ve invested some serious coin in a respectable sounding home stereo, you certainly aren’t going to showcase its sound quality by connecting it to your iPod.  As more than a few of you have inferred, “Get real!”  The iPod is, for what it is, an excellent example of what a portable music device should be.  Carnegie Hall it isn’t, but who has the time to commute to NYC every time they want to hear a few of their favorite tunes?  (Part 1 of 2)

Posted by macspirit on January 26, 2004 at 8:03 AM (CST)


(Part 2 of 2) My suggestion to Apple would be for them to sell two versions of each song/album they sell in their store.  One would be the low bit rate versions they already sell, and these would be intended for the portable MP3 player market (i.e, the iPod).  The second version would be an extremely high quality version that is actually _better than_ CD quality.  This version would be destined for the storage device in your entertainment system that provides source material to your premium in-home sound systsem.  Lower the per-song price for the LQ version to 50 cents per song, and $5.99 per album.  For the HQ version, charge the same as what the CD currently sells, whatever that price may be.  I think that would achieve two things:  First, it would reduce file swapping even more than the current scheme by providing an even lower cost alternative to stealing music.  128 kbps is fine for iPods.  Those who purchased the HQ version would be delighted at the prospect of an alternative to CD that is both more convenient to acquire and superior in sound quality to the ubiquitous CD.  CDs would eventually fade into oblivion, just as did the cassette, the LP and the 8-Track tape.  I think this two-tiered approach will eventually become the norm.  Those buying the higher quality version would obviously be able to down-convert their HQ version to a smaller file size for their portable music player, giving them even more ‘value’ for their premium-priced version of the original music.  Everybody wins.  Just a thought.

Posted by macspirit on January 26, 2004 at 8:04 AM (CST)


Nice idea macspirit… it’s just too bad that the RIAA has already proven that it isn’t intelligent enough to take such a course (why do you think that NONE of the legal download services offer better than these awful 128k downloads?).

Fortunately, darwin’s theory works just as effectively in the business environment as it does in nature.

Posted by IDSmoker on January 27, 2004 at 3:00 PM (CST)


I brought the first generation 5GB to CES the year it first came out, and I played it for the esteemed Stereophile reviewer Michael Fremer. Recently I brought it to the German High-End Audio Show in Munich.

The point is that the iPod compares very well to much more expensive CD players (even when they have expensive separate DACs), but only as long as all the music on the iPod are recorded as AIFF UNCOMPRESSED AUDIO.

I have never seriously entered any compressed audio (AAC or MP3) into my iPod and I am content with that I only can store 1/10 or less the volume of music possible with compression. This is because I prefer QUALITY over QUANTITY.

The point is that if you are talking High-End Audio, any known compression is out of the question.

And Analog LP Records played back with appropriate quality phono cartridges, tonearms, and turntables still sound WAY BETTER than any digital.

However, to me, the iPod (presently a 30GB new generation model) is one of the best digital audio storage and play back devices I know of.

I have played mine on a system which cost US$3.5 million, and the system produced believeable musical reproduction of very high quality.

Posted by Professional High-End Manufacturer on June 2, 2004 at 2:52 AM (CDT)


stop smokin crack, IDSmoker, cause you’re on something.

Posted by i on July 23, 2004 at 11:56 PM (CDT)

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