Audio Accessory Review: IsoAcoustics Desktop Speaker Stands

41dZ2CEYcrL._SX425_.jpgIn an article yesterday explaining how to position desktop speakers, I mentioned speaker stands from IsoAcoustics (, Amazon UK). These stands are practical and offer good insulation from vibrations. If you have full-sized speakers on your desk, I’d recommend getting stands like this.

You can set them to two heights: 3 inches and 8 inches. There are metal tubes that slip into rubber-lined holes in the top and bottom section of the stands, which provide a solid grip. The rubber also insulates vibrations, freeing up your sound a bit, removing any gassy boom you may have caused by vibrations.

2014-05-29 14.42.30.jpgThe stands come in three sizes: 130mm, 150 mm, or 200mm wide. There’s also a 230x430mm designed for studio monitors placed on their sides, or larger, heavier speakers anywhere (probably much larger than you’d use on your desk). Get the ones that fit your speakers best. You could get the smallest ones for most speakers, but they might be a bit less stable if you bump into your desk. (I got the 150mm size.)

Here’s a quick picture of one of the stands under a Focal Chorus 705v speaker on my desk. (I’d have taken a picture of the entire desk, showing both speakers, but my desk is too messy right now…) As you can see, it provides good support, and leaves space below the speaker as well. Theoretically, I could alleviate some of the mess on my desk by putting things there.

I do notice a slight difference in the sound with these stands; there is a bit more midrange, a bit less bass, and the soundstage is a bit more open than without them. Before I got the stands, I had the speakers on books, which do insulate well, but not enough. Don’t expect any major change in sound, though if you have speakers sitting flat on your desk, you will notice more of a difference than I did.

One thing to note is that you can tilt the stands a bit, using inserts that come with them. This allows you to tilt them back so the tweeters are pointing more directly at your ears. However, this requires that the speakers be of the appropriate height; since mine are fairly large, the tweeters are at exactly the right height with the stands set to 8 inches.

All in all, this is a good way to get speakers at the right height on a desk. If you want to get better sound, read my tips on how to position desktop speakers, and get a pair of these stands.

DVD/Blu-Ray Review: Richard II, by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

1398854848976904_resize_265_265.jpgThe Royal Shakespeare Company has released the first disc in its Live from Stratford-Upon-Avon series, which features live broadcasts to cinemas of plays from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and subsequent releases on DVD and Blu-Ray. This release is Richard II, staring David Tennant. (, Amazon UK, iTunes Store) I attended a production of this play shortly before it was filmed, and you can read my review. I liked it, but was not overwhelmed by it; I felt David Tennant was excellent, but some of the company was weak, and the overall design didn’t really grab me.

But it’s worth discussing the quality of the production on the Blu-Ray (and DVD), which, to me, could hardly be better. I’ve become a regular at the RSC; I live a few miles from Stratford-Upon-Avon, and it’s my “local.” Since I moved to the UK just over a year ago, I travelled there often, then moved nearby, in part to have this wonderful theater a few minutes away.

Being in the two RSC theater’s is magical. The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, where Richard II was filmed, has about 1,000 seats; the Swan Theatre, next-door, about 460 seats. Both have thrust stages, where the audience sits on three sides of the stage, in a horseshoe shape. Wherever you are in either theater, you’re very close to the stage. I’ve sat in many different locations for a dozen or so productions, and I’ve never been disappointed. Whether in the front row, or in the back, you get a great view.

From the first scene of the play on disc, it’s obvious that they’ve got it right. I immediately had the feeling of being there, in the theater, in the play. While Richard II starts with a shot from above the stage, which I wasn’t able to see in person, the rest of the filming recalled what it was like to be there, in person.

The camera work is excellent, the lighting perfect for both stage and film, and there is a judicious alternation of close-ups and long shots, letting you focus on faces – better than in the theater – in certain scenes, and giving you the big picture for others. The editing was tasteful; no quick cuts, as often seen in classical music videos, and the overall editing gives a great sense of the entire stage. And one part of the play benefited greatly from the film. When Richard II is in prison, he’s in a cell beneath the stage. A large part of the stage opens up to show him, and sitting where I was in the stalls, I couldn’t see inside. The boom camera, however, can show him there, giving me a bit more than what I got live.

