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Reviewer: Jeff Day
Digital: Sony PlayStation 1 SCPH-1001, Shindo Arome CD matching transformer [in for review]
FM Tuners: vintage Scott 370 Stereomaster
Preamplifiers: Leben RS-28CX [in for review], Shindo Monbrison [in for review]
Integrated amplifiers: Leben CS600, Leben CS300X Limited, Almarro A205A Mk1 & Mk2
Amplifiers: Fi 2A3 monos, Shindo Cortese [in for review]
Speakers: Harbeth Super HL5 (with 18" Skylan stands), Merrill Zigmahornets, ART Emotive Signature [in for review]
Cables: 47 Laboratory OTA Cable Kit interconnects; Nirvana S-L & S-X interconnects, S-L speaker cables, and Transmission Digital Interface; Auditorium 23 speaker cable; Tom Evans Audio Design interconnects; various SilverFi interconnects and digital interfaces; White Lightning Moonshine DIY interconnects and speaker cables; Shindo silver interconnects [in for review]; Furutech power cables and connectors [in for review]
Stands: McKinnon Bellevue Symphony walnut media cabinet, Atlantis Video Reference equipment rack, Skylan speaker, isolation [in for review] and amplifier stands
Room sizes: Room 1: 20' L x 17' W x 17' H; Room 2: 11' L x 11'W x 9' H
Review component retail: Apple 8GB iPhone $599, Shure SE530PTH $549
Source: Reviewer purchase
The Apple iPhone has captured the fancy of many people due to Apple's clever marketing campaign. But there's also real substance to the iPhone that many music-loving road warriors will find irresistible. At least that's the effect the iPhone had on me and continues to.
The iPhone is much more than an iPod with an internal cellphone and I've come to think of it more as a hybrid between a MacBook and cellphone rather than just a feature-laden handy. In truth it is a hybrid as the iPhone uses an optimized version of the Mac OS X operating system (just like on Mac computers) which itself is derived from the Linux OS used on many of the World's biggest and fastest supercomputers. That's iCool and means that the little iPhone can run a nearly full-featured Safari web browser for surfing on the road to keep up with all the cool goings-on at 6moons. It also means you can interface with just about any e-mail service for mail on the go to stay in touch with your friends (I recently switched to Google's Gmail from Microsoft's Hotmail). There's also a nice calendar application, text messaging, a terrific address book, a weather application that allows monitoring multiple cities at once, an application that monitors stocks, an application that allows you to archive notes, a clock function with multiple time zones, a timer, stopwatch, alarm capabilities and a direction connection to YouTube videos. There's also a direct connection to Google maps so you can get turn-by-turn driving directions on the fly. The maps application also lets you add features like Starbucks, restaurants, record shops or anything else on the way to (or at) your destination. And for each of those possible stops you are one click away from the phone number, web site address and driving directions. Oh yeah, it has a decent camera too. The OS X operating system means that the iPhone is fully multi-tasking so you can load weather info, driving directions, read a web page or download e-mail while talking on the cellphone, listening to music or a podcast or shooting a photo. It's an impressive piece of technology for iSure. The iPhone is a very cool device that does a lot more than I've mentioned above. Check out the Apple website for the full scoop.
But this article is about music so let's talk about the iPhone's musical chops. First off, you should make sure you get the 8GB model so you can load as much music as possible. To load music onto the iPhone, you have to sync it to iTunes on your computer. Apple's iTunes can read, write and convert between MP3, AIFF, WAV, MPEG-4, AAC and Apple Lossless file types. WAV files code their data in PCM just like CDs and are considered by many to be the best-sounding computer file format. The downside of WAV files is that they are big and will fill up your 8GB really fast. I recommend instead that you use the LAME audio codec for the best compromise between audio quality and file size (which you can read more about in the article that Danny Kaey wrote about the LAME audio codec for Positive Feedback). You can download the LAME codec for your Mac for free here. When you install it on your Mac, LAME automatically sets itself up as one of the import options in iTunes - under the MP3 Custom tab. It doesn't actually say LAME anywhere but it's there as evidenced by the 320 setting under the Custom tab. LAME sounds good and the files aren't huge, a good thing for music lovers who want to store tons of music on their iPhone for listening on the go.
You can also listen to podcasts, internet radio or audio books if you want and all you have to do is download your desired content into iTunes and sync it to your iPhone. Computer and iPhone-based audio will really revolutionize the way you listen to music. I've found that I'm listening to a much greater variety of music as a result. That's a really good thing for increasing your appreciation for different kinds of music or for refreshing your love of music if you've hit a rut listening to the same tunes over and over again. A lot of the newer cars like my Toyota 4Runner allow you to plug an iPhone directly into the car system so you can have access to your favorite music as you drive.
The Shure SE530PTH Sound Isolating Headphones
Now that you've got music loaded on your iPhone, you want some quality headphones. The iPhone comes with cheap earbuds with integral microphone to make calls but the noise isolation is poor and they don't play music all that well. Audiophiles will want to ditch them quickly. So I did what most of you do and read up on the internet. The HeadRoom site has a wealth of headphone-related information that was helpful to this headphone newbie trying to pick out a musical set of 'phones. HeadRoom has a headphone selection guide that I found particularly helpful for finally making a decision.
