MagicBox Ark iPod dock review

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.

MagicBox-Ark

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.

Vita Audio R4 and R2i: Premium all-in-one stereo systems

Design? Stylish. Components? Hi-tech. Sounds? Great. Sounds great, right? Vita Audio, a UK-based audio company, has released two premium all-in-one stereo systems that are sure to get your visual and aural attention – the R4 and the R2i.

Vita-R4

Audio R4
The big brother of the line-up, the R4 aims to replace any existing audio solution in your home. It’s got a multi-format CD player, iPod dock, USB playback, DAB/FM tuner and auxiliary inputs – all outputting at 80 watts.

As a premium product, it’s stacked with high-end features. The slot-loading (awesome) CD player lets you listen to audio CDs, MP3s and WMA discs, while the radio not only supports DAB and FM, but the new DAB+ standard.

The real jaw-dropper, however, is the RotoDial. Sitting atop the player, it’s the universal way to control the system. If you’d rather skip songs without getting out your chair, however, simply pull it off the top and it’ll work as a remote control. Use it to navigate through music on your docked iPod, for instance, or switch between audio inputs.

Or just put it on a chair’s arm to look cool – the aesthetics are really nice. Of course, what else would you expect from a device that’s colour options are “Rich Walnut veneer, Dream White and Midnight Black”?

The remote is just one of the many nice touches that make the R4 a really well-put together piece. Another is the gold-plating on the two auxiliary inputs, or the way the system stores headphone volume separately from speaker volume, so you needn’t worry about blasting your eardrums when you plug in a headset.

Vita-R2i

R2i
Just like the R4, the R2i’s cabinet is machined and hand-crafted from high density fibreboard, giving the system excellent acoustic properties. It’s also got DAB+, a line-in for MP3 players, an iPod Dock and some auxiliary ports.

What it’s missing, then, is its bigger brother’s CD player, USB playback and massive output – the R2i pumps out a much smaller 20 watts.
The plans for the remote control are also scaled down. The RotoDial still exists, but it’s fixed to the stereo. For remote control duties, you’ll have to make do with a slim-line extra controller. Sure, it’s not ugly, but the wow of the detachable RotoDial is definitely missing. The R2i is cute, and much cheaper, but is nowhere near as awe-inspiring as its older brother.

Logic 3’s i-Station TimeCube review

So it would seem that iPod docks have become so prevalent, that simply playing back sound from your iDevice is no longer enough, and more and more dual (or more) function devices are appearing. Previously we looked at the GEAR4 Halo, a £99 alarm dock that had a lovely bass-filled kick to it and a superb app to accompany your listening experience. We also had a look at the We also had a look at the Exspect TIME iPod dock, which was about half the price, and looked stunning – but lacked the same level of audio quality as the Halo.

Logic-3-i-Station-TimeCube

Well now there is a new kid on the block. Though given its cube-like design one might say there is a new block on the kind. Although one probably shouldn’t. Logic 3’s i-Station TimeCube is tiny and designed to fit snugly on a bedside table. The design harks back to the chunky plastic alarm clocks of a bygone era, as does the massive shiny LED that dominates the front of the device.

The big chunky buttons that adorn the device carry out a variety of functions, such as adjusting volume, tuning the FM radio, or hitting that all-important snooze button. The snooze button also dims the bright red screen, useful if you want to cut down on glare. The buttons give off a nice satisfying click, which is good when adjusting in low light conditions. Or when you are half-asleep. The LED has a slight odd viewing angle – if you move it to extreme positions to the side, or above your eye line it becomes hard to distinguish. But at conventional viewing angles things work fine.

Sound quality is respectable. Like the TIME you probably couldn’t rock a party just using this, but it is more that adequate for the average sized bedroom. And the 3.5 mm dock allows other PMPs to join in on the fun.
At only £39.99 from an online retailer near you the i-Station TimeCube is definitely decent value for money and would probably make a great christmas gift for at least one person you know.

Sony RDP-X50iP iPod dock review

Sony were nice enough to send us a Sony rdp-x50ip iPod dock to review (and then send back). We see a lot of iPod docks here at Latest Gadgets. Some have alarm clock functionality. Some have funky or innovative design. And others are jam-packed with features. The helpfully named Sony rdp-x50ip is none of these things. What it is however is a reasonably decent iPod dock.

