Review: Xitel HiFi-Link for iPod nano
Pros: A glossy black iPod nano-sized audio docking set that includes audio and power cables, as well as an good Infrared remote control, featuring playlist switching buttons in addition to the standard volume, track and play/pause controls. Dock features SRS Trubass enhancement knob for bass enhancement, if you want it.
Cons: Remote lacks raw transmitting power of its larger predecessor. Though priced at similar level to leading iPod stereo kit, dock is sized only for use with nano. Dock is for audio output only, lacks port for computer synchronization.
When Xitel released its HiFi-Link Stereo Connection Kit for iPod (iLounge rating: B-) last year, we weren’t exactly blown away: originally introduced at a $100 price, the package offered features basically identical to what Apple would later release as its iPod AV Connection Kit for the same price - a Universal Dock, infrared remote control, power and audio cables - except with one addition (a bass enhancement knob) and two detractions (no remote volume controls, and chunkier-than-average components. Since then, Xitel’s wisely dropped HiFi-Link’s price to $80 and released HiFi-Link for iPod nano ($70), a streamlined version with a couple of improvements and regressions. (Based on reader inquiries, it’s worth a brief note that this product has nothing to do with Apple’s iPod Hi-Fi stereo system; Xitel was using the HiFi name first.)
Like the first HiFi-Link, the sequel’s included dock serves as a charging and audio dock for your iPod - here only for the super-thin nano. It’s now smaller and colored glossy black rather than glossy white, but preserves its predecessor’s SRS Trubass knob to allow you to manually adjust digitally enhanced bass output levels. As we noted in our prior review, with Trubass off, the audio sounds clean and neutral - just like what you’d get from using Apple’s official iPod nano Dock (iLounge rating: B), but as you roll the bass knob upwards, the bass level elevates smoothly, creating first warmth, and then a more noticeable “thump” in any music you’ve heard. In our view, you’ll have to determine for yourself whether this is desirable; for obvious reasons, we found the effect to be more useful with a small set of speakers that naturally lack for bass than with a proper home stereo setup that includes its own subwoofer and/or equalizers.
Unlike the last HiFi-Link, HiFi-Link for iPod nano has been customized in size and functionality for the limited iPod nano, in the process predictably losing its Universal Dock well; it’s also lost the predecessor’s separate RCA outputs for audio and video in favor of a minijack port designed solely for audio. There’s still no Dock Connector port on the back; this is intended for audio use only, not computer synchronization. Xitel now includes a minijack to RCA stereo audio cable instead of the RCA-to-RCA cable found with its predecessor, as well as a smaller, thinner seven-button Infrared remote control, and black power supply for charging. Thankfully, the new remote control features volume controls this time, plus playlist, track, and play/pause buttons, but it has given up the older, bigger version’s impressive transmitting range through shrinking down. Now it works from 13-14 feet under fluorescent lighting, or 30 feet under natural lighting or in darkness. Like most Infrared remotes, it requires that you be standing and pointing it within the dock’s line of sight, unless you’re up close.
Because Xitel changed the original HiFi-Link’s price after our review, we’d suggest that you not compare our recommended rating of the HiFi-Link for iPod nano to its predecessor’s pre-price drop-rating: given their prices today, both products have roughly equivalent (though different) positives and negatives. Between its lack of a Universal Dock, less powerful remote control, and lack of video output functionality, it’s unquestionably the case that there’s more than $10 of added functional benefit in choosing the original HiFi-Link instead, assuming that you’re willing to deal with its puffier frames and lack of volume controls. This is especially true if you’re thinking of using a larger iPod in the future, or have more than one type of iPod now - the newer HiFi-Link just won’t work. However, those looking for smaller iPod nano-specific remote controlled dock solutions don’t have a lot of options. HiFi-Link for iPod nano is clearly superior to - and a better value than - Pacific Rim Technologies’ nano iCradle (iLounge rating: B-), but there are similarly priced, more compatible options such as Kensington’s commonly $60 Stereo Dock (iLounge rating: A-), and more expensive, universally compatible options such as Apple’s iPod AV Connection Kit, DLO’s HomeDock (iLounge rating: B), and Kensington’s Entertainment Dock 500 (iLounge rating: B+). Which ones would we recommend? The ratings mostly tell the story.
In our view, if you’re an iPod nano owner - especially one who likes bass enhancement - and you’re not concerned about your future iPod upgrade plans or using the dock with your computer, HiFi-Link for iPod nano provides a nice and complete bundled solution to your stereo connection needs. It’s $30 cheaper than buying Apple’s, DLO’s, or Kensington’s $100 sets, physically smaller than all of them, and lets you turn up the bass. But if you’re willing to look at larger, more universal docking solutions such as these and the original HiFi-Link - and pay a little premium - you’ll get something that will be more useful when you’re ready to change iPods in the future. Similarly, there are cheaper options from both Apple and Pacific Rim if you can do without all of Xitel’s bundled extras. You can decide best which dock meets your own personal needs.