Get seriously good sound from your portable with a dock – whether your budget is large or small, there's something out there for you.
Not feeling the love. Big on features, less so on sound.
The iLuv brand has had a mixed history in our tests. Most recently, the company scored a five-star write-up with the budget iMM289, which proved simple but effective. The iMM727 – or, The ArtStation – while not quite at the other end of the price spectrum, has many more features.
First, thanks to the adjustable, rotating dock, it works with iPads, iPhones and iPods. There’s a 3.5mm input and a USB connection, the latter letting you connect to your computer. Also on offer are two free apps for internet radio and an alarm clock. Sadly, though, the sound is lacklustre. DJ Shadow’s Scale it Back lacks punch, while there’s little of note when it comes to bass. The extras are nice, but your tablet deserves better.
Sounds good to us. Logitech’s portable S715i has won us over.
If simple but effective is all you’re after, the S715i is just that. It’s portable (you get eight hours of life from the rechargeable battery), and there’s a carry case included, too. It’s a neat package, with an integrated cover for the dock folding open and back to form the stand upon which it rests. It clicks in to place to take up a solid stance, at which point you can sit back and use the dinky remote.
The S715i delivers far more scale and power than it has any right to, while treble notes are smooth and bass hits substantially given the unit’s size.
We’ve said it before and we reckon we’ll probably say it again: if you’re after an iPod dock for a reasonable price, this must be at the top of your shortlist.
Pure Contour (100Di)
Pure’s debut dock. It’s a brave new world for the radio kings.
Yes, Pure fans, you can believe your eyes: the comany has built a product with an iPod dock. The radio specialist is branching out – an AirPlay speaker dock is in the pipeline, too – and the 100Di is the first of the company’s products to include a dock.
The Contour’s ace in the hole is that it has DAB and FM tuners, while the free Pure Lounge app will give you internet radio on an iPhone or iPod Touch. There’s a 3.5mm auxiliary input included, too.
It’s nicely put together, with the dock itself emerging smoothly after a gentle push, and it sounds great. As you’d expect, the tuners are strong, with clean and clear higher frequencies.
The 100Di won’t fill a room like some of the others here, but it’s detailed, capable of decent bass and avoids bright treble unless you crank it to ear-bleeding levels. Pure has used its proven radio expertise to make a winning product.
Monitor Audio (i-deck)
Quality comes at a price. No bells and whistles, but awesome audio.
On the face of it, Monitor Audio’s i-deck 200 is a simple dock for iPod and iPhone. There’s no iPad support, wireless connectivity, or USB connection for charging other devices. Extra features are limited to a 3.5mm auxiliary input and a smart, curvy remote.
Two 4in bass drivers, twin 25mm metal dome tweeters and a bass management system take care of the dock’s sound, while there’s also Automatic Phase Correction to adjust the sonic balance according to where it is in the room.
Sonically, it’s very strong – listening to Lana Del Rey’s Off to the Races, there’s solid bass and a good sense of dynamics helping the track sound punchy and fast. Treble notes are exciting without sounding bright and Del Ray’s languid vocals sound natural.
The i-deck 200 certainly pleases with its audio performance and with its looks, but you don’t get much else for your money.
NAD (VISO 1)
NAD lead the way. The VISO 1 impresses in every area.
The premium NAD Viso 1 cuts a striking pose. It’s a serious proposition, too, standing 48cm wide and 26cm high, with a footprint that requires some accommodating.And there’s much to accommodate. The dock is ‘Made for iPod and Works with iPhone’ certified, and can be twisted horizontally should you want to watch video while using the dock’s sound.
Comprehensive AptX Bluetooth is a hit
A digital optical input is a rare sight on an iPod speaker dock; the one here is capable of playing high-res, 24-bit/96kHz audio files. Plus, Bluetooth streaming means it’s compatible with a wide range of smartphones, tablets and laptops, and it’s an aptX receiver, so you get higher quality than standard Bluetooth.
Lashings of bass are served as standard. Swedish House Mafia’s Antidote delivers plenty in the low frequency department and the Viso 1’s sound pours in to every corner of the room. Scale, presence and sheer volume are where this speaker dock excels. It also proves adept when playing more refined music however – Miles Davis's Milestones has a good speed to it and sounds exciting and punchy in the top-end.
