VentureCraft GoDAP in Review – audio and power for the people!

Firstly, I’m not dead. Now with that out of the way:

What do you get when you combine the audiophile heart of the iPhone with a juiced-up ad-hoc power supply? Or, perhaps I should ask it this way: what made VentureCraft, maker of car-mounted cameras and creative telegrams, shoot for the moon and create an audiophile iPhone battery jacket? My guess is a pioneer spirit. VentureCraft are the first company to build such a combination. As off-beat as the GoDAP battery jacket and headphone amp combo unit may sound for a company like VentureCraft, it is certainly worth the raised eyebrows and facepalms. It’s just so ingenious and geekily disturbing that it’s worth a perfectly long review!

Feel free to discuss VentureCraft’s GoDAP in our forums.

Output Power: 300mW (16Ω)
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: 95dB
Klirr Factor: <0.009% (10mW)
Frequency Response 10Hz – 120KHz
Impedance: 16Ω – 300Ω
Output Terminal: Headphone Output (3,5mm)

Battery Specifications
Battery Type: Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery
Capacity: 1450mAH

VentureCraft obviously made the GoDAP for the iPhone 3G and 3GS. Both fit snug as a bug in a rug, sliding smoothly into place. This perfect fit means that the 30-pin dock remains stress-free, something that no other line-out or sync dock can boast. Now, I borrowed iPhones for this review, but in the main, stuck it out with my iPod touch 2G. Of course, not made for the iPod, I had to add a whack load of electric tape and velcro. The end result? Nothing strikingly attractive, but a fine compromise that oozes my inner audiophile geek. This brings me to the major drawback with VentureCraft’s design: it can only be used perfectly with outgoing iPhone models. The next iteration is scheduled for Spring 2011, but again, for the iPhone 4, which will head out of Apple’s current product portfolio just a few months later.

What would be nice is VentureCraft made swappable plates that snapped into place at the base of the GoDAP so that any iPod/iPhone could be used comfortably. As it is, just about any 30-pin iPod/iPhone works – Hell, even the iPad works with an extension cable -, but each require creative workarounds.

The GoDAP is a fine enough unit that I would love to use it with my other iPods. Considering that audiophiles can forgo expensive and awkward third-party line out cables and get a great amp thrown in with battery power, the GoDAP is the most cost effective method to increasing sound enjoyment with an iPod or iPhone. In fact, when out with Nick Cave or The Cure, I simply can’t part with the GoDAP. Ho hum.

Build Quality
Overall, VentureCraft have struck a fine position between affordability and quality. The amp is sandwiched between a plastic sync butt and a cute control head in a metal case that doesn’t seem to pick up outside interference.

The headphone out port is metal and grips headphones firmly. The volume pot, too is metal. On the butt, ports for the speakers are cut so that you can get that call. Overall, the GoDAP is a well-made device despite creaking a bit here and there. Considering its competition (none at all), the GoDAP is riding very high.

VentureCraft packed their first iPhone accessory with another trump: iTunes sync. Plugging the mini USB into the GoDAP’s butt and switching to ‘sync’ allows your iPhone/iPod to download and sync with iTunes. Great, so this battery jacket/headphone amplifier is also an iPhone/iPod dock, you say? Yes, and it is pretty good at it, too. Actually, syncing from power accessories is vital considering that the 30-pin port is the most prone part of the iDevice.

As a battery pack
Most evidence points to Apple’s portable audiophile market shrinking. The iPod is no longer the market leader; iOS has replaced it. The iPod touch is as close to the old iPod as we get in this new age, and that market is driven not by music playback, but by apps. So, while the GoDAP may be a fine audiophile product, the fact that it has a decent battery packed in feels sort of like a backup plan.

As a battery jacket, it does thing well – enough. There are three settings selectable by the top-mounted translucent toggle: off, charge-i, and sync. OFF charges the GoDAP’s internal battery. Sync extends your iPhone’s battery and allows you to sync it with your computer. Charge expends the GoDAP’s battery to charge your iPhone.

Using sync or charge can extend your iPhone’s battery by up to ten hours of music and little less for video. Not bad, but considering that even my abused 2G iPod touch still gets over a day of music playback, it feels chintzy. The reason for this is that the GoDAP’s internal headphone amplifier is constantly engaged. In some ways, this limits the functionality of the unit. On the other hand, it proves that VentueCraft had the movie/music lover in mind when creating the GoDAP.

Ten hours is still a long time. You can get through several movies and more music than it took to split the skulls of zombie neighbours in Sean of the Dead. And, when the GoDAP finally gives up the ghost, your iPhone is still ready to go. Speaking of which, you should be able to extend your iPhone’s talk time by up to about 5 hours with the GoDAP attached.

