I was astonished to read of how the iLink dock brings digital output to iPod - at a price of $2000 or so. Nearly three years ago I purchased an iRiver H140 for around the same cost as an iPod, but with additional features including built-in digital i/o, mic input with adjustable gain, and direct recording to either MP3 or lossless WAV. I still use the device today – it’s ideal for recording interviews as well as portable music – but when it wears out it may not be easy to replace. Even today, most devices lack these audiophile features or provide them only through expensive and inconvenient add-ons. Lossless recording and digital i/o are hard to find anywhere. Even iRiver’s own range has gone backwards, with nothing comparable currently available.
I’m not sure of all reasons for this, but a big factor is Apple. The dominant iPod may be great on usability and small size, but rich features don’t fit with Apple’s minimalist philosophy. You might think that would give an opportunity to other vendors, but in many cases they seem content to follow rather than innovate.