This is the antithesis of the original, budget speaker docks, stylishly designed, with full-bodied, room-filling sound and an impressive selection of features. With class-leading wireless technology and the option to feed hi-res audio, it’s a truly forward-thinking dock.
Gear4 (AirZone Series 1)
Gear4 gets good air. Fantastic functionality at an affordable price.
The AirZone Series 1 is the only AirPlay model here, and it’s also one of the most affordable AirPlay speaker docks around. What’s more, the AirZone Series 1 gets the full thumbs up from Apple for docking with an iPad, too. That little dock will happily hold up any iOS device and charge them in to the bargain, and don't forget that AirPlay allows you to stream directly from iTunes on your computer. There’s also a 3.5mm auxiliary input and an FM radio.
Quite a package, then – and while the styling won’t have passers-by stopping in their tracks, it’s smartly understated and feels built to last. The remote control doesn’t have quite the
same cutting-edge appeal, being the familiar credit-card style, but it does the job.
AirPlay set up is simple
Getting Apple AirPlay up and running requires a brief set-up procedure but our experience
was painless, and its performance was solid.
It's no room-shaker, but there’s a level of refinement you don’t always find at this price. Vocals on The Temper Trap's Sweet Disposition sound clean and clear, while the level of detail recovered is admirable. Something chunkier, such as Drake’s Headlines shows that bass won’t rattle your fillings but what’s lacking in depth is made up with agility and integration.
We don’t expect too much from a speaker of this size, price and functionality. Provided you value AirPlay in particular, this is a fine performance-per-dollar product.
Geneva (Model M)
Still a super model?Geneva may be the purists’ choice.
The Geneva Model M bucks popular thinking. Not for Geneva a wealth of features and functions: there's an FM radio and a 3.5mm input and that's your lot. It doesn't look anything special either. Instead the Model M appeals to our traditional sensibilities and delivers brilliant sound. But the premium iPod speaker dock business is now a battleground. And the goalposts have moved.
No-nonsense style, refined sound
We still like the Model M's no-nonsense style. The attention to build quality and general machining clearly befit a premium product. The controls on top of the unit are understated but work well, while special praise is deserved for the remote control. It's a satisfyingly big but slender slab, which gives you full functionality.
Sonically, this remains a class above most iPod speaker docks on the market, as it should do for the money. SBTRKT’s Wildfire sounds sparse and airy, with drums that hit hard but stop and start as they should and vocals that are clear and natural. Bass notes have power but don't slow the music down.
But now there’s fresh and fierce competition, the lack of integrated wireless streaming is more galling. What’s more, it won’t fill a room or start a party as adeptly as its new peers.
Still, for the audio purist who wants a simple dock that will deliver a refined, musical sound, the Model M remains a fine choice.
The Arcam can. Portable, feature-laden and accomplished.
Arcam knows all too well that we are all about performance-per-dollar comparative testing. The rCube began life as a five-star product, then dropped to four stars when the competition got a little tastier. A drop in price followed, and it was enough to see the rCube take home not only five stars but a Best in Class Award last year.
It remains a real box of tricks. First, it’s portable, a novelty for a premium dock. The battery is capable of delivering some eight hours of playback. It’s Made for iPod and iPhone, naturally, and there’s a 3.5mm input and video outputs. The icing on the cake is the wireless capability, with Arcam offering Kleer audio technology wireless streaming, albeit at a premium. The Apple-compatible rWand+ dongle is extra, as is the rWave USB dongle, which will work with any computer. One dongle can stream to up to four rCube docks, while one rCube can stream directly to others.
A musical, mature sound
Still, this is all window dressing if it doesn’t sound the part. As iPod docks become many people’s choice of system, we’re looking for something approaching hi-fi sound from the premium docks. And that’s what the rCube delivers. Emeli Sandé’s Daddy has a level of detail not previously found for this sort of money in a speaker dock. It’s not big or particularly bass-heavy but it is musical and it delivers a maturity of sound foreign to iPod docks until it arrived. One point to note is that it sounds best close to a wall – try pressing the bass-boost button on the back if it sounds too lightweight. Bass may not go very deep, but it’s arguably more agile than anything around. The Arcam rCube remains a brilliant, multi-talented speaker dock and will take some beating at this price point.
This article appeared in the May, 2012 issue of Limelight Magazine.
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