iPod Nano Sound Quality - Your Feedback Please?

My initial impression of the Nano sound quality is different than I expected. I would like to hear from others.

HOWEVER, if you don't mind, I'd like to run this as a blind collection of feedback. Instead of posting our collective impressions, discussing them, and in the process INFLUENCING EACH OTHER, please - at least at first - just drop me a short email with your impressions of the sound quality of the Nano. I'll post a summary of responses after a relatively short time, probably a week.

I will summarize the responses anonymously but after I do that feel free to own up to your opinion in this or other discussion boards.

Email to:

In this discussion thread, for the moment, feel free to post your opinion of my IDEA of doing this. Do you think it's a good idea to initially collect feedback that is not influenced by discussion with other members, or is this too... what?


ps: I'm not necessarily suggesting that you hook up the nano to your main audiophile system rig, although that might be interesting. My own testing has been done under circumstances that I normally plan to use the nano in; that is, with stock earbuds, a $25 pair of Sony "sports" headphones, and a $200 pair of Shure e3c. But you do your own thing, and summarize the results.
I think your idea of this thread is good; however, I would assume that it sounds the same as any other ipod. I mean it is just an embedded hard drive with information, right?

I'm asking because I don't know.
We'll find out.
Well, it has to do digital-to-analog conversion, right?

Art, this is a good idea, but two things:

This topic may be premature by a month or more. Do you think a bunch of Audiogoners are running out to get the nanos right away as you did?

You should probably give your nano a bit more break in time.
I considered whether this would be premature, but well, I'm in effect asking people to NOT discuss the sound quality of the nano, and I think I'll at best have a brief window of time on this.

Yes I do think a lot of Audiogoners took one look at the nano, as I did, and had to have one right away. But I could be wrong.

>>it is just an embedded hard drive with information, right?
Wrong! It's a flash player (like the Shuffle) and as such definitely a non hifi unit!
>Yes I do think a lot of Audiogoners took one look at the
>nano, as I did, and had to have one right away. But I could
>be wrong.

Not wrong. I bought two. :)

Strange thing is that even the commercials don't do the little bugger justice. Speaking from a non-audiophile perspective (I actually haven't listened to it yet), the Nano is about the sweetest industrial design I've ever seen.
Don't think you are wrong. I have just called two Best Buy's, two Circuit City's, and two Apple stores, all are out of the 4 gig nano. Won't be grabbing mine today...

Good idea, would like to hear your thoughts on the sound quality...
OK, why don't we open up this thread to discussion of sound quality. I am not getting the flood of emails I expected. Let's just discuss it here on the 'gon.

I'm going to with-hold my comments until tomorrow, because I want to hear it carefully some more tonight after break-in, and also I want to compare it head to head with my mini. (I'm letting it play all day today without listening to it, just to make sure it's broken in, in case that makes a difference.)

If I have time I'll also visit the Apple store and compare mine to one in the store (if they have one!) to make sure that mine is typical.

Artmaltman - Do you have a normal ipod that you are comparind this to?
I'll be comparing it to a mini. That's the only iPod that I have available for comparison.
>>I'll be comparing it to a mini. That's the only iPod that >>I have available for comparison
You can't compare the hardware only!
Which compression format? ACC? Apple Lossless?

I forget whether it was here or at Audio Asylum where someone posted a newspaper review of the iPod shuffle. The journalist was claiming that the amplifier used in the shuffle was of the push-pull variety and was way quieter than the 4th generation iPod which was way quieter than the iPod mini. The point of the article was that the shuffle was the quietest and possibly of audiophile quality and the mini was the nosiest. Apple declined to comment on any of this for the newspaper journalist.

I bring this up, because if true, you will be comparing the Nano to the nosiest product of the iPod family and possibly, not a model that most of us may own. For example, I own a first generation iPod and was considering purchasing a new one (cracked the headphone jack and it is of borderline use). So, I am not so sure how valid a shoot-out this ultimately is.

Regards, Rich
Good comments, thanks for bringing these up.

1. I am using mostly 128 AAC, with some 192. So my comments will not be definititive with respect to use of lossless, although it probably provides strong hints.

