Just like about everyone, I have been touched by the iPod revolution. Let's be blunt and direct: this whole iPod phenomenon is a big compromise. The quality of the audio files one can buy on the iTune store is abysmal: nothing less than a lossless format should please the most primitive audiophile. This awful "standard" quality becomes intolerable when one uses high end in-ear earphones such as the Shure E5C (my favorite 2005 buy) but is already blatant with decent cheap ones such as the Senheiser MX500. Sure, the simple solution is to encode one's CDs using a lossless format such as the Apple Lossless codec. However, this approach is not without drawbacks: in that format, a 4GB iPod will only store 10-12 CDs and, much worse, the battery life of any hard-disk based iPod will take a very significant hit (up to 80% less running time) because the large size of the lossless music files will require constant refreshes of the small iPod cache...

...which is why my iPod kept running out of battery and I started toying with the idea of buying a decent docking station that would allow me to listen to music and keeo the beast charged at the same time.


The first option I considered was the iPod HiFi which Apple has released to "reinvent Home Stereo". Ouch! Does home stereo really begs for a reinvention? I don't think so, especially when I discovered the very vague iPod HiFi tech specs and its scary frequency response characteristics (53Hz to 16kHz ± 3 dB). Only Apple could use a thing such as "Maximum peak sound pressure level" in an advertisement for an audio system and get away with it. No thanks! I then set my eyes on the Bose SoundDock. While I do have mixed feelings about Bose's systematic sound processing, I am also the relatively happy owner of a pair of version 6 901s. Could Bose top Apple? Well, instead of making a mountain of poor specs, Bose simply doesn't give any. In a way, this is more honest, but not very encouraging. I decided to hook my iPod to my conventional stereos. Of course, I kept running out of battery and cursing about it.

Enter the iTube Fat Man

That's when I met the Fat Man. I was walking down the street when my eye caught some shiny reflections in the window of a hi-fi store. Enter the iTube Fatman, a valve amplifier hooked to a matching docking station. The specs are quite decent

  • 2x13W
  • Frequency Response 20Hz – 20KHz (±1.5Db)
  • Harmonic Distortion 0.5%
  • Signal-To-Noise Ratio 86Db

While Fatman plays a bit on its professional image. This is actually a Dared MP5 in disguise. This Chinese company established in 1995 offers has enjoyed good reviews (review1, review2)

Review conditions

I reviewed the iTube on my trusty old NAD 801 MM bookshelf speakers and am planning a retest on Tannoy Reveal 66 monitors. I don't believe hooking the iTube to extremely high-end speakers is actually worth the trouble.

Listening tests

Pablo Casals's reference interpretation of Bach's Cello Suites: excellent.
Mstislav Rostropovich's version of the very same Bach's Cello Suites: excellent, very smooth and warm.
Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven: poor, lack of dynamic range. Slightly distorted trebles.

Strong Points

low distortion, very clean, natural sound, excellent for chamber music.
amazingly natural voices.
has punch, 2x13W, real ones, can probably drive larger speakers.
looks great, especially when the valve's protective cover has been removed.
complete bundle, cables, remote, gloves.
all things considered, a good value for money when compared to Apple's iPod Hi-Fi or the Bose iPod soundock.

Weak Points

hard drive based iPod will cause interference during hard drive accesses.
very poor earphone connection: barely touching the case sends high pitched noise into the earphones.
very cruel to poor recordings.
dual power supply as if we had too many plugs.
the provide cables aren't matched to the design, or even pretty.
gets dirty in a second, fingeprint magnet.



Disclaimer: each and every product I review has been purchased normally, with my hard earned cash.