Back to the Future Friday: iPod 5G (iPod Video)

Back to the future Friday, a monthly column where Headfonia shines light on the awesome past.

#4 iPod 5G (oft’ called iPod Video, circa 2005)

I didn’t immediately jump on the iPod 5G. Instead, I purchased a 4GB iPod nano, then, after scratching its screen up, re-fired a well-kindled Apple hate, and did the Meizu/Cowon/Sony thing for a few years.

Down with Apple! Mass market drivel! Bought by sheeple that don’t know sound, that have no taste! Idiots!

Then my mate let me hear his.

I nearly swallowed my tongue.

By then, the iPod Classic had been out for a couple of years. Despite both looking and feeling antiquated, the 5G astounded me.

And not just because it boasted a pretty gnarly Wolfson WM8758 DAC that sounds great. I certainly wouldn’t say it helped the 5G performed better than its contemporaries. In fact, I rather expect that, at least partly, its performance trails that of SoCs from Cirrus Logic among others. But what I heard very sounded good to me. And I’m completely aware that sounding good is personal.

The other thing about the iPod 5G was that it was (and still is) a joy to use.

Here’s the skinny:

Looks

The 5G was the last iPod to sport an overtly toyish design: soft glint of polycarbonate, high contrast polished metal, reflective plastic, and more. It is the first iPod to make full use of column browsing. And it came with a large, legible screen.

And dear Lord, that interface, while lacking in some functional areas, was perfectly laid out. 

I consider it to the the handsomest, most politique design ever seen in a digital audio player. Many the stoned, aspirational plan of first-year design students was shot down. A thousand no’s were said. In the end, a single yes decided it all. 

Simple brilliance was created. That brilliance connected to the heart. No element was out of place. No extraneous angles jutted from strange, jutting angles. Faux diamond volume knobs were tossed out. Ditto asymmetric handedness. 

The 5G was a device designed to be used, not to be looked at. It played your music. It played your videos. It never hiccuped. And yet, while all else was ancillary, its design appeals still today.

Years later, the stoned, the dejected, the ridiculous, congregated to massage hurt feelings and create the ultimate committee platform. Benevolent iRiver it was that eventually said a thousand yeses.

Cost

For a time, Apple players were considered expensive. Commoditisation drove prices down. Pretty soon, Apple set the prices for the industry. While neither 30 GB nor 80 GB versions were cheap, they wouldn’t break the bank.

Today, well-used 80 GB 5Gs still go for 150-200$, sometimes much more. Sony and Cowon players of the same vintage go for far less. The iPod 5G – and most of Apple’s line of iDevices – cost very little over the long term. And since iPod owners don’t have to constantly seek that elusive ‘iPod Killer’, times between upgrades are long.

Upgradability

The 5G was also the last iPod to utilise fully discrete components. If the stock configuration wasn’t you thing, companies like Red Wine Audio could simplify the audio path by bypassing certain components, which returned better performance when connected to external amplification. Other companies offered upgrade hard disks, or made adapters that could interface with flash memory. I got an SD adapter here. Today, your iPod 5G can store hundreds of gigabytes of music.

But not every upgrade cost money. Rockbox firmware could be used contemporaneously with Apple’s, and offered functionality that music lovers missed: true gapless playback, parametric equalisers, software crossfeed, and much, much more. It offered plugins, and support for nearly every audio format under the sun. Rockbox is still being improved. It is the most comprehensive operating system for audio players.

Because of its incredible popularity, numerous vendors of batteries, screens, and more, popped up. If something went wrong with your 5G, chances were that you could find a way to fix it. Largely, the same is true today.

Ease of use

As mentioned above, the column view UI ensured that every software interface element had a place. That place never shifted, nor was it unnecessarily replicated. Hardware input reacted logically. Up was up, down was down. Left was left, and right was right. A press of the central button selected something. 

There was no use in reinventing the wheel. Flash/bang!/wowie! was as far from their minds as today it is dear and close to iRiver. A more logical, and uniform interface for prehensiles doesn’t exist. 

That said, niggles exist. Many Apple have since corrected. The first is that the raising and lowering of volume is possible only from the playback screen. The second is that repeat and shuffle functions are not directly accessible from the playback screen. The third – a point that consternates the least – is that playlist creation – and here it is again – isn’t possible from the playback screen. 

Continue to the next page for sound and other impressions:

Back to the Future Friday: iPod 5G (iPod Video)
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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

54 Comments

  • Reply August 23, 2014

    George Lai

    The iPod in its various iterations is still my main DAP. Funnily enough the three niggles you listed don’t niggle me (!) as I almost always use it with an external amp via the 30-pin, I don’t use repeat or shuffle, and I don’t use playlists. I listen to whole albums.

