Friday, May 06, 2005

Apple iPod mini and special earphones

I've been using iPod Mini 6GB version some time now. User interface and music management application (iTunes) are way, way superior to the ones provided by my previous portable player, Creative Labs' MuVo2 4GB version.

So far my earphones of choice has been Etymotic ER-4P, quite astonishing sound quality from such a small earphones. Not on par with my Stax earphones, but still. There is the "ultimate" earphones solution, though. Sensaphonics' ProPhonic Soft 2X, $750 USD a pair custom-fitted in-ear monitors, has two drive units and a crossover in the custom-molded monitors, thereby offering truly state-of-the-art headphone playback while canceling ambient noise by 26dB.

The process of getting a pair of ProPhonic Soft 2X monitors begins with having impressions of your ears made by a qualified audiologist. Sensaphonics maintains a list of recommended audiologists with experience in making impressions for Sensaphonics products.

Interestingly, Sensaphonics states in the web site that "Sensaphonics has been chosen by Etymotic Incorporated to be the designer and manufacturer of custom, super soft silicone comfort gel ear molds that fit over your universal ER-4 or ER-6 earphones. An audiologist in your area will take ear impressions, send them to us and we will customize your ER-4 or ER-6 with an add-on silicone sleeve."

However, I haven't found any information about audiologists within the EU.

Viewpoint: So far my only request to Apple is that they should enhance iTunes software in a way that audio files could be stored in iTunes in WAV / AIFF format, but then during the transfer to iPod files would be converted on the fly to either Apple Lossless or MP3. This would enable users to use iTunes as their high quality media library, and at the same time maximize drive space in iPod.

As for audiophile quality of Apple Lossless format, jury is still out. I connected iPod to my HE rig in order to do comparison with my Mark Levinson 390S cd-player, and I have to confess that it was not that much of contest. Although Stereophile's John Atkinson has demonstrated that Apple Lossless is indeed lossless algorithm (see below), the iPod connected to HE gear sounds dull and uninvolving. Apple should most definitely include mini-jack digital out in next generation of iPods - as they already have in AirPort Express.

An extract from Stereophile's March 2005 eNewsletter: " "CD quality"? Yes, the data appearing on the AE's digital output are identical to the data in the original file. While preparing my review, I compared a WAV music file with a duplicate that I had captured on my PC from the Airport Express's S/PDIF output. I used iTunes on my PowerBook, playing a version of the file encoded with Apple Lossless Compression, to feed data to the AE. Despite the lossless encoding, despite the 128-bit encryption I use in my home network, despite the transmission of the packetized data through the air, and despite the circuit in the AE having to reencode the data as an S/PDIF stream, the files were bit-for-bit identical."

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