During my recording studio days (read: early ‘90s), I used to use SRS technology quite extensively to add three dimensionality of various track elements on my dedicated 24-track digital recorder. It is SRS’ specialty in creating an almost-binaural effect from any stereo source. Since then SRS have breached further to people’s home in creating pseudo surround on many high-end TVs such as the Pioneer Elite Kuro plasmas.
Now SRS has come up with a product that provides a stepping stone to better sound for your iDevices. SRS sells the iWow iTunes plugin which lets you tweak the audio in ways the iTunes equalizer simply cannot. Now, SRS has taken this technology and put it into an iPod/iPhone device that allows you to take that iWow sound with you for your car, home speakers and portable headphones.
The iWow 3D Audio Enhancement Adaptor is a relatively small attachment that connects to the Apple 30-pin port on an iDevices which – SRS claims – will dramatically improve the quality of your music. By connecting through this port, the audio signal remains a digital signal as it enters the iWow unit allowing SRS to do its thing before converting the signal to analog using its internal DAC. There is a free app available from Apple iTunes which allows further tweaking.
I tested the iWow 3D with a 3rd generation iPod Touch on iOS 5 with Sony MDR-V600 headphones and Bose IE earphones. I noticed immediately that there was a marked difference in audio quality when switching the iWow on and off. But that’s not a true test because the iWow turned off is not the same thing as plugging earphones directly into the headphone port at the bottom of the iPod Touch. The iWow 3D really shines on the iPod Touch. I tested the iWow against an iPod Touch alone rather than just switching the iWow on and off. The music comes alive on the iPod Touch with the iWow. Spatially, the difference was dramatic. The sound just opens up with added clarity without being overbearing. Everything seems to be more focused and layered. Furthermore, using the app lets you fine tune your preferences.
While the SRS app lacks any full fledged equalizer, it does keep things simple. Along with an on/off (enabled) button, there are three settings: Headphones, Speakers and Car. There’s also an Advanced button which works somewhat like an equalizer of sorts. Here are three buttons also: Wide Surround, Deep Bass and High Treble. Wide Surround expands the soundstage making you feel more in the middle of the music. The effect is more subtle than dramatic. As per usual, this is my foremost preference. Based on my personal experience with a slew of standalone SRS modules in the studio, it is so easy for the lay person to over-process audio and SRS wisely avoids this by limiting the choices available. The same is true of the Bass and Treble buttons. They are slight variations. Although you could just press all three choices and then forget it, I actually like the Wide Surround and Bass without the Treble for my Bose IE earphones and only Wide Surround for my Sony MDR-V600 headphones. The Treble choice exaggerates too much sibilance for my taste so I chose to leave that button off.
If you own an iDevice and want to upgrade the audio without spending too much money, the iWow 3D is an amazing choice with minimal setup and mind bogglingly affordable than buying an external DAC (the newer iDevices don’t seem to use Wolfson Audio DACs anymore) or premium headphones. I just hope that one day soon SRS will once again create a standalone hardware device for studio and/or two-channel applications that is not only iDevice-centric.