If you think your
iPod sounds good now, you're not going to believe your ears.
First of all, for when you're on the move, get rid of those free, white things that Apple stuffs in the box and buy yourself a great set of earphones from well-known hi-fi companies like
. Those white ear buds are free for a reason.
But when you're at home and want to hear just how amazing your iPod can sound, you need to get hold of
's new i170 Transport.
The i170 may look like many other iPod connection devices, but inside it's the first of its kind. The Wadia is the first Apple-approved "dock" that bypasses the iPod's digital-to-analog circuitry and lets users tap into the more sophisticated digital audio circuitry in modern hi-fi/home theater receivers and converter boxes. That makes Wadia the first device to let users access true bit-perfect digital audio from their iPods and turn the device into the ultimate media server.
As good as the iPod's circuitry is, it is designed to handle small- and medium-resolution files for earphone playback. But if you use your iPod to listen to high-resolution copies of your music (using Apple Lossless or AIFF/WAV recording formats) you'll want something with separate, high-resolution conversion circuitry to decode those files and make them sound like music.
The i170 measures 8 by 8 by 2.7 inches and weighs a solid 2.42 pounds. The enclosure is made of cast aluminum and sits on vibration-absorbing isolation cones. In addition to a coaxial digital audio output jack (S/PDIF), it also has output backs for analog audio, S-video and component video (for watching iPod videos).
The Wadia also comes with a nifty little remote that controls your iPod when it's docked and a bunch of plastic inserts that adapt different iPod models to the docking device. The transport can handle the iPod Classic, iPod with video, iPod nano (first, second and third generation) as well as the iPod Touch. The i170 also handles iPhones. As an extra attraction, the Wadia recharges the battery when the iPod is in the dock.
The Wadia produces no sound of its own. If you use the i170's analog outputs you're listening to the iPod's audio circuitry. If you use the Wadia's digital outs, then you're actually listening to your outboard digital-to-analog converter's (DAC) circuit. The better the outboard circuit, the better the Wadia sounds.
Of the DACs I tested with the Wadia, the
/Slimdevices Transporter circuitry produced the best sound. The sound quality of the WAV files I've transferred to my iPhone 3G was absolutely first-rate. It was difficult to hear any difference between sound quality of my WAV files and a
CD being played through the same circuitry. In other words, iPod/iPhone music files never sounded better through my system.
Wadia's i170 Transport retails for $379. That sounds like a high price until you realize that it transforms your portable device into a super-high-quality home music source.
Gary Krakow is TheStreet.com's senior technology correspondent.