Put a Valve Amp Behind Your iPod

One of the more amusing items to appear at this weeks’ Computex trade show in Taiwan is from A-Zone International (which, unfortunately, is better known for its line of collectable dolls): an iPod dock featuring a glowing, pre-WWII-style valve amp.

A-Zone doesn’t sell the MP5 iPod Dock Valve Station itself; instead, it makes the units using valve amps made in China, and other companies sell them as OEM products. Currently, the iPod Dock Valve Station is only available in Germany and Japan, but the company hopes to line up sellers in other parts of Europe and, eventually, in the United States. (And, to be fair, A-Zone also manufacturers solid-state iPod docking stations for companies like AudioVox and Intempo Digital, so it’s not like the have no idea what they’re doing.)

Considering the full MP5 rig runs for roughly &euro699 (about USD $885), what do you get? A 2×15 watt tube amplifier with two 6N1 and one 6E2 tubes, an iPod dock and charging station, remote control, audio output, composite video input, S-video output, and AUX input (so you can run your TV or other audio sources through the amp), and a pair of 8 ohm, 50-watt speakers in either faux leather, ebony, or faux-wood finish. The dock apparently supports any iPod but the iPod shuffle (we assume they mean any current iPod, rather than going all the way back to the first generation). A-Zone says they hope to complete a firmware update soon which will enable users to navigate the iPod interface from across the room on a television screen.

So why would anyone want an iPod dock with a tube amp? It’s difficult to describe the appeal of quality valve amps: they’re fragile, have to be serviced and re-biased occasionally to maintain good operation, and are far less consistent than solid-state transistors from item to item: one unit might sound golden, while another could sound flat. Audiophiles will claim tube amps can offer a warmth and frequency colorization which are impossible to achieve using solid-state electronics