Friday, April 01, 2005

iPod sound quality: Shuffle > iPod 3G > iPod Mini > iPod Photo?

Opinion Column: Shuffle's Got a Secret

Fascinating. There's more to an 'mp3 player' than a hard drive.
The iPod shuffle's near-perfect rendering of the square wave means that it uses push-pull output instead of the single-ended, capacitor-coupled output found in just about every other player. You just can't get this kind of audio performance from a single-ended circuit. I find Apple's audiophile approach exciting on several different levels. You can hear the improvement; will Apple incorporate the same technology in future hard drive players? And technologically, it's fascinating. My inner geek wants answers to half a dozen questions, including how they're generating the negative power supply voltage and whether they've gone with a capacitorless design. I've asked Apple, but so far the company is mum.

I believe I proved that my ears were right: Several other hard drive players edge out older Apple players, but the iPod shuffle does them all one better. I think I also proved conclusively that the iPod mini's output capacitors are woefully undersized, as some audiophiles have been saying since Apple introduced the device. I also found that the iPod mini has lots of harmonic distortion—everywhere but at the industry-standard 1-KHz measuring point.
A Macintouch article claims the newer iPod Photos have sound quality substantially worse than the older iPods. I'm glad the audiophiles are starting to test these things out.

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