The HouseParty 3 from Gear4 is a chunky speaker system that comes with a slide-out iPod dock, a built-in FM radio, a socket for an auxiliary input and can even be used as a standard iPod dock for use with a PC. For £60 we wanted to give this setup a run for its money.
The design works well. At the bottom of the front of the unit is a push-to-open iPod docking station. The dock pops out and cradles the iPod, which then becomes one with the system. The speaker cones behind the guard are positioned either side of the area the iPod covers, so no interference or disruption is caused by the player being docked.
There's also a small red LED display built behind the speaker guard, discretely displaying function mode or FM frequency.
There are only three buttons at the top, so for most things you'll need to use the remote control. It's quite small and a little tricky to use -- navigational buttons aren't the same as on the iPod, so we found ourselves pausing or playing music when we actually wanted to select a menu option, although switching sources is easy.
If you don't have an iPod you can plug in any MP3 player or even a laptop using the supplied audio cable and the built-in auxiliary line-in socket.
As an added bonus, this system can be used as a standard iPod dock. Just connect the supplied (unnecessarily short) USB cable to the speakers and your PC and iTunes will detect the iPod as if it was connected with the standard iPod cable.
The HouseParty 3 can reach a reasonable volume level for its size, producing a room-filling sound. Not everything was rosy during playback though, as we'll see now.