2. The nano is replacing the mini. Steve Jobs is replacing his most popular product, in the middle of it's prime, with a radically different product. So it is interesting from this point of view. And I think the mini owner is a good candidate to transition to the nano, and prospective purchasers of the mini will now be funneled to the nano instead.

3. The reason I'm comparing mini to nano is that this is the migration that I'm considering. If I had the good fortune to work for an audio journal then probably I could discuss with the editor which comparison to do, and then even get loaners from Apple.

4. I don't think there is any single comparison that would serve all purposes.

The comparison itself is taking longer than I hoped and I'm not willing to use "vacation" time from work to do it, so I'll post more information over the weekend. I would really like to hear from others as well if any of you do any testing.

Briefly what I've found so far - testing only via my Sony sports headphones and also via Shure e3c, is that these two units sound quite different. This is not only the opposite of what I expected, but, well, prior to using the nano I never even considered that they MIGHT sound different. I took it as a given that they would sound the same.

The nano seems to sound more solid - more saturated - with more color, more dynamics, more vivid, more authoritative and far deeper bass. However on some recordings the nano sounds irritating, kind of strained or shrill. The mini sounds consistently far more relaxed, a little bit grainy, and while not as extended top and bottom, it is quite well balanced. (Is the grain what you call "noise"?)

I don't have a clear preference yet, in terms of sonics, but I am likening the difference between nano and mini as kind of like the difference between Thiel speakers and Spendors. When everything is perfect in a system - great gear, perfectly matched and set up - with an excellent recording - I find Thiels pretty spectacular, really hard to beat. But if something is off - particularly if it's not a great recording, or the amp is less than stellar for example - Thiels can be unpleasant. Spendors make a wider range of music enjoyable (to my experience) whereas Thiel increases the intensity of the pleasure of the best recordings.

That is what I've found so far, very tentatively.

What I want to do next is hook both of these units to my main stereo. I don't have line out so I'll be amplifying the output stage of each iPod, which is probably just as well, since that's part of what I want to test.

I am very curious as to others experiences. It could be, for example, that my testing reflects unit to unit variation. I have a very early model nano, and first generation mini, by the way.

“Well, it has to do digital-to-analog conversion, right?” – Drubin

Yes. But being a consumer product and not a hifi product, I would assume that they aren’t going to use hi end parts in that process. So, it should sound the same as other ipods. Any extra cost would go into making it small.

“it is just an embedded hard drive with information, right? Wrong! It's a flash player (like the Shuffle) and as such definitely a non hifi unit!” – Aida_W

EMBEDDED, the software is permanently set into a read-only memory such as a ROM or flash memory chip, in contrast to a general-purpose computer that loads its programs into RAM each time.
I would speculate that something is dramatically different physically in the nano from the mini that makes a clear sonic difference. It could be D to A conversion, amplification, or characterist of power supply, or all three.

Also I should not rule out manufacturing variation as a source of the differences that I am hearing. These are mass produced, and they probably have pre-determined error tolerances that may or may not permit audible variations within the "acceptable" tolerance range.

ps: I wonder if the 2nd generation mini sounds different than my 1st gen. Hmmmm. Anyway, I will be continuing my focus in testing on migration from first gen mini to nano, 128 and 192 compression.

Or maybe, it's just smaller. Clearly part of the marketing plan all along. Get people to stock up on the original Ipod, then the mini, then when sales start to drop come out with a smaller version. Continuous income.

I hope you are right Art. I would more compelled to buy one if there is an improvement in the sound quality. I will look forward to other's impressions.
What options are there to hook a nano up to an audiophile system? Is there a line out on the Nano or the dock to hook to a preamp?
Well the mini, and I think the other docks too, had a line out that bypassed the output stage of the iPod. So people generally try to use the dock with previous generation iPods in order to access that direct line out.

I read some place that the nano dock has a line out whose volume is mitigated by the volume control on the nano. This probably means that the line out on the nano dock does not bypass the output stage of the nano, but I cannot be sure.

My personal goal is to test the sound of the units including the output stage, so I'll hook them up to my stereo out of the headphone output. But if I were hooking the unit up to a stereo for longer term listening, I sure would like to bypass the iPod output stage.