Review by Stephen Hall:
The updated iPod Classic was probably the least exciting of the new iPods announced in the September 2008 update, but that does not mean it should be dismissed.
I own the 160 GB iPod Classic that has now been discontinued, but there are few differences (perhaps the biggest being the much slimmer shape of this 120 model), and I did get to check this updated 120 GB version out at the store, when picking up the new nano and touch.
Firstly, the 120 GB version is again smaller than the largest capacity available last year, but it is a single platter hard drive, which allows it to maintain the slim shape of the 80 GB version from last year. More storage, a hundred dollars less, and just as small. That is progress despite calls from others that the classic isn’t exciting. It still serves its purpose as the original iPod idea. Big capacity in a simple to use device.
Next, the software has been slightly updated on the iPod Classic. It now includes Genius, like iTunes and the other new iPods. This allows you, when on a song you enjoy, to select the genius feature. The iPod will then compile a list of songs (playlist), which goes together with the original song you were listening to. This helps you rediscover music in your library, with a playlist to fit your mood at the time. I have been using the genius feature for a few days now, and it is impressive the way it compiles these playlists. I was skeptical, but overall, it does a good job. Furthermore, as another review mentioned, the iPod does seem more responsive with this update from what I saw at the store compared to my original 160 GB iPod Classic. Some speculation has been that the older iPod Classics will receive the software update of this new one, but I’m not holding my breath on that.
Overall, the original iPod concept was so good, and that is why the iPod Classic is still a solid choice for a music and media player. It will hold thousands and thousands of songs (up to 30,000 according to Apple at 128 bitrate). I also backup some important files to my iPod Classic, in disk mode, so that I have that additional extra copy of my most vital files. When you have such a large iPod, you can do that. It shouldn’t be forgotten either that while the display of the iPod Classic isn’t as good as the iPod Touch or iPhone, it is still quite good and you can play music videos, TV shows, and movies purchased on the iTunes Store.
Battery life for this new 120 GB model improved over the 80GB model from last year. Apple now estimates it at 36 hours audio and 6 hours video.
I’d recommend the iPod Classic without hesitation, to those who have more than 8 or 16 GBs of music in their iTunes library and want to carry their entire collection. Furthermore, if you have videos and video podcasts you want to always carry with you, again, you can’t beat the storage. I have the lower capacity flash devices as well, but the big hard drive based iPod Classic continues to play an important role in my iPod Collection.
Review by Barrett Benton:
In a number of circles, the iPod Classic is now considered the “less sexy” iPod. Largely because of the things it appears to lack vis-a-vis the newest “fully-wired” iPods/iPhones: it doesn’t have a phone function (d’oh!), it doesn’t “do” wide-screen for video and games the way an iPhone/iPod Touch does, and…well, it doesn’t seem as much *fun*, darn it! (Memo to the only-two-colors-available fashionistas: silver and [charcoal] black, being *classic* colors, go with everything. When’s the last time you saw a pink Audi or Merc? Mary Kay doesn’t hand either of those out to its top sales stars, which is just as well.)
Let’s rewind a bit (sorry for the tape-based analogy) to a MacWorld seemingly long, long ago.
At the time, people were clamoring for Apple to include video in their next-generation iPods (they had just announced the iPod Photo, which was the very first iPod I ever owned…sometimes, not being an “early adopter’ can pay off). His Steveness replied, more or less, that people value music a lot more than than they value TV/video stuff, so for the time being, no video iPods. While I happened to agree with Jobs’ sentiments (I rarely watch the box, so there), I also knew how shrewd a businessman he was, and if the Hoi Polloi wanted video in their iPods, by cracky, he’d make ‘em! And while I wouldn’t damn him to Hades for such a pragmatic decision (he’s doing this stuff to make a buck, okay?), the aesthete in me would be put off just a bit. That was then.
NOW: Through a bit of hard work and happenstance, an iPod Classic (120GB) happened to fall into my lap recently (long story). My beloved 60GB iPod Photo wasn’t even half-full, but I welcomed this newest ‘Pod with open arms. The reasons?
