Bigger. Not necessarily better.
An iPod full of music is a wonderful thing…but the sound coming out of it might not be living up to its potential. SRS Labs is aiming to enhance your audio with the iWow 3D, a dongle that plugs into your device between the dock connector and your favorite headphones. It promises better listening through circuitry, including a wider, more immersive soundstage. And it delivers…sometimes.
Controls are simple, consisting of a single white button that lights up when the iWow is engaged. Using it with an iOS device gives you a bit more flexibility—a companion app lets you pick between a few preset sound modes. iWow does make a noticeable difference to your audio, filling out the bass and adding a crispness that’s particularly noticeable in older recordings or low-quality encodings (like YouTube videos).
Turn your iPod up to 11.
But the question of whether these enhancements are good is answered by a number of factors. Golden-eared audio freaks—the guys with entire libraries encoded in Apple Lossless or FLAC—probably won’t like the processed layers it adds to your audio. On the other hand, if you’re unhappy with the (lack of) boom put out by your current earbuds, the iWow 3D just might do the trick. But so would some better headphones, which can be had for the same amount of cash.
iWow also widens the soundstage, giving your audio a bigger, airier feel. But using the iWow introduced a background hiss to all of our audio—something we thought we had left behind when we switched from cassette tapes to CDs. It’s not a deal-killer, but it’s there.
While we appreciated the difference iWow can make on older records, newer tracks with more modern production often felt overblown. The Smiths’ classic The Queen Is Dead from 1986 benefitted from iWow’s enhanced sonics. In contrast, Adele’s 21 (2011) already has a pumped-up mix that degraded under iWow’s ministrations. Bass became throbby, and the tweaked highs were too bright and brittle-sounding. In fact, extended listening became sort of unpleasant. We wish the companion app offered graduated, EQ-style control, rather than a handful of settings that are either on or off.
The bottom line. We like iWow 3D for movies but had mixed results with music. It can enhance the sound of older recordings, but modern tracks don’t always fare as well.
iWow 3D for iPod, iPhone & iPad
iPod with dock connector or iOS device
Boosts bass and treble and widens the soundstage. Can be slightly tweaked using preset options in companion iOS app. Works well on older, flatter recordings.
Enhanced treble can be fatiguing. Adds noticeable background hiss. Costs as much (or more) as a better pair of headphones.