A range of choice for iPod speaker docks

16 Feb

The Bose SoundDock puts out crisp, clear treble and solid bass, from a relatively small enclosure.

February 16, 2009

By Geoff Meeker

A month ago, I gloated shamelessly about my new Zeppelin speaker unit, which was custom-made for the iPod.

The Zeppelin is manufactured by Bowers & Wilkins (B&W), makers of high-end reference quality speakers, and the sound quality is to-die-for.

After that column hit the streets, I was approached by a number of people, asking if it was really necessary to pay that much ($600) for iPod speakers. One person pointed out that the Bose SoundDock, at about half the price, also sounded superb. They all asked me to revisit this topic, and offer some lower-priced alternatives.

I did just that, and discovered an ear-bending variety of iPod speaker docks. They range from dirt cheap to fairly expensive, and there are far too many to list here. Instead, I will bring you my top three choices – with a summary note at the end.

Bose SoundDock

Like all the players reviewed today, the Bose SoundDock is custom-made for the iPod, though all have an auxiliary jack to connect other MP3 players, or a radio.

The SoundDock comes in two basic models, one with a built in rechargeable battery ($449) and one without ($349). Otherwise, the two units are exactly the same. The portability factor is worth considering if you’re a camper, or like the idea of taking the unit out on the deck. Battery life is 24 hours, ideal for a weekend of camping.

But we’re not here to talk about features, are we? It’s all about sound. And the SoundDock does deliver. The unit is small, measuring about 12” wide by 7” high, but it cranks out big sound – crisp, clear treble and solid bass – thanks to its 50 watt power output and deep speaker ports.  It could actually drive a small house party, depending on how rowdy your guests are. It certainly stood its own against the barn-like acoustics and ambient noise at Futureshop.

That said, the SoundDock did compromise audio quality on higher volume levels. The treble, in particular, lost its definition and started to distort. And no, it wasn’t insanely loud – just ‘Hooray I’m alone for 20 minutes’ loud. A minor quibble really, as I seldom crank it that high.

The Kicker

The Kicker is every bit as good as the SoundDock, but different. The company is famous for its line of car speakers, and they’ve transferred that technology to this 40-watt shelf unit.

You’ve heard cars roll by, the ones with windows closed, stereo cranked up, and bass throbbing? If the idea of being inside that car appeals to you, then you will love the Kicker ($299 at Futureshop).  This is a device for bass lovers; you can feel the thump of it in your chest.

That said, the treble seemed to fall just a bit short of the clarity I heard on the SoundDock. So it breaks down this way: if you’re more into the purity of the high end, you might prefer the SoundDock. If you prefer a bottomless bottom-end, check out the Kicker.

Boston Acoustics Duo-i

If the previous units are too rich for your budget, I draw your attention to the Duo-i by Boston Acousitcs ($229 at West End Electronics). It’s an iPod speaker dock that comes with a high quality clock radio. I won’t list all the features here, but it has some smart ones (such as the snooze bar, which is the touch-sensitive metal band that surrounds the front of the unit – easy to find on those groggy mornings).

But we’re here today to talk about sound, and this system delivers a lot for the price. They don’t list wattage in the specifications, which means not many. However, the speakers are matched nicely to whatever output there is, and a channel and port system (not unlike the Bose Wave) extends the bass. I think you will be surprised by the sound quality from this unit.

There are other iPod docks as well, in the $300 – $400 range, from some fairly reputable manufacturers, and ‘sound quality’ can be a subjective thing. Shop around, and listen for yourself.

Finally, some of you are wondering… Did anything sound as good as the Zeppelin?

No, not even close. I think even the most discriminating audiophile couldn’t listen to the Zeppelin without being impressed. If you’re shopping around, be sure to give it a listen.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.


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