Given the popularity of iPods – and now other i-devices – it seemed weird that there was a distinct lack of audiophile attempts to make them sound better. Except when you realise that the digital output from i-devices was disabled, until Wadia somehow unlocked the key with their i170 dock.
Since then, several other iPod docks have been released, allowing an iPod to be connected to a DAC (digital to analog converter) for better sound. This is important, as the pure digital signal offers more possibilities for good sound than the feed through the (by necessity) compromised analog stages of an iPod.
Some audiophiles look down upon iPods as hi-fi devices, seeing them as low quality and not worthwhile for anything other than portable use. Others have, wisely, seen more potential. Wilson Audio caused a stir at a hi-fi show a couple of years back when it was revealed that their source device for demonstrating their uber-expensive speakers was a lowly iPod. No one listening had realised until the iPod was revealed to them.
A 64gig iPod Touch can hold around 200 albums in CD quality Apple Lossless format – more than many people’s complete CD collection. Hook it up to something like the iStreamer and you have sound quality that I would have killed for as a young audiophile.
Unlike HRT’s more well-known usb-powered Music Streamer products the iStreamer plugs into the mains. The advantage this brings is that the iStreamer can charge your iPod or iPad while it is playing. Oh, and there’s also a 12 Volt version of the iStreamer for all you car audiophiles.
The iStreamer is effectively a dock and DAC (digital-to-analog convertor) in the one box. Unlike a normal dock the i-device doesn’t sit in it. Instead a cable connects the iPod to the iStreamer. The cable ends with the older 30-pin connector. Users with newer i-devices are in luck as the new iPhones and iPads come with a Lightening-to-USB cable that works fine with an iStreamer.
So what can you expect when plugging your iPod into an iStreamer? More and better everything. Compared to using the headphone output on an iPod the improvements are vast.
Just about every audiophile buzzword was improved. The bass has a solidity and heft that my iPod Classic couldn’t achieve on its own. There’s an ease and a reduction in “hash’ in the sound that you don’t really notice until it’s gone. I found listening to music to be more enjoyable, which is the real test.
I also connected my iPad 2 to the iStreamer for similar improvements. The iPad, connected wirelessly to my iTunes library, made for a wonderful front end, both visually and in terms of usability.
At $375 the HRT iStreamer is a high value add on for connecting an i-device to a decent stereo system.
HRT iStreamer. $375