iPod audio gettin’ better all the time

I’ve been Turkmen-bashing Apple here a lot (just read the most hilarious obit for Saparmurat Niyazov) for not yet having released a Vista-compatible iTunes. I can’t decide if it’s out of what I suspect is pique at Microsoft having shipped an OS that’s so Mac-like or, more probably, if it’s being a big, slow and unresponsive conglomerate that’s cruising more on astonishing marketing than satisfying customers.

Lest it be said I never have a nice word for Apple (as is often said about me and Microsoft, to whom I will shortly return to bashing like Niyazov’s beloved melons dropped off a roof), I gotta say my new 80GB iPod’s audio quality simply blows me away.

I have two kids. A teenager and a tween. As you might imagine, they are hard on iPods, destroying an average of one every 18 months. That’s OK, because the stinkin’ batteries don’t last that long anyway.

(Roger Greene, for whom I used to work at Ipswitch, is apparently as inveterate a heat-seeker as I am. When he upgraded years ago to, I think, a 4G iPod, he asked me if I wanted his 20GB 1G unit. Even though I already had a 10GB 1G iPod, I was glad to have the spare unit — my kids had already started eating iPods. Today, neither his nor my 1G iPod can last the two minutes it takes to play The Doors’ Hello, I Love You. And the $15 Apple sent me to make up for the short battery life buys about 4% of the 5.5G 80GB iPod. Thanks so much, Apple. At least you could honestly assert every successive iPod had better battery life than the previous generation.)

In what is probably a self-serving justification for satisfying my toy habit, the way it works here is that the kids get my latest iPod as a hand-me-down when they kill one of theirs. I get the new one. (-:

This time, I was really worried about passing along my 60GB 5G black iPod video when Becca came home and said:

“Dad, the iPod broke.”

“You mean you dropped it? Treated it like a bookmark between your 500 page history and math books in your backpack?”

C’mon, Dad! Do you have to be so annoying? It just broke.

The audio quality of that 5G iPod was superior, delivering vastly better performance than Bill Machrone heard on the 4G iPod. If you are willing to make slightly larger MP3’s using LAME’s VBR mode (I use 320 kbps as the maximum bit rate) and something like EAC (troublesome as it is to use) to really get them bits off the disc cleanly, you can produce MP3’s I defy you to differentiate from the uncompressed WAV file. With my Sennheiser PX100 phones, the 60GB iPod sounded sublime. Sure — purists will complain about “artifacts” and other inventions normal people cannot hear. But with this unit, there were times I would be running and would have to stop dead just to listen to the music. It was just that sublime.

But I am happy to report that the 5.5G 80GB unit I bought to replace the 60GB unit I gave my kid sounds even better. I wonder if the improvement is due to better decoding. But increasingly, I have come to think that the 5.5G unit sounds so good because Apple reduced noise in the amplifier.

Unlike nearly every MP3 player I’ve heard, this 5.5G unit says completely silent as you crank up the volume in phones with no program material. No hiss, no pops. Just silence. When used with the Logic7 audio system (13 speakers, 450 watts) in my car, the sound is simply astonishing.

This thing is so good it’s almost worth the price Apple makes me pay for a scratch-seeking, astonishingly fragile, non Vista-compatible MP3 player.







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