Thursday, March 09, 2006

iPod "HiFi"

Disclaimer: I have not heard the product.

Rant: What the hell has happened to home stereo.

In the 1970s, there was a war: this one wasn't related to oil, or terrorism or even communism. It was about winning the home stereo market, and it was fought in Japan, California and elsewhere. Marantz, Technics, Sansui, Onkyo, and many other manufacturers were building stereo "hifi" systems that pushed the envelope in terms specifications and features. You remember what they looked like: silver and shiny, with weighted controls and glowing lights in the darkness. Your dad probably had one until he threw it out in the early '90s or late '80s and bought a some black box that purported to have better specifications. That one probably broke about 5-7 years later, and he got another one. This one doesn't even have a phono preamp, and all the vinyl records your parents once had are not getting moldy in the basement. Then, one day, they just said "what the hell" and bought a Bose wave radio at the mall.

The iPod HiFi is for you, the hip kids.

Here are my objections:
1) Placement. The Apple website shows the HiFi next to your sweet flat-panel TV. I guess the imaging is so good that you can put it anywhere and still perceive stereo.

2) Frequency response. the plus-minus 3 decibel area is 53-16,ooo. I am more or less OK with 53 as the low end -- 40hz is generally considered the cutoff for perception, and a lot of the stuff down there is perceived as "thump." But 16k is just too low for truly detailed high end. There is nothing in the audio world that would describe itself as even close to "audiophile" that has a high end of less than 20k. High-end tweeters are much higher than that.

3) What the hell kind of amplifier is in there? What's the thd? Is it a 50w amplifier with a distortion of 0.01% or is it a crappy 8w piece of shit like what's in every boombox? Hmm, I wonder why there aren't any specs on the website.

4) No nobs or controls on the unit. Oops...where's the remote? Honey? Have you seen the iPod HiFi remote? HAVE YOU???? DAMMIT HONEY I NEED THAT REMOTE CONTROL, I CAN'T CHANGE THE VOLUME!!! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHERE IS IT!!!

Now, that said, if the thing sounds "good," I think that's great. Sounding "good" is certainly subjective, and if it does image halfway decently, and represent dynamics and timing well, I think it could be a steal at $349. I just don't understand why there aren't any tweeters on it.

Mind you, I just bi-wired my Linn Katans (~$900 or so, without stands, claimed performance 75-20k hz) to my Nikko NR-719 amp ($84 on ebay, with luck showed up working) which is a 35w amp from the late '70s that claims 35w into 4 ohms with 0.05% thd. What's more important is that the phono stage sounds basically like you're in the same room with the musicians. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't mind putting a little effort into having stuff sound good -- while iPods and the like are cool, and make it easy to listen to your favorite music, I'd rather work a little, pay some attention, and then have something pay off by sounding great. Plus I'd rather listen to reissues of Son House on Yazoo or Art Blakey lps than mp3s from the iTunes store. Jazz just sounds better on vinyl.

Man, it's been a fricking blogfest today. I guess I really don't want to do my taxes.
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