Apple iPod Hi-Fi review

Some good design touches and decent sound quality, but a staggering price tag

Ross Burridge
20 Apr 2006
Price when reviewed 

Apparently, Apple felt that third-party manufacturers were failing to meet the potential of the iPod as the primary music source of the home. The result, the iPod Hi-Fi, is about the same size and price as the mini systems that Apple hopes it will replace.

Mounted in the speaker baffle are two 80mm cones, with a dual-ported 130mm woofer in the centre. Each driver is separately enclosed and the whole construction double-skinned to reduce vibration-related distortion. The quoted maximum sound pressure level is a respectable 108dB at 1m (or 102dB when running on battery power).

A universal iPod dock sits on top, with seven inserts supplied to accept all models bar the shuffle. Soft-touch volume controls are placed in front of that. At the rear, there's a mains input and a 3.5mm audio input able to handle both analog and S/PDIF signals. An infrared receiver and status LED are located underneath the baffle.

Bizarrely, the supplied Apple remote will only allow you to skip tracks and adjust the volume; for instance, to select a specific album you have to get up and prod at the iPod itself. Once there, you'll notice a new 'speakers' option on a connected iPod's menu. This offers tone control (normal and bass/treble boost), plus options for backlight and album art, which can be set to display in full-screen mode.

Sound quality is better than you might assume. The soundstage is surprisingly wide, but the stereo sweet spot is strictly limited. On the plus side, there's a commendable lack of distortion and the frequency response is full and balanced. The bass response is tight, and the top end sounds clear and airy. But mid-range, while crisp, lacks any real warmth.

To make claims of audiophile quality is stretching the term, particularly as it's all compressed music in the first place. But there's some good design here, from the lavish packaging to the battery enclosure. Even putting the baffle on and off is a joy.

Battery life on six D-cell alkaline batteries was just over three hours at mid-volume, after which the unit dropped the volume and played for another two hours. You've got to question the portability when it weighs just under 8kg fully loaded, but at least there's the option.

Despite the clever design touches, the iPod Hi-fi won't replace even a semi-decent mini-system. Given the price, as an overall experience it's mediocre.

Price when reviewed 
212(£249 inc VAT)

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