In our recent
review of the second-generation iPod shuffle
I offered the observation that the latest version of the shuffle was noisier than both its predecessor and the iPod’s larger siblings, the 2G nano and 5G iPod. I also remarked that the 2G shuffle lacked the bass definition that I heard from my blue 4GB 2G iPod nano.
And I got a small measure of mail on the subject.
The most critical of which ran along the lines of “I’m not sure what’s wrong with your ears, bub, but mine sounds just fine. You probably just got a bad one.”
Which prompts me to respond:
Well, no, if it’s an issue of a bad one, then we got four bad ones—three shipped via the online Apple Store and one picked up from a local Apple retail store. I have two and our Senior Reviews Editor, Dan Frakes, has two. During listening tests I noticed the slight hiss almost immediately on the first unit and compared it to my first-generation 512MB iPod shuffle. Definitely noisier. Taking the “bad one” option into account, I switched to the second 2G shuffle. Same noise, different shuffle.
Prior to posting the review, Dan and I conferred over the phone and I asked him to give his shuffles a whirl (he’d just returned from the latest
and hadn’t had a chance to unwrap them yet), keeping an ear out for any audio anomalies. Here’s his reaction:
“I tried the new shuffle vs. the original shuffle with a variety of headphones (primarily Ultimate Ears’ new triple.fi 10 Pro). I heard a disappointing amount of background noise with the 2G; on the same tracks, the 1G was nearly silent. Granted, the Ultimate Ears canalphones are very sensitive.
I also tested the bass response of the two shuffles for you using test tones. Both begin to roll off just above 60Hz, but the 2G rolls off much faster: by 50 Hz, the 2G’s bass is barely audible, and there’s nothing at 40Hz; the 1G shuffle, in contrast, reaches those same thresholds around 40Hz and ~32Hz, respectively. In other words, the two are fairly comparable down to 60Hz or so, but the 1G has better extension.”
Tooling around the Web I found others whose opinions I value—including
Macintouch, and some participants in
Apple’s Discussion Forums
—agreed. Some people hear noise from their 2G shuffles.
And some don’t. While it’s possible that there are indeed “good” and “bad” 2G shuffles out there, it’s more likely that those with the “good” shuffles simply can’t hear the noise—or don’t hear enough of it for it to be a distraction. This may be due to the headphones/speakers they’re using. In my tests the noise because more apparent when I used expensive headphones versus the original Apple earbuds that ship with the shuffle.
And we can’t discount the acuteness of one’s hearing. For example, Dan finds the 2G shuffle’s noise “disappointing” while I find it tolerable. (After playing in loud rock bands for the better part of two decades I have no doubt that my ears aren’t nearly as acute as Dan’s—I’m well aware that I’ve lost some of the top end of my hearing.) I make no judgements about either of us. I simply recognize that we hear differently.
So, for the sake of argument, let’s say the 2G shuffle is noisier than its predecessor. How big a deal is this?
For me, not much of one. It’s a $79 piece of audio gear targeted at the active user—one who’s going to use the iPod in a noisy environment where any extraneous hiss will be masked by clanging barbells and swooshing streetcars. Yes, it stings a little that the previous cheap iPod sounded better to some people than this one, but let’s maintain a little perspective. It’s 79 freakin’ dollars and it wasn’t so terribly long ago that some of us were listening to “high-quality” portable and car-bound cassette players that cost twice as much and were 100 times noisier.
Sensitive to noise? Demand the highest quality from your audio gear? Grab your finest headphones and head down to the local Apple Store for an audition. Just need a tiny, inexpensive music player to drown out your heaving breathing and pounding heart during a biannual marathon? The 2G iPod shuffle will serve you well.