iPad: The High-Rez Digital Transport for the Rest of Us? Page 3

Rolling Your Own: High-Rez USB Audio via the Camera Connection Kit

Apple's Camera Connection Kit, an update of the little dongle introduced as an accessory for the iPod Photo back in 2005, intended for photographers who (Apple imagined back in those days of expensive storage) might want to use their iPods as field backup devices.

The current CCK (the iPod version is no longer produced, by the way - more on that later) adds a card reader and, far more importantly, a standard-issue USB port to the tablet. Luckily for us, it's the real deal, supporting any USB audio class–compliant device. Interfaces that require a driver install won't work, but the wide variety of DACs and audio interfaces that work out of the box without software will fire up just fine (so long as their power requirements are met, which we'll get to in a moment). The CCK opens up a world of possibilities.

Better yet, the DAC experts at Benchmark uncovered a neat little undocumented feature of the CCK - it'll pass high-rez audio, up to at least 24/96, making the tablet not just a high-quality digital source, but a very workable audiophile digital transport. Connect a USB cable to the CCK, plug the other end into your favorite 24/96-over-USB-capable DAC, and you're in business.

At my desk I've been using my iPad 2 connected via the CCK to a typical budget audiophile desktop listening setup, consisting of Musical Fidelity's V-Can headphone amp and V-DAC II 24/96 asynchronous USB DAC ($199/$349 respectively, musicalfidelity.com), playing a mix of 24/96 FLAC files from FLAC Player, 24/48 ALAC via Music, and streamed files via Home Sharing. With locally stored files, sound quality is at least equivalent to playback from my desktop machine, (and I have to admit that I even prefer FLAC playback from the iPad, possibly because there tend to be fewer applications running concurrently and therefore no glitching, as I've run into occasionally with desktop players). The touchscreen interface is a joy to use for music browsing. The only downside is that the iPad doesn't charge, but given the device's relatively lengthy battery lifespan when compared to most portables, that isn't a major failing.

You can even take your show on the road - with a little effort.