This is no ordinary dock, however, limited to next track/previous track functionality, but allows access to all the important functions directly from the 27-button remote control, including one-button shuffle activation. Though I have to say that nano owners will probably find that a pair of binoculars might be a good investment – it’s hard enough to see what you’re doing from the sofa with a standard iPod.
The Dock connects to the amp via standard stereo phono cables, and it’s a bit more flexible than the Ferguson Hill FH007 set-up too, with a spare pair of inputs on the rear for connecting another source and a 3.5mm socket on the front for headphone connection. More inputs would have been nice, though you do get a set of reasonably good-quality plug-terminated speaker cables thrown in, which is better than the usual bell-wire rubbish that comes with micro systems.
You can also buy the system complete with a pair of two-way bookshelf speakers for around £100 more. Fatman supplied a pair for this review, and though capable, extremely solidly made and beautifully finished in their gloss black paint, I’d advise you to spend a bit more on your speakers to get the most out of the system. It’s also worth noting that, because they’re rear-ported, the Fatman speakers are more sensitive to how you position them in a room than sealed or front-ported boxes. They need to be quite close to a rear wall to produce any kind of decent bass.
The ValveDock itself, thankfully, is much more capable. To push it to its limits, I hooked it up first to my Sonus Faber Concertino speakers, mounted on Target K-series stands, which should be more than a match for its capabilities, and then my ultra-sensitive home-made floor-standing speakers, built around a pair of Audio Nirvana Super 8 full-range drivers.
And I must say I was impressed with the results. Don’t let the numbers fool you: the iTube belies its seemingly lowly 13W output per channel, producing clean and smooth music at volume levels loud enough for most living rooms. As befitting its valve heritage, music sounds wonderfully lush and smooth. Vocals, in particular, sound intimate, and musical in a way valves only can.