iPod Accessory Reviews: Speakers
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Reviewed Dec. 17, 2005 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Looking for big sound from the world's favorite MP3 player?
Though the mighty iPod line of portable music players weigh in at
only a few ounces, it's possible to fill a large room with tunes
using the Bose SoundDock. The premier high end speaker system hit
the market early and defined the quasi-portable big driver sound
system for the iPod. Now there are a few competitors on the market,
with more to come, so we decided to find out if the SoundDock can
still hold its own.
Let's get one thing straight: these aren't the
kind of speakers you throw in your tote or suitcase for travel.
If that's your bag, check out offerings such as Altec Lansing's inMotion
iM3 or imMini portable speakers. The SoundDock measures nearly a foot
across and weighs 4.56 pounds. Yes, that's portable but they're
best used for room-filling sound rather than long trips: put it
in your bedroom, carry it to the kitchen or back yard as needed.
Bigger is better when it comes to speaker sound, so these will
knock the pants off of 1 pound iPod speaker systems. And that's
the reason to buy them; better sound. Not only that, they look
The SoundDock is compatible with any iPod that
has a dock connector. We tested it with the Video iPod 5G and an
iPod mini and each fit fine and worked well. Bose includes two
additional dock adaptors to ensure a good fit, and a matching IR
remote that controls power, volume and track playback. The Bose
do not use batteries but rather AC and a large AC brick power supply
is included in the box. The SoundDock will charge your iPod while
it's in the dock. There are volume controls on the SoundDock as
well, though those lack tactile feedback and we found ourselves
using the remote even when in arm's length of the speakers. The
speakers are magnetically shielded so they won't distort the image
on nearby TVs or computer monitors.
How do they sound?
Home stereo audiophiles and home theater mavens will
argue about Bose speakers quality. Audiophiles find them less accurate
than other high end brands while home theater folks absolutely adore
the separation, volume and great sound balance Bose gets out of relatively
small drivers. Bose has definitely brought some of that home theater
goodness to the SoundDock, without sacrificing overall audio accuracy.
Though the speakers have less than a foot of physical separation, 3D
imaging is quite good (a Bose hallmark) and music sounds full and rich.
Bose does not provide frequency response or THD data, but our ears are
guessing that both are good.
Bose uses Active EQ, a DSP and compression circuitry,
which they claim "balances output of all frequencies to provide natural
tonal balance and clarity throughout the audio spectrum". That does make
for a full sound, though dynamic range and the highs and lows suffer
just a bit. Whether you like this is a matter of taste; like home theater,
the most important frequencies are favored over the "flavoring" treble
and bass sounds. For pop, rock and even some jazz, the sound treatment
is very pleasing. Classical fans may prefer something with a little less
mid-enhancing EQ such as the Klipsch iGroove speakers which have even
greater dynamic range, sharp treble tones (flutes and triangles sound
great!) and a deeper bass. The good side of the Bose is that highs are
never grating, hissing or harsh: the EQ keeps the treble well-mannered.
Let's face it, though these are large speakers by iPod standards, they're
small by home stereo standards, and you can only get so much serious
audio quality out of them. Rather than over-drive a bass than can only
go so deep or let you hear highs that might verge on annoying (especially
if you encode your music at low bitrates which introduces treble distortion),
Bose EQs them down. However, if you're a classical fan and encode at
higher bitrates, you might want less EQ and more highs and deep lows.
The clipped dynamic range reminds me of early CD players that had a compression
option because CDs offered so much dynamic range compared to the records
they replaced. I personally would like a little more dynamic range, but
the downside is you may find yourself using the remote often to reduce
volume during loud passages and cranking it back up for the quiet ones.
As an overall solution, Bose's EQ and compression should fit the tastes
and needs of most music listeners.