The only criticism I would have was the sound. At times, actors weren’t miked perfectly, notably in the early scene when Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray were kneeling, facing the king, with their backs to the front of the stage. While one of the bonus features on the disc mentioned that the actors were wearing microphones, it didn’t sound like it, at least not at this part.

The disc contains a number of bonus features. Some are videos, most of which were available on the RSC web site, but there’s a director’s commentary, with director Gregory Doran and producer John Wyver, discussing the play and the production. I only listened to a few minutes of it, but I’ll be checking that out in the future.

This is an auspicious beginning to a wonderful project. Artistic director Gregory Doran has begun a cycle of all of Shakespeare’s plays, without repeat, over the next six years, and if the Live from Stratford-Upon-Avon project is successful, we’ll have a wonderful complete set of filmed productions of the plays after that time. This will rival the only existing complete set of the plays, that produced by the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s.

If you like Shakespeare, grab this. If you just like David Tennant – and there were enough people who felt that way to make this production a sellout in both Stratford-Upon-Avon and London – get it anyway. It’s not the best Shakespeare play, but the quality of the filming makes up for any weaknesses in the production.

17 People (West Wing)

If you’re a West Wing fan, 17 People – episode 18 of season 2 – is arguably one of the best episodes. In fact, it starts a run of several great episodes at the end of the season, culminating with the Emmy-award winning Two Cathedrals, that ends the season (with a cliffhanger; but it’s obvious now what Bartlett’s answer will be at the end of that episode).

Jon White has created a brilliant analysis of this episode on his website Seventeen People. As he says, it’s the “best non-Dire-Straits-featuring episode.” (That’s a reference to Two Cathedrals, which features Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms over the last 5 minutes.) White shows just how much Aaron Sorkin could pack into a 42-minute West Wing episode: “It is, simultaneously: a story of intrigue, of persuasion, of drama, of comedy, and of romance.”

Seventeen People is about Toby Ziegler finding something out; something only known by sixteen other people. White fortunately does not say what Toby finds out, though if you’ve seen the West Wing, you know what it is. His analysis of this episode shows just how essential each and every line of the script is to the story, how President Bartlett has to juggle serious crises in addition to dealing with Toby. And how what Toby learns sets the stage for the next couple of years of his presidency.

If you’re a West Wing fan, you’ll find this analysis a brilliant break-down of the episode. If you’re not, read the introduction, and go buy The Complete West Wing on DVD (, Amazon UK). It’s $125 in the US, and only £48 in the UK. (Or, if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can watch them free in HD; the HD versions are only available from Amazon Prime and iTunes, there’s no Blu-Ray.) Seriously, if there’s one TV series I’d take to a desert island, it would be The West Wing. If you haven’t watched it yet, you should.

Speaking of Two Cathedrals, here’s the last 5 1/2 minutes, the part with the Dire Straits music. I can’t watch this without tearing up, but also without appreciating the astounding direction by Thomas Schlamme, and the brilliant editing that tells this story. Watch the fluidity of the movement as Bartlett heads out of the Oval Office to his motorcade. Watch all the tiny details; the cigarette in the church, the shots in the press conference before Bartlett gets there. Watch Martin Sheen’s face and body throughout this segment, showing what makes him such a great actor, and how he totally inhabited this character. And the moment when Lea McGarry says “Watch this.”

If you’ve not yet seen the West Wing up to this point, it would be better to not to watch this, because there is a major spoiler…

Gadget Notes: rOtring 800 Mechanical Pencil

I’ve always been a fan of pencils, both wooden and mechanical. I don’t write a lot by hand, but I do like to have nice writing instruments. So I went looking for a new mechanical pencil, and took a chance on the rOtring 800 (, Amazon UK), their almost-top-of-the-line tool. (There is an 800+, which is the same, but has a plastic tip, so it can be used as a stylus on a tablet.)


