The MagicBox Ark floated into our offices this week, bringing with it two of every speaker (that’s bible-talk for stereo sound). This £40 iPhone/iPod dock pumps out eight watts, powered straight from the mains. It’s an incredibly affordable price, but does it sink or swim?
Let’s get the good out of the way first: it’s compact – its small footprint doesn’t take up much self-room at all. That may be a bad thing though, because if it were bigger more people would notice its beautiful piano black finish.
It’s also amazingly simple, with just two controls: volume up and volume down. It’ll charge your iPhone/iPod while it’s plugged in, and there’s a snazzy blue light that looks like a beacon mounted atop your Apple device. In fact, the blue light is our favourite bit about the whole device. In our opinion, all Apple products should have a shinning blue on their top.
The final two benefits are the auxiliary input, for playing other-brand MP3 players (cable not included) and the loud 8W output, which causes quite a din.
Unfortunately, by din, we mean the dictionary definition: “a jumble of loud, usually discordant sounds”. The problem with the Ark, you see, is that it just doesn’t produce a clear sound.
At low-levels, you’ll find the device passable. Take full advantage of the 8W output, however, and things go horribly wrong. You’ll get about as much bass as Justin Bieber pre-puberty, while higher sounds crackle and lose clarity.
We were so disappointed that we worried about being a little biased: after all, our computers boast Harman Kardon’s £140 SoundSticks, and when we were reviewing the Ark it was perched on top of a full £500+ hi-fi stereo. Perhaps we’ve been musically spoilt. After all, it does sound miles better than the iPhone’s built-in speaker – and goes much louder, too.
But then we compared it to the XMI X-II Speaker. The portable speaker is cheaper, battery-powered and sounds awesome. For quiet listening, the X-II is superior, more portable and costs less. Oh dear.
To be honest, we’ve got very mixed feelings. We knew that for £40, the Ark wasn’t going to sound brilliant. It looks nice though, and it really does pump out decibels if not clarity. If you’re looking for something to rock out to at parties – where freaking out to loud music is more important than fidelity – the simplistic and stylish MagicBox Ark is for you. But if you’re an audiophile, dance on by.