Damaged Gears

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Damage Reviews: iPod Nano 2/4 Gb

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It's the Nano!It’s about stinking time I put my thoughts into words for the iPod Nano, quite possibly the most beautiful MP3 player to grace my palms. No, that honor belongs to the most brilliant chartruse RIO CE2110, but more on that bad boy later. Much later.By now, everyone is familiar with Apple’s biggest hit since the original Macintosh computer itself some 22 years ago. It’s white (or black, like mine), it has a dead simple GUI, it’s flawed in some aspects to make the entire user experience a breeze, and it’s overall the most popular way to listen to MP3s and AAC files. But popular doesn’t necessairly mean it’s the best.

All that aside, the iPod Nano comes with the standard iBuds (it probably costs apple several pennies to throw that in, it’s a wonder that they don’t leave it out for the third party accessories or for themselves-or spend an extra buck or three and throw in the inEar buds…. wait… nevermind), and a docking USB Cables. After series of complaints of how easily the Nano scratches, the big Apple threw in a sock that protects the nano. Too bad I didn’t get a sock to go with mine.

The size? It’s very small. Not quite impossibly small, but small nonetheless. However, the proportions of width and length is a bit off, and it feels longer than it needs to be. While it’s built strongly enough, occassionally, I wonder if I’ll snap the thing in half, especially sitting in the coin pocket of my copious denim jeans. It still hasn’t happened yet, and I doubt it will. After all, it survived being run over by a car several times and other mishaps, so save for a very catastrophic event, the Nano seems quite durable… Except for the front, so mind yourself and get some PDA screen cover or such; 10 for $15 is a better bargain than 1 for $5 at the local Apple Store, all gimmicks aside.

Aside from the great formfactor is the legendary UI. You know the deal, press the click wheel where the symbols are, it does what it’s supposed to. Flick the scroll wheel to either increase/decrease the volume during playback, or select the item of your choice, be it albums or songs or such. What makes iPod a pretty nifty player after all this time is that it might be one of very select few that allows one to create a playlist with very minial effort. That in and of itself gives the iPod a huge advantage from other offerings by other DAP players. It literally takes seconds for you to create a playlist from the 80s, listen to it for a few minutes, then decide that all that hairspray did damage your neurons, and create a new one on the fly regretting that you created the 80s playlist in the first place. Ain’t tech grand?

Apple does claim a battery life of 14 odd hours or so, but, as usual, I’ve never gotten more than 12 in the last three months of intermittent use. So take that claim with a grain of salt. This is in comparison to the Mini, which had almost 20 hours of life, and NH1, about 24-30 with ATRAC3 files of varying compression. Take a step forward and a step back. I suppose something had to give. Hell, even the iShuffle beats the Nano in that department, as it easily outlasts the Nano-or, at least I plug it in enough times to not make it an issue (since Nano comes with a handy USB A plug, it can be charged where there’s an active USB port, just make sure iTunes ain’t running).

But all of that is moot if the sound quality isn’t. It’s time to put it to the test.

At the moment, I’m not quite sure where to put the iPod’s SQ on the list. It obviously isn’t the worst offering I’ve heard (that honor belongs to Sansa e140 by default). And it’s not quite best either. However, I’m inclined to put the Nano at the top tier of things… Except it has one glaring flaw, and it’s a bit of a dicey one at that.

It’s got a bit of a bass deficit.
Sure, it’s not a big deal if you’ve got one of those bass thumpers, say the XD400, as your main gear. However, not everyone uses those big bass cans like such. And portable phones on the general (rather, the iBuds and the like) are a bit lacking in bass to begin with. So, you’re forced to turn up the Bass on the EQ, and the second whammy comes in.

The EQ really stinks.

There’s about 30 gazillion choices from acoustic to zoology and everything inbetween. Unfortunately, either it sounds distorted, muffled, or just outright… wrong.

However, the biggest surprise of them all to me (and its something I haven’t really paid attention to) is that it’s rather lacking when it comes to vocal reproduction, at least with some recordings I listened to with the MDR-V6 and the MDR-XD400. Don’t worry, non Sony phones will have their day soon.

That’s the general aspect of things. Read on to find out more genre specific impressions. Veering a bit away from the procedurals, I’ll use the following albums for this review:

  • Rock: U2 – Achtung Baby, The Unforgettable Fire,
  • Rock: Pearl Jam – Ten, Vs.
  • Soundtrack: Batman Begins
  • Jazz/Soundtrack: Cowboy Bebop OSTs
  • Game: Phantasy Star Online, Outrun 2
  • JPop: Yonekura Chihiro – Little Voice
  • JPop: Horie Yui – Ho?

On the rock tracks, the vocals seems very recessed not only in terms of staging but in overal presentation. It gets lost in the detailed trebles (the guitar attack is, I’d have to term it “fast” or rather upfront and very very detailed on both V6s and XD400s) and the exaggerated bass on both sets. Alternatively, the bass boost/exaggeration helps the Nano shine on the soundtrack portion of the tracks. For instance, the details on the string family in Batman Begins album is great if not amazing. So are the guitar tracks on the U2 albums.

The impact is much greater with XD400s, but they are more capable phones for casual and relaxed listening than the workmanlike V6s. In fact, so much so that the XD400s and the iPod Nano almost seems like great synergy match in terms of phones and gear. To wit, one of the tracks I invariably use to gauge how a gear will fare with my library (Elm, Cowboy Bebop OST 2) was represented brilliantly, with great vocal and guitar presentation.
A odd thing to note is the midbass with the V6s, and perhaps with high impedance phones as well, seems flabby and out of control. This in turn seems to flood the vocals as well. So beware what phones you match your pods with, it will have some effect on the final output.

(More to come)

The Good: Incredible form, size, braindead UI
The Bad: Battery life is shorter than claimed
The Ugly: Bass? You call that Bass? EQ? WHAT EQ?

Overall: B+

Is it worth your money? Maybe, but if you’ve a MP3 player that you’re happy with, I wouldn’t necessairly waste your money on this. Not yet.

Written by Damage

01/27/06 at 6:48 am

One Response

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  1. SONY MDR XD400 OR V6,
    which should i buy,
    i am very poor man & have been saving money for headphones for past 6 years.

    Deepak

    03/26/06 at 11:20 pm


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