Over the past few years, stereo speaker systems for the iPod have been proliferating at a rapid clip, and they seem to come in all shapes and sizes. The i-Deck ($349 list), from respected British specialty-speaker manufacturer Monitor Audio, offers a slightly new take on iPod speaker design, giving the traditional bookshelf audio system a modern twist.
The attractively styled i-Deck consists of a central dock-and-amplifier unit flanked by two matching speakers done up in a gray-and-white motif that plays perfectly with the iPod--so long as you own one of the white models or a silver Mini. Like most such systems, the unit ships with a handful of bezels that convert the dock to the proper size for cradling any iPod that has a dock connector, including the current models except the Shuffle and all but the earliest dockless other models. Aside from the power switch on the back of the amp, the i-Deck has no buttons--the compact remote handles volume adjustments and rudimentary navigation (it can only skip tracks forward and back). Unfortunately, if you misplace the remote, you're screwed; there's no way to adjust the volume without it. You can navigate through tracks and queue up playlists using the buttons on your iPod, but the iPod's volume control won't work while the player is docked.
You connect the two satellite speakers to the amp with actual speaker wire; the included wires are about four feet long. Because the speakers and the central amplifier have standard spring-clip connectors rather than proprietary jacks, you can supply your own speaker wire for a longer run; you can also mount the speakers on the wall with optional hardware. This kind of flexibility is a plus.
As far as connectivity goes, a line input on the back allows portable devices (or even a PC or a video game system) to jack in; another port replicates the connector on the bottom of all dockable iPods. This means you can use the USB or FireWire cable that ships with your iPod to connect the i-Deck to your Windows PC or Mac and sync to your heart's content.
Besides its attractive design, the Monitor Audio i-Deck's other distinguishing trait is its solid sound. While this system--like most compact iPod speaker systems--doesn't include a subwoofer, it manages to deliver a fair amount of bass. The lows aren't the tightest, but the bass holds together pretty well, even at higher volumes, and you'll hear good detail in your music. The i-Deck easily holds its own against the . CNET writer Steve Guttenberg, who has reviewed several iPod speaker systems, felt it was the best iPod speaker he'd heard except for the more expensive , a model that includes a sizable subwoofer.
A quick comparison between the i-Deck and the revealed the i-Deck to be the better-sounding system; however, the iM7 offers more versatility because it can run on batteries and be toted around like a boombox. At this price, the i-Deck should include an integrated AM/FM radio and a remote with a bit more functionality, but comparatively, the Monitor Audio i-Deck stands as one of the best speaker systems designed specifically for the iPod.