Although the shake to shuffle feature is definitely a gimmick, there’s one new addition to the nano that definitely isn’t - crossfade. Anyone who’s been using iTunes to listen to music on their computer for the past couple of years will have encountered crossfade - the ability to fade the outgoing track into the incoming one. I’d always wanted this feature to work on an iPod, but unfortunately Apple’s mobile players weren’t able to decode two tracks simultaneously, which is what’s needed for crossfade to work. Thankfully, the new nano has obviously had its decoding powers enhanced, because it will now happily fade one track into another. This is a brilliant feature, and throws up some surreal moments - Frank Sinatra fading into Oasis being a particular highlight!
Something that hasn’t really changed is the overall quality of sound produced by the nano. Let’s face it, people don’t buy iPods because they’re the best sounding music players on the market, which is a good thing, because they’re not. If sound quality is your main concern, you’re probably not looking in Apple’s direction; instead checking out the latest fare from Sony, iRiver or even Creative, each of which will probably have Apple beaten in the fidelity stakes. But would I recommend that you avoid iPods because of their sound quality? Not at all.
Like the third generation nano before it, this new model lacks volume, and that ultimately limits the amount of aural impact that it’s capable of. I was very surprised to find that I was listening at almost maximum volume with my Shure E500PTH earphones plugged in - I rarely push things over halfway using my iPhone for instance. Of course volume isn’t everything, but I can’t imagine how anyone using the bundled Apple earbuds would hear very much while travelling on the London Underground, or in fact in any noisy environment.
Putting volume to one side, the nano managed to produce a decent amount of clarity and separation, assuming that the test material wasn’t too demanding. Listening to Jack Johnson’s excellent Brushfire Fairytales album was handled well by the nano for instance. The opening track Inaudible Melodies sounded smooth and melodic, with the subtle mix of acoustic guitars, vocals and background snare all rendered beautifully. Turning to something a little more complicated like Battleflag by the Lowfidelity Allstars, revealed that the soundstage can sometimes come across slightly compressed, with minute detail lost somewhere in the aural assault that this track becomes.