The problem with using it as an add-on battery, of course, is that it is bulky. Thankfully, VentureCraft cut out a nice spot for the iPhone’s camera for high quality images.

As a headphone amp
Being an unerringly silly audiophile, the GoDAP’s integrated headphone amp intrigued me from the first. I constantly have my iPod connected to a computer downloading new music, or transferring notes, so battery life isn’t a problem for me.

What is a problem is my favourite earphones, the Audio Technica CK10, accurate little buggers that never leave my ears. Well, their linear playback combined with the neutral/accurate signature of the iPod doesn’t always make for friendly bedfellows. Rather, the two roll around a bit and discover that neither wants to give up the comfy pillow.

Enter the GoDAP headphone amplifier. While not overly warm, it certainly adds a wonderful sheen to certain parts of the audible spectrum. The lower midrange in particular, is smoother and more pleasing than the stock iPod sound particularly with accurate/sharp earphones like the CK10.

In fact, with a smooth flowing from under the bonnet, I’ve found that a lot of my old acoustic favourites – David Bowie, Iggy Pop, the Eagles, Van Halen, Duran Duran, The Cure, Depeche Mode (the list of embarrassing pre-emo music goes on), has taken centre stage. The iPod touch is a fine sounding device, but when vocals cut into the music, I often reach for another player.

Vocals and percussion are ‘better’ textured. Characteristic tinniness from the CK10 is traded for emotion and shoulder-shrugging groove. The changes aren’t entirely dramatic, though. But they are enough to bring me out of my trance (snigger snigger), which I think is a good thing – especially when talking with other audiophiles who, for some reason, are as stuffy as Olde English libraries about things like rock and jazz music.

No, we can go gaga googoo about age-old music on the bleedingest edge of portable technology. Technically, the GoDAP doesn’t outperform the internal iPhone/iPod touch amplifier, it just sounds ‘better’ for a number of genres. There is slightly more distortion in the signal and less stereo separation: no wonder it sounds great with acoustic music. With fast, deep genres such as trance and metal, the GoDAP stays sure-footed, but its midrange sweetness borders on too sweet. Not sappy, mind you, but just soft enough to wisp me out of my hard, metallic trance.

Hiss levels are just above that of an iPhone 3GS or iPod touch, which means that you can plug in just about any earphone without annoyance. And, if you have hungry monster headphones like my lovely Beyerdynamic DT880 600Ω, you’ll still be able to split your eardrums past 80dB at perfect definition through the frequency spectrum. Right, read below for a disclaimer on that front!

Now, VentureCraft have engineered the GoDAP with a high pass filter in the signal. It is not a load-induced signal roll off – it is an intentional high-pass filter. The net effect is that bass-monster headphones are tamed, slightly, and that bass-shy headphones enjoy new severity, though again, only slightly. My lovely Audio Technica ES7 is such an example. Its throaty nature is even and clean with the GoDAP, but can be a bit too intense with a stock iPod touch and sounds absolutely confused with the Hifiman. The purist in me hates the idea of a high pass filter, but the GoDAP implementation doesn’t degrade the signal, and in fact, mates lovelily with about 95% of the music I listen to.

Now, if VentureCraft hadn’t engineered the GoDAP with a built-in high pass filter, I’d be miffed. If it was a load-induced roll-off, I’d deride this ‘headphone amp’ as shortsighted, much like HiSound’s AMP3 Pro 2 portable headphone amp/music player. The truth is that the GoDAP has no more trouble driving a 16 ohm load than it has driving a 100 ohm load.

I suppose the proof is in the pudding, and since my Windows is broken, I’ll have to publish the RMAA results in a few days. Scientific tests aside, though, the GoDAP sounds fine – very fine. I don’t listen to a naked iPod touch anymore. The good ol’ midrange, perfect percussions, and smooth vocals are just so much more emotive. Like the iPod touch sound I do, but I relegate its use to hard electronic and trance. The GoDAP has me reliving my latter teenage years, and then the first couple years of university. Considering that I just ‘celebrated’ my 31st birthday, I consider that a good thing!

I’d love to award the GoDAP with a perfect kiss. It sounds great with a large variety of music and pairs well with my favourite headphones. It’s also helped put old purchases back in the listening queue. But, there are a few short sights that have gotten in the way. Namely, the fact that the iPhone 4 and a range of iPods can’t be used without a lot of brutal masking, and the fact that there doesn’t appear to be a way to use the GoDAP battery without the internal amp blazing away. Still, the GoDAP flies above all my expectations as a cost-saving, space-saving hybrid device. It will find a lot more use than other dedicated amps. All in all, the GoDAP is worth every single penny of its 199$ price.

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