Eliminate the Crap!

When I mentioned it in our Home Entertainment Show Report, I told readers that Red Wine Audio's iMod was only available to 4th Generation iPods. That was true, at the time. Now, Red Wine Audio also offers their audiophile hardware modification for the newer 5/5.5 Generation iPods. Vinnie Rossi must've been working OT. I hear he has trouble staying away from the office.

I'm only just getting to know Vinnie and his company. I should probably interview him — 10 Quick Questions for... Vinnie Rossi! — but getting to know a person in that manner is not my style. Wait. Saying that something "is not my style" is not my style. I suck at interviews, anyhow. Vinnie Rossi, as far as I can tell today, is a cool dude who knows a lot about audio, knows a lot about music, and loves to tweak.

The 5G/5.5G iMod is similar to the 4G iMod. Similar, but different. Their respective goals are absolutely identical: Preserve the iPod's battery-powered operation, portability, user-friendly interface, and sleek design, while adding the sonic performance that audiophiles demand.

Shit, does that last bit — the sonic performance that audiophiles demand — make it sound as though audiophiles are a tough bunch to please? Like we're a load of domineering, whip-cracking, leather-wearing freaks? I don't want to convey that idea at all. I struggled, let me tell you, to come up with the correct noun in that sentence. Hi-fi enthusiast, music-lover, craver-of-better-sound. Fuck it, I said: Audiophile.

Look, listen: If you, whoever you are, want to boost the performance of your iPod — a very fine tool to begin with — you might look into a Red Wine Audio iMod. Why settle for very fine, when you can easily have so much more?

Getting back to those similarities and differences:

With the 4G iPod ($199 plus $15 S&H), Vinnie takes the analog output (line out) signal from the iPod's Wolfson DAC chip and sends it directly to the unit's 1/8" headphone jack via high-end Black Gate Non-Polarized NX-Hi-Q coupling capacitors. If those uppercase letters and hyphens mean nothing to you, well you're not alone. Don't worry about it. What it's supposed to do is eliminate a whole bunch of crappy stock components found between the iPod's DAC and headphone output, crappy components which had been preventing that Wolfson DAC (a higher quality piece found in many high-end CD players) from reaching its full potential. And we should all be able to reach our full potential, yes? Eliminate the crap!

In Vinnie's words, "The goal of the Red Wine iMod is to significantly minimize the analog signal path that follows the output of the internal Wolfson Microelectronics DAC chip."

The audio signal is more direct. And being direct is good. We can talk about anything here. Nothing is off-limits. However, remember that the 4G iModification converts the headphone jack into a dedicated line-out jack, and, therefore, the iPod can no longer be connected directly to headphones. I mean, it can, but the music'll probably blow your brains out. The 4G iMod is intended only for use with a high-quality headphone amp or a hi-fi system. If used with headphones, Vinnie seriously recommends an attenuator, or volume control.

The 5G/5.5G iMod ($249 plus $15 S&H) is a little different. Guess what. What? It leaves the headphone jack unaltered! Because Vinnie couldn't fit the high-end Black Gate Non-Polarized blah blah blahs into the newer, sleeker, slimmer 5G/5.5G iPods, he takes the analog output signal from the iPod's very good Wolfson DAC chip and sends it, instead, directly to the unit's dock connector pins. But what's the signal going to do at the connector pins?

That's where the ALO Audio iMod Dock Cable comes in! Those high-end Black Gate doo-hickeys are fitted into the dock plug of the cable. So, while the iPod's headphone jack is left as is, the ALO iMod Dock Cable is now required for use with the 5G/5.5G iMod. Several versions of the ALO cable are available, and prices start at $110 (plus $9.50 S&H).

So, for a 5G/5.5G iMod, you're looking at around $384. Finally, ALO also offers a Red Wine Audio factory refurbished 80GB Video iMod for $550 (cable sold separately). That may sound like a high price to pay until you consider the benefits. Vinnie Rossi claims his iMod will provide:

1. tighter, more articulate ("Ah-hem," as J-10 would say) bass
2. a richer, more seductive (ohh la la) midrange
3. a more three-dimensional presentation
4. a faster, more energetic sound
5. greater detail and purity
6. superior treble extension

Suddenly, a new iMod seems like a bargain, especially considering that your small, attractive, battery-powered iPod is, in theory, transformed into the small, attractive, battery-powered high-end source it always knew it could be.

If the iMod does all that Vinnie says it does, it's an interesting product, indeed. And you're on your way to that Wondrous $1000 Hi-Fi.

anon's picture

looking forward to hearing your detailed impressions of this.