    The thing I love most is its “constant on” feature. Plug in headphones, press play. Pull out headphones and you don’t even need to press the pause button. Simplicity is not easy to achieve.

    • Reply August 23, 2014

      ohm image

      I think Apple rule the ‘simplicity as a rule’. By and large, their designs are delights to use. This is my favourite iPod. Which generation are you using?

      • Reply August 23, 2014

        George Lai

        I have the 4th, 5th and 6th generations.

        • Reply August 23, 2014

          ohm image

          You are worse off than I had supposed. I have nano 1G, iPod 5G, and shuffle 1G.

          • Reply August 23, 2014

            George Lai

            Those are the ones that still work 😉

          • Reply August 26, 2014

            Miyaichi

            Shuffle 1G ftw – it sounds amazing 🙂 much better than the Clip Zip

      • Reply August 24, 2014

        dalethorn

        The Classic is standardized at 160 gb for new units. But sadly, with most Apple products, their bureaucracy overrules their progressive tendencies. They froze the Shuffle (a great player BTW) at 2 gb, they froze the Nano at 16 gb, and maximum storage on the 5c phone is 32 gb. I hear the new iPhone 6 (4.75 inch version) will have a max of 64 gb only. That’s inexcusable for anyone who would like to be thought of as progressive.

  • Reply August 23, 2014

    SallyMaeSusan

    I use a current generation Classic to listen to classical and jazz through Shure and Ety IEM’s. I have heard high-res files via an amped and un-amped NW-ZX1.
    Yes, the NW-ZX1 was very good. But the difference in SQ is simply not big enough to justify buying one. As and when that changes, I may consider alternatives such as Denon’s upcoming DA 10 but until then, I am more than happy with my humble set-up.

    • Reply August 23, 2014

      ohm image

      I might argue that a current-gen iPod would sound better with the same files. The Z1 isn’t a very good device, certainly not next to a good iPod. Lachlan Likes a Thing also talked about this.

      • Reply August 23, 2014

        SallyMaeSusan

        Now, that does surprise me! Thanks, I’ll check it out.

        • Reply August 23, 2014

          ohm image

          I should have been clearer. It isn’t good for the money. It sounds decent, but the performance from its output isn’t good enough to properly flesh out 16-bit audio. 24-bit is right out.

          A good modern iPod should outperform the Z1, but that doesn’t mean you will prefer the sound.

          • Reply August 24, 2014

            SallyMaeSusan

            Right. I enjoyed Lachlan’s video; a good, sound approach.
            And as jonthor says above, it’s good to read a positive spin on the good ol’ Pod.

  • Reply August 23, 2014

    Venci

    5G is retired, but what about the new Ipod 7 nano? Is it worse?

    • Reply August 23, 2014

      L.

      I quite like the 7G nano’s sound. Much better than the previous nanos. However I doubt it can touch the Classic 5G, have you seen how small it is?

      I do use my 7G nano with my Cypherlabs rig and sometimes I use my customs straight out of the ipod if I can’t carry a dac/amp around and the result is satisfactory

      • Reply August 23, 2014

        Venci

        Yeah i want something very small to fit my pocket (alongside my smartphone and iems) I have sansa clip and want an upgrade, but the only small DAP available is nano 7, too bad.

        Thanks for the fast replay 🙂

        • Reply August 24, 2014

          dalethorn

          I like the current Nano, but I wish it had more memory. It has the same sound and music features as the Touch, minus Internet capability, but plus a FM radio.

          • Reply August 24, 2014

            ohm image

            I agree, though I have no need for FM radio.

            • Reply August 25, 2014

              George Lai

              Radio? What’s that? Oh, that medium where nice music is interrupted by incessant chattering and advertisements. Right.

              • Reply August 27, 2014

                ohm image

                You’ve never enjoyed the Radio One I see. Dude, that sucks.

                • Reply August 27, 2014

                  George Lai

                  The only radio I listen to is the Radio Paradise app. I dislike Spotify etc for slightly different reasons.

                  • Reply August 27, 2014

                    ohm image

                    If you’ve never experienced national radio, silent, you! Canada’s CBC Radio One and BBC’s several radio channels are models by which all broadcasting should take notes.

        • Reply August 24, 2014

          ohm image

          The iPod nano 7G is a clear upgrade to the clip. Both in ease of use, and in certain areas, in sound.

          It hisses less, has a stronger output, just as good current, but spits out a much wider, cleaner stereo signal.

          It gets better battery life, too. As I said, I’m holding out for one.

    • Reply August 23, 2014

      ohm image

      I am holding out for October. If a new version with similar form factor, high voltage output, and 24-bit support come out, I’ll jump. I love nano.

