The very best iPod speakers sell for as much as a nice hi-fi, but don't sound nearly as good, so why buy one?
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
It seems more than a little strange to me, but iPod speakers are really popular. This much I do understand, people love their iPods, and if they don't have a hi-fi system an iPod speaker might look like the best way to go. At $599 (MSRP) Monitor Audio's i-Deck 200 is priced at the upper end of the market, and competes with the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air ($599), Bose SoundDock 10 ($599) and the Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Beatbox iPod Dock ($449), but are any of these worth the money?
For most buyers of high-end iPod speakers the answer is yes, because for them it's more about style than sound quality. For $600 or less they could have bought a pair of bona-fide hi-fi speakers and an entry-level Denon, Pioneer, or Yamaha stereo receiver. Granted, the receiver and speakers would take up more space and wouldn't look nearly as cool as a big-ticket iPod speaker, but the hi-fi would, dollar for dollar, sound a lot better!
The Monitor i-Deck 200's feature set is fairly impressive. It has a pair of 4-inch ceramic-coated aluminum/magnesium bass drivers and two 1-inch "Gold" metal dome tweeters. The i-Deck 200 has four internal amplifier channels; the woofers are each powered by a separate 50-watt Class-D amp; the tweeters each have a 25-watt amp. The really sturdy, die-cast dock connector accepts any iPod or iPhone without the need for adapters or inserts, and in the rear you'll find a 3.5mm auxiliary input jack. When you first plug in the i-Deck 200 and turn it on you'll hear a short series of low-frequency tones, which the speaker uses to adjust the sound's tonal balance for free space, wall, or corner positioning. I also found the i-Deck 200's Bass Level Management (BLM) maintained a satisfying bass balance when listening at quiet, late-night volume.
So what does the i-Deck 200 sound like? Like a very decent iPod speaker. The sound is unusually clear and clean and bass is full, but never bloated or boomy. Stereo separation is nil, and the i-Deck 200 is no party animal. If that's what you're looking for, check out the Bose SoundDock 10 or the Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Beatbox iPod Dock--those two can really rock out. But I think the i-Deck 200 sounds better than those two when listened to at a more moderate volume. The Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air produces a superior stereo effect, compared with the i-Deck 200. It's relatively large, 21.5x8.25x9.8 inches, and it weighs 10 pounds.
Listening to acoustic jazz, the i-Deck 200's clarity and nuanced bass definition was a pleasure. I had the i-Deck 200 on my kitchen counter and noted that the speaker sounded best when listened to from about 3 or 4 feet away. The percussion, strings, piano, and choir on "The Orange Mountain Music Philip Glass Sampler Vol. 1" album were sounding vivid and more dynamically alive than through other iPod speakers. Rocking out to Tom Petty, at moderate volume, the sound was less convincing, but still satisfying.
The remote control handles volume and changes tunes on your iPod, but the volume ramp up and down was much too quick, so it was hard to get the exact volume I wanted. There was low-level hiss (noise) coming from the speakers, but it was not audible when playing music.
Monitor Audio also offers a less expensive but very similar iPod speaker, the i-Deck 100, for $499.