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Want to put some analogue warmth back into your digital tunes? The Roth Music Cocoon MC4 may be what you're after.
It's an amplifier for your iPod that uses four gently glowing valves to produce smooth and organic sounding audio. However at £400 the amp isn't exactly cheap.
Digital music has brought with it some fantastic benefits, not least of which is the ability to carry around thousands of tunes in a box smaller than a pack of fags. However, there's no doubt that digital tunes can sometimes sound harsh. This amp takes a step back from the digital world and pumps its output through four valves sourced from Russia in an attempt to produce a smooth and more natural sound.
The amp doesn't come with any speakers, so you have to connect your own to the chunky terminals on the rear. Around the back you'll also find a pair of phono inputs and a mini jack socket for hooking up a CD or an MP3 player to the amp. There's an S-video socket too, so you can connect the amp to a telly for use with the video-playing iPods such as the classic and touch.
Your iPod slides into a dock at the front and once it's in place you need to press in the volume button for a couple of seconds to start-up the system. A red light shows and then the amp enters a warming phase that heats up the valves for around 15 seconds. Once they're warm enough, the light will turn green and you can start pumping out your tunes.
Most of the amp's features are controlled via the remote. It is relatively small, but has largish metal buttons that register key presses with a satisfying click. Also, unlike cheaper docks, the remote can be used to move through your iPod's menus, rather than being limited to moving forwards and backwards through playlists.
There's no doubt that the valves do add that something extra to the sound quality. The MC4 doesn't produce the purest sound in the world, but it is exceptionally warm and pleasing. Bass is much more natural than on many other iPod amps we've tried and even high frequency sounds like cymbals and hi-hats have a really natural and organic feel to them. Certainly in terms of sheer sound quality we have no complaints about this system.
Although the glowing tubes give this amp an air of sophistication, the rest of the finish leaves something to be desired. For example, the external power supply is huge and looks quite rough and ready. Similarly, the volume control and input selector knob on the front look like they've been picked up at an electronics shop and certainly don't reek of the luxury finish you'd expect on a piece of high-end hi-fi kit.
In the box, you only get three inserts for holding your iPod in the dock. These are marked with numbers, but there's no indication in the manual which insert should be used with which iPod and none of the three seemed to match up with our nano to give it proper support at the rear. On an amp costing £400, we'd expect more attention to detail than this.
And although the remote control is well made, the layout of the buttons is poor. In fact they seem to be placed pretty much at random, leaving you scratching your head as to why Roth thought it was such a good idea to place the Enter button seemingly as far away as possible from the iPod menu button.
The Roth is a great sounding tube amp that gives wonderful warmth to tunes from your iPod. However, at a price of £400, we would have expected the amp to have a better finish, come with inserts matching all the popular iPod models and have a better designed remote.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Jon Squire