What’s new and cool with speaker docks

28 Feb

February 28, 2011

By Geoff Meeker

I was the owner of a first generation iPod in 2002, back before speaker docks had even been invented. In fact, my brother Steve built one for me, using computer speakers and a custom-designed wooden cabinet.

It was big and bulky, but sounded great – the coolest accessory in all of Butterpot Park.

The industry has smartened up since then, and there is no shortage of speaker docks for the iPod. Some are small and portable, others big and bulky, and some definitely sound better – and cost more – than others

I bought the Zeppelin, a high-end dock that sounds absolutely breathtaking, in January of 2009. But I wish I was still in the market, because there are some exciting new products out there, with innovative new features and, of course, amazing sound. If you’re in the market for an iPod dock, here are some suggestions, just to get you thinking. But before you hit the stores, consider your requirements – do you want portability, or heavy and solid? Rugged, for camping, or elegant, for your living room? No frills, or high end? Be sure to shop around, and listen carefully (most units sound good and some are incredible; you need to find the best value for what you’re willing to spend).

Zeppelin Mini

Yes, there is now a smaller, more economical version of the Zeppelin, available for half the price ($329 at West End Electronics). I haven’t heard the Zeppelin Mini yet, but if you’re looking for a mid-priced unit, this should certainly be on your ‘listen list’. From what I’ve been told, this unit has much of the same genetics as its daddy, but doesn’t go quite as loud or as deep.

Beatbox by Monster

If it’s big sound you want, you can’t go wrong with this Monster. From the same people who brought you Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, comes this jaw-dropping piece of gear ($449 at Future Shop). The Beatbox pumps out 200 watts through four speakers, and the most obvious feature, when you crank the sound, is the deep, powerful bass. That said, nuanced acoustic tracks, with subtle vocals and instrumentation, come across beautifully. I haven’t heard both units side by side, but this unit would compare favourably to the Zeppelin, in terms of sound quality. However, like the Zeppelin, it’s a heavy unit that will not easily follow you from room to room.

Etón Soulra

If you want rugged portability, and some smart features, check out the Soulra. It has a rubberized, durable, splash-resistant outer shell, so you can take it hiking, camping, fishing and to the beach. Its rechargeable battery runs off AC power, but also has a solar panel for “trickle charging”, which is useful in the woods (or during a power failure). It takes four hours to charge fully on AC, and 10 hours in direct sunlight. Best of all, you can use the Soulra to recharge your iPod or iPhone, which comes in handy in deep woods. The sound quality is not great, but the features are unique and, at $179, it’s affordable enough (Future Shop).

Sonos S5

The Sonos S5 boasts five speakers, each with dedicated amplifiers, but its claim to fame is not so much the sound quality (which is great), as wireless versatility. The unit is pricy, at $479 (Future Shop, West End Electronics), and you will need the ZoneBridge accessory to enable wireless capability (another $100), but the system is a cost-effective alternative to wiring your house for speakers. That’s because you can put a Sonos S5 in each room of your house, tap wirelessly into your computer’s iTunes (or other) library, and play away. Each can be programmed independently, with different music playing in each room of the house. The system can be complex to set up, but it’s a great solution for consumers with money to burn.

Philips iPod/iPhone Dock

It’s surprising how few speaker docks don’t have wireless capability yet. This one, from Philips, offers Bluetooth connection to the iPod Touch and iPhone, and is one of the few that accommodates the iPad, too. You can also download an application that works much like an equalizer to enhance and customize sound. It’s priced at $300 (FutureShop).

Bose SoundDock 10

I used to like Bose, and purchased the Wave radio several years back, before realizing it was over-priced. I have not heard the SoundDock 10, but, at $679, it costs even more than the Zeppelin. I have friends who swear by the SoundDock, and I’m sure it sounds good, but is it worth the hefty price? I’m skeptical, but it won’t hurt to listen if you’re looking for a high-end unit. Bose also makes a portable SoundDock that retails in the $400 range.

Logitech S715i

Finally, if you are looking for some truly good speakers, but don’t have $400 or more to throw at them, check out the Logitech S715i. It’s a fairly compact unit, but it packs two three-inch midrange drivers, two ½ inch tweeters and two passive bass drivers, all for $149 (Future Shop). I’ve not heard this product yet – I probably overlooked it because of the cheap price – but this one keeps popping up as a ‘Best Buy’, ‘Editor’s Choice’ and so on, at some credible tech sites. It gets high rankings based on the sound quality, combined with the great value (it tested well against units at more than double the price).

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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