As the market for Apple’s iPod—and thus iPod accessories—has exploded, some of the biggest names in computer and home audio have responded with speaker systems specifically made for the iPod (and, just as significantly, incompatible with other portable players). Bose has recently joined the fray with its $299 SoundDock system, which uses the now-familiar dock connector base for iPod connectivity. Featuring a glossy white body and large, full-face metal grill, the SoundDock is a good aesthetic match for full-size iPods (and even silver iPod minis) with an attractive but simple appearance that won’t dominate your decor.
It would be tough to find a speaker system that’s easier to set up than the SoundDock. When you first open the SoundDock box, the interior box flaps provide clear illustrations of the three-step setup process: (1) Attach the dock slot adapter for your particular size iPod (five sizes, for any dockable iPod except the new iPod Photo, are included—Bose plans to provide an updated adapter for that iPod in the near future); (2) connect the power cable; and (3) place your iPod in the dock slot and enjoy the music. (Your iPod is charged while it’s in the SoundDock.) The only other item in the box is the included credit card-sized, wireless remote, which lets you play, pause, skip forward or back, adjust the system volume, and turn your iPod on or off.
Despite its all-in-one design, the SoundDock is not designed to be a portable system. It requires AC power, and although it’s certainly smaller than a full-size speaker system, at 11.9”W x 6.7”H x 6.5”D and 4.6 pounds, it’s sizable enough that carrying it from room to room is the extent of its practical transportability.
Small, all-in-one speaker systems will never sound as good as a quality set of “home” speakers, or even a set of full-size computer speakers with a subwoofer and satellites—their smaller drivers simply don’t have the ability to reach the low end and the drivers are too close together to provide significant stereo separation. What they give you is ease of use, space-saving design, and “movability”—if you need or appreciate these attributes, you’ll likely find such a system worth paying for and will be willing to sacrifice ultimate sound quality to get it.
That being said, of the all-in-one iPod speaker systems we’ve tested (both here and at playlistmag.com ), the SoundDock provides the best overall sound quality by a fair margin. It doesn’t have the best treble response we’ve heard—that honor belongs to JBL’s $200 On Stage—but the sound produced by the SoundDock is well-rounded and enjoyable. Its bigger size allows it to use larger speaker drivers, which provide a fuller sound with more bass and a warmer midrange. And thanks to AC-only operation, it can use a more substantial power supply and amplifier and therefore provide more presence than systems restrained by battery life considerations—it can easily fill a decent sized room with music. None of the other all-in-one systems we’ve tested can come close to producing similar volume levels without distortion.
The Missing Sync
As much as we liked the SoundDock as a desktop speaker system, we missed a couple significant features present in the less expensive offerings from JBL (the On Stage) and Altec Lansing (the $150 inMotion IM3). First, there’s no dock connector cable input on the Bose unit, so you can’t sync your iPod with your computer while it’s in the SoundDock; you must remove it from the SoundDock and connect it to your computer directly via the dock cable or dock base. Second, the SoundDock has no auxiliary audio input jack, so despite its superior sound, you can only use it to listen to audio from a docked iPod. With the JBL and Altec Lansing systems, you can connect your computer, TV, or another portable player.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
At $300, the SoundDock is more expensive than competing systems that offer a few more convenience features (such as auxiliary inputs and syncing ability). However, it’s currently the best sounding of the all-in-one speaker systems we’ve tested, and its uncluttered elegance and ease of use make it an appealing offering for those willing to plunk down the change. If you’re using the SoundDock in the types of environments for which it’s intended—on a desk, or in a bedroom, kitchen, or other small room—you’ll be rewarded with good sound in an eye-catching package.