Of course it’s not the only improvement that’s been made to the interface. The menu system has been given a spring clean too. Gone are those full-screen top-level menus. Now they occupy only one half of the screen; in the other half, as you choose between music, photos, videos, games and so on, animated previews float by. Choose music and cover art is displayed here. Choose photos and pictures appear here.
Drill further down and the vertical split goes away with album cover thumbnails appearing next to albums in the more traditional list view – yet another improvement. The Now Playing view has also been swanked-up, with a reflection below 3D album art making it look as if it’s stood on a very expensive coffee table.
Other additions include a selection of games – including a 3D version of Breakout and a music quiz that’s based on the collection of songs you’ve downloaded onto it. The down side is that, currently, games you’ve bought for previous versions of the iPod won’t work on this one – you have to buy them again, though there are rumours that a fix will become available for this soon.
Under the hood, the electronics have changed too. Gone is the Wolfson Electronics decoding chip of previous models, to be replaced with one from Cirrus. The result is a little on the disappointing side, but not much different from previous models. Though music sounds as fantastically clear and well-balanced (as with previous iPods – if anything a little cleaner) the volume levels this one can reach are disappointing. You’ll be fine if you hook up a set of ear-canal headphones to it, but try something a little larger – Grado SR60s for instance – and maximum volume levels will disappoint. If pop music’s your bag, again it won’t prove a problem, but if you listen to classical music you won’t be able to turn it up much during quiet sections.
For the listening tests I hooked it up to my reference headphones – a pair of Grado SR325i cans – and compared it with my current favourite for listening, the Trekstor Vibez. And initially I was impressed. The Classic sounded much more laid back and slightly less involving as a result, but also smoother with fuller lower mid-range and bass. Playing Kings of Convenience’s wonderful mix of vocal harmony, pianos, double bass and violins is a good test of smoothness and here the iPod excelled, picking out all the individual instruments without making them sound harsh.