I don’t like very thin lead, so I went for the 0.7mm model, and I chose black; I think pencils look better in black than silver. What sets this model apart from the company’s less expensive mechanical pencils is the “twist and click” mechanism, which moves the lead and holder in and out of the cylinder. So when you’re not using the pencil, you can retract it, and the pointy part won’t risk damaging a shirt, or just getting in the way.

(In case you’re curious, rOtring means “red ring,” which you see at the top of every one of the company’s pens and pencils.)

It’s a hefty, solid pencil, with a very nice grip, and a matte finish. I think the silver model is probably a bit smoother on the barrel, but the grip looks the same. It’s really a pleasure to write with. Again, I don’t write a lot, but I do often proofread things I’ve written on printouts, and I like to use a pencil.

This isn’t a cheap pencil – it’s a luxury to spend more than $50 on a writing implement – but it’s a nice tool to have. If you like pencils, it’s worth checking out. For a bit less, you can get the rOtring 600, without the retractable tip, if you wish.

Now, I just need to find the best pencil leads to go with this… Any suggestions?

Theater Review: Arden of Faversham, by the Royal Shakespeare Company

Last night I attended the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Arden of Faversham, by Anonymous. It is thought that Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe, or William Shakespeare, or some combination of them, wrote the play, which was published in 1592. The RSC includes it in their recently published volume, Shakespeare and Others: Collaborative Plays (, Amazon UK) Some believe that Shakespeare wrote at least one scene; others think it was the work of an amateur; in any case, it’s a rousing play, in this RSC production, and deserves to be seen.

Arden of Faversham is a “domestic tragedy;” what we might call today “true crime.” It’s the story of the murder of Thomas Arden, who lived in the town of Faversham, and who discovers that his wife, Alice, is having an affair with Mosby, a lowly steward. Alice, together with Mosby, plots to have Thomas killed, so she can be free to be with her lover.


Alice asks several people to kill her husband, and, after a botched attempt to poison him, asks Greene, who Arden had dispossessed, to help her. He hires the notorious criminals Black Will and Shakebag.

Arden-of-Faversham-2014-7-361x541.jpg Arden-of-Faversham-2014-10-361x541.jpg

Arden is eventually killed, and his body left outdoors in a snowstorm, but is found, and the killers quickly unmasked by some quick-thinking forensic investigators.

I fear me he was murdered in this house
And carried to the fields; for from that place,
Backwards and forwards, may you see
The print of many feet within the snow.
And look about this chamber where we are,
And you shall find part of his guiltless blood;
For in his slip-shoe did I find some rushes,
Which argueth he was murdered in this room.

The killers are sentenced, and the play ends, with an epilogue, spoken by Alice (in the original text, Franklin speaks it), recounting their fate.

It’s a pretty simple plot, but what makes the play a delight to watch is the wacky slapstick way it’s presented. Set in the present, the characters are all quirky, with odd costumes, and speak their lines as if in a sit-com. Sharon Small is delightful as Alice Arden, with her vampish attitude, blond-haired and stiletto-heeled, drifting back and forth between a serious lover and Lucille Ball. Keir Charles gives a wonderfully smarmy Mosby, and the two bungling criminals – Black Will and Shakebag, played by Jay Simpson and Tony Jayawardena – are hilarious.


Textually, this isn’t a great play, but what saves it is a wonderful production, with plenty of action, fast changes, and quick pacing. It’s the shortest play I’ve seen at the RSC yet; only 1:40, with no intermission. (In a TV interview, Sharon Small said that the play reads about 2:30, so there were substantial cuts.) And that time flew by. There was laughter, blood, snow, smoke and beer, and the actors seemed to be having as good a time as the audience. Director Polly Findlay, in an interview on the RSC website, says that she sees it as like “a Coen brothers movie set in the 1590s.” That sums it up well. The production is gaudy, brash and kitschy, and that’s why it works.

It’s a play that doesn’t take itself seriously, and just lets you have a good time. And that might be why I didn’t like the other play I’ve seen recently as part of this series at the Swan Theatre, The Roaring Girl. It seemed like the director was trying to make that play into art, but it simply wasn’t good enough. The actors were torn between acting and Acting, and it came through. Polly Findlay took the opposite tack, and made this play fun.

