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When you consider that uncompressed CD audio has had a huge amount of stick over the years from audiophiles, it's no wonder that compressed digital audio players have had an even rougher ride. It's all about warmth, tone and detail; a good, old-fashioned vinyl Hi-Fi separates system has it, as do some of the premium CD-based systems, but until recently purists would argue that no system based on an iPod or digital audio player would come even close to Hi-Fi quality. This stance is changing with the arrival of high-end iPod docks and audiophile players that play uncompressed file formats, but it's slow going. With the right sound dock and speakers, your iPod might be capable of crisp sound, clear sound, even detailed sound, but can it ever produce a rich, warm, lifelike tone?
Maybe. At the end of last year Fatman - an offshoot of professional amplification specialists TL Audio - released the iTube ValveDock iPod music system; a valve-based iPod dock and amplifier that used the warm tone of valves to compensate for the tonal weaknesses of the iPod and other digital audio players. This idea was a big success, earning Fatman praise and plaudits everywhere, including here at TrustedReviews. With high-end iPod speaker systems all the rage these days, it's no wonder that it's an idea that other manufacturers are keen to give their best. Enter Logic3, and the Valve 80 Amplifier and Speakers.
Well, Logic3 is a company we're more familiar with from gaming add-ons than audio, but the manufacturer already produces a range of iPod speaker systems, and has clearly thought hard about how to do a high-end product right. For a start, the Valve 80 looks the part. The chassis, with its glossy stainless steel cover, puts those gorgeous, glowing vacuum tubes exactly where they should be - centre stage - with the transformer to the left and the dock itself to the right. On the front you'll find just a power light, the understated Logic3 logo, a sensor for the bundled remote control, the volume knob and a three way input selector. It's all stripped back and classy, without extraneous displays or controls, and with music playing, the valves glowing and a volume meter on the front valve pulsating in sync with the music, it's the sort of system that you want to sit listening to in a darkened room.
Of course, a stripped back design doesn't necessarily mean no frills. Sure, the dock itself is a bit basic, with no fancy system to support different models of iPod, just a hollow which will accept Apple's standard adapters, but it's functional and attractive. Around the back you'll find standard, gold-plated speaker terminals which will accept bare wire or banana plugs, plus two sets of auxiliary inputs and composite and S-Video outputs with which you can - depending on your iPod - deliver video to your living room TV. Logic3 also supplied a reasonably slimline remote, with menu, shuffle and bass and treble tone controls on top of the usual playback functions. As usual, however, it's difficult to do anything too sophisticated from a distance, for the simple reason that you won't be able to see your iPod's screen.