With the second version of the iPod touch Apple takes another step to close the gap between iPod and iPhone by adding those two desirable physical features: external volume controls and an internal speaker.

When the revised Apple iPod touch appeared alongside the fourth-generation iPod nano, it was easy to see it as simply a poor man's iPhone 3G. It now looks almost identical, bar the phone earpiece slot, and has most of the functionality, when you discount the ability to actually make phone calls or surf the 3G airwaves. But for people who want a device for the principal use of playing music, the iPod touch has one major benefit - it sounds better.

Compared to the original version, this new Apple iPod touch feels slimmer in its sleek new stainless-steel back. There are now fixed controls on the left to control volume, making it much easier to make quick adjustments of earphone level on-the-fly.

Less welcome to long-suffering commuters may be the inclusion of a built-in speaker, but thankfully its maximum volume is even more limited than its fidelity. Compare this with the iPhone 3G's speaker, which actually gives a good passing facsimile of music, at a surprisingly higher volume.

Where the Apple iPod touch does score highly over its cellular phone counterpart is in simple sound quality. A quick comparison between the two suggests they both hit the same notes, yet the Apple iPod touch does not suffer the degradation that's almost inevitable from squeezing in so much radio-frequency (RF) comms circuitry inside a music player. Insiduous RF interference is an inevitable threat to good sound where delicate audio signals are concerned.

In place of the iPhone 3G's slightly sketchy rendition of orchestral strings, for example, the touch has a sweeter tone, more realistic and certainly more relaxing in long-term listening.

And with more dynamic material you can the Apple iPod touch has a better grasp of level changes, from quiet background ambience where you can follow the gentle decay of sustained piano chords, or the reverberation of a hall, to the hard slam of bass beats and drum skin strikes.

In short, with its wider stereo sound and richer, more natural timbre, the Apple iPod touch has the upper hand for its core audience of music lovers.

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