Review: Audio Systems Enhance IPod Use

By JUSTIN BACHMAN
The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 17, 2006; 10:07 PM

NEW YORK -- In subways, at the gym and on sidewalks worldwide, millions of people seal themselves in an iPod cocoon. Not anymore.

Several recently released audio systems, including one from Apple Computer Inc., are now lifting the cloud of iPod isolation, making it easy to fill a room with sound that was once mostly limited to earbuds or headphones.

As a longtime audio geek, I auditioned the iPod Hi-Fi, Apple's own entry for its market-leading portable music player, and two of its more competent rivals, the SoundDock from Bose Corp. and a new two-speaker system, the Audioengine 5.

A Bose v. Apple comparison was probably inevitable in this field, as the SoundDock has been around since October 2004 and Apple has just recently offered its own product. Audioengine, a California company with a history in the studio-monitor business, began shipping its system in January, less than two months before the Hi-Fi's debut.

All three systems amplify the sound from their own power sources _ and recharge iPod batteries. But the similarities fade there.

This is a fully competent trio, and each is priced reasonably for what it delivers. But all three are unique in what they aim to achieve and how they go about it.

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Apple iPod Hi-Fi ($349)

Apple's design team turned its sights to sound with a trim, compact box that packs a truly competent punch. The sealed, injected-plastic case has a sturdy finish, with two handles and an internal power supply that avoids the need for a clunky power adapter.

At 17 inches wide and just under 7 inches deep, the Hi-Fi won't consume much space on a table, dresser or entertainment center.

It emits an almost exquisite sound _ Apple executives say they sought to avoid processing it with digital signal circuitry. Don't let its modest size fool you, this is a "boom" box that is sturdy and up to serious business.

The Hi-Fi houses three drivers _ a woofer and two wide-range cones _ along with two bass ports that help boost the system's bass reproduction. There's also a combo audio-optical digital input jack in the back, which allows for connections to other devices.


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