I doubt you'll hear any difference using loss less on any ipod.
There is a reason why these devices are built around .mp3 and compressed formats. ITs because there is no advantage in storing and manipulating huge data files with these devices, even if you have very good ears.
I suspect teh best thing to do to get best sound out af any ipod is to use better sounding buds or move up to larger headphones.
Some ipods may have better amplification capabilites than others, don't know, but I suspect amplification quality will be limited on any highly portable device. Maybe some buds are more efficient than others? That might help.
The iPod can sound wonderful "if" you are using uncompressed (AIFF) or lossless (Apple Lossless) files, and use the digital output, which requires a product like the Wadia dock or Naim DAC. There are other products that allow this as well.
Make sure "SOUND CHECK" and "EQ" are turned off. These destroy the sound quality of an iPod.
If you need to use the analog output, get a dock connector that allows a true "line level" output. DO NOT use the headphone jack unless you are using headphones. As for headphones, I like the Etymotic HF2 headset or HF5 headphones. The HF2 just adds a mic and control for the iPhone/iPod Touch. A nice headphone amp will improve the quality if you want to dig deeper.
Tomorrow (September 1, 2010) Apple will introduce new iPods, so I recommend waiting to see what happens. My guess is that the "click wheel" will be going away. ;)
To help answer your question, the following is a quotation from Red Wine Audio, which does modification on certain iPods:
"What you may not know is that that the 4th and 5th generation iPods use a very high-quality internal Wolfson Microelectronics DAC (Wolfson DACs are used in quite a few high-end home audio CD players)."
"Please Note The iMod is only offered for the 4th Generation and 5th/5.5 Generation iPods, as they contain the high-quality internal Wolfson dac chip that makes doing the iMod worthwhile.
We DO NOT and WILL NOT modify any of the other iPods, including the new 6th Generation iPod Classic, iPhone, iPod Touch, or any of the Nanos."
So,there appears to be a difference between iPods; unfortunately, these older models may be difficult to obtain. I can tell you based on my own experience that the quality of the file format matters; Ballan's advice is excellent. I have also had good luck with Etymotic plugs, and Grado headphones work well too as these are easy to drive.
Thanks for suggestions so far. Googling this topic suggests that the best iPod is not an iPod at all, but a HiFiMan HM-801....
Mapman, in other threads we have discussed that this is AUDIOgon, where people discuss the differences in magic marker colors applied to the edge of CDs.
When I first experimented with compressed vs lossless audio in an iPod years ago, I thought the difference was clearly audible, even when output through a car stereo.
Has anyone tried the HiFiMan device?
I have trouble telling the difference between good mp3s and other sources on any of my systems, at least for the pop/rock types of tunes I occasionally buy in mp3. These are typically not audiophile level recordings however.
Never compared on earbuds but I am doubtful I would hear any difference that mattered at least with this kind of music.
I suspect Ipod digital out as a source to another device to make the sound could work pretty well, but then we are moving away from using the ipod for what is is designed for, ie producing portable music itself and towards making it just a source device for system that is better suited to make music more like what we are used to hearing on our good systems.
When my ipod nano died, went through the wash actually so I should say drowned, I got an ipod touch. I absolutely love this thing. It sounds great with music stored via AIFF. The best earbuds I have used with it are Sony; not expensive and the most comfortable for my ears. I have a pair of Shure (fairly expensive) but nowhere near as comfy.
Another great thing about the touch is that I can listen to Pandora with it. It sounds great through a pair of Quad 11L active monitors.
Why not try Sansa Clip. For about $50 you can get 40gb. Its electronics are far superior to any 'i' and battery life can run 15 hours. Since the Clip does not do video, it can last longer.
Of course as an audiophile, I would get more pleasure from spending $800 on the HiFiMan than $50 on a Sansa Clip.
Then again, audiophiles also love it when lesser known devices outperform the leading brand, so thanks for the suggestion.
Why do you say that the electronics are "far superior" to the iPod?
Do you have one? Is it able to drive full size headphones?
Here's your hifiman
on ebay. Only $419.
Thanks but it seems you drew in the competitive bidders.
It traded away for > $600, higher than I would have expected.
I see that Stereophile has included the latest generation of "Classic" iPods in the latest list for recommended components.
I've got an iPod Classic. No complaints when using Apple Lossless with my Etymotic ER-6i IEMs. I can definitely hear a difference between compressed formats and lossless. I think that really depends on the quality of headphones.
I have a Ray Samuels Tommahawk portable amp and ALO cable (bypasses iPod's amp) that drive Etymotic ER4s IEMs. I don't use that combo much due to less traveling for work.
Some say the iPod Touch sounds better, but I'm not sure. It has flash memory instead of a traditional hard drive, which should sound better. But the DAC and amp may have changed. What I can tell you is that my iPhone 3GS doesn't sound as good as my Classic. Maybe due to having a phone in it. Its not a night and day difference, but its not as good.
I think the Classic has/had the Wolfson DAC. My Nano did. It had flash memory too, and sounded pretty identical to my Classic. Not sure of generations of anything except the iPhone. I got the Classic when it first got called that, and the Nano was the one before the bigger screen and video capabilities.
I found that the ipod classic had a lot more authority in the sound than nano 4th or 6th generation (the ones that I own), but, the classic sound seemed a little bit grainier - noticable only in an A/B comparison.
So I've been wondering whether the Touch sound is a best of all worlds - liquid and authoritative?
This is my long way of asking: have any of you compared Touch and nano sound quality and care to comment on it?
I assume use of high quality ear buds. (Personally I love Westone and own three of their models - yeah I even use a $300 pair of Westones at the gym with a shuffle. Worth it!)
As a family, we are trying to keep up with technology,
so I bought my daughter an iPhone, my son a iPod, and myself
an iPad. I felt sorry for my wife, so I bought her an iRon.
Thats when it all kicked off..............
Big mistake. You should have bought her iPrada. ;-)
For wives, the iThong.