Plug in your own choice of speakers, however, and it's a very different story. My much-aged, much-loved Wharfdale Diamonds put in another cameo appearance, and instantly the quality of the sound and the dynamics took on a different character. Whether pumping out classic Led Zep, the melodic bluegrass of Alison Krauss and Union Station or the huge, synthetic basslines of Ladyhawke, the Carbon Mk2 sounded fantastic, crisp and beefy at the low end, rich and creamy in the mid-range and detailed at the top. There's enough range to handle the huge shifts in volume and tone of the funeral march from Wagner's Gotterdammerung, but enough speed and accuracy to cope with the hard-edged beats and funk guitar of Maroon 5's Make me Wonder. And if you want to rock out to Back in Black on your Carbon, you don't need to worry: riffs don't get much bigger or crunchier than you'll hear from this. In addition, with the Wharfdales attached the audio goodness kicks in at much lower volumes - and we can't always play our music as loud as we like, can we?
And this is the beauty of the Carbon Mk2. Unlike Logic3's compromised Valve80, you can buy the amplifier unit on its own and fit it out with whatever speakers you like best. For just over £350 you could buy a Carbon Mk2 and a pair of Tannoy F1s or Wharfedale Diamond 9.0s and have the makings of a pretty good iPod-based HiFi, then upgrade to floorstanders or high-end bookshelf speakers when finances allow. Sure, poorly compressed music won't stand up as well as conventional CD sources, but use high bit-rate AAC files or Apple Lossless and you're laughing. What's more, the powerful Mk2 will be able to cope with most sensible volume levels. In fact, the only reason I can think of not to take this route is that for a few pounds more you could have the incredible B&W Zeppelin, which you should probably audition if you're on this sort of budget.
What I would say for now is that the Carbon Mk2 has made the stack of HiFi equipment sitting in a corner of my office seem that little bit more redundant than it did already. I could happily swap the lot for a Carbon Mk2 now, and enjoy the convenience of an iPod-based system using my old, familiar speakers with very few quibbles. What more recommendation do you need?
The bundled speakers aren't perfect, but team the Carbon Mk2 with your own selection and it's the perfect building block for an iPod-based stereo.