Another improvement you’ll probably have already heard about is Cover Flow, which is Apple speak for a feature that lets you browse by album cover. If you haven’t heard about this (where ”have” you been?), it lets you flick through your album covers as if they were mounted on some giant virtual Rolodex – just like you can in iTunes. It works superbly well, but inevitably you will have holes in your collection where iTunes just can’t locate the artwork.
The top level menus, too, have been changed, although this is cosmetic rather than functional. Instead of being full screen, they now occupy just half the screen; in the other half you’ll see video thumbnails or album art float by as you navigate. It looks nice, but that’s about it. A dig around the settings also reveals an addition – TV Out – which enables you to output the signal to a TV, albeit only with an optional AV cable.
What doesn’t appear to have changed much, however, is the sound quality, which is a disappointment. The previous generation was good, if a little on the toppy side and didn’t produce a huge amount of volume, and this nano hasn’t improved things a whole lot. That said, paired with a set of bassier headphones it’s a perfectly pleasurable thing to listen to and the differences between it and the best in class, such as the iRiver Clix 2, Trekstor Vibez and Cowon D2 aren’t that great.
I started my listening tests with a bit of KT Tunstall. Her excellent Heal Over starts with quiet acoustic guitar and vocals which build up to something a bit more energetic and complex. It’s an excellent all-in-one test for any music player. Hooked up to my reference headphones – a pair of Grado SR325i cans – the singing sounded natural and unforced, the guitar realistic and when the band kicked in, there was plenty of clarity imaging, but the lack of volume meant there wasn’t much impact. Turning to something more demanding – the opening to Mahler’s 5th symphony – exposed this more ruthlessly. The solo trumpet was fine, but the orchestral entered with more of a whimper than a bang and this was true even when listening on a far more sensitive pair of ear-canal phones. Compared to my current benchmark – the Trekstor Vibez – the sound isn’t quite as open, detailed and airy either, but again I’d reiterate that for all but the most discerning audiophiles, the differences aren’t huge.