Wood Docks and Cammo Caps

Christian wrote:

Stephen, thanks for a much earlier post that drew my attention to the folks at ALO. I picked up one of their docking stations. It looks great—the wood almost matches the trim on my amp.

My pleasure, Christian, but I didn't even know that ALO made wood docking stations! To find out more, I sent an e-mail to ALO's Ken Ball.

The Fidelity iPod docking stations have been available since just before Christmas, and they are beautiful. A solid block of wood is CNC-machined and finished with a hard enamel coating. ALO offers six different options: Black Walnut, Cherry, Paduke, Purple Heart, Quilted Maple, and (my favorite) Zebra. Price is $250–$280, depending on the finish. The Zebra, of course, costs the most—I have expensive tastes. There are no black, white, silver, or Ferrari red options. I like it that way. Somebody tell somebody: Shiny plastic is so three years ago. Wood is the new white. These docks are not plastic toys; they're meant to be displayed as pieces of furniture—handsome, understated, warm. Like Christian, you can probably find a dock to match your sweet, new amplifier or your beloved loudspeakers. I would like to see a black ash option, but Ken Ball says he has no plans to add any other finishes. Still, I'd send him an e-mail just to be sure. Ken seems like a pretty flexible dude. Come up with a good idea, and Ken'll probably get to work on it.

Ken says the wood casing has no bearing on the dock's sound. The Fidelity Dock's sound quality is "a function of the hook-up wire used, a smart and efficient signal path." Does wood sound better than plastic? Who knows? Maybe. It certainly looks better. Inside, the dock features ALO's Au/Ag 24K gold-coated silver wire. Wiring is done point-to-point. There's a mini audio out, an RCA out, and a power supply, so that you can charge your iPod while you listen. The docks are weighted. You shouldn't knock your dock off your rack or desk while connecting it to your system or when using the iPod's click wheel. The dock works with 6G iPods, as well as the sexy iTouch, cute Nanos, and 5.5G and 4G iPods.

From what I gather, Ken's one heck of a tweaky dude. I bet he was one of those kids who blew things up in science class. Or in gym. Or in his neighbor's backyard. I can tell from his cammo hats. Put him in a room with Red Wine Audio's Vinnie Rossi, and forget about it—all sorts of hi-fi high jinks might erupt. Most likely, the pair would pass the time by smashing old iPods before piecing them back together, bit by bit, with improved sound quality. Just don't give Vinnie any margaritas. Keep him on the vino. With Ken making wood iPod docks and Vinnie churning out iMods which utilize Ken's iMod dock cables, it only makes sense that Ken would go on to produce wood iMod docks, too.

And, of course, you have options. The original iMod dock cables use Black Gate capacitors. There are several versions, differing in cable construction and length, from the $99 22G Cryo cable to the $320 Super Kind cable, dressed in very attractive black and gold cotton. The wood iMod docking stations upgrade the capacitors to a choice of Auricaps, V-caps, or Aura Teflon caps. The Auricap docks are virtually identical to the standard Fidelity Docks, but simply add the Audience Auricap capacitors, making them compatible with Red Wine Audio's iMod. In case you're wondering: An iMod without an ALO dock is just an iPod—without the ALO dock, Red Wine's modifications cannot be utilized. Furthermore, docking an iMod in any other dock, thereby sacrificing the DC-blocking capacitors altogether, is potentially harmful to your loudspeakers. Finally, an iPod in an iMod dock just doesn't make sense. The additional capacitors would only get in the way. They would be "an unnecessary obstacle in the signal path," says Ken. The Auricap Fidelity Docks cost $340.

Moving up the capacitor ladder, the V-cap iMod dock uses VH Audio's V-cap OIMP (Oil Impregnated Metallized Polypropylene) capacitors, said to offer better sound than either the Black Gate caps or the Auricaps. Even better sound, I imagine, than the cammo caps. But you'll have to ask Ken about that. These docks are available in Myrtlewood ($660) and lovely Cocobolo ($740). Expensive? Yes. Ken says the manufacturing process is incredibly difficult and time-consuming. The finished product, however, is again gorgeous. The iMod rests in the dock at about a 45 degree angle, its back panel supported by the dock itself, so that there's no need to brace the iMod while accessing its click wheel.

The Aura Teflon iMod docking station is ALO's latest development, and uses Audience's top-of-the-line Teflon caps. According to Ken, these caps sound especially amazing. I'm waiting to hear back from him on pricing and availability.

No matter which dock/cap combination you go with, Ken says that they all sound just as good as they look. But of course he would say that. I haven't listened, but my eyes tell me these Fidelity Docks are gorgeous.

Christian: You've got a good eye. Thanks for the tip.

Ariel Bitran's picture

Those are freaking beautiful. I was looking at them and told my girlfriend that I wanted one. She looked at me and said, "Do you really need one?" Yes. I do. probably won't get one yet, as i'm only dreaming. but damn. those are cool!

Stephen Meatias's picture

Maybe you should buy one for your girlfriend.

steven simon's picture

There's a Wadia dock coming out that gets the digital data out of the iPod -- instead of the analog signal -- through the multipin line-out. It's somewhat more pricey than the ALO product but surprisingly not by much. Which would you recommend on a sound/cost basis?

Doug Bowker's picture

Man- I want one. Nope- don't need one at all- but that quilted maple version would look swanky with my quilted maple floor standing speakers...

antonio's picture

is this really necessary? i mean if something sounds bad from the beginig there is no way to make it sound better in the end (speakers) not even with a 1,0,000 dlls. system, come on, cut the bull , that's why people hates audiophiles.

Bob Lasky's picture

I would wait for the Waida instead of a couple of caps in a wood block.

Christian's picture

You are welcome Stephen. I am glad my reply inspired an entry. I love the dock, it looks beautiful and the weighting of the box really does keep it in place. It was probably one of my more frivolous acquisitions; mostly for astetics, but I understand that. It has improved the sound over using the headphone output and the added convenience of being able to shuffle or play podcasts on the hi-fi has really added a fun factor back into listening to music. The charging feature is great too, I never have to worry about running out of juice.

B.J. Ballstien's picture

Ken is not only the most warm, loving, generous, and talented person I know, but I'm also in a deep and mutually respectful platonic relationship with him... some folks call that "friend."But I have never known him to blow things up.

RobertC's picture

Yes, the wood is pretty. The rest of the description is every audiophile-nervosa-cliched reason for existence rolled into a few sentences, quite a good job actually. Lucky for us audiophiles, a few boutique capacitors will "fix" the tiny surface mount ones found inside an iPod... come on guys, this is getting beyond silly. But who am I to ruin your fun, enjoy your jewelry!