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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 [1], 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 [2]) 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 [3], 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.