Monday, March 20, 2006

Apple Computer’s IPod Hi-Fi is a $349 “boom box” of a stereo that may leave some folks scratching their heads.

For $200 less, one can get pretty good sound — not exactly the same as the Apple unit, but rather close — from a Logitech mm50 unit, which is smaller and much more portable. Spend $15 to $30, depending on where you shop, and there are cables that will connect an IPod to a home stereo system via RCA-style cables.

So what do you need to spend all that money for? Sound is one thing: The IPod Hi-Fi does sound, well, like a high-fidelity unit. The sound can fill a room or even overfill it, if you crank up the volume sufficiently. It is rich, the bass is deep and the treble trills quite nicely. Some who’ve heard my evaluation unit complained about a lack of “midrange” sound; I didn’t notice any.

Compactness is another plus, albeit a relative one. The IPod Hi-Fi is, indeed, the size of a small portable stereo, and it is somewhat portable, as six “D” cell batteries can replace plug-in power. You could set this up in a bedroom, drop in an IPod that has a built-in clock and, presto, you’ve got an alarm that’ll wake not only you, but also probably the folks down the block. Plugged into the wall, by the way, you also will recharge that IPod.

And although some critics have bemoaned the lack of a built-in radio tuner, there’s more than one way to compensate, it turns out. Within that “compensation,” though, are the seeds of what is truly revolutionary, or perhaps better stated, evolutionary about this product.

Check out the back of the IPod Hi-Fi and you’ll see a “line in” jack that would handle your typical audio cable. But it also is equipped to handle digital audio cables (and, yes, Apple has one from Belkin for sale). Both the new MacBook Pro notebook and Mac mini desktop computers have similar digital audio ports. Connect one of these computers to the IPod Hi-Fi and not only can you play your ITunes library, but also it will sound amazing. As would, I imagine, broadband-based radio.

Now you can guess where this is going: I can imagine the IPod Hi-Fi as the first of several products, presumably from Apple but perhaps from others, that will take this digital audio output and make it a huge part of home entertainment.

For now, users will have to be content with life at the “bleeding edge” of technology. The digital audio cables can be temperamental, and connectors can snap easily. There are limits to what you can, and can’t, connect right now. As mentioned, this stuff isn’t cheap.

But early adopters can have the satisfaction of something approaching utterly pure sound. The rest of us have, perhaps, something to look forward to in the years ahead. The IPod Hi-Fi is in Apple retail stores and other locations; details also are at

One more Mac note: Microsoft has released an important update for its Office 2004 for Macintosh suite that will bring Entourage, the company’s rather nice personal information manager/e-mail client, into line with Spotlight, the OS X Tiger search system, as well as “Sync Services,” an OS X feature that can keep everything up to date among different computers that you use. Details are at, and they are worth finding.

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