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Apple Computer - the best April Fool joke ever!

Apple Computer Inc. is not normally associated with humor but this is surely the best April Fool joke of the season.

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I couldn't believe it when I saw it. But then I realized that it was April 1 - April Fool's Day. What a great prank it was, and I nearly fell for it.

Yes, the iPod Hi-Fi gave me the best laugh I've had in a long time. Let me tell you the details...

The iPod Hi-Fi is a compact unit with amplifier and speakers, into which you can plug your iPod and hear glorious music in your home. In itself, it's not a bad idea. But Apple's well known 'reality distortion field' is turned up to Factor 11...

This unit is a mere 17.0" x 6.6" x 6.9" (43.2 cm x 16.8 cm x 17.5 cm), so any pretension to hi-fi sound quality is clearly bogus. It might of course sound pleasant, like a old radio set might once have been described to have a 'good tone'. But hi-fi? Not a chance.

Apple however claims that the iPod hi-fi has...

  • Large soundstage
  • Precise imaging and separation
  • Wide frequency range
  • Room-filling power

Oh really? Let's look at these points in detail.

'Large soundstage' and 'Precise imaging and separation' - The iPod Hi-Fi apparently "brings audio tracks to life with convincing, enveloping sound — almost as if the performers are standing in your living room." You can apparently "picture the relative placement of each instrument or voice in space. Every instrument or voice — even in complex, polyphonic pieces — sounds clear, discrete, and uncrowded."

So we have been getting it wrong all these years by separating our loudspeakers. Apple knows best. (As does Bose). Clearly, this unit will be a point source for frequencies below about 800 Hz and virtually omnidirectional. Stereo of a sort, but not as we know it.

It is possible to get a feeling of space from a single unit loudspeaker - I've seen and heard a demonstration of how it can be done. Apple clearly was not there.

'Wide frequency range' - The frequency range of the iPod hi-fi is 65 Hz to 4186 Hz. How do I know that? - Apple says the range encompasses the lowest note of the cello to the highest note of the piccolo. To be honest, I don't believe that 65 Hz specification, and if the iPod Hi-Fi only goes up to 4 kHz, its high-end response is going to be dull indeed. Actually, in the 'tech specs' page, Apple gives the response as "53 Hz to 16 kHz ±3 dB". If it really does achieve that, it's doing well.

'Room-filling power' - Apple has got to be kidding (but of course they are). The tech specs don't give a figure for the power output. But the game is given away by the fact that the iPod Hi-Fi can run from six D-cell batteries. Six D-cells will give 9 volts when connected in series. A D-cell will give around 2 amperes of current on a good day. Since watts = volts x amps, this means that the battery power supply is capable of a mere 18 watts. I'm guessing that the amplifier is Class D, which should be around 80-90% efficient. However, this still leaves the iPod Hi-Fi with a mere 7.5 or so watts per channel. Fill a room with sound? Don't make me laugh.

I'm still feeling the need to hammer another nail into the coffin of this hoax. Let's look at those drive units. There are three... for stereo.

Clearly the 130 mm (5 inches) central drive unit is a subwoofer that is shared by the two channels. It is definitely on the small side for hi-fi, but I don't have a problem with this otherwise. The outer drive units are 80 mm (3 inches) and handle mid and high frequencies that are apparently "vivid and bright".

Hmmm, the hi-fi industry has been getting it wrong all these years then. Conventional wisdom states that a tweeter should be small. The reason for this is that at high frequencies, a large diaphragm will be slow to react and will bend, causing distortion. Also, a large drive unit is very directional at high frequencies. Look at a decent pair of hi-fi speakers and you will find that the tweeters are no more than 25 mm (1 inch) in diameter.

There is another phrase that Apple uses, about the enclosure - "Airtight sealing allows voluminous sound without buzzing and clatter". Please - good design and manufacture allow freedom from buzzing and clatter. The airtight seal is found in the 'closed box' enclosure design, also known as 'acoustic suspension', and sometimes 'infinite baffle'. It isn't rocket science. And the iPod Hi-Fi isn't even a closed box - it has ports, making it a bass reflex. So much for the airtight sealing then.

I could go on, but I enjoyed Apple's April Fool's Day hoax. At least I didn't fall for it.

Or is the joke on me in a kind of double bluff? Maybe Apple is for real on this?

What about you? Would you have one in your home? If the iPod Hi-Fi turns out to be popular, will you have one in your studio as a reference monitor?

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By David Mellor Monday April 3, 2006
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