capsule review

Kensington Stereo Dock for iPod

At a Glance
  • Kensington Stereo Dock for iPod

    Macworld Rating

If you want to hook your iPod up to your home stereo, you need several accessories. First, you'll need a cable: You could use a minijack-to-RCA (left/right) cable to send the audio from your iPod's headphone jack to your stereo, but those interested in higher-quality audio know that you really want to grab the line-level signal available from your iPod's dock connector port. To get that, you need either Apple's dock base ($39) or a third-party accessory such as SendStation's PocketDock Line Out ($30), combined with the aforementioned audio cable. (Or, alternatively, you could use Nyko's $30 Stereo Link, which plugs into your iPod's dock connector port and provides left/right RCA plugs to connect directly to your stereo. The downside to this approach or the PocketDock is that your iPod ends up on its back rather than standing up in the dock base; it also makes it more difficult to use a remote control.) You'll likely also be in the market for a remote so you can control playback from across the room. Finally, you'll probably want an AC adapter so that your iPod isn't running off the battery while you're listening at home. (It's also convenient if your iPod is charging while you're listening.)

So, assuming your home stereo setup is separate from your computer -- meaning you'll need to buy new accessories -- the "complete" listen-through-your-stereo experience will entail at three different accessories, and possibly four or five. All of which add up to anywhere from $55 (Stereo Link and remote, a setup that won't let you charge your iPod, and your iPod won't stand upright) to $130 (dock base, AC adapter, dock connector cable, remote, inexpensive audio cable).

Kensington's new Stereo Dock for iPod aims to provide a better alternative via an all-in-one docking station for your home stereo. The 3.5" x 3" weighted base includes a dock-connector cradle into which you place your dockable iPod. The back of the base offers an AC jack and a 1/8" stereo output: You connect the system to your home stereo via an included minijack-to-RCA (left/right) cable, and the system charges your iPod via the included AC adapter.

The Stereo Dock also includes a handy, backlit remote control that lets you play; pause; skip and scan forward and back; and raise and lower the volume. The remote is actually quite nice -- large enough that it's easy to see and use, and comfortable in your hand. Unfortunately, as an IR-based remote, the Stereo Dock requires line-of-sight transmission; unlike the RF-based remotes we've tested, you won't be able to control playback from around a corner or from the next room. However, we were able to control our iPod from approximately 20 feet away in the same room, which should be adequate for many users. (And one advantage of IR remotes is that if you've got a "learning" remote at home, you can program it to control your iPod/Stereo Dock.) A chrome-finished metal bar, with two rubber bumpers to protect your iPod, provides a place to store the remote when not in use.

One other design decision that may cause some amount of ambivalence among audiophiles is the Stereo Dock's ability to control playback volume remotely. This functionality means that the audio signal provided by the Stereo Dock isn't a true line-level output. (In theory, you'll get better sound quality from an unaltered, line-level output -- meaning no volume control. You would then use your home stereo to adjust volume.) However, there's something to be said for convenience, as the Stereo Dock's approach means that you can set your home stereo's volume to a particular level and then use a single remote -- the Stereo Dock's -- to control both playback and volume. And in practice, you'll likely only notice such differences in sound quality on a higher-end stereo system listening to uncompressed music files.

Kensington's Stereo Dock is a clever system that combines the functionality of a bunch of other accessories into a package that's much more convenient to use -- you just plop your iPod in the cradle and press Play. Although it may seem pricey, when you add up the devices it replaces, it's actually a pretty good deal.


(Note that the Stereo Dock's remote functionality will not work if the unit is not powered via the AC adapter.)
--Dan Frakes

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At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Combination product that charges your iPod, connects it to your home stereo, and provides remote control capabilities.

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