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IPOD LINE OUT REVIEWS

post #1 of 45
Thread Starter 
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.

Stock Dock

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.

COTTON DOCK
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.


Aftermath:

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.



CONCLUSION:
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

HIGHLY RECOMMENED!


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.
post #2 of 45
Thanks, very helpful! A good length -- not overwhelming, but informative. I hadn't noticed the cotton dock before. Good to know there is something I can spend even more money on

-- David
post #3 of 45
Very nice, and this wouldn't be a bad place at all to share all our Line Out comparos, if I might be so bold. Let me go grab a few...



TURBO's speedy delivery of the TURBO Dock III and the TURBO Cable III! It's sorta cheating to call this a Curse update tho, since eventually this combo is going to find its way into the hands of some lucky donator for the NYC minimeet, and yep it won't be me since I can't buy a raffle ticket. Since, uh, the money from the raffle's going back into my pocket so it's like I'm paying myself for the chance at prizes, which wouldn't make sense. Heh.

But on to the comparo - as of Minute One, the TURBO Combo pays off. How so? Well I hooked up my HP2 to the AE-1 and the iPod via this rig, and blasted The Clash's "Train in Vain" and even via the ambient noise from my open cans, the wife starts doing the Saturday Night Fever Strut. WAF? Sign Me Up for this rig! Seriously, this thing is clean as a whistle, but has really great punch and impact. Thumbs up from me, and that's not even with any burn in time! Someone on June 16th is going to be one happy donator!

For details on what this stuff is made of or where to get it, PM TURBO, I dunno anything about it.
post #4 of 45
Above was using the TURBO Dock III, and below is using the TurboDock I. I'll go find the Apple Remote one in a sec, but for now here you go.

--

RnB180 recently sent me over a cable to check out when I was inbetween cables, and in return I promised to put it through its paces with no mercy and report my findings here. Folks might know that my reviews aren't always the most technical and my subjective prose might spill over to FOTM status at times, so take this review with a grain of salt.

The pretty picture of the RnB Audio Diamond Class Reference Right Angle Mini to Mini Interconnect:



And my Real-World application of the poor thing on the go:


And this is the way I tested it too - with a 5G 30gig iPod, to the TURBODock I, to the cable, to the Headamp AE-1, to the Ety P-to-S 75 Ohm adapter, to the KSC-35. Tunes ranged from the 128AAC iTunes to 256AACVBR (my preferred tunes on the go) and a few lossless tunes to boot (didn't hear any diff).

Regardless of whether you believe in burn-in or not, I decided to pump some tunes non-stop through this rig for several days before reviewing. This was also a good exercise so I could get a clear perspective, away from my normal portable cabling (usually 100% copper wiring like my MisterX Starquad or my Headphile BlackCoral that came broken in during this test).

PHYSICAL ASPECTS - the right angle plugs are just up my alley. This is what I use for my own portable cables as well, since they can spin around in the bag to help alleviate any crunches while walking, and the plug is nice and secure and hasn't popped out even once, either from the AE-1 side or the TURBODock I side. Good stuff. The sleeving is totally non-microphonic, even while swishing around my camera bag. I do admit to fearing that in the long run I might kink the cable to the extent that it will start shorting out on me like my old Sik Din did, but that's just comes with the portable territory - I don't think any warranties cover day to day abuse, but you could PM him and doublecheck, especially since this cable is a bit pricey and only getting a year's use out of it might be sour on the wallet (again, if you abuse your cables on the go).

SONIC ASPECTS - as mentioned in a different thread, I had the thinking at one point to compare cables to headphones, and so here goes - the RnB Audio Diamond is the Sennheiser of cables. Don't get me wrong, folks know I'm a Grado guy, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate what Sennheiser does right. This cable evidences excellent separation and detail, and very realistic high hats and cello, so across the spectrum it has an accurate presentation that is the envy of the portable cable world. When pushed outside to drive past loud ambient noises in the subway, it never loses its composure - it resists sibilance admirably, and immediately continues its silky ways when things quiet down. Its ability to bring the vocals to the fore without giving the impression of having a forward nature is very impressive, since the depth of the music is always represented by the proper background intrumentation having a say behind the singer. The width of the soundstage with the KSC-35 isn't far-reaching, but far enough to give a comfortable sense of space.