Sony-RDP-X50iP

As you can see, the design team took a fairly no frills approach, or minimalist depending on your point of view – with a solid wall of speakers and a slot for your iPod/iPhone, with a few adjustable brackets for stability.

There are a couple of basic buttons on the top – for playback and one intriguing MegaBass button that gets a shout out on the box. The MegaBass button beefs up the sound a little – especially for bass-heavy tunes, as you’d expect it doesn’t really have an effect on podcasts or acoustic folk.

40 Watts of power gives the Sony rdp-x50ip “room filling sound” and once you get past the lack of features it’s pretty impressive as a unit – I threw a couple of Morris Day and the Time classics at it in the living room and the sound quality was more than adequate. In fact I’d go as far as to say it was good.

Whilst lacking the bells and whistles of some of its competitors – most dramatically the Pioneer Kodo series, which takes iPod docks to the next level, the decent “room filling” sound makes the Sony rdp-x50ip a decent, but not mind blowing, purchase, although the £179 RRP is a little steep.

Pure i-20: Sound and vision from a PURE-ly simple dock

PURE has come up with a stylish iPod Dock so that you can play all the tunes on your music player through your hi-fi or AV system, as well as video through your TV.

The i-20 is a good-looking piece of black and steel kit that will take up minimal space, and allows you to use your existing speakers to deliver high-quality sound (through its Digital to Analogue Converter) for high-bit-rate compressed or uncompressed iPod tracks or radio.

Pure-i20

Unusually, it also offers video outputs so that any video stored on your iPod or iPhone can be viewed on a TV – it supports popular video formats including component, S-Video and composite. And to cut down on wires and chargers, the PURE i-20 charges your iPhone or iPod while it’s docked. A remote control is also supplied for easy control and navigation.

Anyone who is fed up with fiddling around with any new piece of kit to get it working well will be glad to know that PURE’s i-20 should offer a pretty painless solution. Unless you have a lot to spend, most available systems require you to stream your music or connecting a hi-fi without its own dock to the iPod using the 3.5mm jack. This method results in the sound getting squeezed.

Instead, uses PURE Clearsound digital end-to-end technology to produce its digital audio outputs, so that sound is not compromised when connected to a quality digital amplifier or hi-fi system. For its analogue output, the i-20 uses its Cirrus 4353 hi-fi quality DAC and high-precision low-jitter clock to deliver true hi-fi audio performance levels.

The PURE i-20 is stamped with Apple’s ‘made for iPhone’ and ‘Made for iPod’, which we guess means it’s got Steve Jobs’ seal of approval.

The PURE i-20 costs £74.99. For more go to www.pure.com

Altec Lansing Octiv 450 Stereo Speaker Audio Dock – Remedying under-achieving iPads!

For the past 70 years, Altec Lansing has been revered has being one of the most innovative and valuable audio brands in the world. Complying with its highly recommendable reputation is Altec Lansing’s latest inspired aural creation, the Octiv 450 Stereo Speaker Audio Dock, which by endowing innovative engineering qualities, multiple screen viewing angles and enhanced sound quality, is quite possibly the perfect docking system for iPad, iPhone and iPod users.

Altec-Octiv

Despite the fact that iPads are rarely used to their full capabilities, there are very little iPad accessories on the market. Aiming to rectify under-achieving iPads, the Octiv 420 integrates Altec Lansing’s Audio Alignment technology, a distinctive centre channel voicing delivers a distortion-free performance and enhanced sound quality even when pumped up to the max. With an Apple 30-pin connector, users can dock and charge their iPad, whilst a 3.5mm auxiliary jack provides support for other devices.

Commenting on Altec Lansing’s newest audio creation, Adrian Bedggood, EMEA Director of Business Management said:

“Users enjoy the iPad’s great versatility for business, entertainment and sharing audio and video content. Now their experience will be significantly enhanced due to upgraded audio quality and sound distribution.”

The visual merits of the Octiv 450 are equally as commendable as it audio credits. Possessing a unique rotating connection arm, visual imagery can be viewed both in landscape and portrait arrangements. Being able to tilt the iPad in either direction, not only provides multiple viewing angles for an optimum screening experience, but also provides support while typing on the iPad. All manoeuvring for an optimal iPad performance can be achieved from afar at users’ leisure, as for added expediency, the Octiv 450 comes equipped with a wireless remote.

