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

Does the iPad have a role to play for audiophiles, or for the new breed of iDevice-inspired audio enthusiasts? It's hard to beat the touchscreen interface for music listening - it provides a tactile browsing experience that hands-down beats the UIs on most high-zoot audiophile servers. On the desktop there are plenty of audiophile file players that load audio into RAM for supposedly improved fidelity - but the iPad offers all-solid-state audio storage to begin with, freeing your bits from jitter-inducing hard-drive-access. But is iOS - and the circuitry within - up to snuff?

Earlier this week, Daniel Kumin looked at some apps aimed at tweaking the output of iTunes and Music (its iOS equivalent) to compensate for the vagaries of the less-than-perfect desktop- and mobile-listening environments.

But what if you're striving for audio perfection, or something close to it? You're not likely to be happy with your tablet's onboard DAC and headphone amp, especially if you're going to be driving power-hungry headphones.

You're in luck. It turns out that Apple conveniently provided hardware and firmware loopholes allowing for high-resolution playback, and there are a number of software and hardware products on the market either designed (or ready to repurpose) to pull higher-quality audio from your iPad.

Depending on taste, commitment, and budget, you can choose from an assortment of relatively inexpensive gear to get far better audio out of your iPad than you might have thought possible - or you can go to town and use your iDevice as a dedicated transport in a cost-is-no-object setup, should you be interested in such things. Want an off-the-shelf solution? Those are out there. Or, if you tend towards the geeky, with a few little workarounds you can make many commonly available DACs pull double duty as part of your tablet-based portable setup by day, even if they're sitting comfortably on your rack after hours, driving your main stereo rig.