Audiophile Play with an iPad as a Digital Audio Source
iPad as a Digital Audio Source
The Camera Connection Kit is a great method for extracting a USB digital signal on the cheap. But it won't be ideal for everyone. Those wanting to take the next step in iPad-as-transport functionality can move up to a dedicated digital dock. The concept is the same: tap into the digital signal before it gets routed through Apple's consumer-grade DAC section, and output the audio as a S/PDIF digital signal. This of course would allow the iPad to easily integrate into a high-end audio system.
The first wave of devices from Wadia and then Onkyo were strictly for use with then-current iPod/iPhone models (the iPad had not yet been released), and were fairly expensive. By now there are a few good choices that do work with iPad, and more importantly the prices have come down to a reasonable level.
But why would anyone spend extra when the CCK can do the same job? The way I see it, there are three distinct benefits of using a dock over the CCK.
- Connection type. Though USB DACs are a very hot market right now, there are still plenty of models in use that don't offer a USB input. And many DACs that do feature USB still use compromised solutions with inferior jitter performance that won't accept a hi-res signal. A digital dock will get you an SPDIF signal that any DAC should be able to work with, and most should handle at least 24/96.
- Power. The CCK takes up the only port on the iPad so it doesn't allow for charging. Docks will charge the unit during use, and double as a convenient place to store it during the night. No more fumbling with Apple's wall wart charger.
- Placement. When used in a system, you probably want the iPad standing up at an angle where it is visible. The CCK requires some other method or propping up the device (I use the stock Ipad 2 Smart Cover). A dock will accomplish this without requiring any extras, and frankly it just looks better that way.
The Pure Audio i-20 is the bargain champ in this category, selling for just $99. It will give you a digital output using a coaxial or optical connection, and even has a built in DAC with analog outputs to use in a pinch. It isn't the most stable thing in the world due to the small base, however.
The other option I see used frequently is the Cambridge Audio iD100. It costs $200 more than the Pure model, but adds features such as an AES/EBU XLR output and a USB pass-through for iTunes sync. It also appears more stable.
As pictured, I'm using the Pure i-20 in a setup with a Violectric V800 DAC, Violectric V200 amp, and Audio Technica W1000x headphones. The iPad/Pure combo does not seem out of place even in a somewhat expensive system like this, and I don't feel that it is a limiting factor whatsoever.