  • Reply August 24, 2014

    johthor

    Very nice review and it is great seeing the good old Ipod 5 gen getting some love. I have two of these excellent Daps (actually mine are 5.5 gen 80gb models). One I bought brand new in 2005 and the other used in 2007. Both of mine have original batteries in them and still giving me about 4 hours playtime each. One of my Ipods I use with JDS labs C5 and the other with JDS lab C421 connected with Fiio L9 30 pin connectors. For general use it is tough to beat these venerable old Daps as Nathan plainly pointed out in his review.

    • Reply August 24, 2014

      ohm image

      The only article I had more fun ‘researching’ for Headfonia was perhaps the Minidisk article. Why? Because I loved to hate MD. The iPod 5G has so little wrong with it that I had to remove entire negative sections. I do wish, however, that there were mods available would lower the output impedance. That (and maybe less hiss) would make a perfect DAP.

  • Reply August 27, 2014

    Tronco

    When I got my iPod video back in 2006 I was looking for a music player with video functionality. I needed video because I was starting a long trip to NZ and OZ and music wasn’t enough for the long busrides. I didn’t care about sound quality, all players sounded the same to me and 10 bucks IEMs from the local supermarket were as good as any. I was young.

    I remeber choosing the iPod over the Creative ZEN even though I am not an Apple fan. I like their design but I miss the freedom, I like messing around with gear, install this and that, etc. I got the iPod was because I could just plug it in to my Linux computer and drag and drop my music on and off it. Nice and easy. iTunes was a nightmare back then except for the DVD-Rip part which was awesome. Except for a very short time in 2006 I have been using the iPod without iTunes and solely on Linux and there is absolutely nothing to complain about it.

    I sold mine some months ago because I wasn’t using it much after getting the iBasso DX50. To me the DX50s sound is better so the choice is clear (the UI is a different story).

    Great build quality, great UI, good sound that easily beats all smartphones I’ve heard so far. After 8 years the battery still lasted 8.5 hours. Considering this device was engineered and build so long ago all there is to say is: Good job Apple. Well done.

    If Apple was to bring out a new version with improved sound, I would certainly consider it.

    • Reply August 28, 2014

      ohm image

      I would prefer the iPod 5G to the DX50 for sound, utility, and more, if only the output impedance was lowered. Thank you for adding your experiences.

      • Reply August 28, 2014

        Tronco

        I prefer the DX50 but I guess it’s just a matter of taste. Once I hooked the iPod to a Fiio Alpen using the Fiio Line-Out cable and this improved the sound quality. But two devices didn’t fit my pockets anymore.

        I like the “Back to the future” reviews, keep up the good work. I’m looking forward to a Sony walkman review 🙂

        • Reply August 28, 2014

          L.

          Good idea. I can do that!

        • Reply August 28, 2014

          ohm image

          To be honest, Back to the Future is my favourite column (or is it the only one?) here.

          Walkman… I just sold my A828. Perhaps it’s time to move back to cassette. We’ll see.

          The DX50 vs. iPod 5G is absolutely a story of sound preference. Quality wise, the DX50 smacks the 5G with a fish. The 5G, if given the best shake, smacks a lot of players. But iBasso’s players are in a different league.

          Which just goes to show ya! I love that slightly darker, warmer Wolfson sound. Some, like Cymbacavum’s Mr. T., do not. And I can see that. I’ve changed. I used to prefer very very accurate sounding players in every aspect. Today, I realise they provide better sound quality, but _my_ preferences lie on a different line for _my_ enjoyment of music.

        • Reply September 3, 2014

          BaasTurbo

          Yeah, a column on the venerable cassette Walkman would be awesome! My Sony WM-EX304 got stolen on a school trip back when I was 16, man was I *heartbroken*… still am about that one. It was the coolest thing with its two dials, variable Megabass, Auto-reverse and Dolby NR. Pretty good earbuds for the time as well, though I preferred Panasonic on-earphones (RP-HT60SA).

  • Reply September 3, 2014

    BaasTurbo

    Thanks for this, after the MD column yet another winner! I cherish my 5.5G 80Gb. Funny thing is, I never planned on purchasing it nor am I an Apple fanboy. I just needed something I could integrate into my car at the time instead of the stock cd changer and the iPod was the only thing that was well supported (apart from expensive failures such as the Musicbank – what??? Exactly my point). Being able to change track from the steering wheel controls was pretty neat.

    I fell for the iPod. The UI, the feel, the oozing of quality and solidity, the SQ… I loved it! I even watched the entire second season of Prison Break on it, just because I could!