Cons? I was listening to that nice high hat, and swapped to my copper cables, and noticed something - the reason why I could hear that high hat so cleanly is because the BANG of the snare drum wasn't there. Oh, when I listened for it, I could hear it, but it wasn't a BANG (like a Grado-type cable). The same thing went for the bass- it is a very tight and deep and controlled bass, but not the BOOM (like a Beyer-type cable). Also, there was a certain lack of warmth, but again, the tradeoff is that there was also a lack of smear (which is a good thing). Don't get me wrong, there definitely was bass (unlike an AKG-type cable, hehe) but it wasn't raw agressive in your face bass, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your preference.

So it's a matter of application. Do you want the AC/DC wailing away for 15 minutes while you walk your dog? The diamond can handle it, but you won't be using its full potential, and there are other cables that can serve better in that capacity (like my personal preference, the pure copper cables). On the other hand, some folks might tire of the forward warm bassy nature of a pure copper cable which works great when walking on the sidewalks of NYC, but not necessarily while reading mags in a bookstore.
Do you use your portable rig mostly in the library with IEMs and study for hours with the tunes skipping along? The RnB Diamond may be for you. This copper hybrid is not fatiguing at all, and yet has no smear in its smoothness. The detail is striking, but doesn't have the aggressive impact to distract you from your Biochemistry homework. Best news? It has no "Sennheiser Veil" Great job on the cable, RnB180!
post #5 of 45
I couldn't find my Apple Remote review, so I'll steal Duncan's. My impressions are the same as his anyhow, using a 5G ipod to the apple remote to a RnBAudio BlackDiamond mini to mini to my amp.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Duncan
...It hisses, hasn't got that great a cohesion, doesn't sound that accurate... bit of a bummer huh?

Well... help may be at hand

On a whim, i've been trying to track down one of the radio remote controls that is suitable for the 5G and Nano, managed to finally get one today, and have one thing to say...

Great!!

The sound out of the bottom of the unit (I won't call it the line out, because it is the same volume as the main unit, and the volume is controlled on screen, rather than it being a pot in the remote itself which makes it doubtful that it is) is much better than that out of the headphone output... Even with the Shure E5C the hiss that plagues the headphone out is not evident until you go a fair way over half volume, and it is never to the same extreme as the headphone out...

...The overall sound quality increases with this too, probably in part helped by a much more inky blackness - the bass is tighter, the treble less shrill. soundstage more focused...

I'm totally smitten with this remote, the best money I've yet given to Steve Jobs... Also, it allows a friend to share, if thats your thing, as the headphone out itself is still there to use...

...And of course, not forgetting the radio - it still suffers with a fair amount of drop out, which i guess is to be expected, but - when you can lock on to a clean signal, its really not too bad! (and the RDS implementation is pretty cool too!!)

Not too often that I say this, but - this is definitely a five star buy!!
post #6 of 45
My apologies for not adding more reviews myself, especially to those folks who have some offerings over at Mall-Fi, but I only added ones that I've heard/owned myself to be fair.
post #7 of 45
Thread Starter 
Jahn, thank you very much for adding your reviews. Maybe we can get a sticky for this thread.
post #8 of 45
very nice review, LFF. i also have the cotton dock since i wanted a line out through my ipod on the go. i contemplated on whether i should get a regular ALO dock for around $50 or the cotton dock for $100. i thought, ah what the heck, i'm gonna be using this forever, so why not... i'm glad that there are noticeable differences between the cotton and the bling dock, hence justifying the extra $50. i have not seen a direct comparison between it and i loved this read.
post #9 of 45
LFF do you know if the silk version sounds different from the cotton? Thanks.
post #10 of 45
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by mrarroyo
LFF do you know if the silk version sounds different from the cotton? Thanks.
I did not have the pleasure to review the Silk Dock. From what I have heard and read - there are some differences but not many. I really LOVED the cotton dock as it seems to offer the best of both worlds - the detail and clarity of silver with the warm sound of copper. Get the cotton dock - its fantastic.
post #11 of 45
I was one of those Head-Fiers lucky enough to have a listen to all those docks while LFF had them. During my testing, I was aware of what cables I had plugged in and did all of the switching myself. I was using the docks in combination with my Hornet and 5th Gen iPod.