I had a wonderful time at this play, and I hope to see it again this season. The intimacy of the small Swan Theatre made it an immersive experience. The only thing that detracted from it was a lack of air conditioning in the theater, which is uncommon at the RSC. It was a very warm night, and, from the beginning, it was uncomfortable. If you do see the play, and sit in the front row, don’t wear your best clothes.

Here’s an interview with Sharon Small, where she discusses her part:

Essential Music: Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here

In my occasional series of posts about essential music, I’ve covered some well-known musicians and composers, and many lesser knowns. But it’s almost a given that Pink Floyd fits in the essential music category, at least for people who like a certain type of music.

Last night, I watched two documentaries about the band: The Making of Dark Side of the Moon, available on DVD (, Amazon UK), and The Story of Wish You Were Here, available on DVD and Blu-Ray (, Amazon UK). Both of these were very interesting, featuring interviews with the musicians, engineers, and others, including the album cover designer and animator Gerald Scarfe. Afterwards, I put on Dark Side of the Moon, very loud; I could recall the first time I heard the album, nearly 40 years ago.

dj.nobsviqs.170x170-75.jpgOne cannot underestimate the importance of Dark Side of the Moon in popular music. Not only is it a highly musical album, with unforgettable tunes, but it’s a single long work, and arguably the most successful “concept album” of the time.[1] Add to that the technical prowess of the recording and production, and it’s not surprising that Dark Side of the Moon defined a genre, and became the second highest selling album in music history. (Do you know what the first is? Look it up if you don’t…)

The confluence of the musicians of Pink Floyd, the engineer Alan Parsons, and the at times simple, at times deeply textured music on the album make this a work of great depth. Watching this documentary, it’s interesting to see just how carefully the album was crafted in the studio, with overlays, doubled guitars and vocals, and myriad effects. Yet one of the most striking parts of the album came when singer Clare Torry belted out her improvised non-lexical singing in The Great Gig in the Sky; originally paid £30 for her work, it’s good to see that she has since obtained royalties for co-writing that song.

5099968084257_1500x1500_300dpi.170x170-75.jpgWish You Were Here was a different story, and one that nearly didn’t make it to record. After the unexpected success of Dark Side of the Moon, the musicians found themselves in an impasse, and the recording process was painful. There’s a concept in half of the album; the story of Pink Floyd co-founder Syd Barrett, whose tale is told in Shine on You Crazy Diamond, the song that bookends the album. However, the other three songs – Welcome to the Machine, Have a Cigar and Wish You Were Here – aren’t about Syd at all. While the first two are about the music industry, and they relate Pink Floyd’s experiences long after Syd left the band.

“Just as the final mix of Wish You Were Here was being produced, an overweight-man with shaven head and eyebrows, and holding a plastic bag, entered the room.”[2] No one recognized Syd Barrett, who they hadn’t seen in years, and would never see again. The crazy diamond went away, to live an uneventful life, eventually dying in 2006.

Musically, I find Wish You Were Here more satisfying than Dark Side of the Moon. The production is less layered, and the guitar and saxophone in Shine on You Crazy Diamond make more solid statements than many of the songs on Dark Side. And the song Wish You Were Here is, in my opinion, Pink Floyd’s best song, as David Gilmour said in the documentary. It’s a simple yet moving song, and it works well as an interlude in this album.

Nevertheless, I feel these two albums go together, as flip sides of the band’s work. Dark Side of the Moon was their first real hit, and it was the culmination of their music up until that time; Wish You Were Here was about their struggling with success, and about what happens when you fly too close to the sun. Their next two albums, Animals and The Wall, are certainly excellent records, but they pale in comparison to these classics. After the 1983 album The Final Cut, the band split up, and, while David Gilmour led the group called Pink Floyd, it wasn’t the same without Roger Waters.

I only saw Pink Floyd live once, during the 1980 Wall tour at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island. It was an astounding show, but it was an opera, not a concert. It was essentially the album, note-for-note, with brilliant effects. I was never lucky enough to score tickets for earlier tours, and had no interest in seeing the band after that.

