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30-pin to stereo mini cable interface to bypass an iPod's headphone output stage.

This nets us a very good portable amplifier that’s fit to also serve as a more stationary solution connected to any music-distributing device with a USB output. In most cases this will be a computer. A big advantage of using a computer over an iPod-type portable is its ability to output data unfiltered by an iPod’s built-in output stage*.

Regarding the iPod, thus far only Wadia has coughed up enough to Apple to access an iPod’s digital feed and then only via S/PDIF on RCA. A PC or Mac offers a standard USB digital output which combined with good player software can create stunning results.

Only recently we discovered XXHighEnd, a top-of-the-charts player software for Windows operating systems. While Amarro still rules the Mac platform, XXHighEnd definitely is king over the other. Anticipating an upcoming article including a visit to the software’s Dutch author, we can point out a few highlights already. Think 32bit/382kHz output, real-time processing, no DSP and the ability to bypass/defeat all computer processes and programs which aren’t essential for music playback to insure that the streaming audio data are as clean and steady as possible.


* Not necessarily. Ken Ball’s ALO Audio 30-pin-to-mini interface above bypasses the iPod’s headphone amplifier output stage aka line-out though admittedly not its D/A converter. Re: Wadia’s exclusivity, that no longer is accurate. Onkyo has its own ND-S1 iDock which outputs a digital iPod signal and TEAC has two receivers whose cradles accomplish the same, albeit process this digital signal internally with their own DACs. There likely are even more machines with such capabilities now but these are the ones I’m aware of at present. - Ed

After playing with FooBar for a while, we thus happily switched to XXHighEnd for the final part of the review. With most services killed off on our Vista PC, we could provide the iQube V2 with loads of clean musical files which were either ripped with EAC from CD or downloaded from hi-res websites.

Connecting the iQube V2 to a computer requires a USB mini-5-to-Type-A cable. Just as with an iPod connection to the iQube, cable quality has a definite influence on the outcome so don’t settle for shabby. On the other hand, don’t go over the top as lunatic audiophiles do.

Once connected, Vista/XP/OS X easily recognized the iQube. Now we ran into a hurdle. While configuring our playback software, we were rewarded with silence when choosing a bit rate higher than 16 and a sample rate higher than 48kHz. The iQube V2 does not process anything beyond 16/48 which we think is a missed opportunity which in effect limits playback to CD-quality files. When we asked Guido about this, he replied that the next-gen iQube will accept higher resolution data.

Though we really regret that the iQube V2 is limited to low—or more accurately, standard—resolution processing, this little box does that very very well indeed. We already loved the neutrality of the amp sans DAC. Now the converter addition broadens its usefulness. Computer files can now either be used to feed headphones or a big rig with the iQube as a pre- or pre/preamplifier. In either case, the analog quirks of CD players are eliminated.