More Audiophile iPad Play!
The new iPad is generally an incremental upgrade over the iPad 2. Key benefits include a higher resolution display, faster processing and graphics performance, an improved camera, 4G connectivity, and a built in voice to text dictation feature. None of that has any impact on the ways an audiophile might use the device, though the text to speech function might help Tyll get his reviews written more easily. [Ed. Note: It isn't the typing that's slowing my brain down, it runs slow all by itself. I might give it a go though. Thanks] In my view the most significant change brought by the new iPad is the driving down of prices for the iPad 2. If you look carefully enough on the Apple website you will see the 16GB iPad 2 selling for $399. That's $100 less than it was a few months ago, and low enough where it might deserve consideration for use in your audio setup. Whether using the new iPad, the iPad 2, or even the "ancient" original model, the experience should be similar for our purposes.
As I covered in my original iPad article, there are tons of great things to do with the device. The Camera Connection Kit as well as the digital docks from various companies allow the iPad to interface with outboard DACs, thus becoming a very functional digital transport. The plethora of available remote control apps allow the user to command practically any other device from a distance. One can stream decent quality music from services like MOG and Spotify. A portable headphone amp combined with a Cypher Labs Algorhythm Solo makes for a truly high quality transportable system. And the iPad placed in a speaker dock can bring decent enough sound to rooms in your house that might otherwise remain quiet. All of these functions are still applicable with the new iPad.
If you are new to the Apple device, the very first essential item I suggest is a Line-Out Dock. These connectors allow you to bypass the headphone amp circuitry of the unit, instead pulling a clean line level signal straight from the internal DAC. This will allow optimal pairing with external amps. They come in many shapes and sizes: searching eBay will show dozens of options, many of which are $10 or less. Yet there are also plenty of models available for hundreds of dollars. This really comes down your philosophy on cables and whether or not they influence the sound quality. There are also corresponding differences such as build quality, termination, length, and plain old good looks.
I've shown two extremes in the picture above: the small white cable was a free pack-in that came with a portable amp. It's thin, feels cheap, has a roughly 5 inch cable length, and terminates with a mini-jack connector---obviously intended for use on the go. The big fancy cable is a model from the Cablepro Freedom series. It is 3 feet long and terminated with RCA plugs for use with home equipment like a desktop amp. Durability and aesthetics are miles ahead of the cheap option and many folks would say it sounds better due to the much higher quality materials used. It certainly inspires confidence that it won't be the weak link in the chain. I don't intend to open that can of worms here, but I do think that both of these cables have some usefulness. I wouldn't regularly use the cheap cable to connect my iPad to a $1,500 amp and $1,200 headphones, but it is useful to carry around to work or a friend's house, and I wouldn't be sad if I lost it---not the case with the Cablepro option. The right tool for the right job I always say.