I watch a lot of movies on my iPad and I take audio quality pretty seriously - more seriously than most - so I was intrigued when I came across the SRS iWow 3D and SRS iWow adapters for iPad, iPod and iPhone from SRS Labs. They claim to give you 3D surround sound on your iDevice over headphones, speakers or in your car.
The SRS Labs solution is basically a small device that connects to your iPad / iPhone / iPod via a 30-pin connector and provides a pass-through port for your headphones. With the help of some SRS Software - an App that you must run in the background - it bypasses the built-in headphone port on your iDevice and processes and enhances the audio, which it then outputs through it's own 1/4" jack to your headphones.
The iWOW draws power from your iDevice and doesn't need batteries, or to be recharged.
The SRS iWOW App is fairly minimalist. In the first screen, it asks you to choose between three different output modes: headphones, speaker, or car.
In the Advanced Settings screen, you can select from a few different sound enhancement options - basic EQ features:
I found the SRS Software to be slightly buggy. There were times when it seemed unaware that the iWOW adapter was plugged in. This happened when I switched between audio Apps, or plugged in the adapter in the middle of using an App. I could remedy the problem by closing the App, unplugging and plugging the adapter back in, checking that it was recognised by the SRS Software App, then going back into the first App that I had closed. Not the end of the world, mind you, but a tad inconvenient.
There are a three different products to choose from. Personally, I find the SRS product line-up a little confusing. Here's a landing page that showcases all of them at once.
iWOW Adapter vs iWOW 3D - What's the difference?
As far as I can tell, both iWOW devices are sonically the same but come in different physical configurations. The SRS iWOW Adapter, for example, fits snuggly to an iPhone and roughly follows the same lines and dimension as the iPhone. Whereas, the SRS iWOW 3D protrudes a bit more but provides a flexible bit of cable with a female headphone jack - the idea being that it can interface more easily to an iPad.
SRS Labs doesn't provide information as to how each of these devices differ technically. They pitch the Adapter as being ONLY for the iPhone/iPod and the 3D model as for any iDevice, including the iPad.
However, I purchased both the iWOW Adapter AND the iWOW 3D device. Irregardless of what SRS' website says, I and found that the iWOW Adapter does, in fact, work with an iPad. Considering that it's $20 cheaper, this might be useful information to you.
That said, the 3D model does provide a little more flexibility when used with the iPad, especially when viewing content in the landscape orientation.
In fact, I find the iWOW adapter a bit irritating, because it's ever-so-slightly wider than the iPhone and it's 30-pin connector doesn't clamp down tight. What this means is that it gets easily knocked about and loosened when you are listening to your iPhone while walking around with your iPhone in a pocket. The result is monaural sound. On many occasions, I've had to take my phone out and push the iWOW into the phone again, or my headphones deeper into its headphone port, because they had become loose. This didn't happen with the iWOW 3D as much because of its extra bit of flexible cable.
When it comes to acoustic performance, the iWOW does deliver more spatial separation and, in some cases, additional clarity. It isn't a mind-blowing difference, though, but more subtle. This is probably just as well, because you don't want it to distort your music. If you choose the setting for deep surround, it becomes more noticeable. Nowadays, your basic iPod offers pretty good acoustic reproduction, so you probably won't find this product life-changing. On an iPhone, however, it provides a marginal improvement. Whether that is worth $60 is up to you but audiophiles who are more sensitive to acoustic fidelity will appreciate the upgrade.
There was a bigger effect when watching movies. Clearly movies have a lot more going on with music, dialogue and FX all mixed together. It helps to have surround sound processing to separate the elements better and make them easier to process mentally. Not all iTunes content is Dolby 5.1 encoded. You'll need to purchase/rent the HD versions of content to get that. Or, you might be ripping your own. But when I watched movies that did have 5.1 encoding, they were more engaging to watch with the SRS iWOW and I did notice an improvement in the audio fidelity.
In terms of how the different iWOW products performed, I couldn't tell the difference between the iWOW Adapter and the iWOW 3D, so I personally think that they are interchangeable.
If all you do is listen to music, you probably won't think that the SRS iWOW is worth the extra $60-80. If you are an audiophile, then it is worth it, because it will bring out different characteristics in your recordings and you might find that some recordings are enhanced better than others. I must admit that I'm using pretty amazing earphones to begin with, so the standard iPhone audio sounds pretty good. Still, this combo 'goes to eleven' as they say.
If you watch a lot of movies that are 5.1 encoded, then this is a nice piece of kit that will increase your movie-viewing pleasure. I give it a thumbs up for cinemaphiles.