Lab Test: Players and Dockers

Dave Bullard
27 April, 2010
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When the iPod first came out there were a handful of companies who saw the opportunities it presented in terms of speaker systems. Over the years others saw their success, so we saw more and more iPod docking units coming onto the market – and now they’ve reached plague proportions.

Notably absent for many years were companies like Sony and Philips – those who made their own MP3 players and wouldn’t cannibalise their own product lines by making speaker systems for someone else’s players. But they’ve all since come to the Apple party. If you can’t beat them …

Also resisting were the purveyors of high-end audio; LP-lovers who were still coming to grips with the lack of audio information on a CD and who couldn’t abide the even worse lossy compression of MP3 and AAC file formats.

The rise of lossless compression and uncompressed digital audio convinced many high-end companies to join in. That, and the fact that it’s a wonderful way to introduce the wider population to the joys of audiophile-quality sound.

Which brings us to the selection of products in this month’s Lab Test. The cheapest is $400 and the dearest $800, which puts them in the mid-to-high bracket.

The sound that all of them produce is very good, but the quality still varies widely. The best of the lot is the GenevaSound Model S, a little gem of a product designed in Switzerland.

The Model S is an audiophile’s iPod/iPhone speaker system – an excellent introduction to the world of high-end sound. It sounds wonderful for its size, it looks great, it’s built very well from the best materials … and at $600 it’s not the most expensive here.

Many of you might be put off by the word ‘audiophile’, but it’s really just about appreciating good sound. Think of an old TV showing a snowy VHS movie, then think of a modern LCD panel showing a Full-HD Blu-ray one. Once you’ve seen the latter you really don’t want to go back, and it’s the same with audio.

When people buying a TV ask for my advice, I tell them to do their homework by reading all the reviews they can, but then to go and ‘audition’ the TVs. If the gurus have recommended one but you don’t like it, don’t buy it. If one is rated so-so but it really appeals to you, go for it – you’re the one who’ll be living with it – but bear in mind that the reviewers try most of the models on the market and may well know something you don’t.

Again, it’s the same with audio.

The first rule when buying an iPod speaker system is: Not all are born equal. Don’t look at the ones here and think, “I can get one just as good for $150.” You can’t.

The second rule is: Never buy a system without listening to it first, and deciding if the sound suits your ear. If the shop or sales person won’t let you listen to it, walk out. They obviously don’t care about you as a customer.

[This Lab Test originally appeared in the March issue of Australian Macworld magazine.]

Click here for the Ravon i332 and the Bose SoundLink

Click here for the Yamaha PDX-50 and GenevaSound Model S.

Click here for the B&W Zeppelin Mini and Sonos ZonePlayer S5.

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