Video: Getting great sound from low-res music on an iPod
Dave Bar has worked for Crutchfield since 1981. After a brief 23 year stint in the sales department, he now writes about home audio gear and camera equipment for Crutchfield's catalog and website. Dave has been hooked on electronics ever since putting together a 5-tube AM radio in his high school shop class, and still enjoys tinkering with stereos in his spare time. His interests include gardening, cooking, fishing, photography, and music.
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Dave, a Crutchfield audio enthusiast, tests in the Crutchfield Labs whether or not he can make low-res music files from an iPod® sound great. He uses a Peachtree Decco2 amplifier/digital-to-analog converter and PSB Image T5 floor-standing speakers. For the second part of the experiment, Dave adds a Wadia 170i iPod dock. Fellow A/V writers, Ralph and Marshall, weigh-in on whether or not they hear a difference with the upgrade.
Goal: Make Lo-Fi digital music sound great
Dave: We've been trying out some different ways of listening to compressed music files including headphones, desktop amplified speakers, but we thought, you know, "What if people want to listen to their music through a regular big home stereo system?" So we decided to go ahead and try and connect our iPod and our lo-fi digital files loaded onto it to a big home audio system to see if we could really hear any improvements or benefits. And we went ahead and hooked it up to the Peachtree Audio Decco2, which is a very nice integrated amp with a digital-to-analog converter built in and the Peachtree was also connected to a pair of PSB Image T5 floor-standing speakers.
Step 1: Use an amp/digital-to-analog converter
So we tried to listen to our music from the iPod two different ways with the Peachtree Audio Decco amp. The first way was to connect the headphone output jack from the iPod using just a basic cable with mini-plug on one end and RCA plugs on the other. We simply hooked that in to the auxiliary input on the Decco and listened to it straight out of the headphone jack of the iPod and frankly we were surprised that it sounded pretty good. But I think what we discovered was that pretty soon after listening that the sound was a bit throttled back, kind of constricted.
Ralph: To me it sounded a little closed in even though we had these nice speakers here. And you know the volume was there to fill the room. Still it was just hard to describe the edges were fuzzy.
Dave: It was. It was, yeah, I thought kind of restricted sounding. You know, it sounded kind of reined in.
Step 2: Add an iPod dock
So we decided to bump it up a notch and connect one of the coolest products that we sell. It's a Wadia 170iTransport iPod dock and what it does is it takes the digital output from your iPod, bypasses the headphone amp, bypasses the DAC inside the iPod and when we connected it that way with a straight digital audio out from the iPod into the Decco the difference in sound quality was immediately noticeable.
Marshall: A lot of the fine details that I wasn't hearing before just really came out and there's a real warmth to the sound.
Ralph: It just seemed to be a more expansive sound field. You know the limitations that I was hearing with the headphone jack just kind of disappeared. I wasn't feeling like I was standing on the outside looking at this sound.
Dave: It definitely spread far, far out-wall to wall and floor to ceiling. It was clear that we were able to get a much, much better sound from our iPod even with those low-res files using the right kind of equipment.
If you have any questions about docks, integrated amps, DACs, or home speakers just give us a call.