You have to admire the Chutzpa (nerve) of the GINI iTube, a 2+1 system in the shape and color of the original iPod, with a hybrid transistor/tube amplifier to boot. You might laugh in fact, but the laugh quickly turns to a smile when you listen to the engaging sound this combo can provide. Add the inexpensive GINI iConec and you have a charging cradle for your iPod complete with line out, volume control and a comprehensive albeit miniature remote control that does a great job with my iPod Mini. If you don't buy the iConec you can still hook up a source to the iTube, which has a single input using phono connectors.
GINI Systems, a California based importer and distributor of audio and video products, does not reveal what function the 6N2 tube plays in the circuit, but we do know amplification includes an 18 watt subwoofer amp and 16 wpc output to the satellite speakers. Frequency response is quoted from 50Hz to 30KHz, with the subwoofer crossover point around 130Hz. The iTube costs $349 and the iConec a very reasonable $69.
The iTube comes with a credit card type remote control of its own, with control for just volume and bass. Using the iConec gives you two volume settings to worry about. On some rock music you can overload the input on the iTube by setting maximum volume on the iConec, so I dialed the latter back a bit to avoid distortion. The iTube is decidedly not for head bangers. First the maximum volume really isn't that loud and second, it is more comfortable with acoustic rather than electric music.
If you stick to jazz, folk or smaller scale classical music, you'll find a very tuneful and surprisingly well-balanced performer on your hands. Maybe it's the tube, glowing brightly near the top of the iTube, or maybe it's the quite respectable speakers. Either way I was taken aback by the clean, warm and colorful sound on good recordings. Case in point, Perahia's Bach Piano Concerto No. 1 is pleasant and reasonably dynamic without making allowances for size or price. A slightly larger scale work, Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 1 played by Hamelin is perhaps a little thin up top (just like me) and light weight (not me this time), while leading edges are not well captured and long decay distinctly lacking, but it is still a ridiculously strong performance for the price, far in advance of similarly priced units I have heard.
What the iTube has in spades is an extended bandwidth without any apparent peaks or troughs and a warm supportive bass response that adds presence and depth to the image. Jennifer Warnes' Famous Blue Raincoat is the best disc to show off the iTube. The voice is clear and the intimate piano tone is warm and delicate, remarkably musical. Top marks also for Patricia Barber's This is Too Rich for my Blood, which shows off the fast bass and a delicate shimmering percussion where I expected hash and harshness so typical of this price-range. Benny Goodman's Sing Sing Sing highlights the fast reflexes of the iTube and is quite listenable despite the seventy-year-old recording and reduced dynamics. But don't bother with the Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter is altogether too much for the system, sounding harsh, compressed and congested. Heavy orchestral music fares better than Mick and the boys, but gravitas is not the iTube's forte, and dare I say it, forte is not the iTube's forte either! It only goes so loud. If you stick to its limitations in that regard, you will be well served.
Some will like the iTube's look, and others will hate it. Count me in the first group. It's a joke, but quite a good one. Certainly it will be a talking point, and it looks quite cool in my office at work. I have a few gripes about the ergonomics. You can't tell visually either the volume setting or the bass setting on the iTube, and the included speaker wire must have set GINI back all of a buck. The iConec has cutouts for a number of iPods but not the Nano (use the adaptor that comes with the Nano). Never mind, you don't actually need to use a cutout at all. There is one for my iPod Mini, so I'm happy. But why could they not have built the iPod cradle into the GINI iTube itself, saving on connectors, power cables and transformer, as others have done?
I could nitpick for quite a while, but let's accentuate the positive instead. This is a novelty item that surprises on the upside. I don't think you'll be able to match the sound for the iTube's price of admission, and the iConec is a steal if you want a remote control iPod cradle. I'm still smiling!
Design: 3 channel amp + L/R speakers + subwoofer
Vacuum tube: 6N2
Drivers: 2.75" full range and 5.25" woofer
Input sensitivity: 150mV
Power output: SW 18 watts, L/R 16 wpc
Frequency response: SW 50Hz to 160Hz, L/R 100Hz to 30kHz
S/N ratio: SW > 75dB, L/R > 82dB
Total distortion: SW < .1% (at 1 watt), L/R < .05% (at 1 watt)
Channel separation: L/R > 65dB
Remote control: Credit card size. Effective range > 2metres
Dimensions: Amp / SW 8" x 9" x 12" (WDH)
Weight: Amp / SW 10 lbs, L/R Speakers 4lbs each
Warranty: 1 year parts and labor (90 days on tube)
Design: iPod USB docking station with charger
Outputs: RCA audio outputs + video output
Controls: Up / down volume
Remote control: 13 button credit card sized
Supplied iPod adapter: 5 supplied
Shipping weight: 1.5 lbs
Warranty: 1 year parts and labor
GINI Systems, Inc
Voice: (650) 210-8663
Voice: (905) 470-0825