There are very few official releases of live recordings of Pink Floyd, the most important being Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii (, Amazon UK), which isn’t a concert, but a staged performance. The band released some live material on second CDs with recent release of the “experience editions” of their 2011 re-releases.[3] Dark Side of the Moon (, Amazon UK) includes a live performance of the album from 1974, and Wish You Were Here (, Amazon UK) has live tracks from the same performance, as well as a few alternate versions and outtakes.

Unfortunately, these live performances are mostly copies of the albums; as much as they can be in the concert context. I’d love to see more official releases of live recordings when the band was working out these songs before they recorded them, and, perhaps, with no more studio material to reissue, we’ll see something like that in the future. (There are plenty of bootlegs, which are not hard to find, many of which have poor sound.)

In the meantime, Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here remain two of the most powerful albums of the 1970s, and bold statements of a band at its peak. As old as they are, they still sound fresh today, and I listen to them more often than just about anything from that decade (except for the Grateful Dead, of course).

For more on Pink Floyd, see the book Pink Floyd, Pigs Might Fly, by Mark Blake (Amazon UK; released in the US as Comfortably Numb:, but the UK edition has been updated in 2013 with a new chapter).

  1. I would even argue that it’s the only truly successful concept album. While there were many others, which strung songs together in a “concept” structure, only Dark Side of the Moon succeeds musically. The closest to it would be, for me, Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick, which is a long musical suite, unfortunately marred by the first part of the second side, which simply doesn’t belong. There were many “concept sides,” though, such as Yes’s Close to the Edge, and Genesis’s Supper’s Ready, which are both musically satisfying.

    I wouldn’t really consider The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to be a true concept album, and recordings such as The Who’s Tommy, Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Pink Floyd’s The Wall are more musicals than actual concept albums, and Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here is not really a concept album (half of it is; the other half is not), and Animals is, to me, not a great work musically. But many will disagree with my appraisal…  ↩

  2.  ↩
  3. Pink Floyd’s entire back catalog was reissued in 2011, with several versions of each album, some at exorbitant prices, offering little interesting additional content. The “experience editions” are two-CD sets, with the studio albums and one disc of live recordings and/or outtakes.  ↩

Fine-Tune Your Music Playback with iTunes’ Equalizer

Audio buffs are familiar with graphic equalizers, devices that change the relative volume of different frequency ranges of music. While one should never have to do this, if the music is engineered correctly, and if you’re listening on a good stereo, differences in rooms, or in your ears, may lead you to want to increase bass or treble, or dampen midranges and lower extremes. (One valid reason to use EQ is to boost treble for those with high-frequency hearing loss.)

You can make detailed changes to music playback with an equalizer, and the digital equalizer in iTunes – available by choosing Window > Equalizer – reproduces these features. You can use the pop-up menu to choose presets for different types of music or speakers and to make a preset of your own custom settings.


There are 22 equalizer presets, from Acoustic to Vocal Booster. Each of these presets changes the relative volume of a band of music around the frequency shown at the bottom of each slider. So the first slider affects music around 32 Hz; most likely from 32 to 64 Hz, but the boundaries are never that precise.

In addition, there is a Preamp setting which increases the gain (volume) of the music. You don’t want to apply this across the board, but if you have some music that’s very soft or loud, you can apply this setting to individual songs.

First, try using the equalizer for your playback. Start with the Flat preset, then click On. Try other presets; it’ll take a second for iTunes to make the change as you switch from one to another. See if you hear a big difference in sound, and if the sound is better. Then try with other types of music. What you’re looking for here is a compensation for your speakers, your room or your hearing.

The presets are, however, somewhat confusing. Why is a given preset Classical and another Electronic? If you look at several of them, you can see there’s only a tiny difference:





The four presets above are for different types of music, yet their curves are very similar. It’s safe to assume that the named presets have nothing to do with the type of music they represent; they just give users something to play with.

However, the Pop and Rock presets are very different; almost mirror images of each other. For Pop, this suggests that you want to increase the midrange, where the vocals are; for Rock, it suggests you want to diminish the vocals.



