iPod nano Sound Quality

january 2, 2006

Black iPod nanoI had an earlier post about the iPod nano Sound Quality. It referred to a PC Magazine article that rated the sound quality above the iPod mini (which is just like my iPod 4G), but below the iPod shuffle. Now that I have had all day with my nano, listening to different types of audio, I can write what I think about the audio quality of the iPod nano. First, the natural nano sound quality does not come close to the sound quality of the shuffle. What is "natural", you may be asking. The sound quality of the nano out-of-the-box is just like the other big iPods and nothing like the shuffle -- that is because the nano uses the same family of WM8xxx audio codec chips that the rest of the big brothers use. The shuffle uses a completely different (and seemingly more powerful) audio codec than all the other iPods, which explains its beautiful sound. Now, that is not to say that the nano is completely terrible. If I switch the EQ to "Rock", it will end up draining my battery quicker, but the sound quality then becomes close to what the shuffle sounds like. It is not bad, but it is still not shuffle -- in other words, it's worth it. The stereo separation is not as great as the shuffle, and the nano still sounds a little muffled. The audio quality of the nano is the same as my 4G iPod 40GB (since they use the exact same audio codec chip). I tested the audio quality of the nano by listening to some podcasts (like This Week in Tech), some film scores (like Batman Begins), and some music (a mix of electronic, rock, and pop). All of it did not sound as good as the shuffle, but still on par with my 4G iPod. So, in my opinion, if you have been listening to regular iPods (anything but the shuffle), then you'll be fine with the audio quality of the nano. If you started off with the shuffle, then you will be a bit disappointed with the nano at first -- until you start using the EQ settings. For me, the trade-off of the slight decrease in sound quality for a color screen is worth it. I love my shuffle still, it is the best sounding iPod around, but I like to control my selection of audio from time to time -- and without a display the shuffle does not let me do that. For instance, if I wanted to carry some podcasts with me to work on the shuffle, I'd have to put them at the front of the playlist -- then I could listen to them if I wanted, or skip through them if I didn't. That is a hassle, so having a screen to help organize and pick music on-the-fly is much better. That's it, the nano does not sound as good as the shuffle. The nano sounds as good as regular iPods with screens. There's nothing scientific to this "study" and it is all subjective. And keep in mind, I just got a nano, so this maybe a bit biased also.