Wadia Announces Launch of iPod Dock with S/PDIF Output

Wadia Digital, Inc. announced that it will debut the $349 iTransport iPod dock in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) January 7, 2008. Certified by Apple as "Made for iPod®," the iTransport bypasses the iPod's internal D/A conversion to output an S/PDIF signal, "providing CD-quality resolution from full-resolution from file formats such as .WAV and [Apple Lossless]."

It also outputs component video signals for "up to DVD-quality" video.

I thought it was impossible to bypass the iPod's DAC. "So did we," said Wadia president John W. Schaffer. "Then we discovered the little-known fact that Apple had a process called 'authentication' that allowed mobile electronics companies to bypass the iPod's internal DAC."

"Authentication" refers to Apple's authentication chip, which essentially tells the iPod that it's okay to output raw digital audio or video data to the chip-enhanced component. The authentication chips are only available in Apple products or from products made by Apple-licensed third-party developers. After Wadia first began developing what became the iTransport, Apple opened up the authentication program to more third-party vendors. The iTransport may be the first audio product of its kind, but it probably won't be the last. But however you slice it, being firstest is a great coup.

"I think Apple approved our working on the iTransport because of our reputation as a high-end component manufacturer. Apple thinks of the iPod as a high-end source, so it made sense to them," said Schaffer.

In addition to its RCA S/PDIF and component video, the iTransport also sports a pair of RCA analog outputs, although that signal is apparently derived from the iPod's internal DAC.

"When you hear the digital output of the iTransport using full-resolution files like .WAV and Apple Lossless, you realize that it is a hi-rez source—and now that the iPod Classic has a 160GB capacity, there's no excuse for lossy compression," observed Schaffer.

The iTransport is compatible with "all current models," which means that models produced before the authentication program was implemented won't output digital or video—as I understand it, models that early don't output video anyway. I've posted a list at the end of this report.

The iTransport looks like a Jonathan Ive–designed Apple product, with its classic proportions and uncluttered faade. It's a trim 2" H by 8" W by 8" D. It allows consumers to remotely control their iPods with Apple's standard IR remote control (not included) and recharges iPods while docked. I couldn't get anyone to confirm it, but I'm betting the iTransport just might find a "most-favored third-party vendor" slot in Apple's successful Apple stores. That level of visability suggests that the "everything sounds the same" unbelievers just might have their worlds rocked—assuming they don't dismiss a $350 iPod dock without hearing it.

Stereophile certainly won't make that mistake. Jon Iverson and I will be checking out the iTransport the minute CES opens on January 7—and will post the first hands-on report on Stereophile's CES Blog as soon after that as is humanly possible. Stay tuned.

Update: John Schaffer has passed along additional details concerning iTransport compatibility with iPods, iPhones, and iTouch players. He stresses that compatibility, even for the following models, is only guaranteed if the iPod/iPhone firmware is up to date. iPods manufactured before the models listed don't shake hands with the authentication chip and do not output digital or, obviously, video. Each of the individual models, Schaffer notes, has its own "interface characteristics" (quirks, I calls 'em) in the way they work with the Wadia iTransport.

Supported models:

Nano G1: Does not support video and can only output digital audio in the "extended interface" mode. Translation: The iPod click wheel interface is not available while the Nano attached to the iTransport using digital audio out.
Nano G2: Does not support video. However, it does output digital audio without the click wheel interface being disabled.
Nano G3: Supports component video out and will allow digital audio out while still allowing the iPod click wheel interface to function normally.
iPod Video: Supports S-video out (no component video). It only outputs digital audio in its "extended interface" mode. The iPod click wheel interface is not available while the player is attached to the iTransport and using digital audio out.
iPod Classic: Supports component video out and enables digital audio out while still allowing the iPod click wheel interface to function normally.
iPod Touch: Supports component video out and enables digital audio out while still allowing the iPod click wheel interface to function normally.
iPhone: Supports component video out and enables digital audio out while still allowing the iPod click wheel interface to function normally. However, when an iPhone is docked in the iTransport, it will state that the accessory is not designed for the iPhone and will query whether or not the user wants to switch into "airplane mode" (essentially switching off the cell phone). Since the iTransport does work with the iPhone in either mode, either answer is appropriate.

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