The iPhone/Touch/iPod can do almost everything really well, including giving you all your music, all the time, anywhere. One thing they cannot do, however, is deliver headphone listening that rivals multichannel surround from a really competent amps-and-speakers layout.
Or can they? SRS’s iWow 3D asks the question, and answers it in the affirmative. The iWow 3D is a hardware/software combo, consisting of a brooch-shaped dongle that plugs into the iPhone/touch (or iPod classic, nano, or even the iPad) and a free app downloadable from the iTunes store. The iWow hardware has an on/defeat button and is useable without the app, but the reverse does not hold: Without the hardware, the app does nothing. To listen, you plug your headphones or speakers into the iWow hardware’s 1/8-inch stereo jack. Pressing the big white button, which lights up prominently, engages the effect while you, hopefully, go “Wow!”
As with most MP3 “improvers,” my first impression was of equalization and plenty of it: The iWow 3D process adds a good 6 dB of relative output below around 120 Hz and a bit less over the top 3 octaves or so, while also boosting the overall average level by several decibels.
But some careful listening with my in-ear and over-ear cans satisfied me that, at least on headphones, there’s more going on than just volume boost and EQ — though my conclusions are of course highly subjective, and highly dependent upon the headphones (and, no doubt, the head and ears) I used. With iWow engaged, headphone listening becomes a bit more forward and natural: that is, somewhat more proscenium-stage-sounding as opposed to lateral “in-head.” Treble, in addition to being more forward, is somehow airier and “lighter,” while bass takes on added roundness and heft.
The iWow iOS app is applicable (sorry!) to the full iPhone/touch/Pad family, and consists simply of touchscreen toggles for the overall effect as well as individual ones for deep bass/high treble boost and Wide Surround. There also are buttons for Headphones, Speakers, and Car modes, which appear to be fairly subtle variations on SRS’s processing, principally the EQ.
It’s important to note that iWow precludes the use of any other docking feature, so a car or home dock won’t be compatible, and thus the iPhone/Pod is limited to its battery, which of course also powers the SRS dongle. Additionally, the iWow app does not include play controls, so you must swipe back to the iPod control screen to pause or change tracks.
Wow won’t make a high-end component stack out of an iPod and a set of earbuds, but it will give music a useful boost in subjective quality, particularly when heard through less capable ’phones or desktop speakers. That’s well worth 60 bucks. – Daniel Kumin
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