If you find that certain settings help improve your sound – correcting for deficiencies in your speakers, or compensating for the sound of your listening room – you should try and create your own preset. Do this by changing any of the settings, then clicking the popup menu and choosing Make Preset.

It’s unlikely that the lowest or highest sliders will have much effect. If you don’t have a sub-woofer, your speakers probably don’t play frequencies low enough to be affected, and you won’t hear much at the highest end of the spectrum. But try different settings, with different music, and see if it sounds better. If it does, take some time to live with it, then switch back to Flat every now and then and see if the other preset still sounds better. Don’t expect to find the right settings right away, and you may decide that it’s best to leave the equalizer turned off.

As I said above, you can apply equalizer presets to individual songs. Select a track, or a group of tracks, then press Command-I; click the Options tab and choose a preset from the popup menu. If you choose one of the built-in presets, this will carry over to any iOS device where you sync the songs; your manual presets will not. (This assumes that you turn on EQ in Settings > Music.)

I’ve found that while the equalizer does alter the bass or treble a bit, in many cases it also distorts music. If you don’t like the way your music sounds, especially if you have small speakers or cheap headphones, give it a try, but don’t expect miracles.

??Bonus: if you want to see the actual frequencies of your music, check out the LED Spectrum Analyzer visualizer plug-in for iTunes. It shows you something like this, and changes in real time:


Ebooks and Typos: Readers, and Consumers, Deserve Better

A recent article in The Guardian highlighted an embarrassing typo in a romance novel:

When she spotted me, she flung her anus high in the air and kept them up until she reached me.

Yes, that “anus” was meant to be “arms,” but the OCR software used in the book make a little mistake. This was spotted on Google Books, so it’s not even a question of cheap OCR software. It is, however, a scan that has not been proofread.

Over the years, reading ebooks, I’ve seen a huge number of typos, and it’s getting annoying. I can understand an un-proofread book, such as the Google Books example, but when a mainstream publisher sells an ebook with lots of typos, they should be held responsible. I’ve recently been reading William Trevor’s Collected Stories (only available in Kindle format from Amazon UK apparently), and I’m appalled at the number of typos in the book. There are a few in each story; and there are a lot of stories in that book, which is some 1,200 pages in the print edition.

I’ve seen worse. I bought a Stephen King book that was missing nearly 100 pages. And I’ve seen terrible formatting in ebooks. All of these examples show that publishers don’t pay much attention to the ebooks they sell.

As an author, I’m familiar with the law of the conservation of typographical errors. When correcting proofs, every typo that you remove is replaced by another one to maintain balance in the universe. But I don’t think any of my books have had more than a few typos. Seeing the number of typos – or, more correctly, scanos – in these books shows that there’s no serious proofreading going on after the books are scanned.

I note, however, that the William Trevor book is published by Penguin, the same company whose edition of James Joyce’s Dubliners had such bad formatting. I’m not sure if it’s endemic at Penguin, but they’d do well to take a look at their production process.

You can report typos from a Kindle, but I don’t know if anything ever happens after you do. I think that we readers should contact the sellers of these ebooks and ask for refunds if there are more than a handful of typos. Only then will publisher (perhaps) start taking such things seriously.

The End of the iPod

It was just a dozen years ago, but it seems like it’s been decades. In October, 2001, Apple introduced the first iPod. No one knew, at the time, that Apple’s portable music player would revolutionize the way we listen to music, and the music industry itself. The iPod certainly wasn’t the first MP3 player, but it was the first to get it right: the combination of the iPod for portable listening and iTunes to store and sync music, made managing digital music easy. But now, the iPod is on its last legs.

Over the years, we saw many Apple presentations which highlighted new iPods. Steve Jobs would go overboard describing how cool the new features were. Apple’s zeitgeist was all about music. Bands such as U2 and Coldplay played at the ends of these Apple events, and Apple TV commercials were all about music.

Apple successively added new models to the iPod line, and, with them, new features. From being simply a music-playing device, the iPod added the ability to view photos, then videos. It got successively smaller, with the iPod mini, nano and shuffle, and inherited a touchscreen display, nine months after Apple introduced the iPhone. Today, the iPod line is dominated by the iPod touch, which can play all sorts of media, but also take pictures and videos, and run apps, but Apple still sells the iPod nano, classic and shuffle.

