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Fatman iTube ValveDock MkII - Improvements and a Few Oddities

John Archer

By John Archer

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

8

There are so many nice touches about the system, too. S-Video and composite video outputs are provided for shipping out any video or photos you might have on your iPod. The packaged speakers connect to the amplifier via banana plugs rather than faffy bare wire connections, with surprisingly high quality banana plug cables supplied. The big volume dial on the amp is a joy to twiddle, and the little support structure for your iPod/iPhone is delightful - as well as being adjustable to take different product widths.

People with curious kids, moreover, can leave a cover fixed over the valves to stop them from getting broken by poking fingers. And best of all from a utility point of view, unlike the original iTube ValveDock, this MkII version has a USB port so you can pipe in the music library stored on your PC.

The MkII ValveDock carries a bit more power than its predecessor too, claiming a healthy 2x25W that threatens to breathe some real life into that music you’ve naughtily digitally compressed onto your iPod or PC.

The iTube ValveDock MkII does have a couple of little operational ‘eccentricities’ that might annoy you or make you love it more, depending on your point of view. To control the volume, for instance, you first have to set a ‘master’ volume level using the manual dial on the amp; the volume control on the remote control will only work within the range you’ve established via the manual dial.

Next, there’s no means of switching between the line and USB inputs via the remote. You have to use the spindly switch on the front of the amp.

Finally, as the instructions manual is at pains to point out, it’s strongly recommended that you don’t switch the ValveDock back on within five minutes of turning it off, for doing so could damage those lovely valves.

As a final feature point, we guess we’re duty bound to stress that the iTube ValveDock MkII isn’t equipped with Wi-Fi. But in our opinion this is more than acceptable considering what else the system is offering for its money.

Greg17b

March 3, 2011, 1:58 pm

No iPhone 4 docking? Fail. Pity, as this is a thing of beauty.

Jones

March 3, 2011, 2:15 pm

I used to own the Carbon MKI. Grudgingly had to sell it after moving in with the other half who had a Zeppelin and at the time with a kid on the way thought glowing valves would be more hassle than it was worth.

But, I sorely miss the sound it generated. I spent a huge amount of juniors uni fund on a proper hi-fi plus speakers but the sound the Fatman can make was a joy - and that was with "low quality" mp3's. It won't be to everyone's taste but with the sort of synthy indie/rock stuff I love it simply sounded awesome - and that was through both the included book end speakers and when trying out with my MA RS6's.

And for the record I think it sounds better than the Zeppelin - though not by much.

morsch

March 3, 2011, 5:12 pm

This review could have used a bit more info with all the, um, enthusiasm. Judging by the images, there's a headphone port in front -- did you try it (with decent, high impedance headphones)?

And how exactly does the USB port work? Does it appear as a USB DAC ("sound card") when you connect a PC? Now that I've zoomed in on one of the images, the port is labeled USB DAC, so that's apparently how it works. That's actually extremely cool; USB DACs are one of the best ways to improve audio quality on PCs by getting the process out of the (electronically) noisy computer. It'd been interesting to know what DAC chip they're using.

Other people might have preferred a way to connect their non-Apple MP3 players via USB instead of a USB DAC. Though I guess you can always connect other MP3 players (or anything else for that matter) in place of the dock. In fact, it's a huge shame that they don't also sell just the tube AMP/DAC module!

Personally, I don't (yet) buy into the whole tube thing. I understand that it does alter the sound and people like that, but it seems to me that it should be easy enough to replicate the sound alterations as a digital filter. I guess that just doesn't have the same panache...

Lee Horner

March 4, 2011, 1:29 am

Does anyone know if the Usb input is compatible with the Ipad using the camera connection kit as not all USB dacs are compatible.
If not could you test this as it would greatly increase the usability of this dock.

drittenorn

March 4, 2011, 1:20 pm

I'm confused about the connectivity options. Could I use my Squeezebox Touch with this without unplugging the iPod Dock ?

Jones

March 4, 2011, 2:53 pm

@drittenorn - if anything like the MKI then yes. The dock plugged into a seperate set of interconnects on that model and there was a couple of other aux connections. So, I would say that the squeezebox would work fine.

@morsch - It all comes down to personal preference but I would suspect it would take a digital amp of considerable cost to get to the sort of sound that a valve amp can produce. Like I say, it very much comes down to the sort of music you like. If you prefer more electronic, dancey sort of stuff then stay clear. Digital amps offer a sort of precision sound (Im hopeless at describing sound as you can tell!) to my ears. I hate the term "warmth" for valve amps but to be frank, it sums up the sound pretty much spot on. And I guess if it was easy enough then valves would have died out years ago.

drittenorn

March 4, 2011, 6:44 pm

Thanks @Jones. I had another think and it looks like it would have to via the USB DAC (which the SB Touch supports as an output) since it looks like there only one line input with this model rather than the two of the previous model.

Orinj

March 4, 2011, 7:25 pm

I've owned the iTube Red-i with Speakers for three years which is very similar to this model, just without the USB DAC and separated iPod dock. It's ideal for my bedroom where a softer and more subtle sound is required. I love it but will say that there is a slight lack of bass from the accompanying speakers unless you turn it up on the controls.

Murdo Mathewson

March 23, 2011, 7:57 pm

@Greg, re your iPhone 4/Fail comment, you can dock your iPhone 4 if you like. And, remember, any iPod/MP3 player/mobile phone you can't dock (such as an iPod Shuffle) you can simply hook-up via the line inputs on the amp's rear panel.

Spencer34

March 27, 2011, 3:48 pm

The Fatman website says that these are iPhone compatible in Flight Mode. Is that correct? Is that normal when using an iPhone in a dock?

Murdo Mathewson

April 15, 2011, 2:17 pm

@Spencer 34: that's not unusual. The original iTube design pre-dates the iPhone launch so, without Flight Mode switched on there is the potential for some occasional background noise. In practice, though, I haven't heard it - this is especially true of this model where the iPhone, when in the dock, sits apart from the amp section anyway. (I handle UK PR for Fatman.)

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