Review: Philips AJ300D Docking Entertainment System
Pros: A highly attractive FM clock radio with dual alarms, a central iPod dock, and very nice matching remote control. Screen tells time and date, includes three-level dimmer, and allows for radio tuning with 5 presets. Sound quality is impressive by price-comparative standards thanks to stereo speakers and a bass driver; FM radio performance is better than reasonable.
Cons: No AM radio tuning. Very limited screen brightness settings, which when combined with large backlit LCD may bother some light-sensitive users. On-unit button arrangement takes a little getting used to.
Having maintained its dominance in the iPod alarm clock sector since the introduction of its original $100 iH5 model in mid-2005, iHome appears to be set for its biggest challenges to date: XtremeMac’s $150 Luna has proved a worthy higher-end challenger, and now Philips has appeared with AJ300D ($70), which in some ways is the strongest iPod clock radio we’ve yet seen for under $100. Whether you’ll prefer it to the Timex Ti700 (iLounge rating: A-) will depend on the features and styling you prefer; we’d tend to give AJ300D the edge, but many will find this one too close to call.
In Philips’ favor are two critical features: stereo separation and truly enhanced bass response. Besides its twin front-firing speakers, which as properly separate left- and right-channel audio as one might expect from a unit of this size, AJ300D radiates bass through a partially covered rear panel called wOOx - a dedicated driver accurately touted as delivering better bass than systems in its price range. Though we often caveat small, low-priced speaker system reviews with a warning as to their sound quality, typically based on their use of full-range drivers that break up and distort when trying to do too much with too little hardware, AJ300D’s speakers try to accomplish more than the single-speaker Ti700, and do a very nice job in the process. On the flip side, there’s no user-adjustable equalization of any sort, just as with Ti700, so you’ll have to live with the unit’s default sound signature or try and tweak it with the iPod’s limited EQ selections.
For some - including iLounge’s editors - Philips’ styling provides another edge over the Ti700. From the front, AJ300D looks like a futuristic chair or Griffin’s TuneCenter, with a prominent silver metal grille, a large clock face, and white plastic around a central iPod dock. Eight silver buttons to the left and right of the dock are used for track, play/pause, volume, and toggles between various audio inputs.
But a side view reveals its shape to be more like two chairs with backs facing each other, with power, time, and alarm buttons on its left and top, and five preset radio buttons on its right; the rear has only aux-in and power ports at the bottom. A matching remote control similarly outclasses the Timex one; 12 buttons provide more streamlined access to the unit’s controls than on AJ300’s body. Oddly, an iPod reset may occasionally be needed to initially sync the remote’s buttons.
These button locations may be a source of slight confusion, but you’ll quickly learn how to use them. Like the Ti700, you have access here to dual alarms, which are activated with the top buttons, altered with buttons near the iPod dock, then set to one of three sources - the radio, the iPod dock, or a beeper. You can’t set the two alarms to two sources, nor can you set the alarms to a volume separate from the radio and dock’s separate speaker levels, but they otherwise do their jobs.
Each starts out mild and rapidly becomes louder or otherwise more present; the buzzer beeps with increasing frequency as time passes. You can delay the alarm by pressing the unit’s large top bar, which also serves to dim the screen through three levels (bright, mid, and off), or deactivate it entirely with one of the other top buttons.
The clock screen is one of AJ300D’s two limitations relative to the Timex design. It uses a futuristic dot pattern to represent the time - we liked this, but others may not - and standard fixed-line LCD numbers to represent the date, alarm status, and the current audio source. Our issue is merely the screen’s brightness, which like iHome’s early alarm clocks mightn’t offer a setting that’s right for light-sensitive users. You have the ability to halve the screen’s base brightness or turn off the backlight entirely, but nothing else; companies with white on black displays produce better results.
The radio tuner may also lean in the Ti700’s favor. We were satisfied but not thrilled with AJ300D’s FM reception, which like the Ti700’s benefits from an external, repositionable antenna, and delivers low but not zero static indoors. Your mileage may vary based on the walls and radio interference in your home, office, or apartment. But there’s no AM tuning. Though AM tuning is often an issue in systems like this - static and tuning are frequent concerns - Ti700’s AM tuner wasn’t bad, and certainly is better than not having one at all.
It’s worth one final note that AJ300D offers one extra feature that isn’t of much concern to iPod users: compatibility with Philips’ GoGear digital music players. The central dock can be popped out and replaced with GoGear-friendly parts, which we suspect will happen much less often than with the included iPod model inserts. Users of other music devices can use the auxiliary input port at AJ300D’s rear, though they’ll have to provide their own audio cables to do so.
Our overall take on AJ300D was very positive: Philips has produced what we think to be the best looking and best sounding $70 iPod clock radio yet, though it’s not without an issue or two that may lead some users to prefer the Timex Ti700 or other, more expensive alternatives. We think Philips has done a superb job of maximizing the appearance and features people would expect at this price level, and arguably going a step beyond in the audio and design departments. AJ300D is worthy of our high recommendation.