- Capacity. Let the deniers who bought their iPhones, Touches, and nanos prattle on; if you’re a serious music lover, you’ve got a ton of music on the home front, and, if you’re Of A Certain Age, probably in more than one format: CD, LP cassette, and, if you’re particularly well-preserved, you might even have a few commercially-produced open-reel tapes lurking about. Paying upwards of 0 or so for the “biggest” iPod Touch might be a bit of a stretch for you…am I right? You might not even give a rat’s tuchus (it’s okay to say that here, right?) about video and gaming capability, but you’ll really care about capacity. Are we grokking here?
Good. Because this iPod, even this late in the game, is aimed toward you and me. Apple, now the 900lb gorilla of the portable digital-media market (how strange that must be to Mssrs Gates & Ballmer) has the market covered: you want a device that’s all-singing, all-dancing? You can get an iPhone, or, short of that, an iPod Touch. If it’s got to be as tiny as possible (I won’t ask why…), there’s the nano, or, if it really has to be much smaller, the lovely 2nd-Gen Shuffle (which my Significant Other managed to lose shortly after I presented one to her as a gift; she’ll inherit my iPod Photo now).
- True Gapless Playback. The iPod Photo had just one glaring flaw: any album by a group that had a thing for track-into-track segues (say, XTC, the Beatles, Pink Floyd…you get the idea) didn’t translate at all with the Photo; you’d get an abrupt track change instead of the smooth, proper transition the band and engineers intended. I know the iPod Generation kicked off the “rip/mix/burn-it-like-you-wanna” thing, but if I want to hear the damn album the way it was released, then I should be able to. In the iPod world, this possibility didn’t materialize until the 5th Gen iPod (video). Now that I have the newest Classic, I really, really appreciate this.
- The Sound. Most talk about getting good sound from an iPod is almost entirely focused on headphones, usually fairly pricey ones. But, to use a high-end audio mantra, you only get out what you put in. Sometime around the introduction of the first iPod Classic, Apple quietly made some serious engineering changes in the output section of the iPod, resulting in both a reduced noise floor and improved detail. One online review stated that the new design appeared to be ever-so-slightly less “warm” sounding than the previous design, but between the lowered noise floor and improved musical detail the new design was a solid net gain. I concur: subjectively, the Classic’s overall sound might sound a tad less “euphonic” than my iPod Photo, but I also notice better transient detail and handling of low, delicate notes with both my semi-isolating, against-the-ear Sennheiser PMX200 headphones and my Sony MDR-EX85LP in-ear ‘phones. Somehow this seems to have at least a slight effect on line output, too: playback through the living-room hi-fi (via a Griffin AirDock, also a screaming bargain at its current price) offers similar, but not quite as obvious improvements over the iPod Photo. This isn’t a case of bad versus good: this is good versus Mighty Good.
- The Classic is, as close as can be, a direct descendant of the original iPod that turned the portable digital music-player market on its ear. The enhancements it has picked up since then have made sense insomuch as they haven’t gotten much in the way of the Prime Directive, if you will: allowing the user to carry and access her/his music collection about easily, and with reasonable fidelity. No, it was never a direct replacement for a killer home ‘fi (which most people don’t possess), but more than ear-pleasing in the environs in which these devices are most-often used. (Yes, as a New Yorker, the subway comes to mind most often…particularly the F, A, C, and #2/3 lines.)
- While I do admit that the iPhone/iPod Touch interface is mad-cool and industry-leading, I still believe the Click Wheel more than holds its own in terms of overall ergonomics; as has been pointed out in a few other reviews here, it’s still the only interface you can manage one-handed, and which allows you to navigate between music tracks without looking at the unit (why isn’t THIS the iPod “Touch?”). Like the 5G iPod, you get video, which for the most part I couldn’t care less about (although I can now view the video portion of my iTunes purchase of The Traveling Wilburys Collection, which is sort of nice). The notion of watching music videos, let alone feature-length movies, on a not-even-three-inch screen, when we’re being assaulted with the idea that a 32″ screen at home is woefully inadequate, ’specially if it ain’t high-def, is a bit inconsistent.