With its unique performance-enhancing qualities contained within a stylish exterior, it comes as little surprise that the Octiv 450 Stereo Speaker Audio Dock has been awarded with the highly esteemed Innovations, Design and Engineering Award from the Consumer Electronics Association.

To give a loved-one’s iPad the boost it deserves, the Octiv 450 will be available at John Lewis, Apple PC World and Dixons from 1 December 2010 for £129.99.

BeoSound 8 comes out with a Bang (& Olufsen)

Bang & Olufsen announced the BeoSound 8 as a speaker dock for your iPhone and more importantly, your iPad. It seems like every day there is a speaker dock for the iPhone released but the compatibility with the iPad makes this one a little different. If you keep most of your music on your iPad, BeoSound 8 is a beauty.

BeoSound8

BeoSound 8 offers superb audio quality in a small package. A speaker’s audio quality is influenced by its physical position in a room. BeoSound 8 solves this by integrating a room adaptation switch allows you to adjust the performance to suit the placement of the speakers, be it a corner, against a wall, or standing freely. The three switch positions will primarily change the equalization of the bass channel. This allows the speaker to be placed anywhere without compromising the sound performance.

The BeoSound 8 can connect wirelessly to your PC or Mac using Apple Airport Express or AirTunes. The look is sleek and polished in typical Bang & Olufsen fashion. The body comes in black or white and you can personalise the speaker fronts with different colours to suite your home. The cone shaped speakers hide the depth and provide a breath of fresh of air in a world of box speakers. I like that the BeoSound 8 can be hung on a wall using a wall bracket. If you are lucky enough to own more than one Bang & Olufsen product, you can use one of their intelligent remotes to control all your devices or use the dedicated remote supplied.

To supplement the BeoSound 8, a free BeoPlayer application for the iPhone and iPad will be released in December to allow Internet radio to be played. The paid-for ‘Pro’ version will have a music library browser and alarm clock.

Available from late November at £900, it hurts the wallet. For that price, I would have liked a few more features. Perhaps the full version of the BeoPlayer included? Composite video output to allow video through the TV? The BeoSound 8 definitely makes a statement. But is the price of that statement worth it?

Logitech Z515 Wireless speakers review: Wireless boomboxes

iPod docks are all well and good, but what if you want your boom box to travel with you? Radio Rahim would be amazed at the array of iPod docks that we have today, although probably quite frustrated at the lack of a user-replaceable battery. He definitely wouldn’t be schlepping around town with an incredibly heavy boom box. He might however travel around town with the Logitech Z515 Wireless speaker.

Logitech-Z515

Designed for laptop audio – but also compatible with Bluetooth devices (more on that later) the Z515 is a small yet powerful unit. The Z515 is roughly the same length as an iPad and half the width, yet double the actual weight. It’s small enough to pop into a laptop bag without being a significant problem.

Logitech is convinced that people are not happy with laptop audio (something we will discuss again in the Lapdesk review, coming later this week) and has set about to make improving it as easy as possible. The Z515 comes with a little wireless USB dongle that makes set up incredibly easy – and enables transmission utilising 2.4 Ghz wireless technology.

The Z515 features dual two-inch drivers and a rechargeable battery that lasts for 10 hours. The sound quality is pretty decent and gets to reasonable volumes without distorting. The advertised range of about 15 metres seems accurate – it’s obviously a little less when you throw in interference from walls etc. There is also a nice little kick-stand built into the unit so it can stand independently.

You can also use the Z515 with an iPad, iPhone or any other Bluetooth device that lacks a USB port. You just have to hold both volume buttons down for about 5 seconds to set the device to discovery mode. Good luck trying to find that information in the manual however. There is a one little slip of paper in the box that mentions Bluetooth (specifically iPad) pairing, which simply refers you to a webpage … that isn’t there. 15 minutes on digging on the Logitech website and I was able to dig up … absolutely nothing. Fortunately the device only has 3 buttons so with a little trial and error I was able to pair it with a range of Bluetooth devices. There is a 3.5 mm, which seems terribly old-fashioned but it guaranteed to work with all devices.

The Logitech Z515 is yours to buy from £89.99.