    Still not an Apple fanboy… but that iPod secured me as a customer for among others a couple iPhones, iPads, a 2g Shuffle and using iTunes as my main hub. How’s that for a compliment?

    • Reply September 3, 2014

      ohm image

      I became a fan of the iPod after using it… after owning a number of audiophile players. I still am a fan. Every single new audiophile player only re-establishes my prejudices. The 5G isn’t perfect, but it made such a wonderful statement back in the day… and still today it remains a very good player.

  • Reply September 5, 2014

    Marc

    I love my iPod Video 5.5g. The synergy of an iPod, micro iDSD (amplifier), and FAD Heaven VI setup is just amazing for the tone I’m after. The musicality and technicality of the iDSD’s DAC is surely spades better but that tone with the iPod as the source seems to just pair perfectly with the Heaven VI.

    The iDSD amplifier is rather neutral but still musical and full of technicalities. The Duet beats in in soundstage and the creation of ambience but the synergy isn’t as amazing as the setup mentioned. I’m still curious in hearing the iPod Video + Vorzuge Pure II + FAD HVI setup from what you’ve said about the Pure II reflecting the tone of the source. I just wish I could try that setup from where I am.

  • Reply September 12, 2014

    Eric Thompson

    Honestly I have to say I think Sony and Sansa players with the right left, up and down click buttons and a volume click on the side are the easiest things to use. With the nouch wheel I always found excruciating concentration needed to get the right volume or artist and then when you let off it moved a little….

    • Reply September 25, 2014

      ohm image

      That is a problem with the touch wheel. However, the Sansa interface swings and wobbles instead of using intelligent and simple lists. I have vertigo. The Sansa sent me heaving more than a few times.

      Lesson: never implement eye candy for the sake of implementing eye candy.

  • Reply October 20, 2014

    Tronco

    Hey guys,
    when is the next monthly column coming? It has been two months now and we are waiting here 🙂

    • Reply October 21, 2014

      dalethorn

      I wonder if anyone has a Diamond Rio MP3 player, from circa 1998. For me it was the greatest breakthrough in music playing history, despite the very limited memory and minimal sound quality. For the first time, I could play music from solid state memory with the only moving part being the scroll wheel. I abandoned the Rio for another player shortly afterward, since the other player could play from 2 gb FAT format Compact Flash cards.

      • Reply October 21, 2014

        Tronco

        I remember that player mainly because the RIAA tried to stop it. Where would the music industry be now without digital players?

      • Reply February 12, 2015

        ohm image

        That was an awesome player, for sure.

    • Reply October 21, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      Actually this week on friday or next week. Normally it’s each last friday of the month but last month due to several reasons we didn’t get to it. You can expect it this month for dure, promise!

  • Reply February 26, 2015

    h2hi

    Hei headfonia, need advices, Fiio X1 or Ipod 5G/Ipod video for my 1st DAP ? some said wolfson is awesome espc for audiophile, but not for rock/metal genre … really confuse here, thx b4

    • Reply February 26, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      For what headphone?

      • Reply February 27, 2015

        h2hi

        For now i use, Seinheisser PX100-ii and iem Soundmagic e10 . Mostly i listen to all kind of music, espc ; EDM, rock, metal, pop, Classic.. except RnB/hip hop kind music . is it really true that DAP has it own sound signature too ?? Thx again for replied

        • Reply February 27, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          X1 will do just fine, but the ipod will have less floor noise. Yes, each DAP has its own sound

          • Reply February 27, 2015

            h2hi

            Thx again for the advices. so if we refer to genre / kind of music i listen, which one will suite better?

            • Reply February 27, 2015

              Headfonia_L.

              THat depends on what you like. X1 is quite warm sounding. Don’t forget the X1 plays all Hi res files and the 5 only does alac

              • Reply February 27, 2015

                h2hi

                How bout the staging & details between ipod 5 & x1. Cmiiw, warm means more bass / emphasized bass?.

            • Reply February 27, 2015

              dalethorn

              X1. Because your music is loud enough not to worry about background noise (very small noise), and because the X1 is a better investment.

              • Reply February 27, 2015

                h2hi

                Totally agree with the investment part, in here quite hard to find ipod 5th with good physical condition & complete set. What dobu think bout X1 sound sig compare to ipvid?

                • Reply February 27, 2015

                  dalethorn

                  I only had the X3, which was comparable to the new iPhone6 (on 44 khz tracks). I think the X1 will be as good, but the iPods are way behind – dull compared to the new iPhones or X3 (and prob. X1).

  • Reply April 1, 2015

    Anon

    Do you think this will pair up nicely with a Noble 4U/4C/4S? Gonna use it as a portable rig for commuting, so I won’t add any external amp.

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