In the home audio market, you're part of an ever-decreasing minority if you don't offer some sort of iPod-ified product. While the barrage of iPod accessories may never end, we appreciate the simple product that lets us do what we wanted to do in the first place: listen to our iPod on our home stereo. Onkyo's DS-A2 is an update to their previous iPod dock, the DS-A1, and the new model offers a few perks, such as onscreen display and video support. Although it can be used as a stand-alone dock with any receiver, it's also compatible with any Onkyo receiver or home theater in a box (HTIB) that's equipped with the company's Remote Interactive port.
Aesthetically, the DS-A2's glossy black finish is geared to match a black iPod. The base is round, with a rectangular enclosure in back that houses the jacks. Behind the cradle, there's an adjustable disc that can tighten so iPods of any size fit snugly. The DS-A2 is compatible with all dock-equipped iPods from the third generation and newer, including iPod Mini, iPod Nano, and video-enabled iPod models--just be sure you've upgraded the music player to the latest firmware. There are no buttons anywhere on the dock, but that makes sense as you can always use the controls on the iPod if it's within reach.
The included remote is small but thicker than the usual credit-card-style clickers, and we thought the extra size made it more comfortable to hold. The biggest annoyance we found is that the Select button is not located in the middle of the directional pad. This is particularly annoying when you're using the onscreen interface to navigate your iPod--we intuitively kept hitting the middle button and were wondering why the remote wasn't working. Thankfully, if you've connected the DS-A2 to an Onkyo receiver or an HTIB with a Remote Interactive port, you can ditch the small remote and use your receiver's clicker to navigate the menus. We had the Onkyo TX-SR674 on hand and definitely preferred using its remote--besides being full size, the enter button in the middle of the directional pad could be used as a select button, which is exactly what we wanted on the DS-A2 remote.
Connectivity is simple--there's a pair of analog RCA outputs for audio; a composite-video output for video, photos, and onscreen menus; and the Remote Interactive jack for connecting to other Onkyo equipment. The composite-video output is actually a downgrade from the older DS-A1 model, which featured an S-Video out. We're not sure why Onkyo decided to go with this lower-quality connection, especially given the fact that Apple has been amping up the available video content for the iPod with even more TV shows, plus full-length movies. There's no digital output, but that's not a knock, since no other iPod dock has a digital out either. It would've been nice if the Onkyo offered the single-cable connector found on the Yamaha YDS-10 iPod dock, but unlike the Onkyo, which will connect to anything with A/V inputs, the Yamaha interfaces only with compatible Yamaha products via their shared proprietary connection.
Using the DS-A2 is pretty simple. For music, you'll probably want to use the onscreen menus, which consists of ugly, white text on a plain background. Yeah, it's not nice to look at--the menus are reminiscent of which you'd find on a 1980s-vintage VCR--but considering the older model didn't have onscreen menus at all, we were pleased with the functionality. Unfortunately, the onscreen menus can only be used for music--for photos and movies, you still need to navigate using the touch screen on the iPod. (That's really annoying, but we've seen the same limitation on all iPod docks to date.) The DS-A2 also doubles as a charger and requires its own AC adapter to be attached.
Getting the DS-A2 to work with the TX-SR674 receiver was a little more difficult than we anticipated, but after we figured it out, things went smoothly. The manual isn't clear, but you have to program your receiver's remote so that it sends the correct codes to the DS-A2. You also must set the switch on the bottom to the appropriate device, and make sure you use the same input on the receiver. (This means, in turn, that the iPod is monopolizing one of your A/V inputs.) Once we set the code and hooked everything up, it worked flawlessly. The receiver would automatically turn on and change to the correct input when we plugged the iPod in; then we could use the TX-SR624's remote to navigate the onscreen menus. The manual clearly states that full compatibility between the DS-A2 and Onkyo products depends on the product and the generation of the iPod, so you may want to check Onkyo's online manuals to see which products are fully compatible.
Where does the Onkyo DS-A2 fall short? At least two of the wish-list items--digital audio output and TV navigation for photos and videos--aren't available on any iPod dock we've seen, so it's tough to count those deficiencies against the Onkyo. The onscreen menus--and the fact that they work whether or not you have an Onkyo receiver connected--are enticing for those who want to navigate their iPods on the big screen. But the dearth of S-Video output--widely available on other iPod docks, such as the Belkin TuneCommand AV--gives us pause. In the end, the DS-A2 largely fulfills its mission, especially for iPod enthusiasts planning to connect it to their existing Onkyo audio gear. Given its $100 price tag, though, it's harder to recommend to a wider audience.