iPod Speakers: Why is Everybody Settling for Low-Quality Sound?

Posted by Tom Hannaher , Tuesday, April 28, 2009
iPods® are such cool things because they package great technology in a way that's so easy to use. When the first iPod models (and other MP3 players) hit the market, the big focus was on the incredible number of songs that could be stored on such a small device. But that number was big -- at least back then -- because everybody was recording at 128 kbps sampling rates. The marginal (this is a kind word) sound quality that resulted from these sampling rates seemed acceptable at the time because, hey, "look at how many CDs I've got loaded onto this thing."

Then more affordable storage, bigger drives and/or memory came along -- and so did better sampling solutions, including Apple's "Lossless" Encoder system. So now, for everyone who cares about sound quality, you can get pretty good fidelity from your iPod.

So the big question is, "Why are so many people using crappy speaker systems with their iPods?!?!"  Little plastic speaker cabinets with super-tiny speakers. Their sound quality reminds me of what I hear when I hit a cookie tin really hard with a serving spoon. Metallic, edgy, thin, awful, lifeless, cold...just plain terrible. How can anyone listen to these shiny plastic turds? If I had my way, I would bring back stocks as a form of punishment, and put the designers/marketers of these "things" on display in the lobbies of concert halls.

Yes, it's cool that these "things" are so small. But cute only goes so far. It doesn't make up for screechy.

Here are some rules-of-thumb about how to avoid the awful:
  1. It the system is about the size of a ham sandwich, don't buy it.
  2. If the system's speakers are about the size of a quarter (or smaller), don't buy it.
  3. If it can run off AA batteries, don't buy it.
  4. If the system is shaped like a frisbee or a donut, don't buy it.
  5. If it sells for under a hundred bucks, you probably shouldn't buy it.
There are a number of good-sounding small (but not tiny) sound systems on the market that will make your iPod sound wonderful. We make a couple of them.  Give quality a try. As a friend of mine once said, "When you buy the best, you only cry once."


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