Where can the iPod go next? iPod market share has been sliding slowly as the iPhone came to dominate the pocket-sized device market. For most people, the iPhone holds all their music; there’s no reason to need anything else. The iPad is also cannibalizing some iPod sales: if you don’t want to device put in your pocket, a tablet can play music and videos, but also give you a large enough screen to surf the web comfortably.

Apple still sells a direct descendent of the very first iPod: the iPod classic. This model is the only hard-drive-based music player that Apple sells. While this is fragile (I ruined an iPod classic once by dropping it; the hard drive died), it also offers larger capacity than current flash memory based devices. However, if Apple can get the price of flash memory down enough to offer similar capacities in an iPod touch, the classic’s only trump card gets beaten.

I like the classic because I have a huge music library; much more than the device can hold. But if Apple could sell me an iPod touch with the same capacity – 160 GB, or even more, at a comparable price – I’d be tempted to buy one. While the iPod touch is more versatile, it’s much more expensive. The iPod classic costs just $249, compared to $399 for the 64 GB iPod touch. If you look at the price Apple charges for additional flash memory for iPads, it would cost $100 more to get to 128 GB; and how much more than that to get to 256 GB?

Perhaps Apple needs to take a different tack for the future of the iPod. Most iPhone users have enough capacity for their music libraries. But the hard-core music fans with 50,000, 100,000 or more tracks in their iTunes libraries find it too restrictive. In addition, there is a growing market of audiophiles who are interested in better sounding portable music players.

With this in mind, I think it’s time that Apple release an iPod pro. I imagine this as a flash memory based device with 512 GB of storage, and the ability to play high-resolution files. It would have a digital optical output, allowing users to connect a portable DAC (digital-analog converter) and headphone amp, so they can have excellent sound through their headphones anywhere. Granted, you wouldn’t appreciate the improved sound quality when walking on a busy street, but there are times when you want to listen to music on good headphones, and don’t want to be connected to your stereo.

The iPod pro would have to go for high-capacity storage: with high-resolution albums taking up a gigabyte or more each (for 24-bit, 96 kHz files), 512 GB would hold about 500 albums, or 5,000 songs. If you stick with Apple Lossless, you’d be able to store around 1,000 albums, which would be fine for most users. The flash storage would be costly, but the people this device would appeal to might be willing to pay for it.

Apple could eliminate the digital optical output by including a DAC worthy of the name “pro.” The Chinese company Fiio has released a portable music player with an audiophile-quality DAC, which supports music up to 24-bit and 192 kHz, and which sells for around $200. Apple could use a similar audiophile-quality DAC, and, with the flash storage, probably make a device that would sell for less than $500.

And they could let Jony Ive have free reign over the design of the iPod pro, making a device that would stand out from what we’re used to with the iPod. If it doesn’t need iOS, Apple could use this to try out a new type of user interface. It could be a touch screen, or voice control; perhaps even an iPod touch-like display with a virtual scroll wheel, to remind users of the original iPod.

The market wouldn’t be very large, but neither is the market for Apple’s forthcoming Mac Pro. Apple is showing, with the Mac Pro, that they can sell a cutting-edge Mac for the handful of people who want one; why not do the same with an iPod, for those who want high-quality sound in a portable music player?

As the iPod continues its decline, it might be time to try and differentiate it from other portable music players. There’s nowhere to go with the iPod line, other than improving sound quality and increasing storage, and Apple could make a wonderful device that combines these two improvements.

Most likely, in another dozen years, we’ll access our music through blazingly fast 8G connections in lossless or high-resolution formats, streamed through the ether to slim key fob sized devices. We’ll listen to them on audiophile-quality wireless headphones, and we’ll be able to access all our music everywhere. But for now, at the end of the iPod era, Apple could make a bold statement with an iPod pro as a milestone to mark the end of an era.

This article was originally publish in Issue 21 of The Loop Magazine.