COMPUTEX - Valve amplifiers give iPod a retro touch

A Taiwanese company has given the iPod a retro spin with a docking station that features an elegant 1940s-style valve amplifier.

A Taiwanese company has given the iPod a retro spin with a docking station that features an elegant 1940s-style valve amplifier.

It's an unusual marriage of digital high-tech and classic analogue technology that has turned heads at the Computex trade show in Taiwan this week.

The iPod rests in a silver docking station with a wooden trim, and next to it sits a matching amp with three illuminated glass valves on top. The dock and the amp together measure about 42 centimeters wide and 15cm deep. The system also includes two 50W-per-channel speakers. It all comes in a glossy black, wood or a leather finish.

The system fits any type of iPod except the Shuffle, according to Natascha Lu, director of A-Zone International Co. Ltd., which manufactures the product for sale by other companies. A-Zone already makes more "traditional" iPod stations for vendors including Intempo Digital and Audiovox Corp.

The iPod Dock Valve Station just went on sale in Germany for Euro 699 (AUD$1190) and is also available in Japan, Lu said.

The product also comes with a remote control and has an S-Video output that can connect to a TV, so people with a video iPod can watch movies on a big screen. The company expects to complete firmware for the docking station next month that will allow the iPod interface to also appear on the TV, for easier navigation.

Valve amps were widely used in the 1940s but, because they were bulky and fragile, gave way to transistors in the following decades.

They're making something of a comeback, according to A-Zone president Les Cheng, especially among audiophiles who say they produce better-quality sound. At one point A-Zone had its valve amps custom-made, which was expensive, but it now buys them from a manufacturer in China, Cheng said.

At least five companies in Taiwan offer music systems with valve amps, though A-Zone is the only company using them for an iPod docking station, according to Cheng.

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