SRS Labs’ surround-sound technology is found in a variety of AV gear including TVs, AV receivers, computers, car audio systems, and media players. As such, you may know that it expands the sound stage and enhances certain audio frequencies to make music seem more “alive.”
SRS has brought this technology to the $70 iWow 3D for iPod, iPhone & iPad—a dongle with a 3.5mm jack on one end and a 30-pin dock connector on the other. (SRS Labs also offers a $100 iWow 3D Deluxe version that includes custom earbuds and five faceplates in different colors you can use to customize the look of the dongle.) To use it you plug the appropriate end into your iOS device’s dock connector port and an audio cable or headphones into the 3.5mm jack. When you do, you’ll be prompted to download the free SRS iWow app from the App Store. To switch on the device just press the white button on the dongle or launch the iWow app, and choose one of three presets—Headphones, Speakers, and Car.
(Note that the prices listed are MSRP—SRS Labs sells the standard and Deluxe editions on its Website for $60 and $80, respectively, and other online retailers offer them for even less. And although the device is clearly targeted at the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, you can use it with “traditional” dock-connector-bearing iPods as well. Jack it into one of these devices and push the button on the dongle to switch on the iWow effect. Obviously, you can’t configure that effect but the one setting it provides expands your music nicely.)
When you switch on the iWow, you’ll notice an immediate change in the character of the sound. At its finest it’s like someone took a squeegee and wiped the dullness from your music, making it sparkle. The sparkle comes in the form of slightly increased volume, a wider sound stage, and more clearly defined lows and highs. The difference between the three presets is subtle. The Headphones preset is more balanced. The Speakers preset adds more lows (as it’s likely to be used with inexpensive speakers that lack a defined low end). And the Car preset boosts highs to compete with the kind of noise you’d hear on the road.
How much you enjoy the effect depends on how you feel about this kind of trickery and the kind of gear you listen to it with. Audio purists will object to the effect as much as they’d object to any technology that artificially enhances the original sound. If you’re more liberal in your audio standards, you’ll likely enjoy what the iWow 3D brings to your sound—particularly if you’re using cheap headphones (such as Apple’s white earbuds) or typical computer speakers.
The ears have it
If you have keen ears plus good gear, you may find the effect a little wearing, however. For example, using some Etymotic hf3 headphones with custom earpieces I listened to the Brahms Requiem using the Headphones setting. Much as I loved the added space and hearing the string section and harp more clearly, the recording became so bright that I could easily detect the sibilance of the choir—noticing, for the first time, that the singers rarely cut off their phrases at exactly the same moment. The staggered endings—particularly on words that closed with an “s” sound—became distracting. When I switched off the iWow 3D, the recording sounded duller, but at least I was no longer bothered by the sibilance. I also found Patty Griffin’s album 1000 Kisses
a little too bright with these headphones and earpieces.
However, when I listened to each recording on a pair of Audioengine 2 speakers ( ), I liked what came out of the speakers when I chose the Speakers preset. The top and bottom end were present without being cartoonishly enhanced. Similarly, my iPhone never sounded better with the stock stereo in the family minivan than when I jacked in the iWow 3D.
The iWow app carries an Advanced Settings area where you can engage Wide Surround, Deep Bass, and High Treble settings. You can switch on any number of these settings and when you do, you hear some difference but nothing startling, which is a good a thing. Mostly you get a “touch more” of whatever setting you’ve chosen. Given my experience with the headphones and the Brahms and Patty Griffin recordings, I wish there was one more setting that dialed down the treble a bit.
Macworld’s buying advice
I’m wary of suggesting that the worse your gear, the better you’ll like the iWow 3D for iPod, iPhone & iPad, but there’s a measure of truth in it. If you’re underwhelmed by the sound of the headphones, small speakers, or car audio system you use with your iOS device, you may be thrilled by the sound they produce when attached to this device.