Review: Monitor Audio i-deck compact
Monitor Audio, you have officially confused us. We loved i-deck (iLounge rating: A-). Loved it. Based on its $250 pricing, outstanding sound, and nice design, we were on the cusp of awarding it a flat A rating, and would have but for its lack of low-end adjustability. The fact that it's being sold online now for as little as $150 is all the more enticement to recommend it again. But now i-deck compact ($200) has gone in the completely opposite direction, which we find almost inexplicable given its maker's track record of releasing outstanding speaker systems. We've opted for a capsule-sized review only because i-deck compact isn't impressive enough overall to merit a more full discussion of its features.
In short, the original i-deck was practically a model of properly tuned speaker drivers and amplification - a system that sounded just about perfect at normal listening levels without tuning, and was only outstripped at peak, eardrum-ripping volumes by much more expensive options. Treble and detail were excellent, complemented by tight, controlled mid-bass and bass; the system sounded great overall despite the fact that it lacked a subwoofer and couldn’t create the same sub-sonic rumble as systems with larger, dedicated bass drivers. One would think that a compact, only slightly less expensive product under the same name would strive to be equally balanced, or perhaps just a little different, but that’s not the case. It’s a completely different animal.
With compact, Monitor has given up its multi-component, multi-driver design for an all-in-one, transportable audio system that literally sacrifices all of its predecessor’s best audio features in the name of size. As before, this i-deck is available in two colors - jet black or white with gray grilles and accents - and you can remove the fabric grille to see what’s inside. This time, you’ll find two total 4-inch speaker drivers, ported in the back, which are being forced to do full-range duty in the expense of any dedicated tweeter or woofer hardware. Monitor explains that its drivers were “optimised to provide punchy bass and articulated mid-range,” a point we’ll address in a moment.
In terms of frills, i-deck compact does well. It includes a matching 12-button Infrared remote control, which now includes iPod menu navigation buttons, shuffle and repeat controls, and standard track and volume controls. There’s also a wall power adapter with international wall blades, and an auxiliary audio cable for connection of devices lacking iPod Dock Connectors. Aided by five packed-in white Dock Adapters, a Universal iPod Dock sits in the center above volume controls and a power light, while the unit’s power switch is found on its bottom right corner.
Those items, the unit’s ease of transportability, and its rear ports (composite and S-Video out, audio-in and Dock Connector synchronization) are its strongest points; other than the fact that it can’t run off of battery power, it is as compact and simple as its name suggests, which will appeal to people who already have a liking for the Monitor brand. But we can’t help but feel as if even fans of the company will be disappointed by the way that compact sounds: unlike the original i-deck, we’d have to go out of our way to say nice things about it.
We’ll put aside the fact that i-deck compact has an odd habit of clipping off the first second or so of a newly loaded song, and often doesn’t properly awaken from its self-imposed hibernation mode, both of which are annoying little oddities in its power management system. What really caught our attention was that the system skews unusually warm and detail-less for an audio system of its size, an apparent overcompensation for the only perceived bass limitations of the original i-deck. The compact version doesn’t so much soothe with its bass as it overpowers natural sound: think of a Bose SoundDock minus treble detail and plus a little more low-end, and you’ll get the picture.
In all honesty, if you hear i-deck compact in isolation, or at some point get used to the heavy-handedness of its audio, you mightn’t mind how far it skews to the low-end - serious bassheads might even like it, the reason for our limited recommendation. But it’s hard to feel too positive about this given the many suitable alternatives out there at this price point: as much as we enjoy low-frequency sound, we consider it to be just one part of a spectrum that needs properly balanced representation, and compact falls much further from the tree than its predecessor here. With some additional power management tuning and a pair of tweeters, this would have been a much better system, even if it was a little less compact in the process.