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Some things were never made to be broken in half: laptops, Bruce Willis, hearts. Not true for Gear4's Duo, though -- this two-part iPod speaker system is designed to work both as a single 2.1 unit, or snapped in half and used as a portable pair of battery-powered stereo speakers.
The Duo is essentially a large subwoofer, with a pair of mid-range drivers and tweeters mounted into a removable face plate. Gear4's thinking is that you'll leave the sub plugged in, but when you want your music to come with you, simply pick up the face plate and let it play from two user-replaceable lithium-ion batteries.
Build quality's what we've come to expect from Gear4: solid, but without the bells and whistles that add significant cost. The front speakers are held in place by two grooves at their base, and magnets at the top, meaning it slips in and out of place without clips or wires.
Batteries power the front speakers when not connected to the sub, and while they'll continue to work if the system has no mains power, the batteries won't power the sub too. In addition to the sub and main drivers, two tweeters push out high-frequency sound, giving the Duo some potential as an all-round star player in the league of iPod docks.
On the back of the detached front speakers and the sub are power input sockets for mains power and battery charging, and line-in sockets for hooking up other audio devices.
Notably missing is video output -- a big iPod feature these days. Neither can you connect the system to a PC via USB for syncing with iTunes.
In its full configuration, the Duo adequately fulfills its bedroom role. That is to say, it's no living room hi-fi alternative, but sound is clear, bass is present and it'll hit a reasonable volume. What you must bear in mind is that, while this is technically a 2.1 setup, it will not sound anything remotely like what you'd hear from even a middle-of-the-road 2.1 system in satellite/subwoofer configuration.
What the sub does is add decent warmth to the bright sound generated by the mid-range drivers and the two tweeters. When you take the front speakers away for use on their own, however, you lose that warmth. But the convenience of this kind of setup makes up for this, and you could easily take the front speakers away with you on holiday.
Playing Dashboard Confessional's emotional track Stolen, we heard decent overall performance. Yes, the audiophiles will scoff at the Duo's harsh high-end and its lack of stereo separation. But it does offer decent enough sound quality for anyone who just likes casually listening to their MP3s, with the convenience of being able to take their music in the bathroom.
And we loved this feature. We actually found this most useful when we were listening to a lengthy podcast. 15 minutes into the show and we needed to eat. We simply picked up the front speakers, popped out the kick stand and carried on listening in the kitchen. Brilliant. True, we had another audio setup in the kitchen already, but for those that haven't, it's darn handy.
Our main problem is that it doesn't match the sound quality offered by other docks. At maximum volume, the sub can't match the ferociousness of the main drivers, meaning you'll hear slightly grating highs, and fairly hollow bass drums. And you'll also lose some definition, meaning guitars sound as though they're blending together, and cymbals are harder to isolate behind other instrumentation and vocals.
This all leads us to believe the Gear4 Duo is perfectly fine for casual bedroom listeners, and a joyous addition to a kitchen. Plus the advantage of being able to take podcasts to the bath, or lug old Madonna into the garden -- all without wires -- is just lovely.
If you want to sacrifice convenience for better audio quality, check out the Klipsch iGroove SXT or the terrific Tannoy i30 -- the SXT is far less harsh in the high-end, but the i30 will give you raw power you never thought an iPod was capable of. Or, if you're craving bass, Logic3's JiveBox is worth a punt.
Edited by Nick Hide