Spending Smart

Spreading your iPod's music

Look for strong midrange output and avoid the extremes to get the best sound

By John M Guilfoil
Globe Correspondent / April 19, 2009
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Ever want listen to your iPod and jam to a room-filling sound that's not mashed into your ears?

Enter the docking stations that can be used to play iPods and other MP3 players. The Globe recently tested five of these docks: the Altec Lansing inMotion Max for $199, the Logitech Pure-Fi Express Plus for $78, the compact iHome iH4B for $39.99, the Cambridge SoundWorks i765 for $299, and Wayland-based Sprout Creation's all-wood Vers 2X at $199.

Dariusz Dobrolinski, co-owner of the tiny-yet-historic Q Audio store on Vassar Street in Cambridge, said the Altec Lansing inMotion Max was the best item on the list, and we agreed.

"It sounded the richest," Dobrolinski said. He warned us not to jump at the deepest bass or the highest treble, which some inexpensive systems tend to use to make up for lower quality components.

When looking for a docking system, Dobrolinski says, don't look for something "that has bass and sizzles."

"It may impress you, but later on you will notice you don't get the midrange, and that's where all the instruments and all the voices are," he said.

The Altec Lansing and Cambridge SoundWorks models were very similar, though. They sound great, look great, and come from brand names that are known for generally building their products to high quality specifications.

The iHome name has gained a lot of ground in the last three years. You often see these functional alarm clock iPod docks in both luxury hotels and college dorms. They generally sound good and have useful wake-up features like dual alarm clock times and, of course, the ability to wake up to your favorite songs blasting from your night stand. The iH4b's compact size and low price make it a great value for dorm rooms and bedrooms. It has a good sound on a small footprint.

The Vers 2X is a great choice for people who want something different. It doesn't have a radio or really any other features except an iPod dock, but it's an attractive, well-built speaker system.

The Logitech has good sound, but the remote doesn't work from a long distance.

Dobrolinski said that you should also focus on how the product looks.

Style also is important. He also said that you'll want your dock to have a remote control so you're not getting up all the time to tune it.

Pro's choice | Our Choice
Pros: It has a big sound from little speakers and includes an auxiliary input and AM/FM radio if you get sick of your iPod. It also mutes the music if your docked iPhone rings.
Cons: The bass definition could be clearer.
The final word: It really fills a small room with sound without taking up much space.

Pros: The Vers 2X sounds wonderful and is made of wood instead of plastic, like nearly everything else on the market.
Cons: No clock, no alarm, no radio - just the iPods, ma'am.
The final word: You'd be supporting a local (Wayland) small business by buying one.

Pros: It has a DVD/CD player built in, dual alarms, radio, and a clear, well-defined sound. It's everything you'd expect from a compact tabletop radio.
Cons: The DVD player surely inflates the price. Logistics are a worry. Can you really fit the height of an iPod in the space where you keep your DVD player under your television?
The final word: This product used to cost $500. When Cambridge SoundWorks restructured their business operations and closed their retail stores, the prices plummeted. We reap the benefits.

Pros: It has a good, well-defined sound in a very small package.
Cons: The remote doesn't work from far away distances.
The final word: This is a maximum-value product - good sound, great price.

Pros: It is very compact and easy to use.
Cons: The sound is a bit tinny at times.
The final word: Some devices are stereos with alarm clocks, and some are alarm clocks that play music. This is the latter.