LFF’s Review Of Ipod Line Out Docks
Dealing with cables is always an issue for the audiophile. What type to get? What is better? Silver? Copper? What about insulation? Does it even matter?
For a long time I classified myself as a cable skeptic. This mainly changed when I purchased my first pair of Sennheiser 650’s. They came with the stock cable and later on I purchased a Cardas Cable. I was amazed by the difference. I became a believer then but buying the cable was an arduous thing of and in itself. Thanks to the reviews on Headfi, buying the cable became much easier and the realization that the cable actually made a difference really settled my worries.
Ok, so some wires can make a difference but there are debates which continue to this day as to whether copper or silver make a difference. Scientifically looking at them one notices that silver is a better conductor for electricity than copper, gold and platinum. However, silver is only 8% more conductive than copper. I would say that in terms of signal loss, this small difference is almost irrelevant. Hence, I was not a big believer in silver wires, especially given that some companies charge an arm and a leg for a pair of interconnects.
Now it seems the cable v. cable debate may be entering the world of the iPod in the form of line out cables. Line out cables for the iPod are not a new thing, but for those who are new, allow me to explain a bit. Line out docks allow you to connect the iPod’s docking port to a Line out cable. The cable in turn provides a signal which is cleaner and clearer than the signal which comes out of the headphone jack. Over the years, there have been many examples, some of which allow for charging via a USB or Firewire port.
This brings us to the current matter. I was presented with three lineout cables from AUDIOLINEOUT, one Blue Dragon Line Out, one generic line out and the stock dock with stock lineout. Each cable has a different configuration and they are as follows:
1) ALO Lighting Dock
2) Bling Bling Dock
3) Cotton Dock
4) Blue Dragon
5) Generic Line Out
6) Stock Dock
So just how good are the line outs when compared to one another? Read on.
The stock dock line out is standard. Most, if not all of us have heard what this sounds like. This was that bulky thing that came with majority of early iPods and was then sold separately when the newer 5G ipods came to the market. To me it sounds decent. Using the stock cables and dock, the music comes through very loud and clear. No surprises here. The bad thing about the Stock Dock is that it is not portable due to its size and weight. However, as a stay at home option, it does the job just fine.
Generic Line Out
The generic dock ran about $20.00. You can find these docks at places like FRY’s, your local university computer store or other outlet store. The one I got was white and thin. The cables were a bit flimsy and there was an added cable in order to charge the iPod at the same time. The generic dock sounded much like the Stock Dock. However, this little thing is completely portable. The added charging cable can be a hassle and I can see some people putting a razor to it in order to cut it off and make it pocket safe. The dock was easy to insert and take out. Another good thing is that this dock was able to lock on to the dock. In other words, it is unlikely that it will disconnect from your iPod unless you really, really pull hard. Overall this particular generic dock was very decent but was not impressive.
Blue Dragon Line Out
Website: Moon Audio
Now we start getting into the big boy category. The Blue Dragon Line Out I tested costs about $85.00 directly from Moon Audio. It is definitely not cheap. The appearance is rather attractive and its build quality is solid. The specifications listed on their website is as follows:
“It is 4-24awg solid core silver conductors that are teflon coated in a braided geometry. Covered in Techflex.”
Sounds impressive but does it really impress? Yes and No. The sound quality is nice and warm. I played a lot of reference recordings which I know by heart and this cable was able to convey all the music in a warm and rich tone. The detail was there as were the thumping bass notes and the highs. However, the dock used by Moon Audio is not so great as it does not lock onto your iPod. This means that any slight movement WILL disconnect the line out from the iPod. Moreover, if it does not disconnect, it will cause some static noise which will be very audible and very distracting.
ALO LIGHTNING LINE OUT
Website: Audio Line Out
None of the cables from Audio Line Out allow for charging and all of the cables are hardwired to the actual connecting dock. There is no need to supply your own mini to mini interconnect and since they are hardwired to the actual connector, there is little if any signal loss.
The ALO Lightning was a definite upgrade over the Blue Dragon mainly due to the fact that this dock is not flimsy like the Blue Dragon. This docks build quality was much better and the appearance is very professional and attractive. The sound quality did not vary from the Blue Dragon. I found the sound to be a wee bit cleaner (probably due to the better locking dock) but aside from that, the sound was indistinguishable to my ears.
BLING BLING LINE OUT
Website: Audio Line Out
The Bling Bling Line Out sounded wonderful. A funny thing I noticed was that the volume got louder when I connected the Bling Bling Line Out to my iPod. Now, I don’t have any fancy instruments to measure why that happened but I am guessing that it is due to the sensitivity of the silver cable. Ken aka Cletus Bocephust from AudioLineOut.com informed me that this cable requires significant burn in time but with a total burn in time of only 10 hours I was seriously impressed by the sound difference between the Bling Bling Line Out and my Blue Dragon – the clear winner being the Bling Bling Line Out.
Website: Audio Line Out
One word – WOW. I must be honest and confess that I doubted that a little bit of cotton would make a difference in the sound. More importantly, I wondered whether the added cotton should justify a higher price. I wonder and doubt no more. This cable is simply amazing. You will not get a night and day difference between this cable and the silver Bling Bling Line Out but the differences are there and they are noticeable. As with the Bling Bling Line Out, the detail increased when compared to the Blue Dragon. Volume also increased a bit, most likely due to the increased sensitivity. Playing tracks from Susan Wong’s Close to You, the differences became even more pronounced. The guitar licks were crisper and sounded more realistic. The presence was amazing. The bass was tighter and had added texture and the piano key strokes sounded crisp and simply sublime.
The Cotton Dock sounded, dare I say, as musical as my Blue Dragon Line Out. Overall, I found that recordings tended to sound more neutral yet they retained the life and organics of my Blue Dragon. I was amazed. After burning it in for over 60 hours, the Cotton Dock just kept getting better and better.
While amazed I still could not help but be a bit skeptical. Could it be my ears and mind are playing tricks on me? Perhaps. I then proceeded to allow a few of my audiophile friends to listen in – this included some headfi members. I did not tell them which one was which but in the end the verdict for best sounding dock went to the cotton dock.
For those looking to get a cheap dock to provide their line out signal to a portable amp there are many choices. If you want a cheap alternative, there are many other docks available. If you want a quality line out dock with fantastic build quality that provide unparalleled sound then order the Bling Bling Line Out. If you feel you must have the absolute best to compliment your Hi-Fi portable rig then you must get the Cotton Dock. My personal choice would be to get the Cotton Dock as the sound it provides is simply spellbinding. Your bound to win with either of the two choices but my recommendation is to go with the Cotton Dock as the sound is simply fantastic and it is a sound which no other line out will be able to provide. The other options are not that bad
NOTE: If you decide to order a dock from X, make sure you get more than the stock length of cable as the short length may put some strain on the input jacks of your portable amp if you don’t place the iPod correctly on top of your amp.
A HUGE THANK YOU to Ken aka Cletus Bocephust for allowing me to review his wonderful cables and for being ever so patient with me through a computer crash and delayed review.
Another thank you to all my friends, non-Audiophiles and Headfiers who helped me review these docks. Your input was much appreciated.