After studying up, I bought a pair of the Shure SE530 headphones. You'll want to monitor your order carefully when you place it with HeadRoom and need your 'phones in a hurry. They botched up my order and I wouldn't have gotten the Shure SE530s in time for my planned travel had I not followed up to find out what the delay was. Sigh. However, I can't fault HeadRoom's first-rate recommendation of the Shure SE530 ear-canal headphones. They are easily worth their rather steep price of admission.
The Shure SE530 comes in two models: the standard SE530 ($499) and the SE530PTH ($549) which I chose. PTH stands for "Push-To-Hear" and refers to a little control unit with an internal microphone that you can insert between headphones and iPhone to adjust how much external sound you want to hear if you carry on a conversation while wearing your phones. I haven't really made up my mind yet if the PTH is a useful feature. Other than the insertable PTH control, the two models are identical.
The SE530 uses three tiny drivers or as Shure puts it, "Triple Tru-Acoustic Micro-Speakers" to cover the frequencies. One covers the high + midrange frequencies and the two other drivers the bass. Shure says the SE530s evolved from the in-ear monitors used by pro musicians to hear themselves accurately on stage during live performances - to "deliver unparalleled acoustic accuracy ... for an auditory experience rivaled only by live performances".
The SE530s are a sound-isolating design which utilizes little earplug-like foam sleeves that fit on the earphones to cut out background noise. This works very effectively for noise reduction and blocks "90% of ambient noise" which is supposedly much better than noise-canceling headsets. The Shures come with a "fit-kit" with a bunch of different-sized sleeves so you can get a comfortable fit - and they are comfortable even for hours of listening once you figure out which set of sleeves fits your ears best.
Shure also makes a music phone adapter for $39 that includes an inline microphone to make and answer cell phone calls while listening without having to turn off the music. It automatically mutes the music during a call. Shure says the microphone "is tuned to optimize intelligibility, ensuring callers hear you clearly even in noisy environments". I might add that it would also imply to hear your callers better in noisy environments. I ordered one from the Apple Store but it didn't arrive in time for this article.
'On the road' listening impressions
The combination of iPhone + Shure SE530 earphones met all my criteria for a traveling music system with ease. These components are small and light and fit easily in my pants or shirt pocket, making them a cinch to travel with. They block out nearly all of the outside noise during aircraft flights, meaning the screaming infant in the seat in front of you is no longer a distraction. They also met my Music Lovers criteria of flattering all kinds of recorded music regardless of recording quality. You could easily tell differences in recording quality but the SE530s always allowed the music to come through intact in a completely enjoyable fashion.
|Take Bing & Gary Crosby's (Bing's son) loads-of-fun recording of Play A Simple Melody from His Legendary Years box set as an example. Or anything from Billie Holiday's The Complete Decca Recordings 1944-1950. Both these box sets have recordings that vary from pretty poor to pretty darn good and the iPhone + Shure always delivered musical results I enjoyed. The overall effect is a very smooth and laid-back presentation just to the warm side of neutral. There's lots of natural detail though the high frequencies, in traditional music lovers fashion, are somewhat rolled off .Those who like a whiz-bang hyped-up audiophile-style presentations (i.e. musically unnatural) should look elsewhere. You'll be bored here. The presentation is a lot like what I hear from my favorite music lovers system: the Harbeth Super HL5 loudspeakers, Leben CS600 integrated valve amplifier and Sony PS1 SCPH-1001 as RedBook source. The nice thing about this kind of presentation is that you can listen for hours and hours without becoming fatigued or bored - it's a really nice balance.
|The iPhone + Shures are not a match for the Harbeth-Leben-Sony system in beat, rhythm or melody but still way good, allowing me to get lost in the music. The iPhone + Shures have a nice organic sound but not quite the same level of tone color or musical texture as the H-L-S rig. That's fair though as I'm not trying to clone my|
|home system on the road. Rather, I'm after something that is consistently musical in a mobile environment, which the iPhone and Shures are. They definitely possess that all-too-rare musicality trait I crave in my home HiFi gear. The iPhone + Shure combo also sounds very good in the sonics sense but not in that exaggerated audiophile-style sort of way. Take for example the superbly recorded and produced Rickie Lee Jones album Pop Pop. The replay|
|of string bass is impressive in its pitch definition and overall tautness (how do they do that in the bass with those itty-bitty little drivers?). Ditto for the guitar. And Rickie's voice is simply scrumptious in its naturalness. Greg Brown's "Down In The Valley" from his Honey In The Lion's Head album is awesome too. All of the instrumental detail is easily apparent but presented in a completely natural and non-fatiguing sort of way.
The iPhone plus Shure SE530 earphones is an easy Blue Moon Award winner for music lovers on the go. Its sins are those of omission rather than commission and even those sins are easy to overlook due to their easygoing musical nature that allows for many hours of listening without fatigue. When you factor in all those useful cell phone, e-mail, web browsing ... and on and on ... features, it's the ultimate lightweight road-warrior music lovers system. Highly recommended!
Quality of packing: Shipping containers and packing materials for these products were nicely done.