Well, the latest iPods were announced today - adding new features that included touch screens, video games, and wireless Internet connectivity. You might think that as the editor of Audio DesignLine I'm probably going to be one of the first in line to pick up one of the latest players, or at least be looking to upgrade my current player.
Not really. In fact, I don't even own an iPod. It's not that I don't like or appreciate portable music/media players - I owned a portable MP3 player well before the first iPod came out. (Despite what many people probably think, Apple didn't invent the format.)
No, I looked closely at the iPod when it was first introduced and decided to give it a pass and stick with what I was using at the time (a Creative Nomad Jukebox). Certainly this decision wasn't based on a comparison of the respective user interfaces - the iPod would have won this hands down.
And while the iPod was (and is) more expensive than other players on the market for a given storage size, that wasn't a deciding issue for me either. No, there were two main reasons I never ended up buying an iPod: its smaller storage capacity (compared to its bulkier counterparts), and the lack of what I considered a key feature - a line out jack.
Both of these factors either directly or indirectly impact the unit's potential sound quality. Storage space was key as I have always encoded my MP3 files using high bit rates (256 kbps and up).
While this ensures the highest possible sound quality compared to the original CD, it does mean MP3 file sizes that are substantially larger than the typical 128-kbps (or less!) MP3s typically used by the average listener. So a smaller hard drive would have forced me to choose between having far less variety of music stored on the device, or lesser sound quality - a choice I thankfully didn't have to make!
(Now some might argue that "lossy compressed audio" (as in the MP3 format) and "high quality" are mutually exclusive terms. These may be the same people who only listen to lossless recorded audio files (wavs etc.) or perhaps even still carry around CD-based portable systems along with dozens of CDs! Frankly, I doubt that they could tell the difference between a well-encoded compressed file and the original CD under any portable conditions.)
The line out jack feature was key because, as a dedicated (i.e., semi-fanatical) audiophile I always listen to my portable music players through a dedicated headphone amplifier powering high-quality headphones. I didn't need or want to use a player's built-in headphone-out amplifying stage.
That extra circuitry - usually a few transistors or an op amp - probably wasn't doing the sound any favors compared to a dedicated separately powered headphone amp. Many other portable players did offer a line out jack, so again I wasn't forced to compromise.
Since then, the iPod has become available with larger storage capacity options, the largest of which I'd now find more than acceptable. And I've also since found out that the iPod actually does have a line out capability, but not through a standard 1/8" jack. It's accessible only via the device's dock connection, such as when the iPod is used with its Airport Express docking station.
Since this isn't useful for on-the-go portability, it was left to third parties and DIYers to find a portable solution, which they have - in the form of iPod line-out adapters. I guess this means I now have one less excuse not to get an iPod the next time I'm looking to upgrade my portable music player.
Comments, questions or suggestions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.