I've been thinking a lot about my Apple iPod lately. I've been thinking about the best way to listen to it. I tend to go through phases: During one particular week, I'll tend to wear my iPod all the time, listening over headphones as I exercise and even as I work; the next week, the iPod will be forgotten in my nightstand. One week, I'll be obsessed with podcasts; the next, automatically downloaded podcasts will be hopelessly piled up and stagnant in my iTunes library. I think it boils down to the fact that I consider the iPod to be a mixed blessing.
I've never considered the iPod an ideal way to listen to music. Oh, it's a fantastic, convenient way to store and access music. Don't get me wrong. But I'm the kind of guy who likes to listen to music in all its pure, high-fidelity glory. I like to sit in my living room and crank up my surround system and let the music take hold of me with crisp bass and smooth range and accurately separated instrumentation and natural vocals. You know, that enveloping sense of aural immersion. I know I'm old-school, but that's the way I think music should be.
I've tried to make the most of my iPod so that I can squeeze high-quality listening experiences out of it. I've ditched the default 128Kbps recording setting in favor of a custom 192Kbps setting. That helps. But I've come to realize that the truly limiting factor to my iPod enjoyment is the headphones. I had upgraded the crappy earbuds to a nice over-the-ear pair of Sennheiser headphones, but until now, I hadn't tried listening to the iPod over a devoted speaker system. I needed a solution somewhere between the notion of just plugging my iPod into my main system—a nice solution, although not at all portable—and lugging around my headphones. How could I open up the sound in a variety of settings?
I recently had the opportunity to hook up my iPod to dreamGEAR's i.Sound Harmony speaker system. I've had some experience with personal speaker systems such as these, listening to the weak, tinny, low-fi sound at my local Best Buy or Circuit City. In almost all cases, the bass is particularly hollow, and the treble is thin and shrieking. As I set up the i.Sound Harmony system in my primary listening area, I had a good feeling about the configuration and obvious build quality.
The system's inclusion of a separate subwoofer was what really got me excited. I hooked everything up quickly and easily, jacking left and right flat-panel speakers (quite sleek, by the way), to the subwoofer, which acts as the system's central hub. I powered on the system, and before I hooked up my iPod, I admired the ebony stylings. (It's also available in white.) A liquid-blue LED let me know that the i.Sound Harmony was ready to play some music.
Now, I won't lie to you. This $99 system can't compete with my $5000 hi-fi setup. I didn't expect it to. But in my limited experience, this system stands above most of what I've seen in this enticing market segment. I listened to at least a dozen albums (what an antiquated concept!) and came away impressed by the fullness of the bass and a generally spacious range, despite the fact that you get only volume and bass adjustments. I noticed very little distortion, probably thanks to my aforementioned habit of recording at high data rates.
This is a great little system, and it's a step toward a more high-fidelity listening experience from the iPod. As a bonus, the i.Sound Harmony also comes with a cute little adaptable stand to hold your particular iPod version, as well as a separate, super-collapsible iPod travel speaker system that actually sounds quite good. I'm listening to it right now, as a matter of fact. Oh, another bonus: The universal audio jack accepts audio from any portable-audio source.
You should check it out. Or tell me about your experiences with similar iPod sound systems. How do you prefer to listen to your portable audio device? I imagine the vast majority of iPod users are headphone users. Do you share my desire to open up the sound? Comment on this article at the Connected Home Media Web site, or give a shout-out at the Connected Home forum.