Fatman Red-i is an anomaly; an old-fashioned valve amp with the latest in GSM shielding technology to make it iPhone compatible.
It's in no way a restrained design; it's quite the reverse. It unabashedly takes pride in showing off the glowing valves and dock for iPhones or iPods that looks like roll bar from a jeep.
Needless to say, we admire its boldness.
GSM shielding protects the speakers from network chatter that can cause that thump-thump when an iPhone picks up data near an unshielded stereo system.
Without this feature on a stereo with a Universal Dock, you would need to turn the iPhone to Airplane mode, which means you could no longer take calls.
The Red-i has a gorgeous sound when the valves are warmed up, and it takes less time for the Red-i to warm up than its Fatman iTube predecessor.
About 30 minutes into testing, it was firing along nicely. We used dub reggae to test the low end, funk to test the mids, and flamenco to sound out the highs, among other genres and some spoken word. The overall balance of sounds is warm and punchy. All the details are there.
The heavy, wood speaker boxes can throw out surprising levels of volume and are power efficient at just 25W per channel. Their prowess reminds us not to mistake low power handling with volume potential, and pointed out some real value in this product.
The feature-set offers a good spread of options including an IR remote, RCA inputs for other audio sources and proper video-out ports for hooking up with a TV.
High build quality
Generally, the quality of the components and knobs is good. There's some real attention to detail, with things like pre-wired up banana plugged cables in the box ready to go, and a 3.5mm stereo input slot for taking audio from almost any source.
The use of valve amps is a gimmick, although the sound quality is as good as it looks; you can unscrew the grille around the valves to show them off if you like.
What you don't get is a radio or a USB port for syncing with a Mac, but those two features are not essential. In a nutshell, it's a stronger, better-sounding and better-featured hi-fi than other Fatman products we have seen, and it's the only fully iPhone-ready set.
The price has dropped in the few weeks that the product has been on the market, perhaps indicating the current financial climate or the time of year. For the money, though, we think the Red-i represents good value.