Interestingly, switching to a less-revealing, slightly warmer-sounding, and cheaper interconnect (£80) improved matters vastly, taking the harsh edge off trebles and the mid-range and making the sound altogether more listenable, but the difference between CD player and iPod setup was still palpable.
Okay, so admittedly this isn’t much of a fair test, after all the dock and iPod setup does have the disadvantage of a) playing back compressed music files b) being a portable and c) costing less than a quarter as much as the CD player it was up against. The surprise was how small the difference actually is.
In fact the Onkyo dock is good enough that, as long as your music is encoded at a decent bit rate, if you connect it to more reasonably priced equipment you’ll be much harder pushed to tell the difference. And though I wouldn’t recommend any portable – however it was connected to your separates hi-fi – for an extended sit-down listening session, it’s fine if all you want is background or party music, or something to get you going before you go out on the town.
All in all the DS-A1 does its job about as well as you could expect it to and within the sound quality limitations of a portable digital music player such as an iPod I was very impressed with its performance. As long as you connect it to your system with a decent quality interconnect and as long as that interconnect isn’t too revealing or analytical it’s capable of producing highly acceptable results.
So if you’ve ever hankered after the convenience of multiple playlists or being able to play your entire music collection on random shuffle, or you just can’t be bothered hunting through stacks of CDs every time you decide you want a change of pace, it may be worth making the compromise. And at a sniff under 70 quid, it’s not half bad value either.