Sunday, November 19, 2006

Pre-blog: The 2nd Generation iPod Shuffle

(General review will come ahead... specifics and technicalities will come towards the end, and is only for those who really want to read my absolute opinion on this iPod, and the iPod in general... those that are happy with their iPods need not read further than my general review)

Ok, this is my first iPod ever...actually it's my 1st portable MP3 player. Although I've heard almost every iPod since the gen 3 version, (I liked the 1st gen ones but I only really took notice when the solid state controls of the 3rd gen iPod came out... I miss those controls) this is the first one I've ever owned. I've always liked the iPod's design, but never enough to want to lug one around with me ... When the Nano first came out, I was really close to getting one since it was a size I was willing to carry around with me all the time.

The new iPod Shuffle is just amazingly small... about the size of the iPod radio remote. It comes in only one capacity, 1GB... this holds about 240 regular iTunes songs at 128kbps. For my collection, it only holds about 100++ of my mp3s since I encode at a much higher rate of 256kbps.

Just like any other iPod, it's the easiest portable music player to use. It comes bundled with it's own docking cradle since it's too small to have a built in USB plug. Data transfer rates are decent, taking only a couple of minutes to fill up the 1GB.

Sound quality is a bit different from the original Shuffle (which was hailed as the best sounding iPod ever) ... it sounds a bit more balanced, but does have a very faint hiss. (early reports were right) Not a deal breaker.

Over-all, I'm very happy with my 1st iPod. It's something I can bring around with me everyday.
---------------end of general review------------------

Ok, now to get down and dirty.... No iPod has deserved more than 3 stars with me, with the 1st gen Shuffle edging a bit at maybe 3.5 stars, 2nd Gen Shuffle getting 3.3 stars, and all other iPods getting 3 stars. Design of the iPods gets 4 stars (-1 due to the annoying ever-changing docking port), sound quality hovers in the 3 star area. Creative's MP3 players get 3.7 stars for audio quality, 2 stars for design and ergonomics... granted these are MP3 players, I'm trying not to be too harsh because they do their job well... they play mp3s.

Why didn't I go for Creative's offering, or iRiver? Well, at the end of the day, usability and design more than made up for the iPods short comings in sound quality. Creative's sound quality is good, but not enough to make up for the shortcomings of the mp3 format in general, and their annoying software and old-school designs don't help either. And to be honest, the best mp3 player I've heard are the SonyEricsson Walkman phones, granted they do have enough space to house better electronics, between a Creative player and an SE phone, I'd pick the SE phone any day. (Sound quality for Walkman phones is about 3.8-3.9 stars)

The new Shuffle does have a very faint hiss... some early reviewers noticed this right away, other early users didn't... why? Headphones. The Apple earphone aren't sensitive enough to pick up the hiss... this also means that the bundled earphones are the first thing that chokes the sound quality of your iPod. If you're happy with the Apple earphones, stick with them, they hide the hiss. But the hiss doesn't show up in most earphones either... only popping up in my AKG K81 (really, REALLY faint) ... and more prominent in my Shure E3 canalphones. But mind you, the Shure's are extremely sensitive... a volume of 1 or 2 is already equal to a 5 when using other earphones.

I suspect the hiss is actually due to the Shuffle's minute size, having the electronics so close to each other, I think the jack actually picks up noise from the DC regulator. It doesn't seem to be amp noise since it doesn't increase or decrease with volume.

The original Shuffle doesn't have hiss... BUT... the new Shuffle does have better FR, bass actually is a BIT better than on the original Shuffle... but again, it does have hiss... so it's a trade-off... hahahaha.

Other iPods don't sound as good as the Shuffles... note... at 'higher' volumes. Both the Nano and regular iPods start distorting at much lower volumes than both the 1st gen and 2nd gen Shuffles, transient response also degrades faster than the Shuffles. No confirmation on whether the 2ng gen Shuffle has the push-pull component that the 1st gen Shuffle did, but it does sound close (except for the hiss) so I'll assume that it does... I'm suspecting that it does, but since Apple switched manufacturers, I'm guessing this is the cause for the hiss.

This isn't to say that the other iPods sound bad as a lot of audio reviews claim... they don't sound as good as the Shuffles... under certain circumstances and with better earphones/speakers. As I said, among the mp3 players I've heard, the Walkman phones have the best sound so far... with Sony's MegaBass being the least distorting EQ among them all (the iPod presets are the most annoying for me, introducing the most amount of distortion, which is why I like the fact that the Shuffle doesn't have an EQ) Kill the EQ, and just get better earphones... Sennheiser CX300 earphones are a pretty good upgrade for any iPod. Trust me, those little earphones that came with the iPod are choking at least 30% of the sound. The CX300s are a good bump up, and aren't too expensive considering the sound quality improvement they give.

Back to the iPod... as an everyday mp3 player... I wouldn't buy anything else. They're easy to use, look great, and sound good (when matched with decent earphones).

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