It’s time for Headfonia’s inaugural Back to the Future Friday, a monthly column where Headfonia shines light on some of the best gear from the past.
#1 the original Apple iPod shuffle
I’m that dude wearing an original Casio calculator watch, which, barring liberal doses of alcohol, you’ll never get off me.
Ditto the original iPod shuffle. What got me on it was a good essay with information that, at the time, was rather salacious. An Apple device that sounds good? For shame! Being the hornball that I am, I picked one up to see what all the fuss was about.
In hindsight, buying a piece of audio gear because of a PC Mag article? Foolish. But nearly ten years after dropping the dosh on 512 megabytes and a lot of plastic, I’m still smitten. I wanted a simple player with no frills (not even a screen). I wanted to be able to operate that player blindly. I was sick of cables. At the same time, I didn’t want to sacrifice playback quality. And that’s what the iPod shuffle gave me.
It has summarily ruined me for lesser players.
Here’s what rocks about it:
Somehow, I dropped my first shuffle from the 17th floor of a Toronto flat. Apart from numerous pits, the telltale pattern of a pair of size 42 Campers, and the lengthening of a few hairline cracks, the thing was untouched. It played, it paused, it shuffled as well as it ever did. That was just one of many accidents it weathered.
Of course, the original shuffle has the advantage of being screen-less. That, and it comes wrapped in cheap plastic, that, when confronted with blunt force, safely rebounds. This is one of a very few players that you can literally walk all over and still use. It’s even been known to survive the washing machine.
Look Ma’, no cable!
It is also the only iPod that doesn’t need a cable. Under its white cap is a USB port. Charging, syncing files, and transferring viruses to friends computers, is plug ’n play all the way. Okay, so you need iTunes (one of the awfullest softwares on the planet) to sync music, but that’s par for the course with all iPods.
Ease of use
Apple outfitted the original shuffle with a super-simple interface that could be operated blind. The slider at the back turns the device on and off, and changes shuffle modes. Volume, track change, and play/pause, sit on the front, and need no introduction. Locking the shuffle requires a three-second press of the play/pause button; and returning to directory top requires a triple-tap. Amazingly, the shuffle’s battery life trumps every modern audiophile player. Typically, I get over ten hours of use before the 8 year-old battery on my unit flattens out.
While there are a few caveats to this section, by and large, the shuffle is the MP3 player to beat when it comes to 16-bit playback. Its resolution is striking. Even under wild, low-impedance swing loads, it drives perfectly flat signals from end to end. Indeed, it drives the JHA Roxanne, the Shure SE846, and even the insanely fiddly Earsonics SM2 like very few players can. Its dynamic range and stereo separation better 90% of after-market portable headphone amplifiers. Best yet, it retains that older iPod nuance, a warmish sound that is easy to love.
Here’s what sucks about it:
If it wasn’t for the shuffle’s damnable noise floor, it would be the best-performing 16-bit player on the market, barring, in certain benchmarks, the amazing iBasso DX100.
Read more on the next page!