Let me start by saying I found the Cotton Dock to be very impressive as well. For me the biggest difference to be heard was in the enhanced 3D feel to the sound. This significantly improved imaging and separation. I was also very impressed by the warmth and fullness of this cable. It's a big step up in price over my Nyko dock but the differences were quite impressive. FWIW, I think the differences may also be attributed to the thicker gauge wire that the Cotton Dock uses.

To me there wasn't much of a difference between the Lightning Wire and the Bling Bling Dock. They both sounded more dynamic than my own Nyko dock, but I'd have a very hard time justifying the difference in price to myself since the difference to me was fairly minor.

In favor of all three of these docks, however, was the wonderful connector. It's the only connector I've come across so far that actually fits properly with my iPod case. My Nyko connector works but the edges of the dock stick out a little beyond the opening of the case and I have to push rather hard to get a connection. The connector on the three of these docks fits properly inside the opening to the case and slides in and locks very nicely. The look/finish is also very nice, although I'm not particularly fond of the black and white coloring of the Lightning Wire's dock. Maybe this was just a demo for both colors, but it definitely should be one or the other.
post #12 of 45
nice review~~
I hope I can see the ultimate version of this review soon
including some other contenders like Qables, RnB, Wyvern, Turbo, etc...
post #13 of 45

Qables vs. ALO

With regard to the Qables dock vs. the ALO Silk/Cotton, here are my repeatable observations.

Source:
Apple iPod, G5 60GB & iPod 4GB Nano feeding Ray Samuels Audio SR-71 ser. # 6423

These LOD’s were evaluated using a wide variety of music. Impressions recorded were those found to be consistent with all styles and types of music. All interconnections were cleaned/deoxidized with Caig DeOxit 5, & protected with Caig Pro Gold (now marketed as DeOxit Gold.

Qables Line Out Dock
  • Very nicely constructed, looks bullet proof.
  • By itself, without comparison to any other LOD’s the Qables dock sounds very good, very clean.
  • Constricted/limited bottom octave fr response
  • 2D soundstage
  • Limited dynamics
  • Nice mids
  • Highs very slightly sibilant
  • Slightly out of control top end (ringing?)

Audio Line Out Docks –Silk & Cotton Silvers
  • ALO products are a bit thick & puffy looking.
  • Very well constructed, but looked a bit less tidy than Qables
  • Extended bottom octave.
  • Slightly fuller, richer sounding.
  • Almost holographic 3d soundstage.
  • Nice bottom, mid, & hf.
  • well controlled at all freqs.
  • More extended hf, better controlled too.
  • More engaging, more exciting all around.
  • Much more delicate (innter details) sound.
  • More air.
  • More punch.

A side note about Cotton vs. Silk vs. Teflon ALOs;
I prefer the sound of the cotton dock over the sound of the silk dock. The differences are subtle, but the top end of the Cotton dock sounds just as extended yet slightly better controlled. The Cotton dock is more resolving than the Silk dock to these ears.

Keep in mind, the differences I hear are slight and while only evident with certain pieces of music, the observations are repeatable and consistent. The Silk dock is mechanically more compact than the cotton one, and thus desirable from that standpoint.

While I digress, the difference between the Teflon insulated silver and the Cotton insulated silver is pretty apparent. The difference manifests almost as a ringing in the high frequencies with the Teflon vs. totally controlled HF in the Cotton, with the same HF extension on both. Delicate things in the music like triangles, texture of drum heads, rosin on bows, etc. are more pristine with the cotton than they are with Teflon. The Silk is in between those two "extremes" but much closer to the Cotton than to the Teflon in character.


Conclusion:
The Qable product is a very fine product indeed, well constructed and aesthetically pleasing to the eye, hand, and wallet. Construction wise, all three docks are first rate, but the looks of the Qables dock is more appealing to me.

Without a doubt, though, my sonic preference goes to the ALO Cotton Dock first, and the Silk a close second. Bottom line for me is that the ALO Cotton and Silk products just sound better, so much so, to these ears, that I happily pay the difference in price for the superior sound.
post #14 of 45
how long is the burn in for the cotton dock?
post #15 of 45
Quote:
Originally Posted by aluren
how long is the burn in for the cotton dock?
In general the most shared opinion (apart from those who do not believe in burn in at all) is that a silver conductors in general requires a good 40 to 100hrs burn in.

But we could start a whole thread on the subject of burn in

rgds Hans.
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