Apple is world famous for its iconic white MP3 player, but the company's experience in the acoustic design of speaker enclosures is not immediately obvious. Music has always been an integral part of Apple's products, however. From the early experiments with sound on the first Macintosh, through to the Harmon Kardon Soundsticks Apple was keen to pair with the iMac, Apple has dealt peripherally with the business of speaker cabinet design.
Nevertheless, it comes as a shock that the company has pulled what is ostensibly an extremely sophisticated cabinet design out of thin air. The precise origins of the iPod Hi-Fi remain a mystery, but Apple's new white box is an intriguing proposition.
Though our initial reaction was to balk at the price of what appears to be 'iPod speakers', the £249 Hi-Fi includes a relatively powerful integrated amplifier, two full-range speakers and a subwoofer.
The cabinet on the iPod Hi-Fi is a double-walled plastic shell designed to reduce vibration and resonance. Conventional acoustic theory states that the denser the material a speaker cabinet is made of, the better the cabinet will reproduce the recorded sound without unwanted colouration creeping in. Wooden cabinets are the preferred choice for this, but the plastic shell on the Hi-Fi works in a similar way.
The plastic of the chassis precisely matches the white of the iPod. We often find with iPod accessories that the manufacturer hasn't quite matched the tone of the player itself. You would expect Apple to nail this, and it has.
The front of the the unit houses three speakers: two mid-range and one subwoofer. There are also two bass-reflex ports, which redirect air from behind the sub back out to the front of the cabinet, enhancing bass.
The neat integration with the iPod is not unusual for iPod speaker systems, but the inclusion of an Apple remote control is. Though iMac owners will easily confuse the Hi-Fi's remote with their existing Front Row remote (they look identical), you can always do what Apple suggested to us and use a bit of coloured tape to differentiate them. Obviously, you may feel this detracts from the remote's ineffable cool, and choose vigilance over tainting its clean lines.
The remote control lets you change volume and skip tracks. As with Front Row, the control system is extremely basic, and this is one of its strengths. The remote is extremely small -- roughly the same size as a stick of chewing gum -- so you'll want to keep an eye on it.
Most users will choose to keep the iPod Hi-fi plugged into the wall. It is, after all, intended as a replacement for a home stereo. If you want to head to the beach with your tunes, there's a hatch in the rear of the Hi-fi that takes six D-cell batteries.