Review: Pure i-20 iPod dock

Pure i-20 iPod Dock - FrontalI had read about the i-20 iPod dock a few months ago. It seemed like a very exciting proposition: a dock that could extract the digital signal of the music stored on an iPod without relying on the iPod’s own digital-to-analogue circuitry, and pass the music to an external DAC (digital to analogue converter) for better sound through a stereo.

The Pure dock is about $300 cheaper than the nearest contender (from what I can tell, there are at least two other companies making something like this: Wadia and Onkyo), and at $99 (US), it seemed like a no-brainer so I tried to order one immediately when I first heard about it. Unfortunately, the manufacturer was out of stock for several months—I’m guessing manufacturing backlog in China.

Fast forward a few months (it’s not like I was sitting around daily waiting for it to be back in stock, so “fast forward” is just a lazy turn of phrase here) and I’m now the proud owner of an i-20.

You can look up the specs yourself, but to recap quickly, this is a powered iPod/iPhone dock that charges your device while simultaneously providing external playback capabilities for music and video (S-video is possible with an additional adapter available from Pure). Music can be played back either through a digital optical connector (TOSLINK) or digital coaxial (S/PDIF), or as an analogue signal generated by its built-in Cirrus 4353 hi-fi quality DAC (24 bit, 192 KHz).

The build quality is decent but not spectacular. Mounting and unmounting your device is best done with some care, and it took me a few attempts initially to understand that I had to press down firmly to ensure it was properly ‘seated.’ The manual helpfully says that it’s properly connected when the device starts charging—I suppose I could have guessed that. It’s also not a particularly good looking device, as you can see in the picture. It’s okay, but—now that it’s taken up its designated place amongst my suite of black Cambridge Audio equipment—I find myself wishing it were (matte) black (and didn’t have a glossy black, pastic-y top).

Pure i-20 dock remote controlThe remote control (pictured to the right) is very small and definitely feels cheap. It works fine as long as it’s aimed directly at the IR receiver right at the front of the dock. The buttons provide basic iPod navigation capabilities—you can select menus, artists, albums, songs, skip forward and back, pause/play and put the device into standby mode. It’s powered by a simple watch battery. I have not tried whether it’s possible to add the device to a universal remote control, but that might be a good option to explore in time.

The really important point, of course, is the sound. And it’s spectacular as I expected. The dock is connected to my Cambridge Audio dacMagic (previously discussed here) via a TOSLINK optical cable, and the sound is the exact equal of playing the same digital source material on the DAC using USB. Clarity, depth, excellent soundstage, musical, fast.

For me (and, I imagine, many others) this is an affordable, practical way of using one’s iPod as a music server without needing to invest in another PC or laptop. Even if you don’t own an iPod, it’s worth considering the mathematics of getting one together with the Pure dock—that would still be cheaper than the next-most-affordable competitor. I will say that the Wadia iPod dock (the 170i Transport, which is approximately $400) is significantly prettier and feels much more solid, but essentially performs the exact same function as the Pure i-20 (and does not have its own built-in DAC).

Another scenario I could imagine for the Pure i-20 is an affordable but ‘decent’ portable iPod playback solution for cottage trips (or the minimalist starter household). If you couple it with a set of Audioengine 5 amplified speakers (which have a hardware volume button on the front panel), I imagine you’d get excellent sound for ~$500 (US) all in.

I would definitely recommend the dock itself; I just wish the remote were slightly less cheaply made. But the sound is great.

19 thoughts on “Review: Pure i-20 iPod dock”

  1. I haven’t heard the Cambridge at all. In terms of Wadia, I’ve auditioned the 170i dock in a store, but found it kind of expensive for being just a transport. I’ve seen the dock/DAC combo from Wadia but haven’t heard it yet. Two+ months in, I’m still quite happy with the i20. You just have to be careful when seating your pod on it.

  2. thanks for the review, I have to agree with the sound quality; it is great, nevertheless please carefully check if you are IPOD is compatible, since it only plays certain models of IPOD…. a rather important note from which manufacturer is not providing any info upfront.

  3. I just got one of these and the remote does not work. Did you ever have a chance to try a universal remote? Thanks.

  4. I was successful with one of the Logitech universal remotes. However, I remember I had to ‘program’ it from the original remote to get some of the commands right (the Logitech database didn’t seem to have a match for the Pure). I’d probably send it back if the remote doesn’t work.

  5. Hi Carsten, a question for you that has me stumped & cant find any answers in google land, ok here we go, how on earth did you connect your ipod dock to your dacmagic when the only output on the dock & mine is a 3.5mm input/output? I know you mentioned toslink but how did you run that from the dock to the dacmagic? if you can get back to me with a answer man I would be so grateful as I just love the analog signal over digital, cheers in advance

  6. My dock is not a Pure should have clarified but is there anyway possible to connect the audio out via the 3.5mm to an external dac or is it just a no win situation

  7. I doubt it. If your only output is analogue, there would be no point in trying to connect it to a DAC. The DAC is meant to do the work of converting a digital signal to an analogue signal.

  8. Never have. I’ve only ever used it as a digital transport. I always assumed that the DAC wasn’t very good (the tech spec isn’t).

  9. I have one of the ipure 20’s connected to an external DAC via the digital coax output… It works wonderfully. With this connection I was surprised the volume control via the ipure 20 remote
    functions… how is this possible?

  10. Well, I think one parameter of a digital audio stream is ‘volume.’ So I’m not sure it’s surprising that it works. The Pure isn’t much of a ‘stereo component’ in the typical sense where line level is line level and it doesn’t change.

  11. Hey Carsten, I am not a real knowledgeable Audiophile…. but do like good music. I have a great stack of old Mitsubishi equipment. I am looking for one of these PURE i20 docking stations, and it seems that are gone from the US market. Amazon, and E-bay also are out. Any idea what is up?
    Another thing I was hoping for is….. some kind of iPod doc, that can play to analog files with RCA outs for my 1970s vintage stuff, but, I would love a HD radio as well to hook up to my system. Maybe even a USB to analog player too? Anything like that on the market? Pure-HD Radio-USB player with RCA analog outputs on the back? That would be a great new item for the market. Maybe make it look like an old Vintage stackable piece? Thanks Doug

  12. Doug: it’s gone from the market because Apple stopped making the 30-pin connector years ago. Nobody would buy it anymore. Not sure I understand your question about a radio…

  13. Carsten: Would a 30-pin to lightning adapter allow the pure20 to work with the newer iPhones?

  14. Ken,
    I’m not sure if it would work. My iPod dock has been packed away somewhere in a box for a number of years now. I’m not sure I would recommend this approach. There are quite a few lightning docks around, and there are multiple ways of using special cable adapters to connect lightning to USB DACs, which would probably be the better way to go at this stage. OPPO, FiiO and others make “iPhone-sized” DACs that get very good reviews.

  15. Carsten: Thanks for responding.

    I have a Benchmark DAC-1 that does not have USB. I have an open Toslink on it and I like the way it sounds. That is why I was looking at the Pure 20.

    This isn’t so much for me, but for friends that store music on their iphones and want to play it on my stereo. I am perfectly happy spinning vinyl, CD’s or even playing cassettes on my Nakamichi. I just haven’t gotten into streaming or downloading.

    You’re probably right, there is a better way. I just don’t want to spend much money, since it wouldn’t get used very often. I think I still would like something better than using their Apple iphone DAC through the mini-plug, so I will keep looking for a cheap, but better alternative.

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