Review: Gecko Gear Soundbase Stereo Sound System + Radio for iPod
Certain things sound too good to be true at given prices, and the feature list on Gecko Gear's new Soundbase ($120) definitely evokes some suspicions: where else could you find a nice-looking all-in-one, four-speaker audio system with an iPod dock, an AM and FM radio, an integrated digital clock, and a remote control for this price? Trust us, we've looked, and this particular feature set is rare -- at least, from major vendors with good industrial designs.
Industrial design turns out to be Soundbase’s single biggest selling point: by $120 speaker standards, it looks neutral and nice, highly similar in styling to XtremeMac’s earlier and less expensive Tango Studio: both systems are based on a black plastic speaker shell with a fabric front grille and a pop-out dock, hiding their LED displays above the iPod and behind their fabric facades. Tango Studio went with a flat, slate-like shape, a bunch of top-mounted buttons, and blue LEDs; Soundbase instead has a curved, deeper body, three simple buttons and yellow LEDs. An auxiliary audio cable and wall power supply are included alongside several iPod dock adapters.
Soundbase’s three integrated buttons will confuse some users, but they’re interesting. The “power” button does turn the unit on, then doubles as an endlessly cycling source selection button to skip between the iPod, FM radio, AM radio, and the auxiliary audio port, turning Soundbase off only if you hold it down. All the while, the adjacent + and - buttons switch between adjusting volume—in iPod and aux modes—and tuning stations in the two radio modes. Holding down these buttons in radio mode lets you adjust the volume; holding down the power button lets you turn off the system. This is actually a pretty smart way of using so few buttons, though it wouldn’t have hurt to include a couple more, and some users will find the included remote control a much better way to interact with the system. It offers iPod menu navigation, access to radio presets, and dedicated buttons for power and source toggling.
Sonically and functionally, Soundbase is uneven. The FM radio works, but requires manual .1 increment tuning, which can be a real pain given the system’s button design; stations came in with mild static that was only mildly reduced by adjusting the integrated antenna. By comparison, the AM radio didn’t work at all in our testing: it tuned to off-kilter stations such as 846, 927, and 1125, none with an actual signal to listen to. This was a real disappointment, but one that will likely wind up fixed in a quiet future rev of the hardware. Notably, the integrated clock is not augmented by any alarms, nor backed up with a battery; it does what it does unless the power is disconnected.
As a pure iPod speaker dock, we’d describe Soundbase as decent. Despite the four integrated speakers, the system produces audio that is very midrange-focused with too little in the bass and treble departments, and a bit flat in the center, at least for near-field listening. When heard without reference to anything else at normal volumes, it sounds good but not great, but the audio improves as it comes closer to the 75% volume mark, a level that is unsafe for close listening but fine if placed on a nearby bookshelf. At its top volume level, which is ear-splitting, unpleasant distortion is obvious. Our view is that Soundbase’s performance has been optimized for the wrong level of amplitude, and that if you stack it up against anything with dedicated tweeters or woofers—even something sold for the same price minus the radio features—you won’t be impressed.
Overall, Soundbase is a fine-sounding, nice-looking iPod speaker system with a functional clock and spotty radio performance. It will appeal most to users looking for something inexpensive and visually neutral, but won’t thrill critical listeners on sound or radio tuning. We consider it worthy of a limited recommendation, but with speaker and radio tweaks, the same product could easily be more appealing.