But, this is about music, music you can take with you.
By this lone standard, the iPod Classic clearly blows everything else Apple offers into the weeds. Anything not made by Apple, IMO, hasn’t even found its way to the starting line. The interface is highly functional and sexy enough, without allowing surface to roll straight over substance.
The happy thing is that Apple offers options to fit just about anyone. If you need a single do-it-all device, and don’t care (at least at the moment) about capacity for all your fave tracks, you’ve got either the iPhone 3G or iPod Touch; if you want your device as tiny and unobtrusive as possible, you’ve got either the Shuffle or the polychromatic nano. And, finally, if, like me, you want, over all else, as much of your music at hand, wherever you are, as your balm, your salve, your relief from waiting-room Hell or airport Purgatory, the Classic is really it. And, for what it’s worth, the current (120GB) Classic wil be able to use the newest Apple earbuds with in-line remote control and microphone (they’ve got a twin-driver ‘phone “coming soon” that promises to be grand-sounding; we’ll see). If you haven’t checked out any ‘Pods since the Photo or before, this is likely the one to finally pop for.
Review by D. Porter:
Well, I bought two of these. No, don’t ask me why. Please just believe that I purchased two new 7th generation iPods – against the advice of the reviewer who obviously did some homework as to why the old units sound better, I might add. I looked at many forums and read from many people who think the new iPods, (6th generation and later,) have a poorer sound quality than their predecessors. Then I read from those folks who believe that yes, Apple changed the audio codec chip, and yes, several audiophiles have done some qualitative testing and the old units won, but nevertheless, the difference should be impossible to hear with the naked ear. Let me just assure you right now, it is not. The difference in sound quality between my wife’s 5.5 gen 80 gig iPod and my two new 120 gig units is vast. Using the same headphones and songs, downloaded from the same computer, the new iPod sounds like listening to music played inside a tin can compared to the old one. For instance, in one song a drummer rakes his hand across some chimes and on the 80 gig, the chimes are crystal, distinct, and separate from all the other things going on at the time. On the new 120 gig at the same spot, the highs are all compressed into a jumble of noise with flat, tinny, cut off sounds. The chimes sound far off and suppressed. The list of music defacement goes on. I noticed this problem across all tonal ranges. So what did I do? I opened a case with Apple and made an appointment at the nearby Apple store. Yes, I lugged in my laptop and two of the iPods. At the store I synced one of their units to the same song and we went through all three iPods, my one new unit, my one old unit, and the store unit, listening to the same 30 or so seconds of song on each iPod over and over. And over. The results were clear… much clearer than the sound from the new iPods, I’m sorry to say. At the store I also inquired about the noticeable lag when starting songs on the new unit. I was told, “It’s much more complicated software.” Obviously the ability to view the album covers has won out over quality sound. So I’m returning the two 120 gig iPods. Apple is getting them back. Good riddance. Perhaps Apple has forgotten that people buy iPods for entertainment’s sake. Music and movies. I hope this helps them to remember that people buy music playing devices to actually listen to music. Now, I’ve read from the reviewers who suggest that we who want good sound from portable music devices should just get over it. Well, I say blah! Blah on them all! I assert that Apple should be improving sound with new generations of devices. If they want my money that’s what they will have to do. I don’t believe it’s unreasonable to expect newer models of expensive electronic devices to outperform old ones. As for sound quality, the older iPod puts forth very adequate sound. Certainly it could have been improved upon, or at the very least left alone. In fact, how dare the naysayers suggest that we all settle for poor sound? That we should expect poor sound? I say my money goes to the company willing to aim for high fidelity from its music devices. That won’t be Apple for the nonce. If all you want is an expensive portable hard drive with a video screen, this is definitely the unit for you.