Simpl A1 gives stylish, necessary boost to iPod


Published: Saturday, January 22, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 21, 2005 at 11:37 p.m.
SAN FRANCISCO - With its gorgeous white-and-metal gleam and rounded edges, Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod is the hands-down design winner among digital music players. Not to mention it can store every song I own.
But as much as I want to like the beautiful iPod, the sound simply leaves me flat.
I've listened to everything from rock and rap to jazz and gabber, but each time I'm left cranking the volume up to 80 percent just get a decent thump out of my headphones or earbuds. If I pump it higher, the music quality crackles under the pressure.
Thankfully, there's an iPod amplifier available that looks every bit as good as the iPod and helps the sound along, too. It's not cheap at $149, but Simpl Acoustics' A1 does the job well.
The A1 comes in the same glistening white color as the full-sized iPod (except for the black-and-red U2 edition) and clips on the back snugly thanks to some well positioned pressure points - called podGrip technology. Once I fit it on the back of the loaner iPod the company provided me with, the amp never came off unless I applied some serious pressure. The design is impressive.
A short cord plugs into the ''audio out'' headphone jack of the iPod and into the A1 input. Then, I simply plugged in the original iPod earbuds into the amp and I was ready to go.
Without the A1 amp, bass-heavy techno music from DJ Aphrodite sounded a bit tinny through the iPod. And my John Mayer tracks lacked the fullness I know are present in his rich guitar strums. But once I pushed the power button on the A1, one word came to mind. Wow!
It was a real kick to try the newly powered iPod with a couple of different pairs of full-sized higher performance headphones. First, I plugged in my trusty $50 Sony MDR-V300 studio monitor headphones. Fuller tones and deeper bass lines immediately filled my head.
Next I tried the amplified iPod with a borrowed pair of $270 Sennheiser 590 headphones. There's simply no better way to enjoy a well-mastered recording than with well-designed headphones with a wide frequency response range to provide a fuller sound quality to the music.
When I tried to power the Sennheisers with the iPod alone, the Goo Goo Dolls lacked punch even at 70 percent volume. With the amplifier on, I was fully rocking at less than 50 percent, something the folks at Simpl Acoustics say will conserve on battery consumption.
The amplifier itself contains a 16-hour battery that recharges via a USB port. Simpl publishes all the specs the experts say I should care about (signal-to-noise ratio, power output, total harmonic distortion).
Apple, by comparison, doesn't make public any of these specifications for the iPod - even though I asked several times, in several ways.
Apple is so proud of the iPod specs they don't want to embarrass the competition by sharing them. Uh, yeah. In all honesty, Apple has already won the digital audio device war and no technical specs, good or bad, will do them in. Apple didn't put enough audio gumption in those beautiful iPods. The Simpl A1 amplifier sure helps pick up the slack.
''The iPod has regularly been tested and noted for having fantastic sound quality and its clearly class leading,'' says Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr. ''We do not want to market iPod with an overwhelming bunch of technical specifications and we've chosen not to report these.''
The translation: Apple is so proud of the iPod specs they don't want to embarrass the competition by sharing them. Uh, yeah.
In all honesty, Apple has already won the digital audio device war and no technical specs, good or bad, will do them in. But for my taste, Apple didn't put enough audio gumption in those beautiful iPods. The Simpl A1 amplifier sure helps pick up the slack.
--- On the Net: http://www.simpl.com/ http://www.apple.com/ipod --- Ron Harris be reached at reharris(at)ap.org

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