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GINI iTube 2.1 Tube iPod Audio System Review

Jack Roberts is treated to the $349, nifty, nifty GINI iTube complete 2.1 audio system

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GINI iTubeLet me just say it in the first sentence: the GINI iTube is a nifty product. It looks nifty – in fact, it looks like a big white iPod with two little iPods – it makes nice music from cool sources like the iPod, iBooks, and of course from other computers and any other line sources. There was the single little 6N2 tube located in the center of the four little windows atop the subwoofer, and the control center unit looks really cool, too.

One publication said the GINI iTube was odd looking and the tube just jutted out of the top. You might not like it either, but everyone that came in my house from 19 to 65 liked its looks, and “nifty”, “cute” or some other positive adjectives were often used. One or two did mention they thought an iPod player should be a single box; but that was not the design goal here.

Description

The main unit houses the sub, the amp, and the control panel. It’s snow white and measures 12 by 9 by 7.5 inches. The front control panel looks just like the iPod Wheel. You simply press left or right for volume, up or down for bass, and the center button is for muting. On the back of the iTube, you’ll find an attached power cord, RCA inputs, RCA outputs, and the power switch. By the way, this is a very inconvenient place for the power switch. Because of the remote, it is easy to place the main unit with the sub near the floor where I found it to sound best. With the unit placed where it is, its a pain to get to the power switch.

The two satellite speakers are a matching white and measure 4.5 by 5.5 by 7 inches. All the connectors are of a very high quality. The speakers do not have grills, but the little port is housed behind a metal mesh. The little single driver and the rectangular mesh over the little round port make the front of the speakers look a lot like an iPod.

The iTube uses the single 6N2 tube in the drive stage of the little amp combined with a solid-state driver stage. According to the GINI web site, the goal of this combination was to deliver music from an iPod that will put a smile on your face. It surely succeeded at this with my household. The GINI iTube is simply a hybrid integrated amplifier with built-in sub-woofer and a pair of satellite speakers. You simply come out of the iPod’s, computer’s or other source’s headphone jack into the iTube. The iTube comes with one cable for doing this, or you can get the iConec doc for an extra $79.

The iConec

The iConec is a very nice dock and reasonably priced. It comes with a remote that, like most, controls volume, backward and forward, but it also activates mute, backlight, repeat, shuffle, playlist, album up/down and pause. The iConec comes with a built-in charger that allows direct recharging of your iPod while it is playing. The iConec comes with the easy snap-on adapters that support most of the iPod models.

It has Left and Right RCA audio connectors and a S-video output terminal. The S-video connection lets you watch a movie or video, but it does not let you view the playlist or other onscreen information. Thus, while you have the remote, you still need to be close enough to read the iPod to select music or functions.

Setup

My 22-year-old son uses one of our spare bedrooms as a small den. This is where we setup the iTube. We found it sounded best with the speakers set on either end of a dresser about two feet from the rear wall and around four feet from each side wall. The sub sounded best as set on a small table about four inches of the floor and about four inches from the rear wall. This produced the best soundstage and the most seamless crossover, although the placement was a real inconvenience for turning the unit on and off.

We set up the iTube as the sound system for the Dish Network receiver, the Mac computer, as well as the iPod.

How Does The iTube Sound?

The iTube sounded better than I would have ever thought, but that depends on what you feed it. I played the song “Robert Frost” from Jay Leonhart’s Salamander Pie album several ways.

First, I listen to it straight from the iMac’s CD reader. It sounded open, bigger than I expected. I guess I had forgotten what really small speakers can do in regard to soundstaging. The soundstage was fairly wide with sound outside the speakers, and a fair amount of depth. The piano especially sounded good with excellent attack and even a respectable amount of detail and decay. Leonhart’s voice was warm, beautiful, and tightly placed between the speakers. The upright bass sounded quick and musical if you adjusted it to sound natural and did not turn it up too much.

Second, I took my wife’s iPod and used it to listen to the MP3 version of the song. The soundstage collapsed, the piano lost its attack and decay, the bass was muddled, and while the voice was nice, it had lost its focus.

Then I listen to the song in Apple Lossless version played on the iPod. It sounded almost identical to the CD, maybe even a little better. Finally, I listened to a Wave file played on the iPod. This was clearly the best. The piano and bass clearly had their own space, in both left and right as well as front to back. Both instruments had a very natural sound.

I want to admit I was a little surprised at how much difference you could hear when you tried different things, especially out of the headphone jack of an iPod. I would have never thought the iPod was that well designed.

Let me just mention that it sounded very good with the Dish Network receiver for TV and movies. Voices were very articulate, and soundtracks had good impact. It makes a really nice system for a small AV system.

Comparisons

Well what was I supposed to compare the GINI iTube to? Clearly not my reference system. Let’s see, I have a Bose Wave Radio I was given a few years ago, one of my sons has the Sound Sticks, and my other son had a JBL On Stage for iPods. I also went and listened to the Apple iPod HiFi. None of these was in the same league with the iTube on either Lossless or Wave files. The Bose comes closest with a CD. The iPod HiFi did seem to have a way of bringing a little more life to MP3s, but it seemed more colored and bass heavy with Lossless files.

The iTube was the only one of the bunch that could produce a soundstage with definition. It was the only one that produces the attack and decay of a piano. It was also the only one that could produce room-filling sound, albeit in a small room.

In Conclusion

I have not heard any of the systems that have built-in DACs and uses the iPod just as a hard-drive, but I would like to now. This is kind of a moot point though considering how much more they cost.

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