Touchy, feely

The new Apple iPod Touch is incredibly slick and capable of doing some remarkable things, but is it really hi-fi? asks Ed Selley

Launched in September, the 4th generation iPod Touch builds on the facilities of the previous models, but is still most easily explained as the screen, processor and basic design of the iPhone, without the ability to make and receive phone calls.

The path of the original iPod (which is now referred to as the Classic) from curio to hi-fi accessory has been a long one and the sheer numbers of docks available (some of which are iPod transports able to extract a digital signal directly from the iPod) are turning it into a hand-held music server. But do the extra features of the Touch make any difference in this context and do they affect the audio performance on the move?

Mind-boggling

The features the Touch offers are impressive. The unit tested here is a 32Gb (eight and 64Gb versions are also available) ‘multimedia platform’, able to replay audio and video. While much of this content is still supplied via iTunes, the Touch can also use built-in Wi-Fi support to find content over the internet, via YouTube and from downloadable applications such as Spotify as well as directly from the iTunes store.

The options available from the Ap store beyond audio are mind boggling and allow you to use the Touch as an SPL meter, remote control, journey planner or indeed a generic device for wasting hours of your life should you go anywhere near the games section. You could call the Touch an MP3 player with knobs on, except Apple spurn anything so low-tech as a ‘knob’.

More functionality

The Touch is more expensive pound-to-gigabyte than the Classic, but does a great deal more and feels beautifully put together. This is not to say the Touch is ergonomically perfect – the headphone socket is on the bottom of the chassis which means that it is almost always upside down when you extract it from a pocket. This matters because unlike more lowly iPods, the Touch has to be ‘lit-up’ to skip tracks back or forward which means turning it up the right way each time. As has been the case for years, the supplied earphones are really only fit for the bin, but overall this is a lot of product for the money.

Beefed-up

The good news is that once you have substituted the supplied earphones for an aftermarket pair, the Touch makes a convincing case for itself as a personal audio device. The iPhone 4 benefited hugely from a beefed-up headphone section and the Touch seems to have shared in this. Using AAC lossless files, the sound is open and as the Touch feels like it will go subjectively louder than the Classic, it feels much more relaxed and natural at ordinary listening levels. There also is an excellent sense of positioning and space. Moving through files at increasing compression, the Touch will stay perfectly listenable, with files compressed down to about 160kbps AAC, although some of the sense of air and space starts to diminish.

Connected to an iPod transport and outputting audio over S/PDIF, the Touch sounds the same as any other iPod. This is not to say that there are no benefits. The big, full-colour display is a lovely thing to use and is much easier to read at a distance and the Touch will successfully stream Spotify and other media over Wi-Fi via the dock output, which is a party piece that the Classic cannot do and something that the iPhone often struggles with as the dock will pick up cellular interference from the phone section.

Class of its own

The iPod Touch can be taken in two different ways. If you are solely looking for a device to use in an iPod transport with personal listening as a secondary concern, it costs more and has less capacity than the iPod Classic. It also sounds the same over S/PDIF once docked (as would be expected).

If you spend much time listening over earphones, the Touch starts to make a case for itself even before the enormous functionality is taken into account. It is a more assured performer than the Classic and is worth the extra outlay. Once you start to make use of the extra features, the Touch is really in a class of its own.

LIKE: Incredibly flexible, improved sound quality via headphone socket
DISLIKE: Bottom mounted headphone socket annoying
WE SAY: An excellent sonic performer with huge flexibility and superb ergonomics

DETAILS
PRODUCT: iPod Touch
ORIGIN:  USA/China
TYPE: iPod
WEIGHT: 101g
DIMENSIONS: (WxHxD) 111x58.9x7.2mm
FEATURES:
• 8,32 or 64gb multimedia player
• 960x640 full colour touchscreen
• Stereo headphone socket
• Built in Wi-Fi
• Customisable applications
DISTRIBUTOR: Apple
TELEPHONE: 0844 209 0611
WEBSITE: apple.com/uk