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Hands-on with the Dolry HiFi Stone S

This clever little pebble turns any 30-pin speaker dock into an AirPlay speaker. But is it worth the money?

The Dolry HiFi Stone turns your 30-pin speaker dock into an AirPlay speaker. But it'll cost you.
The Dolry HiFi Stone turns your 30-pin speaker dock into an AirPlay speaker. But it'll cost you.
C4 Electronics

When Apple unveiled the Lightning connector last year, it created a problem for anyone who owned a speaker dock with a 30-pin connector: new iDevices couldn't connect.

C4 Electronics' Dolry HiFi Stone solves that problem by turning those old docks into AirPlay speakers, able to connect wirelessly to iPhones, iPod Touches, iPads, Macs, and even a handful of Samsung devices.

C4 Electronics

There are similar gizmos that endow speaker docks with Bluetooth capabilities, the closest being the Auris freeDa. But the Stone looks far more elegant: a thin, glossy black (or white) oval that looks like, well, a stone; something you'd skip across a pond. And it affords the benefits of AirPlay, which trounces Bluetooth in a few key areas.

For starters: range. While Bluetooth typically limits you to about 30 feet, AirPlay relies on Wi-Fi, and therefore your iDevice works anywhere in the house there's a signal. In other words, you can move from room to room and not have to worry about your music cutting out.

AirPlay is also a lossless technology, unlike Bluetooth, which compresses the audio stream. That means you should enjoy roughly the same audio quality from your speaker that you'd get if your iDevice were docked directly. To my ears they sound about the same, but I know the audio purists out there definitely prefer an AirPlay solution.

Finally, AirPlay doesn't saddle you with Bluetooth's one-device-at-a-time pairing limitations. Although that's been remedied in the Bluetooth 4.0 specification, few Bluetooth speaker docks support it. (The Auris, to its credit, remembers up to eight paired devices.) Here you can use multiple devices without having to jump through a bunch of pairing/unpairing hoops to switch between them.

Speaking of hoops, my Stone setup required few. After plunking it down onto my Fluance speaker dock's 30-pin connector, I went into my iPhone's Wi-Fi settings, found the Dolry entry, and connected. Then I switched to the Music app, chose the HiFi Stone from the list of connected devices, and let the music play.

Of course, you'll want to leverage the Stone's Direct Wi-Fi capabilities so you can remain connected to your home network at the same time. For that, you'll need the Dolry Music iOS app and about 30 seconds to walk through a few simple configuration steps. With that done, I could continue to use Wi-Fi while enjoying my wirelessly streamed audio.

I tested the Stone with both a Fluance FiSDK500 and a DLO iBoom Jukebox. When I moved it from the former to the latter, the Stone no longer appeared on my iPhone's list of available Wi-Fi devices. After a bunch of fiddling, I decided to try resetting the Stone -- a process made difficult by the placement of its reset hole, which requires a needle or paper clip. The hole faces upward, but it's at the rear of the case, and therefore very difficult to see on some docks. Fortunately, it did the trick, and after that I had no trouble hot-swapping the Stone between the two.

Save for that glitch, the Stone worked splendidly. It's definitely a great way to breathe new life into an old speaker dock -- or even a new dock that happens to be incompatible with some or all of your iDevices. (iPads typically don't fit on docks anyway, so this is a perfect solution.) However, you'll want to check C4 Electronics' compatibility list (PDF) to make sure your devices and speaker dock are compatible. Older docks, those that were expressly designed for older iPods (and therefore use a different charging standard), may not work.

Ready for the bad news? The Dolry HiFi Stone sells for $89, while the HiFi Stone S (which I tested) goes for $99. That extra $10 nets you three touch-sensitive buttons, only one of which (mute) seems to actually do anything. The others, Internet Radio and My Favorite, appear to serve no purpose -- at least for the moment. (I'm guessing a software update will let you tie them to certain apps.) Given that the whole point is to use your phone or tablet to control your music, I'd stick with the cheaper model.

Update: If you want to purchase directly from Dolry (as opposed to Amazon), use coupon code CNETDOLRY or CNETDOLRYS to get the Stones for $87 and $97, respectively. The codes will be good through the end of August.

Alas, this will probably prove way too expensive for most buyers. At $89, you're probably better off investing in a new speaker with native AirPlay (or Bluetooth) capabilities. I thought the Auris was pricey at $50, but this is especially hard to swallow. The HiFi Stone makes sense only if you've invested hundreds of dollars into a state-of-the-art speaker dock that you don't want to go to waste.