The flood of iPod-related accessories is reaching tsunamilike proportions, though much of it is mere flotsam and jetsam: questionable designs, overpriced gadgets, and some truly awful speakers. Onkyo's DS-A1 Remote Interactive Dock is a keeper, at least for owners of Onkyo components. Compatibility extends to literally millions of Onkyo units equipped with Remote Interactive (RI) jacks manufactured over the past decade, and all dockable iPods, including the iPod Mini and iPods with color screens. The DS-A1 retails for $100.
Cosmetically, there's not much to report, other than that the white, circular plastic base, 4.5 inches in diameter, picks up on the iPod's styling cues. It lacks buttons or controls, but all of the basic iPod control functions--play, pause, stop, skip, and shuffle/repeat--can all be operated with the remote control of the Onkyo device to which it's connected. Access to your iPod's playlists and albums is available on newer iPods and Onkyo electronics. In any case, the DS-1A will keep your iPod batteries charged and ready to go.
The tiny DS-A1's rear end squeezes in stereo analog and S-Video outputs, plus the RI jack connector. The lack of a digital out was disappointing, but we were happy to see that a full set of cables is included. Installation chores are straightforward enough; just remember to set the switch on the bottom of the dock to match the input jacks and remote functions that you're using on your Onkyo A/V receiver (tape, MD, CD-R, or HDD components). For these auditions we used a new Onkyo TX-SR302 A/V receiver and plugged the DS-A1's cables into the tape inputs. Hearing music from our iPod was as simple as selecting the tape source on the SR503's remote and pressing play. With the iPod nestled in the DS-A1, you can initiate start-up and shutdown, timer and sleep functions, and alarm wake-ups, though some functions aren't available from all iPod models. The DS-A1's AC adapter supplies power to recharge the iPod batteries.
As we said, compatibility between the iPod line and the DS-A1 isn't total, but if your iPod has a dock connector, you should be in good shape--just be sure it's running the latest firmware. And while it's great that you can use the Onkyo remote to control the playback functions of the iPod, anything that requires navigating the tiny menu--picking individual songs or playlists, for instance--isn't really conducive to being on the other side of the room. It's too bad Onkyo couldn't figure out a way to display the navigation screen via the video output on your TV. For instance, Denon's forthcoming iPod-friendly home-theater system offers TV navigation, but it costs upward of $1,000.
Nevertheless, in day-to-day use, we found the Onkyo DS-A1 wonderfully easy to use. Sound quality was certainly good, but direct CD/iPod comparisons revealed that the iPod compressed digital audio was no match for our Pioneer DV-45A DVD player. The latter's sound was clearer and cleaner, with superior bass definition. For more serious home listening, we'd much rather listen to CDs than AAC/MP3 music on the iPod. But the iPod will sound great as a source for background music. For owners of Onkyo audio systems who don't already have a standard iPod dock ($40), the DS-A1 is a viable alternative.