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It's no secret. I luv the iPod. It's the coolest thing to have happened to hifi in a very long time. That said, its performance can certainly be improved. The most direct way is to handle D/A conversion offboard. The Wadia and Onkyo docks followed by similar devices from Cambridge Audio and Pure led the way. Then Peachtree Audio's iDecco rewrote the external digital-direct dock recipe by hard-wiring an integral dock to a superior DAC inside an integrated amplifier. Later Cypher Labs' battery-powered Algorhythm Solo took the show on the road by offering either internal D/A conversion or a reclocked S/PDIF stream output.

Much bitching and moaning about the evil iPod's natural-born MP3 support continues in high-end audio circles. It conditions millions of music listeners to confuse mediocre with good sound - or so goes the argument. XMOS' new XS1-L1 iPod/iPhone Reference Dock solution removes the second last excuse for hifi firms not getting on the all-digital iPod bandwagon. XMOS has done all the required soft/firmware work and left enough computing power and memory for customizable features.

Their fully implemented circuit board with custom iPod chip outputs externally converted analog or reclocked digital, includes a quality master clock with two further clocks (44.1/48kHz) and offers taps for LEDs, LCD display, infra-red remote sensors and more. Based on the most excellent performance of XMOS' equivalent USB transceivers implemented in April Music's U3 and Eximus DP1, the XS1-L1 solution would seem to promise high turn-key performance to any audio company that's keen on the digital iPod dock concept but lacks the in-house engineering to make it happen.

Why did I talk of second last excuse? Because whilst the XMOS development license includes maintained source code and implementation support, a user still must obtain Apple's registered Made for iPod license before the XMOS solution becomes available. I predict that some (or many) hifi companies will continue to hide behind that excuse to not embrace the iPod but keep pointing fingers at the evil Apple empire for lowering people's expectations for good sound. That our industry suffers from an exclusionary self-defeatist trend where the masses are concerned is no secret. It's simply relevant to point it out against solutions like the above that present such an easy avenue to build bridges and break out of the negativity cycle.

The hiPod transformation needn't be that by the way. As Vinnie Rossi's iMod has proven, bypassing Apple's output stage reaps dividends. That's of course using the iPod in analog output mode. Vinnie's conversion to SSD drive—originally 128GB but as of late up to 256GB!—is limited to analog because the Gen 5/5.5 iPod Video the mod is based on "doesn't talk to the Apple authentication chip in the iPod-to-digital devices. Apple did not implement that feature until the 6th generation. The 256GB iMod uses the internal Wolfson converter chip (1Vrms output) and outputs via the ALO iMod dock cable (RCA or mini-plug versions) but not digitally." Granted, this is a tweakier and costlier solution (the raw 256GB drive costs $430 alone) that will be of interest only to a far smaller target audience like some of our readers perhaps.

Placing my order with ALO Audio's Ken Ball a few weeks ago to learn of the benefits, I just received the following message: "I am sorry to say that the 256GB iMod is MIA. I bought one 256GB drive and sent it to Vinnie a while ago to test and make sure that it would work. This was confirmed. Vinnie said he sent it back to me but we either sold it as a 128GB or never got it. So we kind of dropped the ball on that one. Sorry. I am working to get another batch of them going with 256GB drives. If we sent it out wrongly, I am doing some detective work hoping that the customer will cooperate and either pay the difference or return the unit for a swap to the 128GB version he/she actually paid for." If you're out there listening to my hotrodded iPod, pay the man the difference owed and enjoy the unit. Vinnie even put in the largest possible battery currently available. It should be a very sweet deal indeed.

Why? Not only do Vinnie and Ken promise better sonics from SSD but battery consumption is supposedly noticeably lower than spinning the stock hard disk (never mind that mechanical reliability goes up). Better sound, 100GB of extra memory over the currently largest 160GB Classic, greater crash resistance and longer play time? It sure sounds like a recipe for success, albeit priced way beyond the usual iPod user. That's where the XMOS chip comes in. Let's hope we see more Pure i-20 type docks that output both converted analog and pure digital. No more excuses!